The $3,000 Speaker Derby Dynaudio

The Dynaudio system was one of the older horses in this grouping. Remember, this derby was more like the Breeder's Cup (the real Super Bowl of horse racing) than a Triple Crown race—in other words, age was no consideration. This is still one of the best systems at the price, and that's all I cared about. So in trotted four Audience 42s ($800/pair) to handle front and surround duty, one Audience 42C center channel ($450), and one SUB20A subwoofer ($1,100).

The Audience 42 is a compact model that uses a 5.85-inch midbass driver and a 1.1-inch soft dome tweeter in a two-way, vented design. The Audience 42C center channel uses the same two drivers in a horizontal configuration, but it doesn't add the second midbass driver like so many horizontal centers do, which can have the advantage of avoiding the phase-cancellation-induced off-axis response issues that some of those models suffer from. The 42C is magnetically shielded for placement atop a TV. The SUB20A uses a 10-inch woofer with a rated 200 watts of internal amplifier power, plus phase and gain control and a crossover bypass. I should mention that the SUB20A might be phased out in the future, replaced by a new, slightly less-expensive SUB model. The SUB20A has been a solid unit for a long time, though, and many are still floating around.

The Dynaudios got pens scratching during the music demos faster than any of the other systems. Knowing that these were the only bookshelf-style front speakers in this derby, I was curious to see how large and fully developed a soundstage they would deliver. The results were pleasantly surprising, especially with "Katy Hill," which gets rather dense at times: 20-plus stringed instruments fire away at once, but the Audience 42s took all of this in stride, filling our room with what, in my opinion, was a deep and well-defined stage that was as accurate as it was musical and inviting.

Everyone else agreed on the accuracy, but Maureen thought that "Katy Hill" sounded slightly thinner here than it did on the other systems. She did add, though, that this was an impressive soundstage for speakers this small. Geoffrey liked how smooth the Audience 42s were, and he felt they did the best job of defining individual instruments. He also felt that they sounded a little more constricted with "Brown Sugar" than some of the others, but he liked their warmth and accuracy, as did John.

With the Holly Cole track, performance on bass and vocals again dominated the conversation. Maureen felt that the Audience 42s might have been the strongest of the group here—with deep, tight bass and an excellent treatment of Cole's voice. Geoffrey continued to laud the speakers' smooth top end and overall warmth.

Ironically, I thought that the Audience 42s were at least as full as (if not fuller than) most of the other systems with "Katy Hill," while others noted some thinness or constriction. However, I didn't feel that they were quite as open with the Holly Cole track as everyone else did. I'm probably splitting hairs here, admittedly, but it seemed to me that the soundstage tightened up slightly and wasn't as rich and effortlessly presented as it had been with "Katy Hill" or "Brown Sugar." That aside, the speakers continued to impress me with how they overcame the apparent limitation of being no more than half the size of any other front speaker in this grouping. Big sound plus a small footprint is solid gold with the consumer these days.

The Dynaudios continued to perform beyond the expectations of their cabinet size with movies, and they continued to impress us with their accuracy. Amy noted that, halfway through Private Ryan, she realized she had been holding her breath for much of the time, which is a pretty strong endorsement of a speaker's ability to create realism. Geoffrey thought that the MG42 machine gun had more bite here. . .

and with it a more-devastating effect. John didn't feel the system was as dynamic with the movie tracks as the other systems had been, but he liked the soundfield cohesion and the way it handled the pans, particularly with Gods and Generals. We all liked the system's bass and its ability to deliver low-frequency events with authority without getting mushy.

At the end of this demo, it was clear to me that the Dynaudios were going to run neck and neck with the B&Ws for the panel's top choice with music. Everyone seemed more than pleased with their soundtrack performance, as well—and genuinely surprised that four bookshelf models, a smaller center, and a compact sub could generate this kind of punch.

• Big sound, small cabinet
• Strong subwoofer performance

At A Glance: Dynaudio Audience 42 Speaker System

Subwoofer: SUB20A
Connections: Line-level ins and outs
Enclosure Type: Sealed
Woofer (size in inches, type): 10, poly cone
Power Rating (watts): 200
Crossover Bypass: Yes
Available Finishes: Light Oak
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 16.4 x 15 x 18
Weight (pounds): 40
Price: $1,100

These listings are based on the manufacturer's stated specs; the HT Labs box below indicates the gear's performance on our test bench.

Speaker: Audience 42
Type: two-way, bookshelf
Tweeter (size in inches, type): 1.1, soft dome
Woofer (size in inches, type): 5.85, polypropylene
Nominal Impedance (ohms): 4
Recommended Amp Power (watts): 20–150
Available Finishes: Light Oak
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 11.1 x 6.69 x 9.68
Weight (pounds): 10.6
Price: $800/pair

Speaker: Audience 42C
Type: two-way, center
Tweeter (size in inches, type):1.1, soft dome
Woofer (size in inches, type): 5.85, polypropylene
Nominal Impedance (ohms): 4
Recommended Amp Power (watts): 20–150
Available Finishes: Light Oak
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 14.56 x 6.5 x 7.87
Weight (pounds): 12.2
Price: $450

Ratings: Dynaudio Audience 42 Speaker System

Build Quality: 92
Value: 94
Features: 91
Performance: 94
Ergonomics: 95
Overall Rating: 93

General Information
Audience 42 Bookshelf Speaker
Audience 42C Center-Channel Speaker, $450
SUB20A Subwoofer, $1,100
(630) 238-4200
Dealer Locator Code DYN

HT Labs Measures: Dynaudio Audience 42 Speaker System

• Audience 42 Satellite Sensitivity: 85 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz

• Audience 42C Center Sensitivity: 84 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz

This graph shows the quasi-anechoic (employing close-miking of all woofers) frequency response of the Audience 42 satellite (purple trace), SUB20A subwoofer (blue trace), and Audience 42C center channel (green trace). All passive loudspeakers were measured at a distance of 1 meter with a 2.83-volt input and scaled for display purposes.

The Audience 42's listening-window response (a five-point average of axial and +/–15-degree horizontal and vertical responses) measures +2.19/–3.89 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. The –3dB point is at 59 Hz, and the –6dB point is at 52 Hz. Impedance reaches a minimum of 4.65 ohms at 247 Hz and a phase angle of –32.34 degrees at 126 Hz.

The Audience 42C's listening-window response measures +1.78/–3.97 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. An average of axial and +/–15-degree horizontal responses measures +1.91/–4.73 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. The –3dB point is at 68 Hz, and the –6dB point is at 56 Hz. Impedance reaches a minimum of 4.59 ohms at 210 Hz and a phase angle of –23.64 degrees at 111 Hz.

The SUB20A's close-miked response, normalized to the level at 80 Hz, indicates that the lower –3dB point is at 41 Hz and the –6dB point is at 35 Hz. The upper –3dB point is at 118 Hz with the crossover-frequency control set to maximum.—MJP