DALI Oberon 1 C Wireless Bookshelf Loudspeakers Review
Matthew Jens auditions this new Danish-designed wireless active standmount speaker…
Oberon 1 C
Wireless Bookshelf Speakers
US$1,499 + Sound Hub
KEF changed my mind about bookshelf speakers. I always felt like this type of box was just a space-friendly, cost-efficient version of its floorstanding counterpart. Yet when the LS50 came along, it challenged my viewpoints on what a small form factor box could do and altered my outlook on loudspeakers forever.
DALI has now launched its new active range of speakers, expanding on the existing award-winning Oberon series. With standmounters, floorstanders, wall mount options and a control box, this range looks determined to show that active, wireless hi-fi has a place in the homes of music lovers. Will this do the same to how I feel about actives?
Oberon has always been DALI's popular entry-level line, a firm fixture in the company's product portfolio for years, earning favourable reviews and no small amount of hype along the way. After the Callisto and Rubicon series gained active versions, it was only a matter of time before its budget range followed suit.
The Oberon C series comprises three active two-way speakers, derived from the passive Oberon series, using the wireless technology developed for the Callisto C. But they're not 'just' passive Oberons with built-in amplification; they're also tuned differently, taking advantage of the benefits that active operation confers.
Aesthetically, these cybertronic versions look just like the Oberon series that came before them – all the way down to the incredible fit, finish and overall quality of the cabinets. The 'mountain grey' finish of the grille on this white pair looks gorgeous. There are a few other colours to choose from, and my pick would be the dark walnut.
Measuring 274x162x234mm and weighing 4.2kg apiece, this active bookshelf variation – the Oberon 1 C – has a small footprint. It is perfectly comfortable either on a benchtop as a side dish or on speaker stands as the main course. It has a considerably smaller profile than the hefty KEF LS50 Wireless II, and is lighter as a result.
It sports a reflex ported cabinet, with a 5.25” driver sharing low/mid frequencies and a 29mm soft dome tweeter. These are driven by an 50W (claimed) internally mounted Class D amplifier which has no physical inputs. Instead, to pump life into these speakers, you'll need the magic preamplifier that is DALI's Sound Hub, or its Sound Hub Compact little brother.
The latter is a slim model designed to be small enough to hide behind a wall-mounted TV, and shares the same proprietary wireless connection to talk to the Oberon C, Callisto C and Rubicon C speakers. It's a reasonably straightforward little fellow, offering HDMI, Bluetooth, digital connections, stereo RCA and sub-out. While it doesn't provide any Wi-Fi options, it does offer a powered USB port that could give life to Chromecast audio or something similar. With less than 15ms of input-to-speaker latency being claimed by DALI, it proved good enough to employ for movie watching.
It would have been nice to see some Wi-Fi connectivity with an app here, perhaps with some Spotify or Tidal support to boot. But I guess users wanting this functionality would have to pony up the dough for the more significant Sound Hub with a wireless module card.
Happily, setting up the Sound Hub Compact with the Oberon C speakers is possible without recourse to the manual. Plug it all in, press the sync buttons, tell the DALI hub where your speakers are in relative terms to your listening position, and voila!
As I was setting up the system, I wondered just what type of user DALI has in mind for this speaker. It seems ideal for a desktop application right next to a computer, but without a USB input going into the Sound Hub, this option is a little tricky. Perhaps a pair of Oberon 1 Cs could be used flanking a TV, as the Sound Hub is HDMI equipped after all. Or maybe just left on stands in front of your favourite painting, to be enjoyed on a Friday night? Either way, the DALI package offers just enough connectivity to make all of these scenarios possible, but not much else.
Placement was easy with the Oberon 1 C. DALI boasts on its website that the dispersion pattern is vast, and I couldn't agree more. The sweet spot for great sound was large enough in my room for me to swim laps in. Yet this speaker's ability to project out wasn't quite so good – perhaps the floorstanding version would have done better?
I took the manufacturer's advice on not toeing in my pair of speakers. I've read reports that many others prefer them toed in, but frankly, I don't see the point with such wide sound dispersion. Plug them in, stick them somewhere awkward, and you'll still hear the full range from head to toe – if you pardon the pun!
Once I fired my review sample pair up and got them in position, I was struck with how heavy the vocals were hitting in Both sides of a Smile by Dave Ft James Blake. Some very spine-tingling stuff. There was plenty of low end to make Dave's voice shine with warm authenticity, but not enough to defy the laws of physics; the addition of a subwoofer will make all the difference here.
Thankfully, the Sound Hub has a dedicated sub out port, which helped me neatly bump in an active subwoofer into the mix. Once the crossovers were tweaked, I had a full-range listening experience on my hands; you'll need a sub if you too would like this experience with the Oberon 1 C.
The DALI proved more than happy to oblige for songs that don't require as much low end. Take Idle Hands by Angus and Julia Stone, for example. Julia's voice was rendered throughout the whole track with all of the back-of-the-neck thrills that one would desire. It was a true high fidelity experience and didn't leave me questioning the ability of the compact amplifier built into the speaker's enclosure. The acoustic guitar had plenty of body and warmth, and there wasn't so much as a hint of shrill sibilance. Imaging proved more than adequate – instruments and samples were accurately placed and had a wide enough sweet spot. Yet, it wasn't so over the top that it sounded unrealistic.
It was time to up the musical pace, with Light Of My Life by Smote. With the subwoofer turned off, I noticed a mid-bass hump on the Oberon 1 C that was mild but present nonetheless. Far from overpowering, it gave a sense of presence to rolling basslines and deep kicks. The speaker's driver units had no issues keeping up with the speedy percussion work, delivering it with precise cohesion. This speaker delivers a bright and crisp response. At one point, my partner joined in my listening session, without sitting down on the official reviewer's sofa. Even from the other side of the room, she was able to enjoy the sound of the Oberon 1 C in all its glory, underlining this speaker's fine musical ability.
A balanced yet vibrant sounding performer, DALI's Oberon 1 C can't defy the laws of physics but has a good go all the same. It offers a larger performance than you'd expect, one which pushes sound out into the room for all to hear. There's a surprising amount of body, considering how compact the box is.
For me, the fine treble performance, connectivity via the Sound Hub and overall ease of use really make this speaker special. Feed it with one of any number of wireless sources, and you're away! Add an active subwoofer to match, and this is all the better.
Constantly keeping himself busy, Matthew is a production manager, Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Head-Fi fanatic, coffee enthusiast and all-round cool Dad.
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