Dynaudio Audience 72SE 5.1-Channel Speaker System

Equipment report
Dynaudio Audience 72SE
Dynaudio Audience 72SE 5.1-Channel Speaker System

It’s been said that the only things you can count on in this world are death and taxes. Personally I would add Bob Dylan and Wallace and Gromit to the list. And Dynaudio—a speaker company that just doesn’t leave a lot to chance. Case in point: Since its founding in 1977 Dynaudio is one of the few speaker manufacturers that designs and builds its own drivers; while many other companies lean heavily on subcontractors for fabrication and assembly, Dynaudio is a virtual soup-to-nuts organization that sees the product through from its earliest conceptual stage to the moment the last strip of packing tape secures the shipping carton. It’s this long history of hands-on experience that contributes to the build-quality and consistently high levels of performance throughout Dynaudio’s extensive line—including the Audience, its entry-level speaker system.

The Audience system is built around the 72SE, a floorstander suited for medium- to smaller-sized rooms. A bass-reflex design with a narrow baffle and columnar shape, it arrays its drivers in a two-and-a-half-way configuration— doubling up on the mid/bass units to satisfy the need for bass extension, dynamics, and output in a hometheater system. (It’s also less complicated and costly than designing a true three-way.) To fill in the bottom octave, Dynaudio offers the SUB250 subwoofer. It may not be much bigger than its single 10-inch driver, but don’t tell it that! Its sealed enclosure is as solid as a brick, and the sub jackhammers low frequencies down into the low-30Hz range. Control flexibility is excellent, with gain control, LFE input, line-level I/Os, sub low-pass and satellite high-pass settings, a phase toggle, and a slave output for running as many as six 250s.

Dynamite Sound

What’s in a name? “Audience” says it all. The 72SE system proved to be a bold, extroverted sonic performer that was born to draw a crowd. Bass response was flat down to 40Hz with a warm overall sound through the upper bass and lower midrange. The mids were slightly forward, with the kind of power and dynamics that dare you to try and rein ’em in—like holding up a mirror to Mr. Universe and asking him not to flex. On the country- classical fusion recording, Appalachian Journey [Sony Classics], the Dynaudios sang out with energy in the crucial upper bass and lower midrange that perfectly expressed the rich, resonant voices of Edgar Meyer’s bass and Yo Yo Ma’s cello. I n s t r u m e n t s imaged precisely across the stage, which is especially important on this record because it’s sometimes hard to tell the cello from the bass when they tiptoe in and out of each others tonal ranges. Mark O’Connor’s fiddle, which was often doubled by Ma’s cello, had the aggressive edge detail that distinguishes a fiddleplayer from his uptown concert- hall counterpart, the violin player.

The 72SE established a rock beat as steady as Charlie Watts’ drum kit. It also didn’t shy away from the raging keyboard workout that Fiona Apple delivered as she sang “Oh, you silly, stupid pastime of mine,” during “Parting Gift” [Extraordinary Machine, Epic]. As for treble extension, the Audience was smooth with only a hint of hardness on Norah Jones’ piano transients [Come Away With Me, Blue Note]—a slight coolness that obscured the finest gradations of keyboard dynamics.

Tonally the 72SE does have its Technicolor moments, as well. There are theatrical bumps in output in the upper bass and the upper midrange/ lower treble region, which made the speaker more effective at conveying cinema action than orchestral nuance. At moments brass and winds would glare during the battle sequence of Gladiator, and I expected more dimensionality from the layers of string players. This tonal shift was flattering to female vocalists, but it made baritones or strong singers with chest resonances sound too light, as if they’d shed some weight on the latest crash-diet craze. While the retro-excitement of classic British Invasion rock was front row and center during the Redwalls “It’s Alright” [DeNova, Capitol], I lost some of the pitch details of the walking bass line due to what was probably a combination of plummy bass and vestigial cabinet/ port resonance. There’s more to the story, however.

Dynaudio understands that the speaker/room interface is a complex and highly listener-dependent equation especially in the lower frequencies. Therefore the company includes a set of foam port plugs for those occasions where the owner feels bass output could be reduced and in-room response smoothed out. My initial impression of the speakers without the plugs was of some bass boost in the 50–80Hz range and a bit of overhang from the port. Exciting enough when cannons are raking the foredeck in Master and Commander, but for music I wanted something a bit more accurate. Inserting the foam plugs into the ports effectively neutralized the mid-bass bloom without attenuating the 72SE’s bottom octaves. Results will vary, but I appreciated having this option.

The Audience Roars!

In multichannel mode the Audience system excelled under the pressure of high SPLs. Its tonal balance remained stable, and dynamics uncompressed. Cyndi Lauper brings her charismatic best to the concert DVD Live…at Last (Live At Town Hall). The Audience system demonstrated terrific versatility, reproducing music both raucous and refined. Lauper’s salsa version of her trademark “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” features an explosive horn section, some serious percussion, and profoundly deep bass—all of which were a cakewalk for the Dynaudios. Yet the Audience system easily switched gears and reproduced the intimacy of “Time After Time” with its delicate and detailed dulcimer, guitar, and violin accompaniment.

Dynaudio is one of the few manufacturers in my experience that accurately voices its smallest speakers against its largest ones. Why is this important? Because you do not want your attention drawn away from the screen. Surround and back channels should merely reinforce the action and add to the surround-sound illusion, not become action stars themselves. Dynaudio’s compact, bass-reflex 52SE monopoles might look diminutive, but by incorporating the identical mid/ bass and treble transducers of the 72SE, they retain much of the tonal balance and dynamics of the main speakers. If there is going to be a discontinuity between the LCRs and the surround speakers, the movie Blue Crush will reveal it. It’s a soundtrack that makes the Pacific Ocean its star in a way that conveys its fearful and awesome power within the curl of a pipeline. Here the low-frequency rush of waves cresting and crashing along the shoreline moves from the back of the room in diagonal fashion to the front. Having surround speakers that output real bass, as the 52Ses do, helps smooth overall in-room response and create vastly more immersive and credible surround fields.

The lynchpin of any home-theater system is its center channel. Its performance will either raise the level of the entire system or leave a hole that can’t be overcome. The 122C was smooth and tonally consistent with the 72SEs during panning; its slightly darker balance was pleasing on hotter soundtracks. The impeccably crafted surround mix of Elton John’s “Honky Cat” on SACD [Honky Chateau, Rocket] remained true to the spirit of the original because his distinctive voice and piano are upfront and dead center while backing instruments such as conga, brass, and banjo are moved to the surrounds. What made this mix work, however, were the timbral honesty, low-frequency extension, and dynamic muscle of the 122C center channel and the full-bodied richness of the 52SE surrounds. The Audience system’s seamless and compelling surround sound reminded me that, as solid as the little SUB250 was, subwoofers are no substitute for satellite (and center channel) speakers that produce genuine bass of their own.

The Audience is not Dynaudio’s most expensive or sophisticated system. And the hardcore audio-only crowd will find the upscale Contour and Confidence Series hew to more rigid audiophile guidelines. However, with its favorable excitement-to-price ratio the Audience system strikes a universal chord that makes it one of Dynaudio’s most appealing rigs. Whether it’s standing- room-only or just an audience of one, Dynaudio has built a real crowdpleaser of a system.

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