DynAudio C4 _ Explodes my sonic perspective

Category: Speakers

After having my Vandersteen Quatro Signature II woods awhile, I got to know the sound very well. Of course, Richard makes two other primary speakers “above” the Quatro, so even he knows each model has set abilities for what you are willing to pay. The question is how much and who’s speaker? I took a gamble and decided to find out.

Ok what exactly am I hearing that needs improving? I listen for hours at a time, and really just sit and listen. No TV, no “doing stuff” at the same time. The weakness of the Quatro, is a sometimes a little cloudy midrange on source material, not all but some. It’s as if the voice should be two feet from a rear wall, but gets stuck in it if that masks sense. My ear wants to pull this out and away from the constrictions the wall creates. Is it really the speaker, or is it just the way it is?

I’ve been out of this business of looking and buying for thirty years. I looked at 0-10K range speakers when I upgraded a dying stereo this last year, but that’s it. So, I have about ZERO politics and preconceived notions on what to buy, or eliminate before I listen to it. I really don’t know what’s supposed to sound like what. I went alone, on purpose, so I would not be told this speaker is crappy because, “fill in the blank”. Sure, I listened to brands before I bough the Quatro model, and that experience will answer itself shortly. I went to two locations based on general upper-end line selection, not so much what they were as I have no idea about truly expensive speakers above 10K.

I brought my own source material as I want to audition what I have heard, and not involve new source material, too. After I hear what I need to, we can play with stuff I don’t own (hi-definition 24-bit digital).

The first stop was the Magnapan, Wilson, and Theil dealer. I listened to a Wilson a ways back and didn’t like it at all. Thin, no imaging and too bright. But, I listened to a set in a smaller room (to me too small) that seemed to sit too far apart and you sat too close, but they were very good sounding. Imaging was terrific, voices were natural and at even very low volume. Bass seemed thin, though, especially compared to the Quatro. But, this Wilson speaker did indeed pull voices into the soundstage and off that strange from a wall sound I hear in the Quatro at times. Then we went to another bigger room, and listened to a set called Watt Puppy’s, a strange name for a speaker. Nope, these were the same as the once ago experience. Thin and no solid image between the speakers. The other model was, to me, clearly better sounding. I believe it was called a Sasha, and was in the 15K-price range. The other speaker was almost 25K. The cheaper model is still 50% again more than the Quatro (ouch!) but there ARE speakers that clear up the midrange issue I hear. So this is good, and bad. Good that I can do it, but it will cost me. I want to keep the fantastic full range and deep effortless bottom end of the Quatro…but maybe I can’t afford to? I will have to return and listen to the Sasha in a bigger room to see if the imaging and soundstage is still as good. The speaker is kind of ugly on purpose, but it is well built. Not a deal breaker, my 801’s were ugly. The magi’s had too many issues for me. Imaging was less distinct, no deep bass and weaker dynamics. For a cheap price thought, they are killer nice. Older or new models weren’t too different. I had an appointment at the next store, but was glad I listened to the Wilson and didn’t judge all of them based on my first experience.

The next stop was to audition the B&W801 and a speaker I didn’t even know what it was. It was also ugly (A common theme anymore) compared to the laid back and stately Vandersteen Quatro Wood signature II models in mahogany and black grill clothes. He played “his” music awhile and they were VERY open and dynamic. Good bass but maybe not as good as the Quatro’s in my “room”. So it’s a tough call on bass. But, it was far and away better bass than the Wilson Sasha. Still, we need to get those Wilson’s in a bigger room. I’ll be back to do that. I changed to my source material that I know well, and these unknowns were still amazingly open and imaged like crazy. No hunting down where things are, they are THERE. Here the Quatro, Sasha and these unknowns were keeping expectations in tact. After about an hour of my music, we switched to the 802D. In fifteen minutes (less really, but I gave them a chance) I knew this was a step backwards. The imaging was good, but it fell into the are of what I want to improve, midrange transparency and openness. They were too heavy in the mids while sitting in about the same location well into the room yet had weak bottom end. They seemed to want you to listen to “this” and not “that” which tells me they maybe aren’t as neutral as I’m used to. I asked to move back to the tall, and still ugly, speakers, the ones with too many drivers to sound good…on paper.

Damn, these are nice. I listened for three hours on them and played record, CD’s and 24-bit. Everything was better. The midrange was completely open all the time. It moved, was bigger or smaller, but never lost that person in a room and not standing against a wall sound (maybe a record was recorded with a guy or gal with his back against the wall?). Now I though that these seem to be my top pick by far. I made sure we listened to the same SPL with a handy Radio Shack SPL meter. 80-85dB is where I listen 99% of the time.

What were they, they were the DynAudio C4’s (unfortunate name, to me C4 blows up). But, to get something really better than the deal of the decade Quatro, you need to spend 17K-22K on these! OK, I go do research AFTER I blind listen (why look at design if you don’t like the speaker?) to see what’s what. Too many drivers, soft dome tweeters are so out of fashion to DIAMOND, aluminum, beryllium, ceramic coated aluminum ETC. They are first order crossover speakers, which, of course, the Vandy’s are not that that means much as they are vastly different configurations. The Wilson Sasha image real well, but I think they use steeper X-over slopes, for instance. The highs were immensely agreeable. So the soft dome are a none issue to me. I’m 54, and can’t hear bats echo location any way. Who am I kidding? I did NOT hear the 802D’s diamond tweeter make me want to have it. It was good, but I just didn’t think, “WOW, a whole new dimension in sound!” I just heard a little more color than I’m used to, with no real bass, and that same issue with some voices seeming inside a wall trying to escape. Maybe a little less than the Quatro, but still fundamentally there.

So the DynAudio C4 went BOOM wow in my mind. After my audition, I read the reviews and they seem pretty close to my audition EXCEPT the bass. They had bass, but it was still not extending like my Quatros in their room. It was uniform and tight (I like that) just maybe not enough of a voice at times. However, the review reports are the OPPOSITE on bass, and that they can over power you with deep bass and / or mid bass in a room depending on the size. My room is an entire basement that is L shaped. The speaker’s face the LONG length of the room (thirty feet or more) and one has to sit closer to a side wall (three feet or so), the other out away from a side wall (twenty feet away). The ceilings are eight feet or so high. My question is, those of you who own this product, what do you think in a real room in your house? How is this speaker doing for you? DynAudio was not even a brand when I left the industry thirty years ago. So far, it seems like a really nice full range speaker that is pretty even handed in auditions. Once I heard it, nothing else was “right” to my ears. The product just falls away from the stage and leaves music. I found this speaker totally my accident looking at the B&W’s. It is weird on many things I thought were “wrong”. Number of drivers, type, location, phase of all the drivers ETC. My ears say so what!

This speaker is low impedance so my solid state DNA-225 will still work OK. I bought, on purpose, fairly neutral stuff. MAP-1 and DNA-225, Benz Micro Ruby 3, and OPPOS BDP-83SE optical player so about anything should be ‘OK”. Once I really have what I want in a speaker, I can tailor to finer granularity. Not till then, though.

The bad news is how much you have to spend to improve on the Quatro signature II woods. Yes, a seemingly small not always there blemish on some source material seems nutty to worry about like a pimple on a teen, there one day gone the next. But, I guess I’ve matured above that…and may be dead broke on account of it!

Let me know your situation with EXPENSIVE speaker auditions and what pitfalls got in your way. I think going alone, and using my source material was a big advantage, and also being 80% ignorant on the politics. I just listen and look at nametags later. It is nearly impossible to hear many speakers in this price range or really, performance range, I don’t care about the price as long as it is 0-20K. I just covered the 0-10K with the Quatro and still came to the same conclusion there, damn nice FULL range speaker for the money. But BOOM WOW the C4 made a big noise in my perspective on what’s capable.
More than a year out, I am wondering how you feel about the C4s in your room. Any changes, pluses or minuses you didn't anticipate?

Thanks for your thoughts on the journey, too!
Well, I have them with about 200 hours time break-in. They are (as were the Quatro's) really strange during break-in. Remember, I changed the amplifier, preamp and speakers at the same time. The pre-amp was in my Quatro system, so I know the XP-10 is generally a very detail oriented pre-amp with a softer bass response compared to the MAP-1 used with my Quatro's.

That said, the speakers went from BRIGHT (first listen) to veiled (maybe a hundred hours) to an odd BEAMING midrange that went literally straight into the room and had NO dispersion up or down. You could move your head in, then out, of the BRIGHT beam of sound...ODD is an understatement.

What was it? I haven't a clue. Could be the amps or the speakers or both going this way and that. But noiw, the speakes and amps seemed to have settled down and are very listenable. I can say that the C4's couple energy into the room like crazy. I mean this in a good way.

Most speakers are best in a sort of near field sitting position (Quatro's) where you are about set-up in an equilateral triangle with 7 or 8-foot sides…seven or eight feet between the speakers, and about seven or eight feet from YOU to each speaker.

The C4's do NOT like this. The imaging is good, but if you get BACK away from the speaker some, maybe to a fifteen-foot distance from you to each speaker, the imaging is MUCH better. The Quatro didn't like toe-in in the near field set-up, the C4's likes some toe-in.

I have the C4's about seven feet apart, and sit fifteen feet away from the front plane of the speakers. The C4's are 5.5 feet from the rear wall, and three feet away from the one sidewall. The left speaker is OPEN to the "L" end of the room. So, even at fifteen feet away from the speakers, I have about twenty feet of room behind me. The room is 39 feet long and 13 feet wide and 8.5-foot ceiling.

Once you realize that the C4's are really able to fill a BIGGER room (mine is over 4,000 feet squared) the comments on the speaker all make sense. Even sitting back away some, the C4's is RIGHT THERE imaging. The effortless solidity of the imaging make the left to right sound seem HUGE.

I haven't gotten the SMcAudio RDL-3000 (well, it' and RLD-1 I spent $3,000.00 on!) back just yet, so I can't comment on the bass. The XP-10 continues to be excellent above 200 HZ, but is softer than I like down low. What I can say, is the C4's will pressurize a room with male vocals and send them right into your chest! Put a Gordon Lightfoot CD or album on, and you resonate to his voice deep inside you! The C4's just flat couple to the room and takes control. And this isn't at 100 dB either. I listen at maybe 60-85 dB average SPL.

I have never heard a speaker that can do this in the midrange in a room like the C4. It is simply fantastic. Sure, the OSYSSEY MONO KISMET amplifiers can't be too bad and get a sound like this out of the speaker. No, the KISMETS aren't super expensive amplifiers, but WOW, they sure sound good for the money! They are smooth and effortless sounding on the C4's and are very good for solid state amplifier. I'd say it is probably much like a Steve McCormack platinum modified DNA-225. I say this because my STOCK DNA-225 was harsher sounding than the KISMETS, and the reports on the DAN-225 platinum modifications are remarkably like what I hear in the KISMETS. I do like Steve McCormack electronics, too. This is why I sent an older RLD-1 to him and let him uncork the sound in a good design held back by cheaper parts.

Once you get past the C4's superb midrange coupling to the room, the highs are just not there. Not there? Yes, they are so good you just don't hear a tweeter, you hear MUSIC! This is the way it is supposed to be. If you like to hear each speaker, you won't like the C4's. The are a disappearing act. The driver integration is excellent.

The go DEEP all right, but the XP-10 holds it back (It did on the Quatro, too). So I can't comment on the bass just yet. To be fair, if you listen, or like, a firm but not overpowering bass, the XP-10 delivers the goods. Me, I like the bass to beat me up if it is supposed to! The C4's did that with the right pre amp when I auditioned them. Was it too much bass? NO, it was dynamic and properly fielded bass that fit the remarkable midrange energy.

OK, what's not to like? The Quatro had a MAGIC female midrange that is so far impossible to beat. The time and phase alignment of the Quatro allows a superbly layered front to back sound that almost lets you see the vocalists tonsils. The C4 gets the width, depth, height, and energy more correct in size and quantity but it can't capture the layered front to back micro dynamics that the Quatro can. The ability to form a near field halographic layered image is a Quatro strong point. It can not be denied.

The Quatro with those SUPERB sub amplifiers, and equalized to your room, and with 250 watts of class B power go DEEP in spades. The C4 excels in POWER and dynamics, but the Quatro can roll out the bass floor all the way to hell if need be. Bass down LOW is always a noodle or string being pushed up hill, it tends to "flow" and flow it does from the Quatro...and in the most beautiful way. The bass could be picked up in buckets it's so thick and deep.

The C4's bass is more like Jason from Friday the thirteenth coming into the room, takes his chain saw and slices the SOLID sounding bass up into cubes and start tossing them around on you. I'll have to see how the RDL-3000 (OK, RLD1 platinum) does down low on the C4's...but the Quatro may be hard to beat way deep (think MOVIE soundtrack thumps and bumps).

I LOVE the C4 II signatures! The overall sound is OPEN and expansive and really fills a large room correctly. The smidgen they give up to the Quatro is missed, but the improvement in OVERALL presentation is superior. The C4 II is far more integrated top to bottom as a single "speaker".

A speaker I DO NOT want to hear, would be the Vandersteen MODEL 7's. This speaker may capture all the C4's abilities, and add back in the wonderful female midrange layering and superb bass. THAT would drive me nuts wanting them! The seven's need POWER and electronics, too. The sevens for the price are probably the deal of the century, but I'm a lot poorer in the century that they were created in, darn.

So I can't afford the sevens, and the model 5 Carbons are also too expensive. So I moved up to the C4 signatures and couldn't be happier in my room, and with modest electronics, too. And, they DO NEED ROOM. These aren't near field speakers. No, they don't need a stadium, but ten feet or MORE from the line between the speaker and your chair seems more like it with the C4's.

So in the middle to high teens, the C4 series II is a great product. The speaker is very colorless, it's like hot water (I said like, NO SPEAKER IS COLORLESS!!), it turns into what you ADD with electronics. The Quatro was a little like green tea, it had a great warmth to the sound that was ideal. So you need to watch electronics with each speaker. But, you can not REMOVE the Quatro sound where the C4's is what you play it with more so. It can go from brighter to warmer, your choice.

The ODYSSEY KISMET mono amps are a good old-fashioned basic analog design improved over the years. They have HUGE capacitor banks and transformer (they are heavy) and they have a TON of current delivery and match the C4's very well. Heat isn't an issue, they just don't get warm, are DEAD quiet, and you never notice you have amplifiers, just music. So their neutrality is good. I use less than 30" of Groenburgh Quatro reference extreme speaker cable as the amps sit right by the speakers. You can buy KISMETS in Stratos cases and save some money if you want to, Klaus builds to suit. Mine are deep maroon red front and top panels with black heat sinks along the sides, and are strikingly nice sitting on the floor by the bordough (maroon) C4 II signature speakers.

KISMETS have a smooth effortless and nice sound that isn't my sonic bottleneck, I need a dynamic harder hitting preamp! These amps won't be on Audiogon soon, sorry. I won't argue $10,000 SS amps isn’t better, but I will argue that there is little the KISMET mono amp leaves on the table compared to ANY amp in their price range. And probably, will be near the top of the heap of amps costing much more through distribution channels. It turns out that they were a very easy decision, a solid piece of quality electronivs at a nice price. Doing it very well for cheap is hard to do till the KISMETS make it "sound" easy.

I'll have to comment on the RLD-3000 (you should know I call the platinum RLD-1 this by now!) in a separate post after it works in some. But again, I went for a BASIC superior circuit uncorked with better parts by the man who should know what to do. Doing it well for cheap is hard, till you find the real audio pros. Steve McCormak is the real deal.

You may ask WHY I sold my MAP-1 and DNA-225 when I could have SMcAudio modded them. Good question. I sold them with my Quatro's to a friend who can't afford what I can. I have a soft spot to help someone out less fortunate than I, and who truly loves to listen to music so I let them go, knowing they will make him happy, and HE can later as his finances allow, upgrade them. But darn, that MAP-1 sure was good on the low-end of not as open as the XP-10. Steve assures me he's going to fix that. The KISMETS sounded (and I was right) like the best way to get two mono amps that excel at what modded McCormak pieces do...and maybe better. The C4's II's will rip a poor amplifier apart and leave it for dead sonically. I hear music with the KISMET monos.
Great review of the Dynaudio C4's.
I heard the C4's at the Stereophile show in 2002 and they sounded phenomenal.
Here's what i said about them in 2002. Its at the top of the page.

By the way, did you see these Dynaudio C4 speakers with the gloss rosewood cabinet.
I love the C4's, but they do have limitations. I added subs, as I like a more powerful effortless low bass than they C4s do by themselves. True, everyone comments on the great bass they have. Yes, the key is what they "have". I miss that bottom octave they don't have, though. And, They do like a good amp. I ended up with a MOON evolution W-8, when a person traded up to the new 870A model. I had a good price offered on a real nice amp so I went for it.

The W-8 is over double the power of the KISMETS, and is decidedly better controlled played harder. Still, the KISMETS have a wonderful sound where they do well. Yes, they could be called "colored" ever so slightly, but in a VERY good way. The W-8 is a purely transparent amplifier if there ever was one. It sounds more like the source (to good or bad effect) on the C4's.

The W-8 excels at microdynamics and detail. Want to hear the sound of the room? No problem. Want to hear every nuance of every sound in a recording? No problem. Want to hear the harmonic overtones of a tube amplifier...BIG problem!