DALI Callisto 2C Active Digital Speaker System

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Equipment report
Music servers and computer audio
DALI Callisto 2C
DALI Callisto 2C Active Digital Speaker System

Later my mind was blown, again. I did some close-in-time comparisons between the Callistos running off their included (generic, 2-conductor 18AWG) power cords, and a pair of AudioQuest NRG-Z3 (3-conductor, thick) cords. I had no idea AC cables could make such a large difference in the sound. It wasn’t just emerging from a blacker background; everything was more crisp and exciting. The soundstage was better defined, and the music seemed louder. Instruments had more separation, and their individual characters stood out more. And voices seemed to be “flesh-and-blood present” in the room with me. The incredible realism, accuracy, and liveliness that I had been enjoying for one month with the Callistos went one step further in the right direction.

Do not even consider running your Callistos with the included power cords. Since you are running D/A processor, preamp, power amp, and speaker off a single cord, it needs to be a premium one. Is it crazy to spend $500 on a pair of AC cords for a sub-$5000 system? Not after hearing the sonic improvements they bring. You may be able to find less expensive AC cords that also work well, so experiment. I was a doubter before; I thought at most AC cords could filter some noise, but no more. With a complex unit like the Callisto, they can actually render across-the-board improvements that add up to a serious upgrade. On both solo and choral vocals, a real acid test for any system, the realism was uncanny. Every emotion and delicate touch the singers were putting in there came across clear as a bell. On Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Scarecrow” from the album Peepshow, the sound was so intimate I felt Siouxsie was trying to seduce me (though it’s not a love song). I never even realized how much she hams it up before; it’s on the border of overdone.

When streaming digitally, the BluOS controller doesn’t give you any tone controls. I used the Callistos in a very “soft” room which helped—carpet, fabric curtains, and acoustic foam on some of the walls. The frequency balance of these speakers is really very good in such an environment, very neutral. The Steven Wilson remixes of Yes (five studio albums) came across as natural and organic. I felt I was present in the room at a 70s rock jam session, complete with brown/orange color scheme, shag carpet, and bell-bottoms.

The bass is really extraordinary for bookshelf speakers. The one rear-ported 6-1/2" woofer in the 2C does an incredible job down low. Perhaps it’s because of DALI’s SMC pole piece, or other special magnet design details. Or the fact that the dedicated amplifier is precisely matched with the digital/analog hybrid crossover, drivers, and internal wiring? It’s more low end than you would expect from bookshelf speakers. The bottom octave is still missing, of course, so no organ music, but aside from that the bass was very satisfying in a small room.

Which brings me to the dynamics of these speakers. Classical music and jazz sounded very, very fine through them—yes, very impressive. But when you put on some rock, funk, hip-hop, or dance music they really come alive. The incredibly bouncy dynamics will have your toe tapping indeed; you may even dance around in joy. Our preconceptions of something Danish might be that it would be precise, clinical, and dignified. Um, throw that out the window. These babies can get down and dirty with the best of them. They were born for rock; they love rock; and they love dance beats. Their best friend is a drum kit. It might partly be the Class D power amplifiers. I have always felt Class D amps had very explosive dynamics. My first experience was from an early prototype made by NAD in 1994. The 24 years of refinement hasn’t hurt. The Callistos are also capable of incredibly delicate, gentle, and smooth passages of acoustic music. The amps are not “rough around the edges,” and have no drawbacks from their Class D operation that I could detect at all.

“CD quality” tracks on Tidal somehow sounded better than actual CDs through this system, and the MQA tracks went beyond that. Some classical recordings, like Philip Glass Piano Works by Vikingur Ólafsson on Deutsche Grammophon, were so uncannily realistic that I felt I was standing in choir rehearsal or at an opera lesson in front of an actual piano. There is something qualitatively different about a good MQA track that takes you one full step closer to real, live acoustic music. Each instrument or singer seems easier to pick out from the mix, occupying a separate space on the stage. It is by far the finest sounding format and reproduction chain that I have ever had in my home. For under $5k for the whole system (+$20/month for Tidal), that seems like a bargain.

Since the Callisto system runs internally at 24/96 I am going to assume it is what they call “MQA Core” decoding, which performs the first unfold. On the “Bob Talks” (Bob Stuart) section of the MQA official site, Stuart says that Core decoder “sound quality is higher than from ‘No’ or ‘Authenticating’ decoders but lower than a ‘Full’ decoder.” So the Callisto falls somewhere in the middle—not quite a full decoder, which is available in some stand-alone DACs that are capable of 192 or 384kHz internally. However, Stuart also says that Core “recovers all the direct music-related information” from an MQA-encoded track.

To get the best sound from digital sources, particularly MQA, it is essential to set “Replay Gain” in the audio settings menu to “Disabled.” I discovered this late in the review process, and when I listened again to MQA sources I was even  more impressed by the sound quality. Every single MQA file was now distinctly beyond CD quality. The presentation was liquid, revealing, and natural. It sounded more like live acoustic music than any CD. Disabling replay gain is a must for anyone sending MQA through BluOS.

One limitation of these speakers, which could be a deal-breaker for some, is that they can’t play super-loud without sounding a little strained. Not an issue for me, as I have sensitive ears and listen at moderate levels. But certainly you will not get the same headroom you would from a (likely more expensive) larger system with a bigger power amp. Not a huge surprise for a single 6-1/2" woofer, but I need to mention it since it is one of the only weak points I was able to find during my listening. For those who like the Callisto 2C’s integrated concept and ease of use but would like deeper bass extension and the ability to play louder, DALI makes the floorstanding Callisto 6C.

The DALI Callisto 2C system is highly recommended. I immensely enjoyed my time with it, rediscovering favorite music in the highest fidelity I have ever experienced in my home. It does a lot of things very well: detail, dynamics, flat frequency response, soundstaging, revealing artistic subtleties, and just plain excitement. These bookshelf models have more bass and play louder than you would ever expect from speakers of this size. However, others might have a different idea of “loud” than I do, so keep in mind they are not for true headbangers. You will want to use them with a premium AC power conditioner and AC cables. Also, the best sound comes from lossless digital sources including network-attached storage (hi-res PCM up to 24/192), Tidal Hi-Fi streaming with MQA, and digital-connected CD. Analog sources can also be connected and volume-controlled, including plugging line-level RCA directly into the speakers.

The DALI Callisto 2C is an ideal system for those who want high-end sound quality in an easy-to-use and highly capable package.

Specs & Pricing

Type: Powered wireless speakers with integrated D/A converters and separate preamp unit
Driver complement: High-frequency, 1x 29mm soft dome; midrange/low-frequency:1x 6½"
Inputs: RCA and 3.5mm phone analog, coaxial and TosLink digital, USB, WiFi, LAN, Bluetooth
Frequency range: 47Hz–30kHz (+/-3dB)
Amplifier power: 30W (250W for musical peaks)
Bass-reflex tuning frequency: 46Hz
Dimensions: 15.5" x 7.9" x 12.7"
Weight: 22.3 lbs.
Price: $4750/pair with Sound Hub and BluOS module; $4300/pair without the BluOS

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