A fiery passion drives the longing for dynamism and power. The art of creating a loudspeaker that transcends time and achieves a level of perfection in sound quality is driven by this same passion. Born from the fire of sound is the passion of the Contour S 5.4. This is the fire of passion, the element of power in authenticity: The Contour S 5.4.
Originally, I was planning to audition a different brand of speaker than the Dynaudios. The ones I did audition (Paradigm) were excellent, and I was about to purchase them until I saw and heard the Dynaudio S5.4s; I was not even familiar with the brand.
I was looking for a speaker that would comfortably handle bass at high levels. After setting up the Dynaudios in the listening room of the dealer (using a Linn amplifier), I had the sales consultant play "Fanfare for the Common Man" by Aaron Copland. The recording (with Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra on Reference Recordings) features an opening bass drum that will literally rattle windows (and probably weak woofers). This was all I needed; even when being driven by a relatively small amplifier, the speakers filled the room without distortion. I purchases the speakers immediately.
I must have had about 80 hours of time on the speakers, but noticed a harshness in the left channel, especially with the high strings of a symphony orchestra. I thought that was part of the usual burn-in time, but the harshness was still there. I'm fortunate to live near a city (Seattle, Washington) which has one of the world's great concert halls (Benaroya Hall, designed by acoustical consultant Cyril Harris; the hall is generally considered his masterpiece). After listening to a recording of Anton Bruckner's Ninth Symphony, I was struck by the tightness of the string basses in the right channel (what I would hear at Benaroya Hall), but still the left-channel harshness was there.
I may not be Cyril Harris, but I do know a little about acoustics. The cause of the harshness was so obvious, I didn't see it. My listening room (actually a familty room) is approximately 15'x 21', and I listen some 13 feet from the speakers; basically, the room is not acoustically friendly. The right channel is near a couch and a regular plaster wall; the left channel is near a brick fireplace with a metal insert, a television, and a cabinet containing the components. This was never a problem before with lesser speakers, probably because of the relatively limited dispersion pattern of the tweeters. The poor room acoustics were accentuated by the exceptional dispertion pattern of the Esotar2 tweeter; ironically, the quality of the speaker worked against itself.
I was able to correct this problem by setting large pieces of cardboard with towels and other noise-dampening materials in front of the fireplace (especially the meal insert) and the television. It is extremely ugly, but it works; I may put up something better looking in the future.
After more than a year, I couldn't be more pleased with the quality of the speakers. It may be a cliché, but the speakers do seem to disappear after several minutes. I would like to upgrade the cables (to something like Transparent Audio cables); this should cause a slight improvement in the sound.
My amplifier (B & K Components Reference 4420, basically two monoblocks) seems to be a good match for the speakers. The sales consultant from whom I purchased the speakers felt the amp was rather "bright" sounding; I would tend to agree. The wattage of the amp (350/channel into 4 ohms)is exactly the same as the power-handling capablily of the speakers.
I do have several caveats regarding these speakers. Placement is everything, and the room where the speakers are placed needs to have excellent acoustics. High-quality components are must; the quality of the speakers will undoubtedly show the weaknesses in lesser components.
Lastly, the speakers really need a large room to be fully appreciated.
Several recordings which sound incredible with these speakers are: Mendelssohn's "Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night's Dream" and the Third Symphony (Peter Maag, London Symphony Orchestra, Decca. Though recorded February 1957 (!) and April 1960, both recordings oftentimes sound better to my ears than much of what is being produced today. Both recordings are also classic performances.
Another good recording for demonstration is the complete "Peer Gynt" by Edvard Grieg (Per Dreier and the London Symphony Orchestra on Unicorn-Kanchana).
For something more initmate, try Nickel Creek's (just titled "Nickel Creek") on Suger Hill Records; excellent recording of a small folk-type group.
One other thing; the speakers are "reversed" from most speakers; the tweeter is placed below the midrange and woofers; this is especially good if you have a low chair for listening.
Overall, these speakers are expensive, but, without question, worth every cent.
These speakers have many strong points. For starters they have a very coherent sound. No part of the frequency range sticks out. I would characterise them as a very neutral speakers, but depending on the room and speaker placement, the bass might be a bit too strong for some. For me, the bass is close to perfect. The s5.4 have an extremely flat frequency response. I was looking for a none-bright yet well resolving speaker and the s5.4 delivers. The s5.4 can play very loud without making you want to turn down the volume, as the midrange is always clear sounding and the smooth treble is never over emphasize.
I also listened to the in many ways excellent B&W N802, but I felt that the top-treble was a bit more pronounced in the n802 compare to the s5.4. The Sonus Faber Cremona (very good looking speaker), was a bit too dark sounding and did not seem to have the same degree of resolution as the s5.4.
For the money, s5.4 offers great resolution and good recordings sound wonderful. But a resolving and accurate speaker will not make bad recordings sound any better. It will simply let you hear more clearly what’s on the record, and trough the s5.4, you will hear many recording flaws. But since they are not bright sounding, a bad recording seldom causes listening fatigue.
Another one of s5.4 strong points, as mentioned by the other reviews, is how well they image. I believe that the reason for this is that their horizontal off-axis frequency response is also very good.
The speakers do seem to need some break in time. Right out of the box they sounded good, but they had a slight degree of “grain/hardness” in the low treble/mid region. With time, they become more smooth sounding and resolving.
The size of these speakers might prevent some people from buying them, but they are still good looking in my opinion, ecp in rosewood. But because of their size, you cant really hide them in the room. The inverted driver placement also takes some time to get used to. At first, I often tried to detect if I could hear that the tweeter was slightly below my ears. But when people have visited me, and I had the grills on, they became a bit surprised when I removed the grills. So if you are not aware of it, it does not seem likely that you will be able to detect it. After some time, I simply became used to the driver placement and did not try to listen after the tweeter placement any longer. It’s important though, that you have some distance between your self and the speakers, something like 2.5 meters or more. Also, if you listening height is much above the tweeter, try and tilt the speakers backwards a bit.
Some people may also find the s5.4 a bit “dull” sounding. I believe this is because they are so coherent and does not create “dynamics” when the recording has none. (Unfortunately newly released rock/pop cds often suffers from a lack of dynamics) Some speakers also emphasizes the mid-bass/low treble region to get a bit a more “punchy” sound, but this does not seem to be the case with the s5.4. Since they don’t have this “loudness” like frequency response, they are not the best speaker choice if you mostly listen on lower volume levels, and don’t have any loudness compensation on your electronics. I mostly listen on medium to high volume levels, so it’s not an issue for me.
My guess is that you should have 100 w or more to get the best out of these speakers. With a good amp/room and a dynamic recording, you’ll have all the dynamics you can wish for.
Summery: Coherent, smooth sounding speaker with strong bass and great imaging. Not for small rooms.
I previously owned the Dynaudio Contour 3.3 speakers . My most recent electronics is the Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista Integrated amp and Musical Fidelity CD player. I had read that Dynaudio was doing something with the Contour line. By the way, my listening room is your typical family room in a two level house. It is a rectangle that is 12 feet by 21 feet with a high ceiling. I had my Contour 3.3's set up on the short side of the rectangle away from the room entrance. They are about eight feet apart and eleven feet from my listening position. Anyway, recently I read that the S5.4 speakers had been released and went to hear them at my Dynaudio dealer. It was a good time to do a listening session as they had both the S5.4 and the 3.3 speakers available and I was able to listen to both in the same room for a period of time. I then went back and forth a few times to check out the differences between the two sets of speakers. I was astonished at how differently they sounded even though they were both part of the Dynaudio family. The major differences were in three different areas for me. The first difference was in the area of bass response. My Contour 3.3 speakers had a very strong bass response that at times felt overdone depending on the level of bass in the recording. Especially on rock recordings with stong bass lines, the bass had a certain amount of distortion to it. Although it was minimal, you at times felt that you were getting an unnatural amount of bass to the recording and it sometimes overwhelmed the other sounds being produced. The S5.4 speakers did not exhibit this quality. Regardless of the type of music that I played, the bass was present but in a natural unassuming way that did not interfere with the recording. You know it is there but it is just one of the varoius elements instead of dominating the delivery of the music. The second difference is the level of imaging that you get from the speakers. The Contour 3.3 speakers did a decent job with imaging but the Contour 5.4 speakers do an even better job. With the Contour S5.4 speakers, you sense a more complete soundstage and feel that the speakers have totally disapeared. The instruments come to you from distinct places and it has a real live sense of being there watching the performance live. You get the feeling that some of your well recorded studio albums are being played live in front of you. This is a difficult thing for most speakers to accomplish on a regular basis but the Contour S5.4's do it with an ease and a smoothness. It does not seem like it is being pushed down your throat. It is delivered with a naturalness described better as organic. This leads me to my last difference which is the overall delivery of the sound. The Contour S5.4 speakers do a better job of presenting the music in a more enjoyable fashion. The highs, mids, and lows, are all there but better melded together than with the Contour 3.3 speakers. By the way, If you think that I got this all from the audition at the dealer, let me tell you what happened. I heard so much difference between the Contour 3.3 and the Contour S5.4 speakers that I purchased a pair of the S5.4 's and have been enjoying them day in and day out. You can listen to them for long periods and not have a fatiging feeling that other speakers will give you. One other point I wanted to mention. With the Contour 3.3 speakers, you had to turn up the volume to really get all of their best qualities. With the Contour S5.4, you hear all the intricacies of the music even at very low volume levels. I hope this helps others as they audition Dynaudio speakers and I welcome any responses. I dont claim to be a person who understands all the technical points relating to high quality sound. I just follow what my ears tell me and fortunately (or unfortunately for my wallet!), I have been able to hear difference in audio components over the years. Good luck to all and happy listening!
I have been searching for the best,$8k or less speaker for the last two years. While the Contour 5.4 may not be the "holy grail" for everyone, I find it fits my needs perfectly. My former speakers (B&W Nautilus 803's) were fantastic. They excell at clasical, jazz, and blues. rock, rap, and hip-hop playback was so-so.I was planning on upgrading to the 802's for better performance in the midrange and bass areas. Thats when i heard the 5.4's. I was sold.
The imaging is simply amazing. The highs, with the new esotar2 tweeter are presented acurately, without the bite. the midrange excellent, and the bass, WOW. in my system my pre-pro has the ability to play stereo, or enhanced (with sub). The sub muddied up the sound. This is a music lovers speaker. I can once again spin up some Cranberries, No Dout, or Lenny Kravitz without fear of making my ears bleed. In fact the more you push them, the better they sound. I will purchase the SR surrounds and contour center as soon as they become available. Will update review at that time (maybe 60 day)
My other eqpt as followas
Dynaudio Contour 5.4 (rosewood)
Krell HTS2 7.1 pre-pro
Ayre V-6x amplifier
M&K mps5150 subwoofer
Denon dvd2900 dvd player
Straight wire Serenade speaker wire and interconnects
straight wire info link digital cable
Richard Gray's RGPC600