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Euphonia MS4 loudspeakers
as reviewed by Jim Grudzien and Francisco Duran
I now own a pair of Dali Grands, but the Euphonia MS4s were the first Dali speakers to get my attention, at the 2003 CES. The MS4s are wonderful speakers, but first the technical stuff. These are floor-standing speakers, about 41 inches tall, 9 inches wide, and 17 inches deep, and they weigh 84 pounds apiece. The review pair was in the Alpi finish (which costs more, I believe), and they were beautiful. After having the Grands (which are 48 inches tall) in my home for about a year, it was nice to be able to see my back wall from my listening chair! The MS4s are 4-ohm speakers, with a frequency response of 33-28kHz, and a recommended amplifier rating of 50 to 350 watts (at 8 ohms). Each speaker has two 6 1/2-inch low-frequency drivers and a module for the highs that uses both a ribbon and a dome tweeter. I'm told by the U.S. distributor that the MS4s' enclosures are heavier and more resonant-free than those of the Grands. With their 88 dB sensitivity, the MS4s require almost twice as much power as the Grands, which are rated at 90 dB. The MS4s were powered with three different amps/receivers for this review, a 90-watt Margules ACRH 1.2 hybrid integrated, the Edge G1 and G4 preamp/amp combo (100 watts), and my Denon AVR-3801 Home theater receiver (105 watts).
Regardless of what amp I used, the MS4s sounded clear, concise, smooth, refined, and in no way analytical. There was always ease to the music, which seemed to flow effortlessly out into the room. There was no sharpness, just a natural flow of music. The real forte of the Euphonias was their mid and high frequencies, which had "sparkle." This speed and mid- to upper-level detail, which can be attributed to those ribbon/dome tweeter modules, placed more air between the notes and seemed to move me closer to the recreation of an actual performance rather than a recording. This was the very first thing that I noticed about the MS4's when I hooked them up to my Denon. Their performance just got better as the electronics improved, leading me to believe that they are more compatible with my Grand's than a variety of other amps. Why so? The Grands need a faster, powerful, more controlled amp – and the Edge fit the bill.
The bass was some of the tightest I've heard. The bass of the Grands can be overpowering at times, but never with the MS4s, which were always tight, solid, and in control. Where the Grands went BOOM, the MS4s went BAM. This was probably due to the new cabinet design,which you can read about on the Dali website. Though the MS4s are extremely fast speakers, I don't believe that they need to be matched with a fast amp. The Edge is fast but the Margules is not, while the Denon is between the two, and while the MS4s were head and shoulders better than the Grands with the Margules and the Denon in place, they were only marginally better with the Edge. The Grands need speed, power, and control to sound their best, but the MS4s were happy either way.
Their imaging was very good, as was the soundstage. Though the stage was not quite as expansive as the Grands', the MS4s are smaller speakers, which may also explain why the images were not nearly as large as they are with the Grands. I should mention that neither of these attributes is particularly important to me. I care more about dynamics, deep, solid bass, and the recreation of a live performance, and the MS4s delivered on all counts. The MS4s provided plenty of space and air between the instruments, and they seemed to disappear when playing. It was only when I stood in front of them that I could actually hear their placement. By the way, the MS4s are designed to be set off-axis and fired straight ahead. That positioning posed no problems with resolution or focus, but it did expand the soundstage.
The MS4s couldn't pressurize my room like the Grands, probably because the Grands have four 8-inch woofers, but the Euphonias, with their 4-6 ˝ inch mid-woofers, could play quite loudly when asked, and did so with ease. They sounded smoother, more concise, and faster than the Grands, while providing an even more lifelike sense of music. The Grands sound warmer, slightly richer, and give more weight to the music.
My primary test discs for this review were Mary Black's No Frontiers and Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's Facing Future. Mary Black's voice can be very harsh and piercing with the wrong equipment, but with the MS4s this never occurred. Her CD sounded textured, rich, and detailed, with the MS4s' characteristic clean, refined sound. Piano notes had a nice sheen, the decay of the cymbals lingered in the air, and the bass was forceful and weighty. Iz' voice can also be edgy on top, but this was never the case with the MS4s. His voice was delicate and precise, with no hint of glare. The Euphonias consistently produced a natural, relaxed sound. Iz' ukulele sounded sweet. The instruments never got in the way of his vocals, but remained in the background where they belonged. This CD sounded less weighty than it did with the Grands, yet possessed enough clout to captivate me. I like to hear enough weight to feel as if I am sitting in the front row of a live performance, and this was slightly missing with the MS4s.
I have several CD's that will remain nameless that I like to listen to, but don't sound all that good. The music is good, but the recording stinks. These discs actually sounded quite a bit better and I really enjoyed them for the first time. It seemed that the MS4's actually worked some magic on my "B" stock CD's and "expanded" my supply of good discs.
The Dali MS4s are remarkably musical. They are lightning fast, possess excellent pace, rhythm, and timing, and can be paired with almost any amp, though they sound much better when paired with good gear. They performed very well with both the $1400 Margules hybrid integrated an my Denon receiver. Their performance was out of this world with the much more expensive $6000 Edge combo. They are smooth, refined, and well controlled—almost polite. Their mids and upper frequencies should satisfy even the most demanding listener. This is where the magic of these speakers lies. They seemed to come alive, and drew me into the music time after time. While their bass is quick and agile, if you're looking for thunderous bass, look elsewhere or add a subwoofer, though I don't think one is needed. The quickness of their bass gives the initial impression of being insubstantial. This couldn't be further from the truth. While their bass won't knock you over, it will fill your room.
Each of the amps left their own sonic signature on the MS4s. The Denon HT receiver was a little dark, although their mid- upper ranges were stellar as usual. The MS4 would be a welcome addition to any HT set up, as it was in mine. The Margules amp was sweeter, warmer, more liquid (due primarily to the tubed pre amp portion of this integrated) though slower when compared directly to the Denon. It was a good match with the lightening fast MS4. The EDGE gear brought out the BEAST in the MS4's. These remarkable speakers purred with delight the with this quality amplification. The mids and highs - in my experience - were beyond reproach and the bass was fast and tight. Hearing all this makes me believe that better, high quality amplification will just raise the performance of an already high performer, but even so, they will match up with a more diverse collection of amps than my Grands.
I was very impressed with the Euphonia MS4s, so much so that I asked the U.S. sales rep if I could purchase them. But, unfortunately, with the sinking U.S. dollar overseas, the MS4 price has gone up considerably since last year. With their smallish footprint, stunning good looks, and remarkable performance, they were everything I'd dreamt about since CES 2003 and more. They are engaging, refined, non-fatiguing, detailed, and fast, fast, fast. They can be matched with more amplifiers than my Grands, which need a fast, powerful amp to control their prodigious bass. The MS4s need a reasonable amount of power given their sensitivity rating, so hooking them up to a low-powered tube amp may be disappointing. If cost was not an object, and I had to choose between my beloved Grands and the MS4s, I'd pick the MS4s without hesitation. Just keep in mind to feed them a steady supply of quality amplification and I don't think you can go wrong. Highly recommended. Jim Grudzien
The last time I checked, Dali Speakers of Denmark manufactured sixteen lines of speakers, with more than sixty models, from their top-of-the-line Megaline, touted on Dali's website as the best speaker in the world, to car audio drivers. One fifth of all speakers sold in Nordic countries are made by Dali. They entered the U.S. market in 2002, hoping to expand their business even further. The Euphonia series is a recent development. The MS4s sent to us for review are the second-from-the-top of the Euphonia line.
Dali has a unique approach to loudspeaker manufacturing. Rather than running speakers down an assembly line, a two-person team is responsible for each pair of speakers from start to finish. This team method is said to improve quality control to a great degree. If you go to the Dali website and click on "Dali Story," in the section "People Behind," you will find profiles of ten people who work for the company. You can see their areas of responsibility, experience in the industry, and special interests. My favorite was from Technical Director Lars Worre, which read, "Passionate music lover and Hi-Fi enthusiast/ Better sound to the people!" This is the kind of person that I want to make my speakers!
There are several things worth mentioning about the construction and setup of the Euphonia MS4s. Though the manual encourages experimentation, Dali recommends aiming the speakers straight ahead, and positioning them at least ten inches from the rear wall, since this is the minimum distance that will allow the two rear ports to "breath." Dali also recommends that the distance between the speakers and the distance to the listening position be the same. I dutifully placed the MS4s thirty inches from the back wall, and moved my couch forward to form an equilateral triangle with the speakers, following the manual to a tee, but moving the couch back a little and slightly toeing in the speakers resulted in even better sound, as it caused the music to snap into focus.
The Euphonia series is a cost-no-object project, for which Dali claims that it has employed all of the expertise that the company has developed over the years. By the looks of the MS4s alone, this statement holds true. They are stunning statements of sculpted beauty, with their curved lines on all sides and their beautiful veneered cabinets. The enclosures, which are made from multiple layers of MDF, feature unique, "resonance-dispursed break-up mode bonding groove cabinet walls." This means that the side walls have V-shaped grooves cut into them that are then filled with a special adhesive. This method is said to make the cabinet inert and to suppress resonances. The front panel consists of a 16mm MDF outer panel bonded to a 22mm inner panel, which makes an extremely rigid surface on which to mount the drivers. Only the drivers should be vibrating with this setup! Even the plinths are given a special treatment. What Dali calls the "absolute zero grounded polymer granite bases" are made from a compound that mainly contains crushed granite. These stands are quite heavy and solid. It is clear that Dali has gone to great lengths in the Euphonia series to build the highest quality speaker they can, one that can compete with the world's finest.
The MS4 is a two-way design, with two 6.5-inch woofer/midrange drivers per cabinet. One unit handles the bass frequencies only, while the other reaches up into the midrange. A ribbon tweeter and a soft-dome wide dispersion tweeter are combined in a rigid aluminum block to form a unit, dubbed the "Euphonia Module," that handles the top end. The units, both of which use neodymium magnets, were combined to take advantage of the wide bandwidth of media such as SACD and DVD-A. The MS4s' woofers look unique. They are made from a wood and paper fiber composite, and have a "high-acceleration-geometry profile." This material is then coated with a material that, according to Dali, results in a driver that is both stiff and light, in order to "react with lightning speed to the signals." These drivers are designed to perform well outside of their performance range with no dynamic distortion, so that they can handle not only the fundamental music signals but their demanding transients.
Dali recommends its own Dali Wave speaker cable or wire from Wasatch for connection to the amplifier. The first thing that I discovered with these speakers was that they sounded quite a bit better bi-wired. I tried a single pair of Analysis Plus Oval 12 with the supplied high-quality jumpers, but felt that the sound was more open, transparent, and clean with the jumpers 86ed and a second set of Oval 12s inserted. The only problem was that the Analysis Plus spades, which are not huge, were too big to fit into the MS4s' binding posts. Not wanting to do the one-leg-of-the-spade trick, I borrowed an eight-foot pair of Analysis Plus 9s, which have Z Plug banana pins on the speaker end and spades on the amp end. With my set of Oval 12s, which have bananas at both ends, the MS4s were ready for action. The Analysis Plus cables proved a good match for these speakers, as they have for quite a few speakers that have passed through my system.
The MS4 is said to present a friendly load to amplifiers. When I first set them up, fearing that my tube amps didn't have enough power, I enlisted the help of a 350-watt Coda two-channel amp. That seemed to have plenty of muscle to drive the MS4s' 4-ohm, 88 dB load, but I soon became tired of the Coda and got brave. Pressing my Canary CA301MkII into service proved to be a revelation—its twenty-two tube watts drove the MS4s with muscle to spare. Compared to the Coda, the Canary imparted more color and drama to the music. Instruments no longer sounded thin, and a very dimensional stage grew before me. Feeling flush with success, I got braver still, and swapped my 25-watt Antique Sound Labs monoblocks for the Canary. Again to my amazement, these amps were more than up to the task of driving the MS4s, although with a slight reduction in dynamic impact and bass heft compared to the Canary. I also tried my Margules U280SC, which worked better in ultralinear, 60-watt mode than in 30-watt triode mode. Dali's claim that these speakers are amplifier-friendly can be taken to heart.
The transparency of the MS4s revealed the character of every amplifier I tried. The Coda amp, a solid, 350-watt chunk of metal that had more than enough muscle to drive these speakers. On the CD The Magic Box by John Williams, the Coda emphasized the strings of this great guitarist's instrument, but also diminished its body and tonal color to a noticeable degree. On the other hand, my Canary amp demonstrated that the guitar was hollow and made of wood. The music had more body and air, and the images were more tactile and real. Best of all, the bass sounded deeper than with any of the other amps.
The Margules U280SC, in its 30-watt triode setting, did not have enough muscle for the MS4s, but switching to its ultralinear setting proved interesting. I dug out an old favorite blues/rock disc, Paul Rogers' Muddy Waters Blues. The ex-Bad Company vocalist covers some blues chestnuts with a fresh, dynamic approach on this record,, backed by the likes of Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck, Jason Bonham, and Gary Moore, to name a stellar few. On cuts like "I Can't be Satisfied," Brian Setzer's (yeah, him too) lead guitar sounded incredibly real. The bass on this track was deep, taut, and tuneful, and the soundstage was deep and wide, although it gets better in this amp's triode setting.
My Antique Sound Labs MGSPM25DT drove the MS4s quite respectably, as did my little Monarchy solid state amp, but to keep this review in perspective, all of my comments about the MS4s will be confined to how they sounded using the Canary CA-301MkII amp and its matching preamp. (I had a gaggle of preamps too, but will save those comments for a later article.) The thought of more power did spring up a time or two. I wondered, for instance, how the MS4s would sound with the Canary CA-309 monoblocks at 45 wpc, or the excellent E.A.R. 890, but I never felt that I needed more power than what I had on hand.
I went back to the Rogers disc with the Canary, and the music took on more body, weight, and warmth. I heard deep, solid, and well fleshed-out bass lines that sailed along quite nicely. Both Pino Palidino's bass and the solid drumming from Jason Bonham sounded fluid and at the same time had impact and fullness. The MS4s were reminiscent of the Silverline Sonatas in this respect. Bass frequencies were tight enough to sound realistic, but never too tight. I used the word "taut" in the Silverline review, and it applys here as well. Bonham's slow, deliberate pounding of the kick drum on the opening song, "Muddy Waters Blues," filled the front of the room, and pressurizing the entire room with each beat. Palidino's bass guitar accompanied it with perfect syncopation. Similarly, on the John Williams disc, the sound had more flesh and solidity, yet the fluidity and speed of his guitar remained intact.
I then moved on to bass of a slightly different color, with Ray Brown on Telarc. The CD Ray Brown, Monte Alexander and Russell Malone has some well played and well recorded jazz featuring articulate bass fiddle with very good timbre. On the live track "Tin Tin Deo," the interplay of the drums, bass, and piano sounded clean and oh so involving. On the Dalis, this group sounded even more together and tight than they do on my Spendor 2/3s, and the MS4s rivaled the Silverline Sonatas in this regard, displaying a musical pace equal to the best. The way these speakers recreated the dynamic shadings on this disc made the music sound that much closer to reality. Along with their tightness and grip, the speakers breathed.
I cannot point to a disc in my collection that I use to listen to high frequencies. Having one would be really audio-geeking out, wouldn't it? Nonetheless, I threw everything I had in the way of high frequency assault at the tweeter modules of the MS4s, from the guitars of Metallica and Rush to the mass of violins on Bernard Hermann's "Overture" from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. The tweeter module always sounded detailed, clean, and in control. The speakers brought out lots of small details and spatial cues, and dynamic shadings could also be easily heard. At the same time, the MS4s sounded a little darker in the top end than the Silverline Sonatas. The Dalis did not sound airless or closed in, but they were definitely not as bright as most speakers that have been through these doors. At no time did I feel that the MS4s' top end sounded piercing, bright, or hyper detailed, even when they were hooked up to solid state amps. These qualities were very welcome when I listened for extended periods of time.
The MS4s' ribbon tweeters did not slur transients. I picked up Kraftwerk's The Mix the other day, partly out of curiosity and partly because it was on sale for $6.99 at Tower Records. Listening to all of the electronic bleeps and whistles never once made me flinch. All of the high-frequency goings-on sounded detailed yet oh-so-smooth. The tweeter wasn't prominent—in fact, no part of the music was more prominent than another. Listening to Bernard Hermann's music on these speakers was pure joy. The lightly-struck percussion instruments that are featured in many of his compositions took on a natural speed and delicacy that made me want to reach out and touch them. Some of the sounds that Bernard Hermann elicited from the National Philharmonic Orchestra rivaled the ones I heard on the Kraftwerk CD. In my 12 x 20-foot room, I never felt that the MS4s produced an exaggerated sense of scale. There were no cavernously deep back walls or 20-foot-tall drum kits. Neither the soundstage nor the sound imaging was minuscule by any means. If the recording allowed, the MS4s' soundstage was spacious, airy, and believable.
In a rare music-buying spree, my wife picked up two CDs by the popular Mexican singer Pepe Aguilar. (I am not a big fan of his, but I was outvoted.) I discovered that the vocals sounded natural on these discs almost by accident. Putting on one of them for my wife, I continued to do chores around the house. After passing the MS4s many times, I was drawn into the room to listen to quite a bit of music that I would not normally hear. This interruption of household duties stretched into ZZ Top, then to Sade, and finally to Ulu Dara before I had to go back to work. Midrange timbres, from voices or instruments, sounded realistic, never thin or reedy. The MS4s never called undue attention to themselves, despite the seductive quality of the midrange.
Whether the amp was a solid state powerhouse or a low-watt tube unit, the Dali MS4s possessed an inherent tightness. This doesn't mean that their pace and rhythm was restricted, nor that they lacked dynamics. A slight twist of the volume knob got me all the decibels I needed, though it also got me a little less bloom and a very slight stiffness. I never got bright sound, thank goodness. I finally decided that none of the differences I perceived between the MS 4s and other loudspeakers really mattered, because listening to the MS 4s was fun.
Before I got these speakers, I thought that I would not like them. I presumed that they would be hard to drive, that the ribbon tweeters would sound bright, and so on. All of these expectations were proved wrong, and the MS4s really grew on me. If you are looking for speakers in this price range (or above), you would do well to have a listen to these beautiful, well-engineered loudspeakers. They come from a well-established European company whose intent is to produce speakers that excel in their respective price range.
The day after attending a Greater Los Angeles and Orange County Audiophile Society meeting in which speakers the likes of Wilson and Sonus Faber were on hand, my fellow PFO writer and good friend Victor Chavira had this to say as he walked in my room and heard the Dalis: "Wow, those are every bit as good as the speakers I heard last night!" Well said, Victor. Francisco Duran
Euphonia MS4 loudspeakers
Frequency response: 33-28.000 Hz
DALI Loudspeakers, USA