FYI, Jon Lane of TheAudioInsider.com has graciously offered me the opportunity to audition and review pairs of both his new Dana 640i
($759, all-new in-house designs, major upgrade from the previous Dana 600 series) and his Swan D2.1se+ Customs
, with upgrades designed by the Skiing Ninja ($989 for black, extra for other finishes). AFAIK
the Swan cabinets and drivers are the same as the stock models but internal wiring and crossovers are new. If I've got any of these details wrong, hopefully Jon will correct me.
(I almost posted this in the existing Dana thread but thought the more specific subject line would be helpful, plus it's a review of the Swans too. I'll link to this thread in the existing Dana and Swan threads.)
I'll be comparing them to each other as well as to my beloved Dana 930s. I've had them about 3 years now and am still completely in love with them. I realize since they're not available to purchase new and are quite rare, it doesn't do anyone much good singing the praises of the 930s. However, they have been pretty much my reference stand-mount monitors for a while now and I've heard very few speakers anywhere near their original $1600 price point that can compare. They feature ScanSpeak drivers and fantastic quality throughout so they're a pretty tough standard against which to measure these new models that retail for under $1000/pair each. In case anyone wants specs on them just for reference, this page from the mostly defunct Avance International web site has basic specs:http://www.avance-international.com/prod_dana_930.html
I'm also hoping to get my young audiophile cousin down here soon (he lives a couple hours away) with his SVS SCS-02s just to toss them in the mix for comparison's sake, though it's really not fair; I've heard them and the two Dana models will destroy them and the Swans should too. They're quite nice for home theater use in a room that's not too big and a very good value at their price point, but they're just not anywhere close to the same league as these high end Dana models.
For those folks who don't remember me from when I spent a lot of time here a few years ago, I'm a professional audio engineer (both studio and live sound), musician (keyboards & vocals), trained at Temple University's school of music, 42 years old, and as of the last time I tested my hearing a couple years ago I still have very good ears (which makes up for my lousy eyesight). I'm not a headbanger and never really was. I like good rock and pop but prefer REAL funk and soul, as well as really well-recorded folk and acoustic music and some jazz. In other words, I like REAL music played by real musicians. And if it's a recording as opposed to a live performance, I like to know it was recorded & mixed by someone who did at least as good a job as I would have done, if at all possible.
My room is small (a bedroom), about 11' x 12' x 8', wall-to-wall thick padded carpet, futon in the room, and I've treated the room heavily with rockwool panels and some panels I made from some environmentally-friendly shredded-cotton-based stuff I bought that works nicely. As a result the room is almost completely dead -- not the perfect listening environment at all -- but it was the best option I had to deal with the lousy acoustics (comb filtering, slapback, bass weirdness, etc.) of a tiny almost-square room. I mix audio in here on the same system I use for casual listening as well as home theater so killing the room worked for me. Speakers really have to work to image properly in this dry little space and the 930s do it brilliantly.
BTW I like measurements just fine and they're useful, but as a musical artist I take what sounds right to me over specs and measurements any day. So, I'm not set up here with the proper gear to do measurements & graphs & whatnot. This will be purely a subjective review. Sorry 'bout that, tech-heads. :-)
- Emotiva LMC-1 pre-pro (no HDMI, gasp, but it still sounds amazing)
- Emotiva LPA-1 7 channel (or 6, if you bridge the last 2 lower-powered channels) amp
- 12 gauge oxygen-free copper speaker wire from PartsExpress
- Mains: Dana 930 stand-mounts placed on basic Sanus wood or MDF speaker stands
- Center: Swan 5.2C from TheAudioInsider.com, mounted above 46" Samsung LCD TV/monitor on a shelf (the TV is on my desk, which is really just being used to hold my TV, laptop and components)
- Surrounds: Ascend Acoustics CBM-170 SE on stands against the back wall, behind & next to the futon
- Sub: SVS PB10-ISD (yep, the original before the NSD)
- Sources: PS3 for blu-ray/DVD, Macbook Pro with optical out to pre-pro for CDs, iTunes downloads and some very high quality VBR MP3s I ripped myself using LAME and either Max on Mac or EAC (Exact Audio Copy) on Windows. Also use PowerMac dual G5 with optical connection for my own audio work.
I've also owned several others speakers including Swan 5.2F towers (loved them but went with Danas because they were enormous in my room), B&W DM 602 s2 or s3, forget which, Boston Acoustic, SVS, etc.
I've had the 640is for several days now. Would have been longer but FedEx damaged one of the speakers so we had to send that back & get me a new one. I don't have the Swans yet, Jon's building them now.
Yes of course I'll post pics of all the speakers when I get them all here and have a chance to do a good photo session. I'll be sure and show them all side by side for comparison.
Since I haven't had time to really break these in yet or really get to know them, this post will be just this intro and a few initial impressions. I'll be updating this thread over the next few weeks as I get time to burn them in and really do some swapping back & forth between the different speakers with different music.
(BTW, I listen with grilles off all my speakers except the sub. I don't even bother trying them with grilles on. I like seeing my drivers.
So far, keeping in mind my 930s are fully broken in while the 640is are not and Jon does recommend break-in time, I'll say this -- I'm not sure which ones I prefer yet! There are differences, but these 640is are still definitely Danas, and definitely serious speakers. I'm amazed at what Jon and his team have been able to do at this price point.
The cabinets are a similar size (I think the 640is have a bit more volume though I haven't actually calculated the exact volumes of the two models) and the finishes are almost identical ("lightly stained natural cherry with filled grain and a glass-flat matte finish" according to the site). You can see a slight color difference when they're side by side but it's very subtle. It could almost be just normal differences in different batches of the same model. (My engineering partner Mike owns Dali Helicon 800s mk1 which have a GORGEOUS glossy finish. At one point he had another identical pair in the house and the finish on that pair looked more different from his first pair than these two Dana models do from each other.) I'm no expert on wood or finishes but I've always loved the beautiful satin finish on my 930s and to my untrained eyes, I don't see any difference in the build quality of the 640is. The cabinets look seemless all around with ports in the rear.
Jon's done something interesting with the porting on these. I don't know anything about the tech of it, but the ports curve upward several inches into the box. Neat.
As you'll see on the web site, there's a left and a right speaker with the tweeters offset from center a bit. The speakers are mirror images of each other with the tweeters placed towards the inside.
My 930s have 7" ScanSpeak midwoofers with a true phase plug. The 640is feature a plain black 6.5" "raw papyrus" midwoofer, no phase plug.
Also the 930s were bi-wireable, while the 640is are not, featuring a single set of nice big solid binding posts.
FYI I will do burn-in and some testing in full-range mode with no sub, but normally I run my mains crossed to the SVS sub at 70 Hz. The 930s have an excellent bottom end for their size and design but I need those bottom octaves that no speaker this size that I've ever heard can really reproduce. Therefore please assume I'm listening crossed to my sub at 70 Hz unless otherwise stated for review purposes.
I would describe my 930s as just barely on the warm side of neutral, quite accurate with plenty of detail and clarity, quite transparent. Imaging and soundstage are excellent. I don't think anyone would ever call them "bright," but they're also certainly not dull in any way. I demand detail and clarity but I do tend to dislike brighter speakers. The 930s are very easy to listen to for hours without fatigue, even at high volumes. I've never heard a hint of audible distortion from them regardless of what I'm putting through them or how loud it gets. As I said, I'm no headbanger and I don't even mix at volumes as loud as many engineers do, but from time to time with the right material, I do like to make some noise when I have the house to myself, especially with loud movies, funk, dance music, etc. The 930s' ability to fill a room with clean volume still tickles me.
What I've been finding so far is that the 640is seem a touch more forward in the midrange than the 930s. There's a range, I'm thinking between 2K & 5K without testing for it, where the 930s seem to smooth things out a bit but the 640is just give it to you as-is. It almost feels like the 930s put a bit of butter on everything, smoothing out rougher/brighter music just enough to make it listenable while still providing detail and clarity, while the 640is seem to be a bit more brutally honest, no butter. (Keep in mind again, they are not broken in yet so this perception may very well change over time as they, probably, warm up.)
On a similar note or perhaps as a result of this difference, I'm finding the 640is seem to be revealing details in my familiar music that I'd never heard or noticed before. Jon did tell me in advance that I may find the 640is somewhat more revealing even than the 930s, and he was right. He said they dig details out like nobody's business. In his own words:
"What you're hearing here is truly lower motor distortion, lower even than the ScanSpeaks, which are all about slashing motor distortion. Plus these drivers are raw papyrus cones which are far lighter and go nearly two octaves higher than the Scans. This light weight results in a very soft suspension and from all of the above, you get the overall responsiveness that explains what you're hearing... But basically, oodles of downward dynamic range."
Yep, sounds like what I'm hearing. For example, I'm a fan of Diana Krall. Listening to her incredible Live in Paris
record on the 930s is pure magic, whether it's the DVD with 5.1 surround or the stereo audio version. When I listened to this record (stereo version) on the 640is, I was immediately stunned by the 3D image, the wide soundstage, and the fact that with my eyes closed I could literally point to each instrument, each detail just layered and positioned so delicately across the stage. There's some really world-class engineering on this record to go with the amazing musicianship and the 640is really brought it out.
Interestingly, as I mentioned earlier I haven't been able yet to decide which speaker I prefer because one is not clearly better than the other. So far they're each doing different things better. For example, probably because of the incredibly low motor distortion Jon mentioned, I'm preferring upright bass on the 640is over the 930s. On the 930s, a well-recorded upright bass sounds like an upright bass. It's clean, full, wonderful. But the same upright bass recording on the 640is sounds even more real, more transparent. I can easily see the instrument in front of me, see the player's fingers on the strings, and it sounds to me even more like I'm really standing on stage in front of the player. It's really cool.
I also seem to prefer kick & snare on the 640is, and strings (cello, violin, etc.) have a bit more air, more bow on the strings, making them a bit more realistic than even the 930s with their awesome tweeter.
On the other hand, in many cases I seem to prefer vocals on the 930s. I'm not really surprised by this because I know a bit about how vocals are usually recorded, and I'm not a big fan of the techniques many engineers use on vocals. In almost all cases (except of course classical or good jazz recordings), the engineer will EQ some highs and upper mids into the vocals to help them cut through the mix. Rock and pop engineers are of course notorious for doing this... You kinda have to when the vocal has to compete with electric guitars and drums. The 930s, which have a nice big lower range even if they might not quite match the transparency of the 640is in that range, seem to smooth this emphasis out just enough to make a vocal sound big & warm that might sound a bit edgy and somewhat less natural on the 640is.
As an example, I'm a fan of a pair of independent artists I worked with a year or two ago named AJ Swearingen & Jonathan Beedle. They do an excellent Simon & Garfunkel tribute show, but they also both have independent original CDs plus at least one they've recorded together called Paper Walls (available at CDBaby
among other places.) Their original stuff sounds a bit like Simon & Garfunkel (unsurprisingly). Swearingen's voice is a nice rich baritone with a hint of country flavor, while Beedle's smooth tenor harmonies complement him nicely. Really good folksy songs too, and the recording, which I believe Swearingen himself engineered, is fantastic.
Anyway on the 930s, this record transports me. Don't know where, but I can sit stone-still through the entire CD playing on the 930s and it feels like no time has passed. The guitars are beautiful with very tasteful drums, percussion and some strings backing up his big rich voice, which is recorded very dry and intimate so he's bigger than life right in front of you. I love vocal recordings like this. You can almost imagine your head is right where the mic is and the performer's singing right into your ears. Love it. And when Beedle's harmonies kick in, it just doubles the magic.
So I listened to this on the 930s then immediately switched to the 640is, and was actually a bit surprised to find it somewhat less magical. It was still amazing and I'm sure had I listened to it on the 640is first, I would still have enjoyed it as much, but AJ's voice seemed to get a little smaller, and that very subtle edge was there in the upper mids that made me feel like I was hearing the microphone rather than just his unprocessed voice. (I'll need to do this comparison again in a couple weeks when the 640is have had enough time to break in properly.)
But then as the record went on, I found myself getting sucked back into it as I noticed details I had never noticed on the 930s. At one point I suddenly realized it sounded like the bass was a hollow-body bass guitar, which had never struck me before. Maybe it is or isn't, I'll have to dig up the CD jacket and read the liner notes to be sure, but there's that purity in the lower midrange and upper bass that I love about the 640is. I also noticed a woodblock on one song that I'd never noticed before, again probably due to that more forward upper midrange where the woodblock resonates.
I also love another independent artist named Vienna Teng (www.viennateng.com
), a young Chinese-American pianist and singer who's produced several absolutely fantastic albums. I love everything about this girl from her lyrics and melodies to her awesome piano skills (I occasionally sit at my piano with my iPod playing along with her music for fun, lol), her sweet, captivating voice, and the production on her records which usually consists of piano, acoustic (meaning REAL) drums and percussion, strings (usually cello and violin), and sometimes bass and a little guitar or other instruments for flavor. It's pretty minimal, and in fact it's even more so when she performs live. Once I saw her with just Alex Wong on percussion (and half a drum kit), cello, violin, and occasionally one of the string players sang a backup vocal or played a bit of keyboard. The next time I saw her she just had Alex and a cellist, but both she and Alex had samplers they used to create vocal and percussion loops in real time which they played along with. Really cool. I highly recommend checking out her records and her live show if she comes to your town.
Anyway her recordings are fantastic so she's always one of my first go-to artists when I want to listen to speakers or gear of any kind. I found the same basic perceptions with her material as I did with Swearingen & Beedle; I heard details in the music I'd never noticed and was captivated by the strings, especially the cello which often serves as the bass. I also heard that very slight upper midrange emphasis on her voice that the 930s don't have (or rather, I heard stuff in the upper mids that the 930s smooth over a bit). Her voice sounded a bit smaller, bit less intimate, bit brighter -- but still fantastic.
On a completely different note, it seems to me that while the 930s blend with my sub really nicely, the 640is might do it even better. The transition from speakers to sub is so clean and natural, even my trained ears can't tell where one ends and the other begins. I had to shut the sub off to find out! Nice. I LOVE the bottom end on these things and can't wait to hear what they can do after they're broken in.
By the way I haven't pushed them hard enough to try and find their volume limits yet, but I'll say I'm pretty confident my ears will complain before the speakers do, just like the 930s. In a smaller room like mine they're way more than capable of filling the room.
So a quick summary of the 640i for now: Fantastic detail without being bright or harsh, amazing purity and transparency especially in the lower midrange/upper bass, outstanding imaging and soundstage (possibly even a bit better than the 930s but I'm not sure of that yet). Detail fiends will go crazy for these and probably prefer them even over my 930s, while those who just want everything to sound amazing might possibly prefer the 930s over the 640i, if they were available for sale somewhere. Either way, for under $800 these are absolutely an incredible value and should be on anyone's short list if they're within your budget and you're looking for stand-mount speakers.
I'm REALLY curious to see how the Swans will complicate matters!
Updates to come in the near future...