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Christmas Gift Guide
Speakers

The shock of the new Dynaudio Special Forty speakers

Listening to the Dynaudio Special Forty, you realize sometimes the smaller speaker is the right speaker.

Dynaudio

Do you know about Dynaudio speakers? Designed and made in Denmark, the latest speakers from the company are understated by high-end standards. The Special Forty can fit in with any decor, with a sound that's similarly low-key, but that's why they'll wear well over time. Dynaudio makes pro and consumer speakers, and I've certainly enjoyed my share of them in home theater and high-end stereo audio systems over the years. Speaking of years, Dynaudio is celebrating its 40th anniversary with its Special Forty speakers, so I spent some quality time with a pair at the In Living Stereo store in NYC.

The Dynaudio Special Forty speakers decked out in grey and red birchwood veneers.

Dynaudio

I like that its trim size is so apartment friendly at 7.8 x 14.2 x 12.1 inches (198 x 360 x 307mm), and the high gloss stained grey or red birchwood finishes have a cool modern look. The Special Forty are expensive little speakers, but sound and build quality are commensurate with the price and celebration of the company's 40th anniversary.

Dynaudio is known for its drivers, so this new speaker sports a precision-coated 1-inch (28mm) soft-dome tweeter that is unique to the Special Forty. The 6.7 inch (170mm) mid-woofer design is based on Dynaudio's flagship Confidence and Evidence designs, and the Special Forty woofer uses a sophisticated hybrid magnet system to lower distortion and create higher power output. The tweeter and woofer both use aluminum voice-coils that are lighter than traditional copper coils, which allows Dynaudio to make larger voice-coils for a given weight, and that's a good thing because larger coils exert better control over the dome or cone's movement, which further lowers distortion. The company relies on extensive measurements and listening tests in the development of new designs.

For this review the Special Forty was partnered with a Naim Nait 5si integrated amp, a Naim CD5 XS CD player and a Rega PL3 turntable. I also checked out the speakers sound with the spectacularly good Line Magnetic 518 tube integrated amp.

How special is it?

The Special Forty is in step with the trend of shrinking high-end speakers size, and this speaker might be the best one yet for its size. Tonally, the Special Forty is smooth and easy, but as I continued to listen it was the speakers' clarity and resolution that made the biggest impressions.

Guitarist Ry Cooder's "Mambo Sinuendo" unleashed hard hitting Cuban grooves that wanted to be played nice and loud. The Special Forty obliged and reveled in the tunes. The little speakers can play surprisingly loud in small- to midsized rooms. The sound had a deliciously organic feel to it.

With electronic music from Philip Glass's "Dance Pieces" deep synthesizer bass lines came fast and furious, and the Special Forty cleanly delineated them. Same for complex keyboard textures, and the music's energy and pulse made me want to dance. The soundstage was deep, but not all that wide.

My favorite young country rock singer Angaleena Presley displays serious attitude on her "Wrangled" album. She's a fierce presence, and her band kicks butt, and the little Special Forty didn't hold anything back.

All of that was with the Naim solid-state electronics, but when we switched over to the Line Magnetic tube amp the Special Fortys sound fleshed out and warmed up, without losing its innate precision.

The Dynaudio Special Forty speakers retail for $2,999 and £2,500 per pair. The price in Australia hasn't yet been set, but the US price converts to AU$3,802. Dynaudio also offers much less expensive and more expensive models.