DALI Helicon 400 Loudspeaker

Equipment report
DALI Helicon 400
DALI Helicon 400 Loudspeaker

The $3900 DALI Helicon 400 is a medium-height floorstander that uncannily resembles this Danish firm’s premium offering, the Euphonia MS4 [see Issue 146]. It sports the same voluptuous, curvaceous side panels. Internally, it mirrors much of the Euphonia’s framework, with extensive bracing and asymmetrical partitions and multiple layers of MDF. It’s a two-anda- half-way bass reflex design that houses a matched pair of ox-blood-red 6.5" drivers (one bass, one mid-bass), each in its own ported chamber. Up top, DALI combines a soft-dome tweeter with a 2.5" ribbon super tweeter that’s mounted on a modular aluminum panel. The Helicon 400 crossovers are hardwired— no circuit boards—and isolated in a separate chamber located in the loudspeaker’s base.

Simply stated, the Helicon 400 ascends the very short list of premium $4K floorstanders. It conveys a vivid, lively personality, and warm refinement. Tonal consistency blooms uninterruptedly across the octaves—rich and majestic in the bass, and effortlessly open in the treble. Frequency response was designed to be flat, 20–30 degrees off-axis. The ease with which I could laze about in the wide sweet spot confirms DALI’s claim. The Helicon projected a yin-like warmth with a fully fleshed mid- and upper-bass structure that never sacrificed definition or detail. Mids were neutral, neither laidback or aggressively forward. Bass was controlled and defined, even as it descended to its lower 30Hz limit. But it was the DALI tweeter module and its expressiveness in the transitional uppermids and treble that topped a long list of attributes. Recordings that I had long ago dismissed as having so-so highs, throttled dynamics, and strangled transients seemed to flower as if they were emerging in a rain shower after a long drought.

The Helicon was never anything less than coherent and of one voice. That is, I didn’t perceive warmth and expansiveness in the bass and coolness and constriction in the treble. Nor was there any evidence of a rhythmic mismatch between the ribbon tweeter and the cone drivers—a discontinuity that would have been easily revealed by a great SACD piano recording like Warren Bernhardt’s So Real [DMP]. The Helicon scaled the large orchestral dynamics of Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition [Minnesota/Oue, Reference Recordings] with fearless bravado, yet relished the delicacy of lowlevel details and microdynamics.

The Helicon could sound immeasurably small and play at the lowest levels yet remain satisfying. For example, when Johnny Cash sings “Bird On A Wire” [American Recordings, American] and extends a note, his voice doesn’t merely disappear into the orchestral fog. The Helicon 400s hung on to diminishing notes with remarkable intensity. As Cash’s weathered vibrato trailed off, I could hear more character and emotion than ever before. Yet the real surprise was how well the ultra-refined DALI could loosen its bowtie and cummerbund and friggin’ rock out. Never had the gusts of George Harrison’s guitar distortion and feedback sounded so purely dirty on my British LP copy of the Beatles’ “Revolution” [Hey Jude, Parlophone].

A couple of nitpicks. In my room, the 400s had a bass peak in the 40–50Hz range that thickened the sound of certain orchestral material. It also took a 100dBplus succession of Bernhardt’s pounding piano crescendos to perceive a minor cabinet resonance overlaying the instrument’s soundboard. While neither artifact robs the system of speed or overall transparency, the added fullness is not strictly spot-on.

Although the Helicon is amplifierfriendly and easily driven with about 100Wpc, only the best associated components and cables will reveal the magic of its transparency. If you scrimp, this speaker will call you on your stinginess. In a world of hype and high prices, the straight-talking Helicon 400 speaks my language.