I finally got a chance to spend time really listening to the Swans and switching back and forth between them and the 2 Dana models (640i and 930). I listened to pretty much the same variety of material I've been using, including Vienna Teng, Norah Jones, Swearingen and Beedle (all really excellent recordings of acoustic/folk music with fantastic detail), Seal, John Mayer, Train, bit of Journey (why not), Naturally 7 (fantastic R&B vocal group that uses only voices, no actual instruments), Libera (contemporary boy choir, a real test for tweeters, imaging, and purity of reproduction), Rodrigo y Gabriela, Sarah McLachlan (whose recordings I find quite hissy and bright but it's good to hear how that comes across for variety), Fourplay, a few of my own recordings I've mixed, and more.
For this session I would listen to one or at most two songs at a time (if two, always from the same album) then immediately switch speakers and listen to the same song again then switch to the 3rd set and again listen to the same song. I varied the order of the speakers randomly; whichever set was on the stands 3rd would be the first set for the next song.
I found this to be a really good way to get to know the character of each speaker; as the evening went on, it became pretty easy to predict how each speaker would handle the next song or artist, and each one's strengths and weaknesses became more and more apparent. I really recommend this method for trying out new speakers, including one or more sets you're very familiar with as a reference on your own gear in your own room, if at all possible. The juxtaposition really gives you perspective and shows off each set's unique sound in contrast to the others. By the end of the night, barring some major future change in one or more sets' sound due to additional break-in time (at this point I'm not thinking that's very likely), I felt like I really knew these 3 models and I'd pretty much made my decision about which set to keep (but you wouldn't want me to tell you that just yet, would you?
BTW, you all know it's also helpful to quit comparing and just sit with one set of speakers for an extended listening session (or even over several days or more)... Sort of like starting with speed dating then spending a whole day with someone to see how you feel over time. After a while, anything that's going to annoy you will start to really annoy you as you keep hearing it, while you may find yourself falling in love with qualities you may not have really noticed or felt strongly about at first. I've owned the 930s for a few years and have spent quite a bit of time with the 640is now, so I do plan to spend some time just listening to the Swans in the next week or two when I get time.
Quick notes -- The Swans seem to be the least efficient of the three, so I needed to turn my amp up a couple notches louder for them than the next set, which was the 640is. The 930s seem to be the most efficient of the three and play the loudest (or at least apparently the loudest). I did not do this scientifically -- you can all look up specs quite easily if you like. One of the many things I listen for is what a set of speakers wants
me to do -- do they sound right at any volume? Do they invite me to turn them up for more magic? Or do they demand to be turned up or down for whatever reason?
Note that after I'd initially heard each set in full-range to check for bass response (which I did during break-in time), for the rest of my critical listening I'm crossing over to my SVS sub at 70 Hz, since this is how I'll listen going forward. They are stand-mounts and not floorstanders, after all.
Once I'd determined the relative efficiencies above, I settled on an appropriate sub volume for each set of speakers to compensate, so I wouldn't be unfairly influenced by hearing more or less of my sub in the mix. (In case you're curious, in my Emotiva pre/pro I have sub volume at -5 for 930s, -7 for 640is, and -10 for Swans.)
Since I've already discussed the 640is at length above, I'll give you my general impressions of the Swans here. In a nutshell, they sound excellent, they're obviously very good speakers, and I'm quite confident a lot of people would be very, very happy with them. In fact, if I had to live with them as my main speakers for the rest of my life, I wouldn't count myself unlucky in the least.
Having said that, while I can't say they do anything wrong and there's nothing I dislike about them, in my room on my gear, they don't move
me. (How's that for an unscientific comment? Lol.) As a sound engineer I'm a techy geeky kinda guy and I love my toys, but at heart I'm a musician and musical artist and I listen for the art, the magic, the energy, the MUSIC, not for specs and tech. I'm going to give you some more specific comments about their sound of course to help you make informed decisions for yourself, but at the end of the day, I want goosebumps. If a piece of gear (especially speakers) doesn't give me goosebumps, it's not going to work for me in the long run.
My 930s have been giving me goosebumps since I've owned them. The 640is give my goosebumps goosebumps. I've had several moments where I found myself frozen, forgetting to breathe, eyes closed, mouth hanging open, completely involved in the music. It's like being taken to a higher center of consciousness, if that means anything to anyone (I'm sure the true music lovers here understand that). After all, we don't really want to hear speakers at all, do we? We want to hear music, or better yet, we want to be transported out of our listening room and dropped right in the room with the band, or right in the front row in front of the stage. As a lifelong musician and live sound engineer who mixes real bands (some of them truly excellent) for a living, I'm quite literally in that position all the time. My goal is always to more and more closely duplicate that REAL live experience in my room -- not necessarily in volume (though it's good to know I have the headroom to achieve clean concert levels if I wanted to) but in the emotional involvement of real live music.
By the way, to clarify... When I mix live, my approach is similar to what I look for in speakers, meaning I try to make my gear disappear so rather than hearing my speaker stacks or the processing I'm doing, you just hear the band, the music, the singers, etc. For example, a lot of live sound guys put a lot of upper midrange edge on the vocals to help them cut through the mix. It works, but to me it sounds unnatural. I don't want to hear the microphones and the speakers, I want to hear the SINGER, so I use more expensive mics than many guys do (and clean them frequently) and do the extra work to make them sound right. It's harder to get the vocals nice & clear with my approach, but I do it anyway because I want a natural mix and it's worth the effort to me.
Sorry to go a bit off-topic but I wanted to explain that I'm not one of those old-school, half-deaf rock & roll sound dogs you usually find at the back of the bar pounding Budweisers and pushing their gear into the red all night. I hardly ever do rock anymore and I absolutely never do hip-hop or any kind of hard-core crap, so I still have ears and I bring my audiophile approach to the job.
Anyway, the Swans. I would call them pretty neutral, definitely not bright. I do hear on a lot of material a bit of resonance or emphasis in the low mids that seems to give vocals a bit of extra boom that I can't say I like. It would be way over the top to call them boomy -- they're not. It's just that when the vocal is mixed thin & bright, it seems a bit less so on the Swans (that's good), but if the vocal is mixed warm and heavy, it tends to become a bit boxy on the Swans. I heard this on the Vienna Teng stuff and on some Norah Jones like "Seven Years" from Come Away With Me
. In contrast, the upper midrange openness of the 640is seems to negate a lot of this heaviness when it's mixed that way. On the other hand, when you've got a bright vocal it can become a bit fatiguing on the 640is but would still sound nice & smooth on the Swans.
An extreme example of this would be John Legend singing "Motherless Child" on the Hope For Haiti Now
record that came out last year after the Haiti disaster. Whoever mixed it should never be allowed near a mixing console again in my opinion. The piano is gorgeous, the strings utterly breathtaking, but his voice sounds like he's singing on a 30 year old cheap mic that's been soaked in beer then wrapped in a towel. it's a travesty since he's incredible and his performance was amazing. On the 930s, the vocal sounds like I just described, utterly dead (and if the 930s can't bring life to the vocal, you know it's a bad mix). On the 640is, it's somewhat less unlistenable, though still quite dead. On the Swans, it's pure mud. On the other end of the scale, Sarah McLachlan (anything from Surfacing
, for example) sounds sibilant on the 930s, even more so on the 640is, but just a bit bright on the Swans.
"Smooth" is definitely a good word for the sound of the D2.1se+ Customs... In fact, I would almost go so far as to say they're so smooth, they don't really take chances. They don't have the midrange presence that characterizes my 930s, a presence that makes vocals forward and BIG, something I really like about the 930s, even if it's not the most accurate sound on the planet. The Swans are probably more accurate in that respect, but if the recording lacks sparkle and energy, the Swans will not bring it to life. They do however make brighter or more edgy mixes sound excellent. When compared directly to the 640is, they sound warmer, smaller, but tight and smooth. They have good bottom end but they don't dig as deep as the 640is.
Jon Lane commented to me at one point that if he had to characterize them, he would say the Swans are more of a pop and rock speaker that likes to be driven hard, whereas the Dana 640i is about subtlety and detail. I would absolutely agree with that. The 640is can play LOUD without distortion (though I would guess my 930s can probably go a bit louder before they'd start to complain thanks to those massive Scanspeak components) and they can rock and thump just fine, but I wouldn't choose them for party speakers. Their beautiful open midrange might become a bit of a liability after a while. That's why I tried some Journey (the new record with the new singer) and some Sarah McLachlan, both bright recordings. The Swans tamed the edge and made this stuff very listenable while the 640is just accurately reproduced all of the edge & sibilance.
Earlier I said I listen for what the speakers want me to do. The 930s sound quite good at any volume, low or high. They want me to feed them good, properly recorded vocals and lots of them, and they reward me by putting those vocals big and right in my face. They won't produce a giant soundstage or thump me in the chest as my Swan 5.2F towers used to do (LOVED those speakers but they were just too big for my room and when I heard the 930s the first time, I couldn't part with them so I had to sell the 5.2Fs) but they always did give me those goosebumps. The 640is sound amazing at any volume -- when played quietly, they satisfy but invite you to turn them up for more magic, if you want it. The Swans sound decent at low volumes but they seem to insist you turn them up if you want excitement and presence. Even still, their max output before getting strident or fatiguing seems to be similar to the 640is, maybe a bit lower (Jon Lane could correct me if I'm wrong here).Conclusions:Dana 930s ($1600/pair new; discontinued, not available to purchase anywhere I know of):
My reference monitors of the last few years, they're not perfect but they do have the Magic. Very solidly built with world-class components, Scanspeak drivers, gorgeous understated satin cherry finish. I've loved these speakers since the day I took them out of the box and if I had to live with them for the rest of my life, I wouldn't cry about it. Their bass response is good but does seem to gradually roll off towards the bottom so they don't sound as "big" in the lower regions as I'd like in a perfect world. Imaging is very good. Something about the way they're voiced makes vocals sound bigger than life on them, very natural and forward in the mix, so anything featuring a really good vocal just sounds amazing on them. They're never harsh or sibilant, never too bright but not warm either, and quite detailed. If I had to complain about anything, it would be the bass response being less than perfect (but again, they're standmounts, not towers) and maybe I wouldn't complain about a touch more "air" in the really high frequency regions. My current dream speakers are Dali Helicon 800s (mk 1 -- I've never heard the mk 2s), which at around $4500 - $5000/pair new or around $3500 used are a fantastic bargain for what they sound like (not to mention they're GORGEOUS in glossy cherry). My engineering partner Mike and I both felt from the time I got them that the 930s sounded like a small set of Helicons, which is high praise (he owns the Dalis). The Helicons have, in addition to a soft dome tweeter, a ribbon "super tweeter" which I think gives them an amazingly open top end without ever being too bright. Had I never heard those, I don't think I'd ever miss that little touch of "air" on the 930s.
Recommended (if you could find them) for almost anything but especially for lovers of folk, jazz, acoustic, and especially any kind of vocal music. Very good for classical as well. Not the best choice if you're a bass fiend (Lady Gaga, etc.) but then, none of these speakers here are.Swans D2.1se+ Customs ($989/pair in piano black from TheAudioInsider.com, + $100 for the Khaya Crotch finish I ordered):
I'd been curious about these since they first appeared on The Audio Insider. As a very happy previous owner of Swans 5.2F towers (LOVED them) and current very happy owner of the 5.2C center speaker, I had very high hopes and expectations for these upscale little beauties. Jon Lane says they need a lot of time to really break in and get settled. I have over 24 hours on them running hot in full-range plus quite a few hours running at a decent volume crossed over to my sub at 70 Hz. I don't know if that qualifies them as fully broken in or not, but I didn't see the point in waiting much longer (plus I don't have much time to blast music here in my home so I had to get on with it).
I think they're very, very good, and as I mentioned earlier, there's nothing they do "wrong." I believe a lot of people will be thrilled with these speakers. In my room, on my gear, with my listening tastes, they don't blow me away or get me excited. It reminds me of when my buddy Mike (the Helicon owner) spent a lot of money on a set of B&W 802s (with the aluminum tweeters, not the $20K diamonds). A lot of people love these speakers. We both thought they sounded fantastic and spent quite a bit of time listening to them. They were amazing and did nothing wrong -- but for some reason, Mike kept looking. They just didn't have that elusive Magic for him; they didn't stir the soul. A while later he brought home the Helicons and he's never looked back or even considered replacing them since that day, which was several years ago now. Every chance I get to go enjoy those Dalis, I fall in love with them all over again.
I think maybe in a bigger, livelier room, these Swans might wake up and really shine. My little 12' square room is very dead due to my acoustic treatments, carpeting, futon, etc. and they might just not be the best match for such an environment. I also feel they'd be an excellent choice for someone who loves rock and pop but who needs a medium-sized set of standmount speakers with a really nice glossy finish & high WAF (and who, of course, has the $1000 to spend on them). Also recommended for those who prefer speakers on the warm side of neutral.
I should also mention that the actual Khaya Crotch finish is darker than the pictures on The Audio Insider web site, which still shows the brighter, redder original rosewood finish they used to come in when they first came out (I LOVED that rosewood finish). It's still quite lovely, just darker and more understated than those pictures. I'm going to post a couple pics shortly. One downside to this finish (which I suppose would be typical of any glossy finish) -- it's a dust magnet. I'm having a time keeping the dust off them, and since you can really see the dust compared to the satin Dana finish, I'm constantly dusting the things. The price you pay for beautiful glossy speakers. Dana 640i ($759/pair from The AudioInsider, currently only available in Natural European Cherry, a classy satin or semi-gloss finish that's almost identical to my 930s):
Pretty obviously by now I should think, I'm keeping these. You're gonna have to pry them from my cold, dead fingers.
Interesting, I think, that my favorite set is the cheapest of the three compared here (they are also the biggest in cabinet volume, BTW). To be quite honest, there were times when I switched from the Swans to these and laughed and thought to myself, these are so superior, it's not even fair. Please don't take this as a bash on the Swans! They really are excellent and if I'd never heard a pair of Danas I'd probably be floored by them. But I HAVE heard Danas, two sets now, and they just KILL me. They are not perfect... Is anything? Especially for under $800 the pair. At that price, it wouldn't just be an achievement if they were perfect, it would be some kind of miracle.
If there was one thing I always wished with my 930s, it was that Jon would come out with a floorstanding version (980s!!) and I would pick those up and move the 930s to the rear, finally retiring my beloved Ascends or saving them for a future 7.1 system. I can honestly say now, I'd love to hear a floorstanding version of the 640is, but I don't really feel the need, unless I move to a much bigger room and just need more output. Crossed over to my sub at 70 Hz, these truly sound like floorstanding speakers. There is NO hole whatsoever in the response -- it just stays rock solid all the way down. I'm tickled by this; I really thought I'd need to go back to big-ass cabinets with dual midwoofers like the Swans 5.2Fs to get that sound.
Every time I switched from the Swans to the 640is, the immediate feeling was "Ah, now THAT's what it should sound like!" Everything gets bigger, wider, deeper, and much more open, transparent, engaging, and REAL. Talk about the Magic! Holy shnikes. They just utterly disappear -- with my eyes closed I really don't hear exactly where the speakers are. I just hear music, all OVER the place. (Then I open my eyes and go "How the hell are these little boxes doing this??!" Lol.)
The biggest thing for me is the shocking realism and detail (or as Jon puts it, the resolution), combined with the fantastic bass response and clarity. On the Swans, I go, "That sounds really nice. These are great speakers." On the 930s, I go, "Ah, that is delicious! Buttery, engaging, very natural & musical, very good imaging, just totally enjoyable." On the 640is, I go, "Holy crap, I'm THERE! There's the acoustic bass, there's the piano, there's the singers, a guitar, a cello, and all the space between them..." No speakers, just music. I mentioned at one point it's like the 930s present a fantastic representation of the music, but the 640is give you the MUSIC... Almost like a very good high-res digital picture compared to looking out your window at the real thing. In that analogy, the Swans would be a slightly darker, smaller, but still quite high quality digital picture.
As for the bass response, I'm floored by it. These are NOT boom boxes (and I wouldn't like it if they were)! By bass response, I don't mean they'll rattle your windows and disturb the neighbors. I mean, there's DEPTH, and the resolution these midwoofers produce is awesome. (Jon has a lot to say about the cutting edge technology involved in this.) I'm not sure I've ever heard speakers more accurately reproduce an acoustic bass before. Mike's system is in boxes right now because he's building a new component cabinet but I can't wait for him to get the Dalis up & running again so I can take the 640is over and compare them. I'm fairly confident he's going to be floored as well. The closest thing I can recall hearing in this general size range that comes close (besides the 930s, of course) is the very expensive Paradigm Signature S4s, which I had the chance to hear quite a few years ago in a showroom. I'm sure someone can correct me but I think they were going for around $2100/pair. My recollection of those is very similar to what I'm hearing now as far as imaging, bass response, low distortion, etc.... I'd be curious to compare these to a set of the Sigs.
As I said, they're not perfect. If I had the chance to change one thing, I'd request a very subtle tweak to the crossover, adding a very small dip, no more than 1.5 dB at the most, maybe less, around 3-4KHz. I actually hooked up an old 31-band graphic EQ just to try this for a minute and liked the result very much, though this particular piece did degrade the quality a bit so it had to go. If my pre/pro had a parametric EQ built in I'd try that, but sadly it doesn't. When I first got them I did feel they were a little too bright and did not immediately fall in love, but 20+ hours of break-in seems to have made a world of difference. They've opened up and warmed up and now it only bothers me a bit on brighter recordings. In fairness, I don't love those same recordings on the 930s either and tend to gravitate towards better recordings anyway. Other than that, I don't think I'd change anything about the 640is. They even seem to have that lovely feeling of very high frequency "air" I'd mostly only heard before in the Helicons, and without a ribbon super tweeter no less.
HIGHLY recommended for almost anything other than loud rock & pop (though that's still pretty good). Truly exceptional for classical, jazz, folk, acoustic, and bringing out the utmost detail and musicality in truly good recordings. Should have a very good WAF too I should think as they're very classy and attractive IMO, as long as the cherry finish works with your decor. They're not small but they're not huge either.
I also want to say that some people mistake high frequency brightness for detail and vice versa. Most of you probably know they're not the same thing. Yes, a lot of detail does take place in the higher frequencies, but the resolution I'm discussing here involves the drivers' ability to vibrate with extreme precision, subtlety and accuracy. Again, the digital image analogy is appropriate; the higher the pixel count, the smaller each pixel is and the higher the resolution and the finer the detail will be. This applies throughout the frequency range, not just in the highs. In fact, in the 640is, it's the resolution of the midwoofer in the low and midrange frequencies that impresses me the most.
BTW the Swans are bi-wireable/bi-ampable (as are the 930s) but the 640is are NOT. The 640is just have one set of very heavy-duty, high quality binding posts. I should mention that on both the 930s and the Swans, I replaced the original stock jumpers with bits of the same 12 gauge oxygen-free speaker wire I use in the rest of my system. Break-in may have had more of an effect than switching the jumpers but I do think it made the highs a bit sweeter. Can't swear to it though.
Probably goes without saying too, but I'd recommend high quality hardware & amplification with all these speakers. These are all fine thoroughbreds that deserve equally good upstream gear.
That's about it for the moment. If I think of any important details I've left out I'll post updates, and I'll also post a couple more pictures tomorrow including the Swans. Sorry for the long delay and thanks to everyone for your patience! I hope my insanely verbose review has made it somewhat worth the wait.
PS: I'm unfortunately going to have to part with my beloved 930s to help cover the cost of the 640is. Jon has indicated he might be interested in taking them back himself, but he's also said he thinks they may be worth as much as $1,000 since they're near impossible to find and their components are so good. They're in near perfect condition, almost free of blemishes of any kind, and I have all the original jumpers, owners manual, even the original boxes. I'll probably end up putting them on Audiogon and here in the forum's classified area but if anyone's interested in making an offer, please feel free to PM me.