DALI OPTICON 8 MK2 Floorstanding Loudspeakers Review
This range-topping floorstander has much to recommend, says Craig Joyce…
DALI OPTICON 8 Mk2
Sequels are often something of a mixed bag. In movies, for example, they rarely improve on the original, just distilling down the good ideas from the original and padding out the rest. But what of loudspeakers? Issuing an update to a speaker creates real opportunities for the manufacturer to improve on an original design. It can introduce new technologies, components and materials to create an opening for not only iterative but innovative improvements.
DALI is a Danish speaker brand founded in 1983 by Peter Lyngdorf, he of Snell, NAD, Gryphon Audio, Steinway and Lyngdorf fame. The Opticon line sits square in the middle of the company's product portfolio, under the Epicon and Rubicon offerings and above the Spektor, Oberon and Menuet series.
The Opticon 8 is the top of its line, offering an entirely Danish-made, three-way floorstanding speaker comprising two 200mm woofers, a 165mm midrange driver and an infrequent combination of soft dome and ribbon-based tweeters. Standing 1,141mm tall, 241mm wide and 450mm deep, its size is just shy of my old Paradigm Signature S8 speakers. Rated by the manufacturer at a nominal 4-ohm impedance and 88.5dB efficiency, with a recommended amplifier power output of 40 to 300 watts, it doesn't present an outrageous speaker load. Finally, a frequency response of 38Hz to 30kHz (±3dB) is claimed.
Each pair of loudspeakers is built and tested by a single technician using components from the same batch, helping to maintain acoustic matching and finish quality. All speaker components are unique to DALI, and with the advent of the Mk2 series, everything has been refreshed – from cabinets to finishes, drivers, crossovers, faceplates and an entirely new speaker voicing.
The DALI design philosophy has been trickled down from the flagship Epicon and Rubicon models. Here we have a hybrid ribbon and soft dome tweeter, dual-flared ports placed directly behind the woofers to reduce unwanted cabinet vibrations, and the use of the company's patented Soft Magnetic Compound (SMC) material placed strategically in the magnet structure of the woofers and midrange drivers. The speaker chassis has discrete internal sections for each driver and uses non-parallel dividing panels to increase structural rigidity and reduce internal resonance.
Dual reflex ports are used - one for each woofer, with care placed in their design to ensure that port turbulence is minimised, reducing the resultant distortion and audible compression at higher bass levels. These reflex port exits are located in the rear panel and targeted to vent in parallel to the rear wall. In this manner, the rear wall surface becomes vital to port tuning and exit flaring.
Although it's not going to win any beauty pageants, this speaker has been carefully designed to service large rooms and can be positioned without requiring precision placement to deliver a coherent stereo image. Of course, placement is room-dependent, but DALI recommends that the speakers are placed front-facing with no toe-in and can be sited close to room boundaries without negatively impacting performance. With many of us short on space or having to put speakers on either side of an entertainment cabinet in our homes, this is a positive proposition.
The high-frequency drivers in the Opticon 8 are arranged in a D'Appolito configuration, positioning the hybrid tweeter between the two low-frequency drivers. This can create a vertical null zone which is resistant to ceiling and floor boundary reflections and can project a very accurate portrayal of the speaker's near-field response to a far-field listener when using tweeters with a quality off-axis response, as is the case here.
With a Callisto series-originated 29mm soft dome tweeter sitting below a 17x45mm ribbon, DALI suggests that the hybrid tweeter offers the best of both worlds – namely, the high-frequency detail of a dome tweeter alongside the finesse of the ribbon. The tweeter system is arranged via the crossover so that the ribbon element begins to provide sound from 10kHz upwards, right as the response of the soft-dome element is beginning to slowly fall away and become more directional. Here the ribbon element both extends the frequency response and contributes to keeping high-frequency horizontal dispersion wider than would otherwise be the case. This leads to overall forgiveness of positioning in the room.
Midrange and bass duties are handled by wood fibre diaphragms that use the SMC magnet system. The company states that these drivers were designed “with a consistent focus on DALI audio principles of low loss, low distortion and low colouration”. In the flesh, the mixture of paper and wood fibre is distinctive, striking and appealing. The driver chassis is constructed from diecast aluminium to minimise impacts upon the internal magnet system while simultaneously maintaining rigidity and reducing resonance. SMC is a coated magnet granular material that DALI says has significant advantages when used in driver magnet systems. “SMC's unusual combination of very high magnetic permeability and very low electrical conductivity is exactly what is required for driver magnet systems, and results in a significant reduction of electro-acoustic distortion”, the company says.
DALI claims that much development time was consumed optimising the crossover design of the Opticon series, to extract every last inch of performance. Moving back to first principles, it has simplified the filter topology to reduce the total component count. In the Mk2 series, it has upgraded many components to create an uptick in detail, precision and coherence across the line-up. The crossover assembly is located internally adjoining the terminal panel to shorten signal paths, and, in the Opticon 8 Mk2, allows bi-wiring. All speakers in this series use gold-plated connection terminals for long-term reliable connections.
Despite the size of these big bangers, unboxing was a doddle – and attention has been placed on the packaging of the supplied spikes and rubber feet. After a quick read of the manual, setting them up on either side of my entertainment cabinet and facing the speakers down the length of the room, it was time to get familiar with what they could do in my home. I found the Opticon 8 to be very forgiving of positioning. I use Qobuz on Roon, streaming content to an MSB Technology Premier DAC with a pair of McIntosh MC-1201 monoblock power amplifiers in my system.
DALI's new Opticon 8 Mk2 delivers a very impressive sound for the money and a lot of it. It has real heft in the bass with a well-articulated midband and a smooth, spacious treble. The hybrid tweeter setup reveals itself to be quite pleasant to the ear, never harsh or fatiguing. The soundstage is physically big and wide, with superb imaging.
For example, the first Portishead album showed how it delivered a clean sound with excellent resolution to the organ and drums. This is quite a tricky recording to get right, especially when you're playing it at near-live levels like me. Yet this elegant and beautiful music was well carried; the tremolo introduction to Roads was lush and enveloping. At high volumes, lesser loudspeakers would wobble and distort the intro, but not here. Instead, the track's sampled drums cut through before the vocals emerged, with the faultless reverb tails on the vocals a pleasure to behold. The stereo image was such that I could appreciate the care taken in the mixing; all the elements on the track were well placed in space.
Peter Gabriel's third eponymous album has a percussion-heavy mix that's decidedly absent of cymbals. Biko opens with sampled chanting before some insistent, and well-recorded tom-tom drums break through. The ability of these reverb-laden beats to hang clearly in space while David Rhode's guitar tones cut through the mix brought a smile to my face. The articulated imaging that the Opticon 8 delivers lets synth effects linger, but not dominate the drum-heavy sound. The sparseness of this mix is a great example of early nineteen-eighties production rendered right.
With dual 200mm woofers, you might expect heavy-handed bass from this loudspeaker, but it was not so. The Kanding Ray album OR has substantial low-end weight, but the DALI was all about control and precision here. Bass transients were fast and disciplined, straight out of the box. Odd Sympathy's treated sampled effects offered a lovely sense of acoustic representation in the midrange. Samples were rendered effortlessly, and a noticeable lack of glare allowed the stunning musical production effects to breathe.
Speakers with ample bottom end and an expansive soundstage offer more minimalistic music the scope to impress. Regis' Blood Witness from his Manbait album is a tour de force of precision techno production and showed the innate smoothness and balance of this loudspeaker. The DALI ably conveyed the deep layers of sounds, letting them cross the stereo landscape with no signs of smearing. The sub-bass rumbled but never sounded flabby, and the processed top-end clicks and hi-hat cymbals never became fatiguing.
Lining up See America by Grant Lee Phillips from his Mobilize album showed this speaker's fine tonal balance. Duelling acoustic guitars open up the left and right frontiers before double-tracked vocals run right down the middle of the soundstage. About ninety seconds in, the processed drums crystallise and sound superb, playing out the nuances of the filtered and distorted beats admirably. This track showed the DALI's subtle warmth; it's not the most fiercely neutral that I've heard the song, and instead errs towards sounding pleasant rather than totally accurate.
The Opticon 8 Mk2 images particularly well for a relatively affordable speaker. This was most apparent with audio that has psychoacoustic trickery embedded in it, such as The Four Of Us Are Dying by Nine Inch Nails from The Slip. Here, a repetitive synthesised percussive beat runs deep through the left channel. With myself sitting front-on, the effect was stunning – it was as if the sound was coming from almost beside me on the couch, a sensation that was all the more unsettling when I closed my eyes. On poorer imaging systems, this effect is far less impressive, however.
The end result of this speaker's generally excellent all-round performance is that it's a joy to hear old favourites, whatever they may be. In my case, I love Time It's Time by Talk Talk, from the spectacular Colour Of Spring album. Listening to a high-resolution master of this album on the DALI really is an indulgence. Mark Hollis' vocals sounded ethereal, set deep in the soundstage but still tethering the emotional core of the song. Acoustic guitars were gorgeously delivered, appearing as if by magic in and out of the left channel while underpinned by a supple, walking bassline. By the time Tim Friese-Greene's Kurzweil took its place in the soaring song coda, even the most jaded audiophile would have been impressed!
Those who dismiss DALI as just another volume consumer brand have got it wrong; the company produces a range of highly capable loudspeakers targeted at the market's more affordable end. Some may mark these down for not being the most modern looking, but you soon forget about the way they look when you hear how they sound.
The new Opticon 8 Mk2 typifies this. It's a highly impressive design with real strength in depth – it makes music sound magical, which is what it's all about. Being a good all-rounder means that it's not only ideal for hi-fi use but also for home theatre applications too, possibly without a dedicated subwoofer. The excellent imaging ability makes me curious about what a full Atmos system comprising these speakers would perform like. There's much to like here.
So if you're seeking a pair of musical but muscular floorstanders – ones that can adequately deliver sub-bass, are forgiving to position and have wonderful soundstaging, then this speaker is an essential audition. This sequel, at least, has been well worth the wait.
With an engineering degree in digital signal processing and a storied career in IT networking and cyber security, Craig loves to push the boundaries of audio technologies. An aficionado of live music with personal detours in music production and event promotion, Craig is a long time enthusiast of post punk, electronic and experimental music.
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