POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE
as reviewed by John Zurek
In Greek legend, Daedalus was the artist and inventor who built the labyrinth in Crete for King Minos to trap the Minotaur. He was later imprisoned in it with his son Icarus, and they escaped by means of wings that Daedalus made. Mythologists suppose that Daedalus is not really a person, but the common symbol for the first architects, craftsmen, and sculptors, who principally worked with wood.
I don't remember what attracted me to the room at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in which the Daedalus speakers were being driven by the gorgeous Butler amps. Maybe it was the name, maybe the sound, but I listened to so many systems during the show that the reason escapes me. After speaking for a while with Lou Hinkley, the man behind Daedalus Audio, I discovered that we were both musicians, and I approached Lou with the idea of reviewing the DA-1s for Positive Feedback. I've always wanted to hear an audio product designed by a musician. He agreed, but it took about seven months for our schedules to catch up.
Hinkley has been making PA/studio speakers and amplifier/speaker combos for acoustic stringed instruments since 1992. Daedalus is highly regarded for being one of very few instrument amplifier companies that actually tries not to distort the original sound. The DA-1 loudspeaker, their first offering to the world of high-end audio, is one unusual transducer. At first glance, it looks like your typical floorstander with two tweeters, but closer inspection reveals much more. Two tweeters? Both the same? One's not a supertweeter? Nope—two tweeters with slightly offset axes. There is also a three-position tweeter-level adjustment switch that lets you tailor the highs to your room.
Let's talk cabinets. The DA-1s have the real thing—hardwood cabinets, not MDF, with dovetail joinery and an Old-World-style, hand rubbed oil finish. This is most unusual. Again, looking closer reveals many complex angles. The front is gently angled to provide time and phase alignment, and the cabinet is also angled from outside corner to inside. According to Lou, "The hardwood cabinets are incredibly stiff and preserve all the energy of the music without adding resonances or coloration." These speakers scream "Hand made in the US of A!" This type of craftsmanship, particularly from hardwood, is all too uncommon these days. You've got to appreciate the handiwork even before you hear them.
The DA-1's hand-built passive crossover network is designed and made by Guy Velurud. The network is fully phase- and time-aligned, and maintains a very stable 6-ohm impedance. All internal cabling is 14-gauge wire by Silver-Sonic. The silk-dome tweeters are made by Vifa, and the 8-inch and 5-inch drivers are made in the US. All connectors are gold plated, crimped, and secured with a touch of silver solder. The binding posts are made of heavy, gold-plated brass, and accept banana plugs or up to 4-gauge cable. The tweeter switch is mil-spec, with gold contacts. There is an unusual, rear-firing, three-port configuration. Recommended amplifier power is 1 to 600 watts per side. Sensitivity is 96dB, 1w/1m, and the 6-ohm impedance is very stable throughout the frequency range.
The DA-1s were easy to set up. I tried them in several positions in my room and they sounded consistent in all of them, except when they were very close to walls. At first I had the tweeter switch at -3dB, but later decided that I liked it better in the neutral position. The speakers sounded smooth and neutral, but lively. They were detailed, but extremely easy to listen to—definitely not overly analytical. These are some of the least fatiguing speakers I've encountered. They have a huge sweet spot. For off-axis listening, they are among the best—if not the best—on my list.
I started listening with "Goodbye," from Emmy Lou Harris' Wrecking Ball. This cut features a djembe, a low-pitched African hand drum. I had never felt the presence of this drum with such authority. It was literally there, stage left, before me, pounding away. The interplay between the djembe, Emmy Lou Harris' voice, and Buddy Miller's guitar was pure musical communication. I loved it.
Next up was "Old Devil Moon," from Jackie Terrason and Cassandra Wilson's Rendezvous. This cut had me concerned. Wilson's husky alto sounded a little too husky, indicating a midrange coloration. Fortunately, this was a premature conclusion. I played other cuts on this disc, and other works by Ms. Wilson, and her voice sounded very close to the way I've heard it in live performance.
Let's talk bass. Familyman Barret's Fender bass on the title cut from Exodus, by Bob Marley and the Wailers, had the purr and the growl of low notes, but none of the overhang. The DA-1s sounded like a great bass guitar amp, and they shook my room. What about acoustic bass? On other cuts, I could hear the wood body resonate, and the attack of the plucked strings was precise.
Next up was "My Love for You Will Never Die," by Robben Ford and the Blue Line. Could the DA-1s rock? Yes, with the best of ‘em. This disc has large dynamic swings, and when Robben and the boys play loud, things can get congested and harsh. The DA-1s handled the recording effortlessly. Once I got over the fact that they could handle the dynamics, I was dancing in my chair.
On to Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. When I die, I want a brass and percussion ensemble to play this piece at my funeral. I love it. I've also played it many times. I am a tympanist, and I feel shortchanged by the timbre, tonality, and thunder of the kettledrums on many recordings. They are hidden in the back of the orchestra, and by the time their sound travels to the listener, much of the impact is lost. Not so with this recording. Both tympanists are faithfully represented, and even my fussy tympani self approved. How about the huge Paiste symphonic gongs? Get out! I could feel them vibrating, and felt sorry for the guy who had to dampen them. These large discs of truly heavy metal can hurt you when you try to shut them up!
The DDA-1s don't image like most speakers. Why? They sound more like live music. When you listen to live music, you don't get the soundstage and imaging you hear in your audio system unless you are in very controlled circumstances—the perfect seat in a good auditorium, listening to unamplified orchestral or chamber music. The last time I went to see the excellent and underrated Da Vinci Quartet, I couldn't hear decent imaging because of the room and the position of my seat. As soon as I forgot about that, which took about thirty seconds, I enjoyed the music, much more than any string quartet recording I've ever heard. My point is that the DA-1s sound like live music in this respect. They don't do pinpoint audiophile imaging, but they do sound much more like the real thing.
Dynamics are among the DA-1s' best attributes. I kept expecting them to sound harsh when I cranked the music, but it didn't happen unless my amp was pushed to the limit. The DA-1s play louder and stay more faithful when doing so than any other speakers I've heard, save for the B+W Nautiluses, which cost about four times as much. The DA-1s do not run out of headroom, and this is very unusual, especially for their size.
Are these typical audiophile speakers? No. Some audiophiles might not like them. Some in our hobby are too used to lounging in their sterile listening rooms, listening to what they define as perfect sound. So many systems I hear these days sound safe, just like many orchestras, singers, instrumentalists, and bands. No one wants to take a chance any more. Musicians have learned to take the route that producers want, and that steals the passion. It seems that many people prefer to hear perfect performances that take no chances, and are slick but unmoving. They have been punched so many times to remove mistakes that they lose their soul and meaning. There are no perfect performances, except in our listening rooms.
The DA-1s do not provide perfect audiophile sound. They provide passion, and sound more like real music than almost any other speakers I've heard. They have a different take, for sure, but isn't this hobby supposed to be about live sound? I admire Lou Hinkley for undertaking this project. He didn't sneak into the high end by making safe mini-monitors or mid-priced, mid-sized floorstanders. He jumped in all the way, building his best and only model. Bravo!
Don't you just love a pleasant surprise? It is so nice to listen to components that come from outside the box, even if they are boxes. I could listen to these speakers for a long, long time. In fact, if I hadn't recently bought new speakers, I would be after these jewels. I may buy them anyway. Because Daedalus is a newcomer to the high end, they only have two dealers so far. I wouldn't let that stop you. I'm sure there will be more soon. Check these speakers out. Rumor has it that matching rears and a center channel are on the way, if you're into surround sound. Do you want speakers that sound like live music? Buy these. It's that simple. Welcome to the high end, Lou! John Zurek