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Review and Comparison - new Dana 640i and Swan D2.1se+ Custom

post #1 of 97
Thread Starter 
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. :-)

My gear:

- 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...
post #2 of 97
Been a long time since I've been around here, but wanted to chime in and say thank you for a pleasant, informative review in the grand old tradition of AVS. And, nice gear!

Cheers.
post #3 of 97
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ad-Rok View Post

Been a long time since I've been around here, but wanted to chime in and say thank you for a pleasant, informative review in the grand old tradition of AVS. And, nice gear!

Cheers.

My pleasure. Pictures coming soon, and hopefully I'll have time to do more back & forth listening between the two models. I've been running them in full range (no sub) as much as possible trying to burn them in. Obviously I prefer them with the sub but I must say, even playing loud with bass-heavy material with the woofers showing quite a bit of physical travel, there's no audible distortion and the bass is clean & tight. I'm impressed.
post #4 of 97
Quote:
Originally Posted by einsteinjb View Post

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.

Thanks einsteinjb. (The only correction is that Skiing Ninja builds the crossovers to our spec.)

The new Dana 600 series of three models are a step up from the previous 600 series and are closer in technology and sound to the old 900 series I think it's safe to say, and you seem to agree. The 630i is larger than the old 630 but otherwise in the same approximate size class. The new 640i is the 600 series first 6.5" 2-way, putting it next to your 930 in type and class. When we developed the new 600 series, we reserved the 900 series for some other concepts later in this new development program.

I may put up a longer comment including some of the background for this new series, time permitting. We had a lot of fun watching it come together.
post #5 of 97
Thread Starter 
Hi Jon,

More background info would always be welcome, as I'm sure anyone interested in the series would agree.

Actually what would really interest me is some thoughts and comments on the similarities and differences between the 640i and the D2.1se+ Customs. While the 930 is my reference, those two are the new ones I'm really looking to compare here. And since they're fairly similarly priced, I would think anyone interested in a stand-mount monitor up to $1000 would be interested in a more technical comparison of the two. Once the Swans are here obviously I'll talk about the differences I hear but other than the obvious differences in cabinet dimensions and whatnot, it would be great to read some background on why I hear what I'm hearing, the design philosophies & goals, etc.

Thanks for the info.

Jeff
post #6 of 97
Any further updates? I'd be interested to hear what you think about Swan D2.1SE vs 640i (since that was what the thread topic was about) but you didn't get to it yet.
post #7 of 97
I'd like to hear more about it as well.
post #8 of 97
Has anyone compared the Swan D2.1se against some Dynaudio bookshelves? The woofers look alike and the price is definitely nice.
post #9 of 97
Thread Starter 
Hey folks,

I haven't gotten to the Swans yet because they haven't gotten to me yet. Jon Lane's still building them. He said he hopes to get them to me this week. I'm thoroughly enjoying the 640is but I'm very seriously looking forward to hearing the Swans too.

BTW I took a bunch of pictures and will post them along with updated thoughts about the 640is this week. I'm on vacation right now but I have spent quite a bit of time with them since I last posted. Sorry about the delay. I'm glad some folks are interested in this thread. Updates soon!
post #10 of 97
Does it really take that long to build a pair of speakers? Hasn't it been like 3 weeks now?
post #11 of 97
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by jonfitch View Post

Does it really take that long to build a pair of speakers? Hasn't it been like 3 weeks now?

It has, but I'm sure Jon Lane's got a lot more on his plate than just building me a custom pair of speakers to review. He told me when we first spoke about it that it would take a few weeks. For one thing, if I'm not mistaken he didn't have any of the Khaya Crotch finish in stock so he had to wait for those since that's the finish I wanted. The specs page does in fact say to allow two weeks before shipping and we just had a holiday weekend so I'm not upset about it, though I am very anxious. I'm hoping he'll be sending me a tracking number any day now. I'll post as soon as I get more info.

Jeff
post #12 of 97
Quote:
Originally Posted by jonfitch View Post

Does it really take that long to build a pair of speakers?

Yes, yes it does, unless you don't care about quality work.

einsteinjb, thanks for taking the time to share your impressions with us. I look forward to further developments.
post #13 of 97
Thread Starter 
Hey Brandon! Nice to hear from you.

Jon emailed today to let me know that they've sold quite a few pairs of the Swans lately and actually ran out of the custom crossovers so the Skiing Ninja is building new ones as we speak. Mine are top of the list and he hopes to have them ready sometime next week. Frustrating but I'm quite sure they'll be worth the wait.

Again I appreciate everyone's patience on the updates. I'm trying to finish an online class. When I've completed that this weekend I'll have a bit more time to relax and post some new thoughts.

Jeff
post #14 of 97
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nuance View Post

Yes, yes it does, unless you don't care about quality work.

I'm sure there are a lot of companies that make quality speakers who would challenge that statement.
post #15 of 97
Quote:
Originally Posted by jonfitch View Post

I'm sure there are a lot of companies that make quality speakers who would challenge that statement.

Let them. Seeing as how this is a "newish" model, taking time to ensure they are of the utmost quality is important; that's what I meant. I'd rather have a hand speaker that was delayed because it was thoroughly tested than something slapped together on an assembly line. As always, to each their own, YMMV, etc, etc.

Anyway, Dana makes a quality product, and maybe I'll get my chance with the 640i's one day. Regardless, Jeff has good taste, so if he says they sound good I believe him.
post #16 of 97
Who exactly designs Dana's?

Where are they manufactured?
post #17 of 97
einsteinjb
Nice write up. Sounds like you had fun doing this.
I find it interesting that you prefer doing your work on the same speakers that you prefer listening to. I have heard that some guys like to work and mix on studio monitors but listen to regular speakers in their home. I really wouldn't actually know the truth.
I listen to regular speakers in my HT but prefer studio monitors in my living room stereo set up and my basement set up.
I just picked up a pair of JBL LSR 4326p monitors that I am eager to test. They are my birthday present to myself. I await the necessary gear to feed the xlr cables into them.
Nice to hear from someone local who has, as evidenced by your write up, a fond affection for good gear.
I look forward to the next installment in your speaker comparison.
Stay out of trouble in Philly.
post #18 of 97
Quote:
Originally Posted by dlfromcanada View Post
Who exactly designs Dana's?
They're our design, but we incorporate components from a variety of sources so we can't lay claim to designing everything in the speaker. (The D2.1se Custom is also our design built into a Swan product. Crossovers here are built by Skiing Ninja and we do hand re/assembly.)

Quote:
Where are they manufactured?
Cabinets are made and assembled by what we believe is the most capable OEM in our sector. This house is responsible for a lot of premium product in North America and elsewhere. Drivers are made by another company that's been making them for 30 years, again, for some major global brands.
post #19 of 97
Jon,

What OEMs make the drivers for the Dana i-series?

Some of the other Dana models have Vifa listed.
post #20 of 97
I prefer not to name an OEM, but I can say that the drivers compete for the front ranks in the Danish school of driver design in more than a few ways. Some smart guys pulled out a lot of stops here, from concept to manufacture...
post #21 of 97
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nuance View Post

Let them. Seeing as how this is a "newish" model, taking time to ensure they are of the utmost quality is important; that's what I meant. I'd rather have a hand speaker that was delayed because it was thoroughly tested than something slapped together on an assembly line. As always, to each their own, YMMV, etc, etc.

Anyway, Dana makes a quality product, and maybe I'll get my chance with the 640i's one day. Regardless, Jeff has good taste, so if he says they sound good I believe him.

Yeah, this isn't fast food here, it's fine reference-level audio gear, which is always worth waiting for if necessary. Look how long Salk takes to build a pair of their speakers. I know Brandon will tell you his were more than worth the wait. Shame we live so far apart... If we lived close I'd very happily bring the 640is over for a chance to hear those gorgeous SongTowers!!

Anyway I've known Jon Lane for several years and everything I've heard from TAI has been of exceptional quality and has sounded amazing. Jon always deals with me more than fairly and I've always found the information he's given me to be honest and accurate. I've been drooling over the D2.1ses on the TAI site for a few years now and I can certainly wait a bit longer for my chance to hear his custom upgraded versions of them. From his descriptions, they're a somewhat different beast from the Danas so I'm really looking forward to a side-by-side of the two.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bone215 View Post

einsteinjb
Nice write up. Sounds like you had fun doing this.
I find it interesting that you prefer doing your work on the same speakers that you prefer listening to. I have heard that some guys like to work and mix on studio monitors but listen to regular speakers in their home. I really wouldn't actually know the truth.
I listen to regular speakers in my HT but prefer studio monitors in my living room stereo set up and my basement set up.
I just picked up a pair of JBL LSR 4326p monitors that I am eager to test. They are my birthday present to myself. I await the necessary gear to feed the xlr cables into them.
Nice to hear from someone local who has, as evidenced by your write up, a fond affection for good gear.
I look forward to the next installment in your speaker comparison.
Stay out of trouble in Philly.

WARNING: OFF-TOPIC (but hopefully interesting) TANGENT ALERT

Hi Bone215 (play trombone, do you? Maybe we've met?). The home audio speakers vs. studio monitors debate is an interesting one that's been going on for quite a long time. The basic truth is that they're all speakers and all do basically the same thing. They're just geared towards somewhat different markets with somewhat different needs. People often ask, "if music is mixed on studio monitors, wouldn't I be better off using studio monitors at home to properly reproduce the sound in the studio?" Likewise folks sometimes ask "Wouldn't it be better for studio engineers to mix on the same kinds of speakers people will listen to this music on at home?" Both good questions (though in the case of the latter, all your intended listeners will most likely be using wildly different gear so there's no standards here).

Aesthetically, studio monitors often look more utilitarian while home audio speakers obviously tend to come in more attractive packages for the home user. More importantly, they're often set up differently in a studio than your speakers at home and the environment will sound different since studios are obviously acoustically designed, whereas few home listening rooms are. Most pro studios have at least 2 sets of monitors, one of which (generally a large, full-range system) is often soffit-mounted in the wall in front of the mixing console (where they get a lot of bass reinforcement from the huge baffle surfaces the walls provide), while there's almost always a set of bookshelf-sized smaller monitors set up on the mixing desk itself just a few feet from the mixing position. These are called "nearfield monitors" and are designed to be placed on a console where their design relies on the bass reinforcement and reflections from the console and desk surfaces. Place nearfield studio monitors on stands away from the walls and other surfaces and they'll sound very thin. Conversely, if you placed a large-ish set of home audio speakers designed to be stand-mounted (with baffle diffraction step compensation, like the 640is) on a mixing console with all those reflective hard surfaces, they'd sound boomy and unnatural.

And of course studio monitors have to be extremely accurate as they're your primary mixing tool. The engineer has to hear everything that's going on in minute detail or they're useless. The problem with extreme accuracy (plus to a much lesser degree extreme power handling -- many engineers mix LOUD) is that honestly, it doesn't always sound that great. Gasp! I look forward to your letters, as Craig Ferguson would say, lol. Despite the legions of measurement-loving frequency response graph fiends we have here (nothing wrong with that) who DEMAND a flat frequency response, the hard truth is that truly flat speakers aren't always the most pleasant things to listen to. Nevermind the fact that no speaker will measure the same way all the time since the response depends heavily on the listening distance from the speakers, the gear driving them, and most of all the room environment. Anyway the point is that many really good home audio speakers will tend to make music sound better than your average studio monitors because many good designs start with a flat response (in a testing environment) then tweak for listenability and variations in typical listening environments. One is a tool that must expose all the flaws so the engineer can deal with them, while the other is meant to allow music lovers to enjoy their music, which is rarely recorded perfectly. Truly great speakers must somehow strike a balance between accurately reproducing the recording and not sounding so clinical that every technical flaw in the recording destroys the musical enjoyment. It's a monumental task that designers have been wrestling with since speakers were invented and it's honestly as much art as it is science, IMO. I say whatever sounds best to you, that's what you should use.

BACK TO THE THREAD TOPIC (more or less):

As for me, I would love to have a dedicated mixing environment with proper studio monitors, but it's not an option at the moment so my needs include having a single system that sounds fantastic and allows me to enjoy music and movies when I'm just listening (or watching) but is also accurate enough that I can produce accurate, predictable mixes on it. The Dana 930s have been fantastic in this regard, though the area I've always had a bit of trouble with is the low mids and upper bass. My first draft mixes usually come very close in this region but it's not always perfect and I find myself tweaking bass and kick drums more than anything else (though I do also sometimes find the vocals aren't as forward as they sound in my room on the 930s). Comparing them to the 640is has really been enlightening -- vocals sit just a bit farther back in the mix on the 640is than the 930s which place the vocals right on top, whereas I'm hearing details and visceral impact and depth in the low mids and upper bass on the 640is that I didn't even realize I was missing on the 930s. I'm very much looking forward to mixing on the 640is; I think I'm going to have an easier time with the balance of my bass & kick drums on these. The overall balance seems a bit more natural and accurate. The 640i's midwoofer is truly blowing me away and the more I listen to them, the more I love it. TAI has done some amazing work on these drivers. At 6.5" they're smaller than the 930's which is a 7" ScanSpeak with a true phase plug, but somehow they dig deeper, with more detail, transparency and impact, which seems to allow them to mesh with my subwoofer more effectively. I'm sure it has quite a bit to do with the larger cabinet volume and the interesting curved port design.

A couple weeks ago I did have a chance to spend some time swapping back and forth between the two Dana models (after about 20+ hours of break-in running in full-range mode with bass-heavy material), listening to the same tracks on each, which really helped to clarify the differences between them. As I've already described, the 640is dominate in the lower midrange/upper bass region. In every comparison, they dug deeper and sounded bigger, reaching easily all the way down to and below my 70Hz xover point to blend beautifully with my SVS sub. And it's not just more and deeper bass, it's also cleaner, more transparent, more detailed, with, as Jon says, amazing resolution and "downward dynamic range." I really feel like I'm hearing more of the "musical space" (for lack of a better term) in the recording. Everything in the lower regions just sounds more "real" on the 640is, which is impressive because the 930s are no joke either.

Imaging also seems to be superior on the 640is, excellent as the 930s are in this area. Placement of instruments is quite precise and realistic and appears to extend in some cases beyond the width of the actual speaker placement, giving them a bit of a "3D" effect. I've heard this before on my buddy's Dali Helicon 800s but rarely besides that.

The one thing that was less than perfect to my ears was the region between about 2.5Khz and about 6 or 7Khz, where in the beginning I felt like I was hearing a bit more energy than I personally prefer. I'm especially sensitive to this frequency range so I tend to prefer speakers that are designed to smooth this range out a bit rather than presenting it with absolute accuracy (which might explain why I usually find really good studio monitors to be a bit brighter than I'd like). In fact I almost always find myself adding a dip in this range with my house EQ when I'm mixing live audio regardless of the sound system I'm mixing on. In particular, I was hearing a bit more sibilance on vocals than I personally like on most good recordings (and a lot more on mixes I know to be bright). The upside to this is that on mellower recordings, you get some stunning sparkle on cymbals, delicious bow resonance on strings, nice open attack on acoustic guitars, etc. And it's really nice for movie soundtracks, bringing out all the ambient details and adding impact to action scenes. This is a subtle thing, BTW -- I am NOT calling them bright by any means. I'm talking differences of a dB or so, nothing drastic.

When I discussed this with Jon, he agreed that the 930s (and all the original Dana models before TAI took over) were designed with a somewhat different philosophy than the newer models, which will measure a bit more accurately. The 930s give up a bit of accuracy in order to add that "butter" I mentioned, which sweetens the vocals and places them right up front in the soundstage, making them a dream for lovers of great vocal music.

As it turns out, Jon gave me some placement suggestions which I tried with more or less success, but I found that 2 things really helped here: 1. As I put more time on them (ran them on a loop all day while I was out) they seemed to open up in the lower ranges which definitely had the effect of mellowing the highs, and 2. I put the grilles back on. Yup. Lol. Made all the difference in the world. I rarely prefer speakers with the grilles on so by default I just take them off before I even plug them in, but in the case of the 640is, they seem to want their grilles on. Hey, whatever works.

I'm going to try to upload some pictures in my next post. Wish me luck.
post #22 of 97
Thread Starter 
Here's a few shots of the Dana 640i and 930, including the Ascend CBM-170se in a couple shots for comparison.

NOTE that this is the LEFT 640i. They come in mirrored pairs so the grilles are mirror images of each other and the tweeters are placed towards the inside.


IMG_0401 Dana 640i, 930 with grilles by einsteinjb, on Flickr


IMG_0396 Dana 640i, 930 no grilles by einsteinjb, on Flickr


IMG_0389 Dana 640i, 930, rear by einsteinjb, on Flickr


IMG_0385 Dana 930, 640i, Ascend CBM-170se 1 by einsteinjb, on Flickr


IMG_0379 Dana 930, 640i, Ascend CBM-170se 2 by einsteinjb, on Flickr
post #23 of 97
Hi einsteinjb, and thanks for the positive words. What you're hearing, of course, comes from a specific set of choices and technologies, not least of them the choice of drivers in the new Dana series. The model's designs I think can be called classic European-style, with natural finishes, heavy braced construction, and simple but solid fittings, finishes, and details.

Crossovers are average complexity, and feature well damped transitions between drivers for good control and that dimensional sound I think you're hearing. It's gratifying to hear that you find the 640i to out-image the 2x more expensive, discontinued 930. We value this characteristic and won't complete a design until it delivers it.

Although both designs are nominally 6.5” bass reflex two-way stand monitors with dome tweeters, the 640i is clearly the larger speaker, meaning it will have the mathematical advantage in some ratio of extended bass and higher sensitivity. You've found this by ear (kudos) and it relates to more power under the curve, so to speak – an engine with more displacement specs and behaves differently than one with less – where you should have more “torque” with the 640i.

The 640i's tweeter is 25mm diameter, and to maximize responsiveness and bandwidth does not use magnetic oil in the voice coil gap (in this it resembles the original Dana 600 series models). It has a motor design that grants it a lot more top end extension than the 930 tweeter, while playing as low at the same time. The 930's tweeter is 28mm and does use fluid, just as the Swan D2.1se's and D2.1se Custom's do. It's likely that the smaller design running a wider (raw) response without the mechanical damping of magnetic oil will sound different in a system than a larger, less extended design, and you've discovered this too.

Owing to the extended raw responses of both of the 640i's drivers, and due the high degree of driver response overlap, the 930 and 640i use different types of crossover networks, again with audible results. I don't have a 930 on hand but I strongly suspect that in addition to a lower crossover point, it had somewhat sharper slopes. The 640i uses gradual slopes that then transition to faster attenuation once into and beyond the respective crossover frequencies. This plus more responsive drivers also adds to what you're hearing.

----

Maybe here is also a good place to insert some words about Dana's new drivers, as some thread readers are asking about them and this information can help relate how and why the 640i and 930 are both similar and different.

New Dana 600 series drivers come from a driver program we think should compliment the Dana philosophy in North America, which was to combine strongly evolutionary thinking on Danish-style driver tech with advanced manufacturing and then acquire lower cost. One major problem eventually solved was finding a maker that had the desire and the vertical integration to produce both raw parts and assemblies to that European standard at that low cost.

Driver design came from the team behind years of well known and initially revolutionary designs in the Danish style, who for this new line of drivers went through hundreds of iterations of cones, profiles, suspensions, and the like. This team uniquely had the background to make the subtle tradeoffs between measured performance and sound quality and do it in this particular philosophy, which they did. I think it's a fortunate mix.

The driver manufacturer is a vertically integrated company with 30+ years of transducer manufacturing experience and who holds these drivers to a standard better than what some companies would call matched pairs. They also build for some of the largest brands in the world.

The finished drivers have some rather interesting characteristics, such as one to two octaves more bandwidth than anything I'm aware of in their respective classes, which is the product of magnetically-optimized motors driving linear, low-loss suspensions, and in the case of the bass drivers, on unusually responsive cones. This I think is what you're hearing when you mention the wealth of detail in the mix and when you highlight the midbass driver.

Most interesting to me, the new drivers use copper in special motor designs for the lowest reactance I've seen, aiding the driver's bandwidth and responsiveness and lowering distortion. You can see this characteristic in the flat impedance magnitudes of these drivers. We're getting increased bandwidth and improved transient response.

Specifically, the coil former material is non-conducting for a low mechanical loss/high Qms, meaning that cone's damping is more electrical than mechanical. This is the classic style that puts the amplifier in control and will therefore respond to system changes – in an email I think I suggested that this is the kind of speaker that will pay benefits with careful amplifier and system choices. Voice coils are thoroughly ventilated through the center pole and under the rear suspension and compression is reduced to a minimum, which should aid the bass response you've pointing out.

Motors are optimized for BL symmetry and good saturation in the coil region. Surrounds are low damping SBR for good linearity. The entire suspension begins limiting together at a specific excursion (again in the classic style seen first in large pro drivers, IIRC, from sixty years ago and to excellent effect). Cones use a proprietary blend of natural materials and are undamped (raw), which is similar to the 930 and fairly unique to Dana – with few exceptions, I prefer natural fiber cones to plastic. Cone stiffness is high for bass reproduction, and light and shaped for very extended high frequency response. Baskets are aluminum.

These are probably the highlights. einsteinjb's comparison of the new 600 series 6.5” two-way with the older 900 series 6.5” two-way is apt: The previous Dana 600 series used Vifa drivers without the features above, meaning that new 600 series drivers are in the class of the previous 900 series drivers.

We took awhile to make this move with Dana, but as the new drivers came online, so did our development program; while late, Dana is back. We hope that these choices are key components of the Internet-direct method – it appears variants of these drivers appear in five figure designs elsewhere.
post #24 of 97
I came across a pair of 640is and took a peek inside. The drivers are excellent.

Although I suppose driver cost doesn't tell you that much (I looked up the cost of the drivers on the SVS MBS-01s and it comes up to ~$550+ or about 60% the cost of the speakers...although given it's lack of success at AVSforum's GtGs it tells you driver cost does not always equate to a well-received speaker...)

I will say the 640is are well built and it would cost quite a bit to build something of this quality on your own.
post #25 of 97
Wow, thanks. Could you provide a little detail next time! Excellent review!
post #26 of 97
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jon Lane View Post

I prefer not to name an OEM, but I can say that the drivers compete for the front ranks in the Danish school of driver design in more than a few ways. Some smart guys pulled out a lot of stops here, from concept to manufacture...

Just out of curiosity Jon, do you think you can divulge the crossover frequency of the speakers? This is just for personal curiosity while I am assessing the speakers.
post #27 of 97
Quote:
Originally Posted by astrallite View Post

Just out of curiosity Jon, do you think you can divulge the crossover frequency of the speakers? This is just for personal curiosity while I am assessing the speakers.

Roughly 2250Hz. is where the two drivers naturally settle together and produce the most seamless response. (Lower than that and lots of 2-ways suffer big increases in intermodulation distortion, which ruins their dynamics and headroom.)
post #28 of 97
Great pics and write-up! Love the curved corner on the girll.

I know this will not be a fair comparison considering the price difference but how does the Dana's sound compare to the Ascend cbm-170?

I used to own the 170 and am curious to read on the differences heard.
post #29 of 97
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ster3ohead View Post

Great pics and write-up! Love the curved corner on the girll.

I know this will not be a fair comparison considering the price difference but how does the Dana's sound compare to the Ascend cbm-170?

I used to own the 170 and am curious to read on the differences heard.

1) It has ALOT more bass, so it's fuller sounding

2) The tweeter has a little more sparkle up top

3) More "detail" so I guess the midrange is probably boosted a little
post #30 of 97
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ster3ohead View Post

Great pics and write-up! Love the curved corner on the girll.

I know this will not be a fair comparison considering the price difference but how does the Dana's sound compare to the Ascend cbm-170?

I used to own the 170 and am curious to read on the differences heard.

Actually since I have a pair of cbm-170se (obviously) I thought it would be interesting (if completely unfair) to compare them to the 640i, just for shits & giggles, because I could. When I first got them several years ago I briefly tried them as mains but found they were simply not made for it. They don't go nearly deep enough to properly blend with a sub and they just don't have the output. That's not surprising given their quite small dimensions.

However, the things I like about them, I really like. Their imaging is quite good, and I've always found them to sound really nice & clean in the mids & highs as long as you don't push them too hard or expect any real bass out of them. That's why I like them as surrounds.

So after a lot of back & forth between the 2 Dana models, I put the Ascends up & listened to some of the same tracks I'd been using. It was interesting since I hadn't focused on these speakers in so long. They've just been sitting there doing their duty as my lil surround soldiers. I found, as expected, that at lower volumes they still have excellent detail & imaging with very smooth, natural mids & highs. All that delicious, visceral impact, depth & space that I've come to love in the 640is was gone, but they still sounded very musical in the upper ranges. Where the 640is put the bass & drums in the room with me in a very realistic way, the Ascends just politely informed me that there was bass & drums in the mix; I'd just have to imagine what it'd be like if they were live.

The Ascends started falling apart on louder, more demanding passages. They lost transparency and started sounding edgy and fatiguing, so I found myself wanting to turn the system down when the music got loud. This is not a problem for the 640is. They hold together beautifully when the material & volume gets challenging. As an example, Vienna Teng's Love Turns 40 from her 3rd album, Dreaming Through The Noise, starts off very subtle, with upright bass, then very ethereal strings, then a very soft, intimate vocal. Soft piano comes in on the bridge, then drums played with brushes in the second verse. After the 1st chorus there's some really excellent work by the strings. All this is fantastic on the 640is, with all the exquisite detail in the strings, drums etc. and the upright bass as big as life. It still sounds excellent and detailed on the Ascends, though there's no impact in the bass, which sounds much smaller. Later in the track though, there's a slow, dramatic buildup, with progressively more aggressive strings, and this is where the Ascends kind of fell apart while the Danas held strong. There's some beautiful deep percussion, maybe tympanis or some deep toms with loads of reverb, that adds enormous power and emotional impact to this track and that's all just missing with the Ascends, even with the sub because a lot of it happens in the upper bass above the xover point.

As for the overall balance in the mids & highs, again within the Ascends' limits, the 2 models are reasonably consistent (in that they're both pretty accurate). I don't doubt the Danas' tweeter extends higher than the Ascends', probably well above the 20 kHz point. Regarding the detail throughout the midrange on the Danas, I believe that's due to the superiority of the midbass driver with its fantastic resolution & very low distortion plus the excellent crossover rather than it being more forward or boosted in any way in the mids than the Ascends.

Hope that answers the question.

Astralite, did you get to spend time listening to the Danas? If so what did you think?
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