They may look old-school, but Dynaudio's newest nearfields are packed with cutting-edge technology.
Danish loudspeaker manufacturers Dynaudio have a long and very successful history of building hi-fi loudspeakers dating back to 1977, and the company expanded into pro-audio monitors in the early 1990s. Although acquired by the Chinese high-tech manufacturers Goertek in 2014, business has continued as usual under the brand's new owners, with substantial further investments in R&D facilities including a state-of-the-art speaker testing and measurement facility called 'Jupiter': a huge 13–metre cube containing a pair of robot arms that position a speaker in front of an array of 31 microphones to measure its performance over a 180–degree arc in one go.
For over 15 years Dynaudio's flagship professional monitor range was the DSP-controlled Air series — selected as the preferred studio monitors in BBC Radio's studios, among others! More recently, the LYD range, introduced in 2016 and reviewed by my colleague Phil Ward (SOS November 2016 and December 2017), took up the mantle of Dynaudio's DSP-controlled quality monitors.
However, at the NAMM exhibition in America earlier this year, Dynaudio introduced another new range of professional active monitors raising the bar higher again. At launch, there were two models in its portfolio: a three-way design called the Core 59 (the name stemming from its combination of 5-inch mid–range and 9-inch bass drivers), and the smaller, two-way Core 7 (which has a 7-inch bass/mid driver). It is this latter model that I'm reviewing here, the three–way having already been given the once-over by Bob Thomas in the October 2019 edition. By the time you read this, however, there will be two more models in the range: the Core 47 is a smaller three-way monitor, while the Core Sub is, er, a subwoofer.
In essence, the new Core series replaces the highly regarded but discontinued Air series of professional monitors. Both models feature analogue and AES3 digital inputs, along with very powerful Class-D power amplification and, of course, advanced DSP signal processing. They also have the distinction of being the first loudspeakers Dynaudio have developed using their impressive new Jupiter test room facility.
Not surprisingly, the company's development of both driver and DSP technology has seen incremental but worthwhile performance gains in all areas since the Air series was introduced. The results, Dynaudio say, allow these new Core models to outperform the equivalent next-higher models in the old Air series. So the new Core 7 — which is a similar size and spec to the discontinued Air6 — is said to exceed the performance of the Air 12. That is an impressive declaration.
Dynaudio also state that the Core series has been designed with both longevity and consistency in mind, knowing that their professional clients expect equipment to remain in continual service for decades. They also want to be able to mix-and-match speakers from their equipment stores without worrying about stereo matching issues. So the Core loudspeakers have been designed for a minimum 20-year working life (just like the Air series, actually), and the manufacturing tolerances guarantee matching within 0.2dB for every speaker. For that reason most outlets are selling the Core 7 as individual speakers, rather than in stereo pairs — simply because pair matching is unnecessary!
The Core 7 is the compact model of the current duo, being directly comparable in size to the LYD 7, but performing to even higher standards and costing around 50 percent more. It is intended for nearfield monitoring in recording studios, edit suites, broadcast trucks and other mobile facilities, immersive audio applications, and so forth. They also make ideal rear channels in surround–sound systems partnering Core 59 monitors across the front.
With a cabinet measuring 220 x 370 x 390 mm, the Core 7 is a reasonably large nearfield monitor, but the real surprise comes when trying to heave the speaker out of its box: it weighs a substantial 14.7kg. That's almost 7kg heavier than the LYD 7 and around 5kg heavier than the obsolete Air 6. A lot of that weight comes from its very solid cabinet, although the robust drivers (and their oversized motor assemblies), as well as the powerful electronics chassis, obviously contribute too. I was pleased to see that the vulnerable tweeter was protected by a neat plastic guard clipped into its mounting screws.
Like most Dynaudio monitors, the Core 7 is a bass-reflex (ported) design but, unlike the previous Air and current LYD ranges which vent to the rear, these Core monitors feature a large horizontal slot-vent across the bottom of the front baffle, with an internal impedance-equalising flare. This design allows the monitors to be placed near to rear boundaries, which is important in small spaces like OB trucks and edit suites, but also allows for soffit (in-wall) mounting, which is gaining in popularity once again.
The Core 7's front baffle is 32mm thick, and the whole wooden cabinet's structure has been engineered to be both extremely stiff and completely inert. However, I was slightly surprised to see that the obvious baffle edge chamfering seen in the Air and LYD monitors has been discarded for much simpler radiused edges, giving the Core 7 a more traditionally old-school and understated styling, underscored by its textured dark-grey paint finish.
Although intended for vertical origination, the top, bottom and both side panels have four circular indentations near the corners intended to accommodate the supplied 'Hover Pads' — self-adhesive sorbothane discs (38 x 6.5 mm) that serve to both prevent surface damage to the cabinet and to provide some vibration isolation between the monitor and its mounting platform. Also, in the centre of all four panels, removable plugs conceal 3/8-inch tapped holes for the attachment of various hardware mounting accessories (including custom K&M wall brackets).
As I mentioned above, the Core 7's driver line-up comprises a new 7-inch bass/mid unit combined with a 1-inch coated soft-dome tweeter. The woofer is a bespoke variation of the MSP unit employed in the LYD series, which was described in detail by Phil Ward in his review mentioned above. The MSP term identifies the 'magnesium silicate polymer' one-piece-moulded cone, which is powered by an aluminium voice coil on a glass-fibre former but, unlike the LYD drivers, the Core models all use traditional motor assemblies with the voice coil sliding between an outer ring magnet and inner pole piece.
Dynaudio have been developing their coated-fabric soft-dome tweeters for 40 years now, and have over 20 different models in their current production range. The Esotar2 tweeter, introduced in 2002, set the benchmark for their high-end and professional models for many years, but the new Core range features a further development called the Esotar Pro. The most significant difference is that it incorporates Dynaudio's 'Hexis' system — a clever dimpled dome between the tweeter diaphragm and the back chamber, which smooths and optimises the airflow within the chamber, controlling resonances and generally helping to deliver a very linear, extended frequency response with excellent transient detail and wide dispersion for precise stereo imaging.
Power amplification in the Core models comes from powerful Class-D modules, and whereas the LYD 7 used 50W amps for both of its drivers, the Core 7 has 500W available to the bass driver and 150W for the tweeter — the same as the larger Core 59 model, actually. These amplifiers are made by a specialist Danish manufacturer called Pascal Audio, and enable a maximum peak SPL specification of 112dB SPL at 1m, or 118dB if installed in a half–space environment (eg. soffit mounted).
Room boundary and driver equalisation, driver protection, and crossover functions are all performed in the digital domain by the on-board 64-bit Analogue Devices DSP, but room equalisation here is limited to boundary corrections and a little response tailoring.
The crossover between the drivers is at 2.3kHz, and the overall system frequency response is listed as 45Hz to 27kHz within ±3dB limits, or 38Hz to 31kHz within ±6dB limits. These numbers are only a couple of Hertz shy of the larger Core 59's specifications, which is a testament to the quality of the design and the effectiveness of DSP control.
Again, this DSP technology is an evolution of that seen originally in the Air series and developed further for the LYD range of professional monitors, so it's built on nearly 20 years of real-world experience. An important part of that know-how is an understanding of exactly how Dynaudio's professional customers use the provided features and facilities. As a direct result, although the Core 7's DSP system is just as powerful as previous versions, the user interface has been made much easier and simpler to set up, using just a few slide switches on the rear panel instead of complex menus or remote computer apps.
I was intrigued to learn that the DSP operates natively at 192kHz for analogue inputs (for comparison, the LYD 7's DSP runs at 96kHz). However, when supplied with a digital input (or external word clock) the DSP runs at the incoming sample rate, with no upsampling at all. The reason is that Dynaudio didn't want to use an asynchronous sample-rate converter (ASRC) on the digital signal, partly to avoid the potential for clipping due to inter-sample peaks, but mostly to avoid clock drift between separate speakers receiving the same digital source. Clock drift would occur because the replay sides of the ASRCs in different speakers would be running on independent local clocks, and the resulting clock drift could easily build up to a few samples, which would be enough to affect the imaging accuracy in a stereo system, or the sense of envelopment in an immersive/surround system.
A tri-colour LED near the bottom of the baffle indicates the monitor's operating status, and there are no other front-panel controls. The LED glows red in standby mode, and green when operating, and a nice touch here is that the brightness fades to half-intensity five seconds after the mode change, so you're not blinded. Analogue overloads cause the LED to flash bright orange, and if the thermal protection kicks in it pulses red (and the output level is reduced). A clocking problem on the digital input results in a flashing green LED and muted output.
For me, the Core 7's real strength is in its superb mid-range focus and clarity, to a standard that some three-way models fail to achieve.
The rear panel carries a large metal chassis for the electronics, dominated by vertical cooling fins. Eight slide switches are arrayed down the right-hand side, with six connectors across the bottom. The latter start with an IEC inlet accepting mains voltages between 100-240 V AC and, as this monitor is a Class-1 device, it requires a safety earth connection via the mains cord. The nominal power consumption is 70W and, surprisingly, there is no mains on/off switch at all, just an integrated fuse holder.
Two female XLRs accept analogue and AES3 digital inputs, while a buffered AES3 link output is provided on a male XLR for a daisy-chain loop-through to feed a second speaker. A BNC socket accepts a word-clock input, and a USB B-type port is provided for maintenance (firmware updates, etc).
Moving up to the switches, the top-most pair determines the powering mode (either permanently on, or auto-standby) and Bass Extension status. The auto-standby option (which is recommended, of course) shuts the speaker down after 20 minutes of non-use, and it powers up instantly when an audio input signal is detected. In normal use the Bass Extension switch would be set to 'Full', but an 80Hz Linkwitz-Riley high-pass filter can be engaged if the Core 7 is used with a subwoofer.
The second-row switches select the left/right channel from an AES3 input, and tailor the overall frequency response by borrowing the very effective 'Sound Balance' feature from the LYD-series monitors. The options here are labelled Bright, Neutral and Dark, where Neutral is the flat response, and the Bright and Dark options introduce a 'tilt' EQ providing ±1.5dB of boost/cut at the frequency extremes. So the Bright setting tilts the response upwards, reaching +1.5dB at 20kHz and -1.5dB at 20Hz, while the Dark setting does the reverse. This tonal correction is achieved with a minimum-phase all-pass filter, which doesn't distort the overall phase response in the same way as traditional high- and low-shelf equalisers.
Row three deals with basic room–equalisation options to compensate for the most common speaker placements. The first switch offers Anechoic, Desk and Soffit modes, while the second is labelled Free, Wall and Corner. The Anechoic setting is for use with speakers mounted on stands well away from room boundaries, while the Desk mode introduces a mid–range EQ dip to reduce the effect of reflections from a mixing console or desk surface. The Soffit mode corrects the low-end response if the speaker is soffit-mounted in the front wall, while the Wall and Corner options apply increasing amounts of low-end reduction to correct the response if the monitor is placed within 50cm of a back wall or corner, respectively. The Free setting gives a nominally flat response assuming the speaker is more than 50cm away from any room boundaries.
Finally, the bottom row of switches configures the speaker's input sensitivity and output level. The analogue sensitivity can be adjusted for maximum input levels of 0, +4, +18, or +24 dBu — the first giving the greatest sensitivity (or loudest output), and the last giving the least sensitivity (or quietest output). A variable volume trim is not provided for fine level matching, but it shouldn't be needed given the precise manufacturing tolerances (and most monitor controllers have a trim facility anyway). The SPL switch sets the speaker's maximum output level for -6dBFS on the digital input or 6dBu below the selected analogue input level. The options are 112, 100, 96, and 88 dB SPL at 1m (anechoic conditions). Adjusting the speaker's sensitivity and output level with these switches effectively optimises the internal A-D and D-A conversion levels and the DSP code to maximise the system's overall dynamic range in all conditions.
The review models were the first production units, and a firmware update (v1.01) was issued just before the official product launch. A bespoke updater program is available on Dynaudio's website for both Mac and Windows platforms, only requiring each speaker to be connected via the USB port but, unfortunately, the app couldn't find the speaker when connected to my main Windows 7 (64–bit) machine and so resolutely refused to update — a problem which some other Windows 7 users have also experienced, apparently (Dynaudio are investigating). Thankfully, I had no problems at all using a Windows 10 laptop, and the firmware update took just a few seconds.
I installed the Core 7s in place of my usual three-way Neumann KH310 monitors, vertically orientated with the 88dB SPL setting, +4dBu input sensitivity, and all the response switches set flat. The speaker is intended for use between 1 and 3 metres from the listener, and my installation was at the close end of that range.
It's a hotly debated topic, but Dynaudio recommend a 'running-in' period for the Core 7s, suggesting there will be "a significant increase in sound quality, and further subtle improvements in subsequent hours of use". I noticed that the low end certainly became a little fuller and more solid after a few days' use, although the performance was actually very good straight from the box.
I tend to work at quite low listening levels most of the time, and I was impressed by how well the low-frequency balance was maintained — many ported speakers seem to need more energy in them to achieve the desired tonal balance. But when you want to hear low–level detail or just feel the vibe, there's plenty of power on hand, and headroom in the signal processing, to deliver an impressive punch. Transients are very crisp and detailed, dynamics are portrayed effortlessly, and although the system noise was definitely higher than my KH310s when operating at a similar SPL, it was inaudible to all intents and purposes when sat more than a metre away. Apparently the firmware update I mentioned improved the Core 7's signal-to-noise ratio, amongst other minor response improvements.
For me, the Core 7's real strength is in its superb mid-range focus and clarity, to a standard that some three-way models fail to achieve. It has an effortless ability to reveal subtle details within the mix — especially noticeable in the reverb tails, and in dynamics processing, for example. These characteristics make it an ideal monitor for critical mixing and evaluation as you can really hear into the depths of a mix without straining, even at low listening levels. The stereo imaging is pin-sharp and stable, too, with a wide, expansive sound stage and considerable depth, but also precisely narrow and focused central sounds.
Although I explored all the options, I didn't feel a need to use any of the room boundary corrections in my setup, and while the Sound Balance tilt EQ facility offers a well-judged range of tonal adjustment, I found the neutral setting perfect in my room. For me, one of the best indications of a really good monitor is the ability to listen critically for extended periods without fatigue, and the Core 7 passed that test with considerable ease.
Overall, then, the Core 7 is a very impressive loudspeaker, genuinely worthy of the 'monitor' label and delivering a level of quality — particularly through the mid–range — which was the province of high-end three-way monitors only a few years ago. For that reason, the price, which might initially seem relatively high for a traditional-looking two-way monitor, is genuinely justifiable. An audition is highly recommended.
The Core 7 finds itself priced against very strong competition, like ADAM's S2V, Geithain's RL906, Genelec's 1032B or 8350SAM models, Neumann's KH310, and OS Acoustics' DB7.
- Detailed and neutral sound with phenomenal mid–range clarity and focus.
- Broad but precise and stable stereo imaging.
- Makes hearing into the depths of a mix easy, and without fatigue.
- None, other than the (entirely justified) price.
Old-school in styling, perhaps, but the Core 7 is a hugely capable nearfield monitor delivering a seriously impressive level of performance and capability, and a very worthy heir to the Air legacy!
£3000 per pair including VAT.
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