Dynaudio Special Forty Standmount Speaker Review

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Meet the special one

by Ed Selley Apr 25, 2018 at 7:28 AM

  • Hi-Fi review

    45

    Best Buy
    Dynaudio Special Forty Standmount Speaker Review
    SRP: £2,500.00

    What is the Dynaudio Special Forty?

    The Dynaudio Special Forty is a two way standmount loudspeaker. Unusually for a Dynaudio product it doesn’t exist as part of a range but instead exists in its own right. The reason for this is that the Special Forty has been created to celebrate Dynaudio’s forty years as a speaker manufacturer and is therefore a bit of a present to itself. The company has precedent for this activity. All the way back in 2002, when it was a mere 25 years old, it released another one of a kind speaker called - you’ve guessed it - the Special 25. The Special 25 remains one of the best two way speakers I remember listening to so there’s some pressure on the newcomer to deliver.

    Of course, the Special Forty reflects the world as it is in Dynaudio’s 40th year and their celebrations are not so wild as to ignore commercial sensitivities. This is a smaller speaker than its predecessor. It uses a finish that is achingly modern and it just happens to hit a price point that seems to be a sweet spot for standmount speakers in Europe at the moment. So is this a piece of acoustic frivolity, a considered assault on a key market segment or simply a brand letting their hair down for a moment or can it be all of these things at once?

    Special Forty Specification

    Dynaudio Special Forty Special Forty Specification
    As a company, Dynaudio has been admirably consistent in the manner in which they design and build speakers for most of their forty years and the Special Forty stays true to these principles. What is notable is that some of these ideas were relatively unusual for many years but have since become rather more mainstream. None of these basic principles have been altered for the Special Forty but they have been tweaked and refined so they give the best account of themselves that they can.

    This means that the tweeter is a soft dome unit that has been a Dynaudio staple for decades. It is fractionally larger than usual at 28mm (although this 3mm discrepancy could simply be if the edge to edge measurement is done differently). This tweeter looks normal enough but it is coated in a material that Dynaudio calls DSR which - no word of a lie - stands for Dynaudio’s Secret Recipe. This is not applied in a continuous coating to the tweeter - in certain lights this is visible and predominantly towards the centre of the dome.

    This is partnered with a 170mm mid bass driver that is immediately recognisable as a Dynaudio product. It is made from Magnesium Silicate Polymer (MSP) and most notably, the driver is made as a single unit with the central dustcap assembly being integral. The distinctive breaks between the cone and cap are balance ribs that ensure that the assembly is able to move in as smooth and linear fashion as possible and thanks to that one piece assembly, it is as rigid and light as it practical.

    Behind the MSP front, the mechanics of the driver are no less distinctive. There are two magnets in place of the usual one. The first is a powerful neodymium rare-earth magnet which is partnered with a less powerful ferrite magnet to direct the flow. These magnets are placed inside the voice coil which Dynaudio says helps to reduce flux. The voice coil is in itself interesting. It is made from aluminium rather than copper windings and this helps it be considerably larger (helpful when the magnets are inside it) for the same given moving mass.
    Dynaudio Special Forty Special Forty Specification
    In both cases, the drivers used in the Special Forty are gently breathed on to squeeze a little more out of them than is the case with the cooking versions. The tweeter boasts a new conduit system that controls the flow of air behind the dome. The midbass driver is in turn modified to improve its useable frequency response.

    This last tweak takes on a particular significance when the crossover of the Special Forty is thrown into the equation. To make the crossover itself as minimalist as possible, the two drivers are designed to have a considerable overlap. The mid bass is happy working up to frequencies as high a 4kHz while the tweeter can extend down to 1kHz. This means that the 2kHz crossover used in the Special Forty is comfortably in the operating envelope of both drivers and this helps to simplify the role of the crossover in that relationship. It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first speaker we’ve seen recently to do that. The PMC twenty5.21 also elects for a low 1.8kHz crossover with a similar relationship. In keeping with Dynaudio policy for as long as I can remember, the crossover supports single wiring - something that rivals have been moving towards of late too.

    The cabinet this is placed in is less determinedly sophisticated than the drivers but still has some noteworthy features. The most noticeable in the flesh is that it uses tapered sides but the taper is relatively gentle which maximises internal volume while helping to reduce standing waves and resonance. A large rear port should help with the bass response although the quoted figure of 41Hz at +/- 3dB is good but not outstanding at this price point - although, as we shall see, it might be a trifle conservative. Dynaudio quotes an impedance of six Ohms and a sensitivity of 86dB/w which means they’ll do their best work with a reasonable amount of input power.

    Design

    Dynaudio Special Forty Design
    The Special Forty fulfils its design brief pretty admirably in that it is visually a Dynaudio speaker and couldn’t easily be mistaken for anything else. At the same time, it’s a little more visually interesting than many of the company’s more mainstream offerings. Some of this is down to that tapered cabinet that - channelling my inner Kevin McCloud for a moment - makes the Special Forty look a little smaller than it actually is and introduces a very intriguing sense of perspective when they are toed in and you view them down the edge. The proportions of the front plate are sufficiently close to the golden ratio of 1.61/1 (in the Special Forty’s case it’s 1.81/1) that they manage to look fundamentally ‘right’ when placed on a stand.

    This is helped by the finish. Back in 2002, the Special 25 was released in the finish of the moment, birdseye maple (best known for adorning literally thousands of Quad 11Ls). In 2018, birdseye maple is old hat so Dynaudio has ventured in the Scandinavian north and come back with Finnish Birch to which a high gloss finish in either red or grey is added. In both instances, it looks absolutely stunning - something genuinely different and, well, special. The manner in which is catches different light levels and angles is something I don’t remember really experiencing in a wood finish before and however my efforts trying to shoot it turn out, I promise you it looks better in the flesh. In the interests of fairness however, I am obligated to point out that two people who have passed through the house have hated it. It is at least a talking point though.

    All of this is tied together by a level of fit and finish that is pretty impressive even at the asking price. Everything on the Special Forty feels solid and well assembled and lacking any sense of the unnecessary. Simply put, if you don’t like one finish, you’ll probably like the other one and I cannot see you being anything other than happy with how the Dynaudio sits in most spaces.

    Dynaudio Special Forty
    Everything on the Special Forty feels solid and well assembled and lacking any sense of the unnecessary

    How was the Special Forty Tested?

    The review pair of Special Fortys have been placed on a pair of Soundstyle Z60 speaker stands throughout. They have been tested with a Naim Supernait 2 integrated amp, used with Naim ND5 XS streamer and XP5 XS power supply all connected to an Isotek Evo 3 Sigmas mains conditioner. Some additional testing has been undertaken with a Michell Gyrodec turntable with SME M2-9 tonearm and Rega Apheta 2 cartridge running into a Cyrus Phono Signature phono stage. As such, material used has been lossless and high res FLAC, DSD and AIFF files, streaming material from Tidal and internet radio and a smattering of vinyl.

    Special Forty Sound Quality

    Dynaudio Special Forty Special Forty Sound Quality
    The Dynaudios arrived during the unseasonably cold snap we ‘enjoyed’ recently and when unboxed, they were sufficiently cold that condensation formed on them when they were placed on the stands. As such, once it was established that they worked, they were left to warm up. With this done, listening began in earnest and from the outset one thing has been immediately obvious. The Special Forty has sensational bass. Not ‘good for a standmount’ or ‘decent for the money’ but genuinely brilliant. In this listening space, the quoted roll off of 41Hz is also largely irrelevant. Placed 40 centimetres from the rear wall, the Special Forty didn’t in fact dip below the 3dB figure until a healthy 29Hz. This is serious low end for a cabinet less than 40cm tall.

    More importantly, this bass energy is beautifully integrated with everything else and the speaker is also commendably fast on its feet. Listening to the frenetic start of Like Eating Glass by Bloc Party, the kickdrum is felt as distinct force in the chest but one that stops and starts with outstanding immediacy. Standard challenges like grand pianos, double basses and the like are dealt with imperiously. In an absolute sense, the Special Forty is not a full range speaker but it comes closer than you’d ever reasonably expect something of this size and shape to do.

    This serves to set up the rest of the frequency response which is no less impressive. The mission statement of an imperceptible crossover has been achieved and there are no clues that the tweeter is doing as much work as it is. The tonality achieved is entirely convincing and standard tests for this like Regina Spektor’s Consequence of Sounds is handled without putting a foot wrong. The piano notes have texture, weight and decay and Spektor’s vocals are locked centre stage and utterly and consistently believable. The ability of the Special Forty to create a realistic three dimensional take on what you are listening to is utterly reliable and something you only really appreciate when you listen to something less capable.
    Dynaudio Special Forty Special Forty Sound Quality
    There is also an extremely well judged balance between detail and a sense of the music being ‘well lit’ without ever stepping over into harshness or aggression. You can spend an evening listening to the Roy Hargrove Quintet’s Earfood which is an audiophile recording in all senses of the word and marvel in the sheer presence that the lead trumpet has before slapping on Kasabian’s Club Foot and not picking out that the track has the sort of dynamic range you might normally associate with a ring tone. For a speaker capable of the resolution that this one is, that’s a serious achievement.

    And do you know what? Even after this relentless tidal wave of positivity, we haven’t even got to the best bit yet. Crowning everything the Dynaudio does is a simple, unburstable sense of joy. They’ll do the audiophile things that a two and half grand speaker should do and keep the very best competition honest. What they’ll also do is play The Way It Is by the Prodigy or A Day at the Races by Jurassic5 at firmly antisocial levels and leave you grinning like an absolute idiot. There are such unburstable reserves of slam and attack to the way that they deliver low end energy that I suspect you might find yourself in a spot of bother if you push them as hard as they seemingly want to go.

    Power of course, is nothing without control. The good news is though that the timing of the Special Forty has the precision of an atomic clock. Timing as a concept is subjective but I’d be impressed if after playing whatever takes your fancy for fifteen minutes, you weren’t absolutely dialled into what the Dynaudio does and doing a spot of air drumming at the same time. Some of this innate grasp of rhythm will come down to the partnering equipment which is far from shabby in this regard but I’d be surprised if the Special Forty wasn’t pretty outstanding connected to anything that can generate the required signal.

    Dynaudio Special Forty
    Crowning everything the Dynaudio does is a simple, unburstable sense of joy

    Conclusion

    10
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10

    Pros

    • Truly outstanding sound quality
    • Sensational build
    • Beautifully finished

    Cons

    • I don't own a pair
    You own this Total 0
    You want this Total 2
    You had this Total 0

    Dynaudio Special Forty Standmount Speaker Review

    If you’ve skipped ahead to the end of this review, I’d urge you to stop and actually read the body text before returning because the findings need a little context. It’s not going anywhere, don’t worry.

    I’ve tried to find faults with the Special Forty, I really have. The problem is that it doesn’t have any. Unless we get subjective about the finish which I happen to like and to which another option is available anyway, this is a genuinely viceless speaker. It is compact but it has a frequency response which borders on full range. It has the mechanical resilience of a pro monitor - something that Dynaudio knows a thing or two about - but is built like high end furniture. It’ll meet any hifi challenge you could choose to set it and then play What Time is Love? by the KLF at volume levels you feel as much as hear and you’ll love it even more. The nature of the AVForums ranking system means that the Special Forty cannot be a Reference product because it isn’t as astonishingly capable as the - rather more expensive and vastly larger - Q Acoustics Concept 500. If you are looking to spend anywhere near this sum of money on a speaker however, I don’t know of anything near the price I would rather have and for this reason, this exceptional speaker is unquestionably a Best Buy.


    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £2,500.00

    The Rundown

    Build Quality

    9

    Connectivity

    8

    Sound Quality

    10

    Ease of Use

    9

    Features

    9

    Value for Money

    10

    Verdict

    10

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