The Dana 630i’s are a set of speakers manufactured by Dana, and designed by TheAudioInsider. Jon Lane (founder of TheAudioInsider) has graciously provided me a pair of these understated – yet elegant – loudspeakers to review. I’ve been playing with them for about two months now. Sorry for the wait, Jon.
I am a college studying at the University of Pennsylvania. Over this past summer, I worked part time at Deja-Vu Audio, a boutique, very high-end audio store in Northern Virginia. There, I had the pleasure of testing out and working with speakers, tube amps, preamps, and the like for several months.
I’ve audition speakers ranging from the Swans M10 (which I previously owned) to the Proac Tablette Anniversary Editions (possibly the best bookshelf speakers in the world).
***I’m a fan of a lush midrange, strong and present bass, and refined, accurate highs. Pretty much everything a Western Electric 300B amp would sound like.
First Impressions (looks):
The Dana 630i came double-boxed in white cloth bags between two solid Styrofoam blocks. Packaging was A-grade. Right out of the box, I noticed that the 630i’s had some heft to them. They were substantially heavier than my Quad 11L Classics, and weigh in at around 15.4 lbs (according the TheAudioInsider website).
Pulling back to the grills, I noticed that the 630i’s feature a soft-cloth tweeter and a paper woofer. The tweeters are slightly offset to help imaging in higher frequencies.
Time to talk about how these speakers sound.
I’ve always been a fan of indie music. Something about the generous, gentle mix of vocals and acoustic guitars greatly appeals to me. I’ve recently been listening to a fair mix of Fun., Regina Spektor, and even some of Marina and the Diamonds. That said, I listen to primarily acoustic and enjoy vocal-centric pieces of music. Jason Mraz, Nat King Cole, Ingrid Michaelson, and and Norah Jones are among my favourite artists.
My first impressions of the 630i’s were very solid. Throughout the remainder of this review, I’ll be comparing them to my Quad 11L’s, which are similarly price at around $650. I’m running them out of my Synthesis Nimis EL84 tube amp, from a Meridian 203 DAC.
The Real Review:
Real First Impressions (Sound):
The Dana 630i’s were, right off the bat, extremely clear and detailed. In this way, they are similar to the rest of the Swan’s line – fairly neutral and revealing. There is excellent separation in all frequencies. For my first few songs, I generally choose “Hotel California” (San Diego) to test the simultaneous separation of the higher and lower frequencies. The 630i’s were impressive because they manage to accurately balance the twang of higher notes with the slightly more laid back midrange. Midrange was blended in well with higher frequencies, and I still perceived a fairly neutral tone.
To further test separation of the midrange with higher frequencies, I played “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” an excellent guitar piece by Leo Kottke. The entire piece is essentially a series of pairs of notes on a guitar, which integrated very well with each other from the 630i’s. Still – a fairly uncolored and neutral tone. Higher frequencies may even be emphasized just a tiny bit.
First impressions of the higher frequencies and midrange were very positive, so I moved on to test the bass out. In my experience, a paper cone woofer has a very distinctive sound signature. I’ve always preferred the sound of a Kevlar woofer, which generally have a very warm, slightly colored tone. To test the bass of the 630i’s, I played “Crazy on You,” by Hearts. Growing up, I had never heard of Hearts, and to be honest, I’m not that much of a fan of their music. Actually, I should say, I’m not a fan of their vocals. But their instrumentals are fantastic. The guitar strums at the very beginning of the piece came across incredibly well-imaged and fantastically detailed. But what was utterly spectacular was the IMPACT of the bass around 0:45. There was a very powerful, flat bass response. The paper woofer really pushed the air out from in front of the woofer, and created a very high-quality bass impact. To me, this bass response is an overwhelmingly positive trait to the 630’s. It was something I absolutely was not expecting.
As the speakers broke in, I noticed an improvement in all frequencies. This is to be expected in most loudspeakers. After around 100 hours of burn-in, the bass tightened up a bit (it was very tight to begin with), and the midrange broke in a little. There was a pretty noticeable improvement in all frequencies, but the change wasn’t night-and-day. As I A/B’d with my 11L’s, I noticed that the Dana’s are actually pretty power-hungry. My tube amp seemed to drive my Quads much better. That said, the 630’s were driven perfectly well with my 20-30 watt per channel tube amp.
Let’s go over the entire frequency range, and then we’ll do some comparisons to the 11L’s. But first, imaging…
The Dana 630i’s really shines in this category. These speakers have an incredible ability to replicate a full soundstage, and seem to do so well very good accuracy. There was absolutely no difficulty focusing the central vocal – nor was there any difficulty in determining where the central vocal was. In comparison to my beloved 11L’s, the Dana’s won hands-down in this category. There was much more focus in all of the pieces I listened to with the 11L’s – the bass and acoustic guitars in most of my pieces were very well-placed to me. It was obvious where the drums sat, and about how far away from the perceived sonic stage I was sitting.
Carla Bruni’s voice in Quelqu’un M’a Dit was placed in an enormous sphere hovering between the left and the right speaker. I always run a simple test to determine how well a loudspeaker images music. I close my eyes, and scoot back a few feet. After a few seconds, I lift up my right and my left hands, and stick my fingers in the direction where I perceive the edges of my music to reside. After I opened up my eyes, I noticed that I was at least a foot and a half off on each side – absolutely a good sign.
Treble, Mids, Lows
I’ll say this again and again – the Dana’s really sparkle. The highs are everything you want them to be. They’re really, really crisp, and have a nice after-touch to them. The treble is, like I said in an earlier Swans M200 MKIII review, just a perfect notch below sibilance. (Oh dear! I just said sibilance…)
To emphasize, the 630i’s are NOT at all sibilant. Not, nothing, nada. The higher frequencies are very well-tuned, and incredibly detailed. Ingrid Michaelson’s “You and I” came through bright and early, shining like a star. Treble and midrange meshed seamlessly halfway through the piece. Agnes Obel’s Riverside was reproduced at an absolute perfect pitch. Treble is really a strong-suit of the Dana 630i’s.
It’s really best to describe this midrange as accurate. As I had said earlier, I enjoy a lush, warm midrange that sacrifices some detail for musicality (after all, you can rarely have both). I think the 630’s were actually a little too neutral for my taste (but they were still great). That said, all of the classical pieces I played from the Dana’s had an incredibly accurate, almost-neutral tone. There was little coloration, which I understand is a good thing for many people who listen to classical music. Another surprisingly good genre of music for the 630’s was jazz. These speakers sit on stands in my living room, and I found that dinnertime Wes Montgomery was always a pleasant choice of ambient music. Though not necessarily warm, the 630’s were surprisingly well-suited for jazz music. It may be due partly to the paper woofer, but I’m really not certain what made jazz so pleasant to listen to.
Like treble, the bass on the Dana 630’s is an unbelievable strong, and unique, characteristic. The bass on these speakers had phenomenal impact, and digs to lower frequencies that I had been accustomed to from the Proac Tablette line. There was a strong feeling of focused, fast, tight bass. “You Don’t Know Me,” by Ben Folds, had a very nice bottom line that did a really beautiful job of synchronizing with the higher female vocals.
The speakers are very, very balanced. There are no frequencies which encroach upon others. The bass is the bass. The midrange is the midrange. The treble is undoubtedly the treble. This is a very positive trait of the Dana’s, and the 630’s are very well-suited for any acoustic, classical, and (to my surprise) jazz music.
Comparisons to other speakers
Let’s start with the well-known Omega Ts3’s. The Ts3’s were a pair of speakers I really was not a fan of. In my opinion, they were sibilant, had no bass reach, and were utterly cold. But a lot of people liked them. If you liked the Ts3’s you’ll definitely like the Dana’s.
BUT I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea from what I’m saying here. Think about the Dana’s as a super-upgraded version of the TS3’s. They’re improved in all sonic dimensions. Lower reach, even clearer treble, and a fantastic midrange. And the 630’s are very, very pleasant to listen to.
Swans M200 MKIII
As you would expect, the M200 and the Dana’s have a similar sound signature. I posted a bit of a rave-review on the M200’s on Head-Fi, and because I have experience with them, I’ll compare the two. I know that it isn’t necessarily a fair comparison, because the M200’s are active desktop speakers, while the 630i’s are meant for a different setting. But the sound signature of the 630 is similar to that of the M200’s. They are both extremely detailed, and both have excellent highs and midrange. The Dana’s win hands-down in the bass category, however. There is much more impact, and a much tighter and faster bass note. The upper treble also comes out more in the Dana’s, still with that same sparkle I love. Both are also fairly neutral, with only a little coloration.
Imaging is much better in the Dana’s. There is a much wider soundstage, which a much more focused center vocal in acoustic pieces. When I closed my eyes during extended listening session of the 630i, I could almost see Jason Mraz’s floating head seducing me with “Butterfly.”
Quad 11L (and some final notes)
There is no doubt that the Dana 630i’s are impressive. There are absolutely some things that they do better than my Quads. For instance, the highs are much more crisp, and the bass is much faster and much tighter. There is a very straight blend between the meshed upper frequencies and the midrange. There is better imaging on the 630i’s and there is much, much less coloration.
Still, I find myself going back to my 11L’s. I think the reason is that the midrange of the 630i’s just didn’t do it for me. There is a very clear, and much less colored, midrange coming from the Dana’s, and it’s really just not my taste. The midrange wasn’t as lush as I hoped it would be, but with this sacrifice came accuracy. Unfortunately, I love to listen to my midrange, so the lack of coloration was a bit of a turn-off. It may be a fact of preference, or a subject of discussion, but I enjoyed a slightly more colored sound with a fuller midrange.
The Dana 630i’s were absolutely an impressive set of loudspeakers. I cannot emphasize how well they do in the treble and in the bass. And in the midrange, too, if you enjoy the type of sparsely-colored sound. For me, there wasn’t enough warmth in the midrange. Don’t get me wrong: the smokiness of Josh Turner’s and Nat King Cole’s voice was still there, but it just didn’t seem to be enough for me.
I absolutely recommend these speakers to anyone who enjoys the more neutral sound of the Swan’s active desktop line. The highs have a decent sparkle, and the midrange has incredible detail and focus. The bass is really, really present – more than most speakers I’ve worked with and auditioned at this size and price range. The 630i’s are for serious audiophiles who don’t screw around with Top 40 music (and even for some audiophiles that do). It’s for audiophiles and non-audiophiles alike – and is priced at such. At $519.00 a pair from TheAudioInsider, they are a really great buy. And it’s undoubtedly targeted towards people who want to HEAR their music, rather than just listen to it.