Dynaudio Contour S5.4

Dynaudio Contour S5.4

A Speaker For Our Times

Dave Thomas

January 2004


Sensitivity (2.83 V/1 m): 89 dB
Recommended Power: Medium size room: >50 watts, Large size room: >100 watts
IEC Long Term Power Handling: <350 watts
Impedance, Nominal: 4 ohms
Impedance, (20-200 Hz): 3.8 – 8.7 ohms
Impedance, (200-20 kHz): 4.5 – 7.5 ohms
Impedance, Phase Shift (20-200 Hz): -31.3° – +13.3°
Impedance, Phase Shift (200-20 kHz): -16.7° – +16.5°
Impedance, HF (200 kHz): 15.4 ohms
Frequency Response (+/- 3 dB): 30 Hz – 27 kHz
Resonance Frequency: 32 Hz
Internal Cabinet Volume: 69 litres
Bass Principle: Bass Reflex
Weight: 101.6 lbs
Dimensions (W x H x L): 8.4” x 57.5” x 16.1” (214 x 1460 x 410 mm)
Crossover: 3-way. The crossover is impedance corrected
Crossover Frequencies: 800, 2000Hz
Crossover Slope: 6dB/octave
Connection: WBT Gold plated binding posts (for spades and 4mm plugs)
Driver Compliment: (2) 20cm woofers, 15cm midrange, Esotar² tweeter

Price: $8,000/pair

Dynaudio North America
1144 Tower Lane
Bensenville, Illinois 60106, USA

Telephone: 630-238-4200
Fax: 630-238-0112
Email: sales@dynaudiousa.com
Website: http://www.dynaudiousa.com

It’s A Tower Sweety
There are many lessons to be learned about becoming an audio reviewer. For me, one of the most painful came on the day when the nearly five foot tall Dynaudio Contour S5.4 loudspeakers arrived at my home. You see I made the mistake of not being there when they arrived and forgot to warn my fiancé Mittie that they were coming (I’m sure that you can see where this is going). What made matters worse was that I had argued with her the night before about how her “collection” of shoes from what seems like the Mesozoic Period were unnecessarily taking up space in our storage closet. As I was pulling up to the front of the house I saw the delivery truck pulling away. “Oh shucks!” I said to myself, except I didn’t exactly use the word ‘shucks’ if you catch my drift. I hadn’t had this feeling of dread going into a house since the day my dad figured out that those “F’s” on my report cards didn’t really stand for Fantastic!

“What the Hell is this?!” is what I was greeted with at the door. Trying to behave as though there was no big deal I calmly looked at these two monolithic boxes and said “These are just a couple of Danish-made tower speakers from a company called Dynaudio Sweety” (As though saying that they were Danish was going to make a difference; it didn’t). “All I know is that I’d better not find these big-ass boxes anywhere in the house or you and me are going to go at it,” she said as she hopped on her broom and … er, uh I mean left.

After that run-in with my little Snuggle-bunny, I knew the one thing that I had going for me was the fact that the Dynaudio Contour S5.4s were gorgeously finished in an elegant maple veneer and maple is one of Mittie’s favorite wood finishes. I quickly unpacked the speakers, stored the boxes in the garage and connected the speakers up to my Electrocompaniet Nemos for a quick listen. I also knew that Mittie’s favorite CD was Kenny G’s “Breathless.” So I threw it on real fast and invited her down for a listen and to actually see the speakers. She grudgingly agreed and came down into the entertainment room. “Wow!” she said when she first got a look at the speakers. “These really look nice. They’re kind of tall but they look nice down here and go well with the furniture.” Mission accomplished. I had won her over and she could now go back to being her sweet, sweet self. Of course she couldn’t resist getting in one last jab as she went back up the stairs. “I can’t believe you still listen to Kenny G.”

And Now Back To The Review

With that little shared lesson out of the way, let me get on to the business at hand. The Dynaudio Contour S5.4 is a speaker that is perfect for this time of high-quality home audio and video entertainment. While not necessarily designed to be a home theater speaker it sure as heck performs well enough to handle many of the bomb blasts and gun blazing car chase sequences of some of my favorite DVDs. And when it comes to bomb blasts and blazing guns no one does it better than John Woo did in two of my favorite discs Mission Impossible II and Face Off. Bear in mind that I wasn’t using a full surround sound system here, just a simple two channel set up with these beauties was enough for me to get a good taste of what these speakers could do for watching movies. But obviously their true calling is as a transducer of music and to say that they do that well would be like saying that Halle Berry would make a nice prom date.

The Dynaudio name has always been synonymous with high-quality, high-performance drivers just like those used in the S5.4. According to the white paper on these speakers, the neodymium magnets, formed aluminium voice coils and stiff magnesium silicate polymer (MSP) cone membranes of the S5.4’s two 20cm woofers, demand a solid foundation to deliver maximum dynamics and an ideal impulse response. Thus, a solid metal plate, fused to the wooden cabinet by a resonance-absorbing damping panel, reinforces the front of the loudspeaker. This highly rigid construction provides an ideal foundation for the highly resolving 15cm MSP midrange driver, and the incredible new Esotar² tweeter (which is also used in the company’s more expensive Confidence line). The tweeter also has a pure aluminum voice coil and a neodymium magnet ring. The drivers are mounted onto a material that offers exceptional cooling. The high quality crossover components are also attached with a special heat-dissipating adhesive onto an aluminum plate, which is integrated into the cabinet’s backside. As a result, all components operate at an ideal and stable working temperature.

The cabinet is made from 20mm thick MDF with internal MDF bracing and bituminous damping panels. There is a large 100mm diameter vent which is trumpet shaped on both ends built into the rear of the cabinet and foam vent plugs are supplied to help control any bass anomalies caused by room restrictions. Grills are magnetically clamped on to an artistically contoured (pun intended) metal baffle, which is mounted on the front of the cabinet. Spikes are cleverly concealed within the base of the tower. In fact, they were concealed so well that for the first two days I listened to the speakers without them being properly coupled to the floor. A quick call to Dynaudio’s Mike Manousellis fixed that as he told me that the supplied hex wrench should be used to unscrew the spikes from out of the bottom of the speakers and into the floor. Duuh!

Speaker connection is done via a set of rather tricky to use WBT binding posts that are designed for either spades or 4mm plugs. Thankfully the posts are located at the base of the cabinet so you don’t waste a lot of (expensive nowadays) speaker cables by having to run cables two or three feet up the back of the speaker to reach the binding posts. That was something I used to hate about my old Merlin VSMs.

Sounds Like …?

During my early listening sessions I found it difficult psychologically to get around the S5.4’s rather peculiar driver alignment. Rather than using the classic tweeter-midrange-woofer array or even the popular D’Appolito midrange-tweeter-midrange array, the S5.4 sits its two woofers above the midrange which in turn sits above the tweeter. When I sat in the sweet spot it seemed as though the high frequencies were being generated at chest level while sitting and that the bass was above my head. But once I got all that psychoacoustic mumbo-jumbo out of my head I realized that the musical performances were being reproduced in a very realistic space and with excellent height and depth. Though I also couldn’t help but think that this odd driver array had something to do with why these speakers did so well with movies.

After removing the Kenny G disc, which really does belong to her, (honest it’s not mine!) I put on one of my favorite recordings to use for loudspeaker evaluation, “Exotic Dances From the Opera” performed by Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra (Reference Recordings RR-71CD). The opening track, Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden is a perfect test of a speaker’s ability to realistically reproduce huge orchestral scale and still lend delicacy to tiny bells and chimes. The S5.4s do this exceptionally well. The sense of air and space around the instruments and musicians seems true; instruments that support from the rear of the soundstage sound as if that’s where they’re placed. Lesser speaker designs often shrink the depth of the stage to make all instruments sound as though they are coming from the same horizontal plain. Not these speakers. They throw a large enough stage to make all instruments sound like they occupy real space.

The ability to reproduce live jazz is still the thing that warms my cockles. What warms your cockles is your own business. Any loudspeaker that costs what this Dynaudio speaker costs has got to bring a whole lot more to the table than just reproducing the music, it must also reproduce the emotional involvement of the audience. The late Eva Cassidy’s “Live At Blues Alley” [Blix Street Records G2-10046] is a performance that is filled with the kind of emotion that if not reproduced correctly, will illuminate a speaker’s shortcomings. There is always an emotional energy that can be felt in your toes, in your breathing pattern, and in your eyes when you go to see and hear a live performance. Because of the intimate nature of most blues or jazz clubs that energy is intensified. That’s why you’ll always see at least one person become overwhelmed by that energy and get up out of their seat and begin doing one of those dances that can sometimes inexplicably cause torrential rainfall. Track 2 from this delightful disc, Stormy Monday is one of those emotionally charged songs. It starts out in classic moody fashion but just moments after the first chorus Cassidy blisters a small part of the lyrics just enough to let you know where this tune’s mood is headed. The S5.4s let her soar when she wants to and gently brings her back into intimate focus. 

These speakers did not seem to emphasize any one aspect of the performance. In other words they don’t seem to possess any particular tonal colors. While some tastes may feel that this means that the speakers might sound a bit bland, the way they really sound is honest. These speakers will reveal the true quality of your recordings. I learned that the hard way when I dug out one of my old favorite discs Phil Collins’ “No Jacket Required” [Atlantic 81240]. Drum machines? Yuck! This is one crappy recording.


I really enjoyed my time with the Dynaudio Contour S5.4. They settled in to my reference system so well and unassumingly that I initially took them for granted. They handled the different types of music with such naturalness that I didn’t initially appreciate their virtues: accurate soundstaging, fine imaging, and deep well-articulated bass. This is a speaker system that does it’s job and gets out of the way of the music and according to my fiancé, really looks nice with the furniture. Highly recommended.

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