There aren’t very many loudspeaker companies that do in-depth research and build their own drive units in this business. DALI is a rare exception, and one that has been making some impressive technological breakthroughs in recent times. The Epicon series is DALI’s flagship range, comprising two floorstanders, a bookshelf, and a centre channel for home cinema systems. They have fabulous finishes, distinctive woodpulp cones with a maroon colouring, and all but the bookshelf has a ribbon tweeter.
The Epicon 8 is the daddy. It’s a ‘three and a half and a half way’, in that it’s a conventional three-and-a-half way loudspeaker with the ribbon tweeter counting as an extra half way in its own right. The suffix 8 springs from its use of eight inch (200mm) bass drivers that, alongside the 165mm midrange, benefit from DALI’s analysis of loudspeaker magnet systems. This research identified that eddy currents induced in a conductor by variations in the magnetic field cause breaks in power to the motor system. DALI’s engineers found that they could reduce the effect of these eddy currents by using pulverised rather than solid iron ferrite for the edge of the gap where the voice coil sits, where its lower electrical conductivity is most beneficial.
This soft magnetic compound (SMC) also displays lower lag time between magnetisation, induced by the voice coil, and demagnetisation. It doesn’t make for a more efficient drive unit in sensitivity terms, but does produce less heat and results in lower distortion. SMC was originally developed for diesel rail injectors, but being first out of the gate, DALI has patented the technology’s use in the hi-fi universe.
The drivers themselves are made from doped wood pulp which is essentially a slightly coarser version of paper, it was selected because the lower uniformity of the material avoids high Q resonances. These are bonded to soft rubber surrounds with carefully selected glues, the softer rubber chosen because it delivers better low level sound quality. This does not, I’m told, make for lower longevity as has been the case with softer surrounds in the past.
High frequencies are produced by a 29mm soft dome that hands over to a ribbon tweeter at 15kHz, making the latter effectively a supertweeter. The ribbon is specified to 30kHz, but has a relatively low output and good horizontal dispersion. This may be why DALI recommends that its speakers be positioned without toe-in.
DALI does not make any special claims about the Epicon 8 cabinet save that it’s constructed from a laminate of MDF sheets. These allow its sides to be sculpted into an inherently stiff curved shape, and the multiple layers of glue give it a degree of a self damping. DALI does mention that there are ten layers of lacquer, which produces a finish that’s remarkable even by the high standard of speakers at this price.
The cabinet has a two small reflex ports on the rear and a detachable base that accepts some very nicely machined, black chrome plated spikes with a chunky M10 thread. Alternatively, there’s a set of rubber feet that will be less useful in hand-to-hand combat. Bi-wire terminals can be linked with a suitably shiny bridging plate, but for best results use jumpers made out of your speaker cable if not bi-wiring. Sensitivity is quoted at 89dB for a five Ohm nominal impedance, an odd figure, but a realistic indication of impedance across the range: like most DALIs, the Epicon 8 is an easy load.
DALI is also into music, which is not to say that other speaker manufacturers aren’t, but DALI makes this clear by producing compilation albums that contain tracks that are not by obscure artists and selected purely for sound quality. Instead the company finds great sounding pieces of music and goes through the not inconsiderable rigmarole of obtaining permissions, mastering, and pressing up CDs. The latest example is Volume 4: The Art of Sound and contains 15 tracks including songs by Eva Cassidy, Laurie Anderson, Infected Mushroom, Jacques Loussier, and James Blood Ulmer. It was the latter’s ‘Crying’ [Live at the Bayerischer Hof, In+Out Records] that DALI used to impress me after these speakers were man-handled out of their boxes and hauled into place in the listening room. And it was easy to hear why they chose it; the kick drum on this track is awesome – as powerful, deep and substantial as any I have heard – and big bass drivers are hard to beat with this sort of source material. As the Epicon 8 has two of them, the effect is rather entertaining.
The Epicon 8 has a generous bottom end. It’s not overblown or thick despite a rear firing port, but warm and rich with the ability to deliver oodles of timbre where the instruments and voices warrant it. This is also an uncannily smooth and clean speaker. Its presentation is as luxurious as its finish, but this luxuriant sound is not because of something the speaker does, but due to something it does not do – as if a form of distortion we were hitherto unaware of has been eliminated. This is not as daft as it sounds; some types of distortion are so ubiquitous that we take them for granted, but when they go away it’s instantly obvious that they are one of the many additions that audio systems make to the sound. A high fidelity component should have as little effect as possible on the signal it reproduces, but inevitably this is a goal that is essentially impossible to attain: you only have to consider what effect a piece of wire can have on sound to understand. So the aim of audio hardware should be to add as little as possible, and with SMC alongside the other refinements in the Epicon 8, DALI has made a big step in that direction. The benefit of this is an ease and resolution that is rare even in speakers at this price; it’s revealing in an effortless fashion, which makes for a very addictive listening experience.
The Epicon 8 pulls details out of recordings like rabbits out of a hat, and things that you didn’t know were there become apparent. Laurie Anderson’s ‘The Dream Before’ [Strange Angels, Warner Bros] has some quietly spoken words on it where some of the sibilants disappear; here they are back, still quiet of course, but present. This attention to detail benefits pretty much everything you play, bringing out notes, tone colour, and image shape with equal ease. I particularly enjoyed the sound of the voices and guitars on Dave Rawlings ‘Machine’ (Nashville Obsolete, Acony), a recent release where it’s clear that they have gone to some lengths to get a decent sound. This extends to the image depth as well, which is better than I had realised, and serves to make the gorgeous balladeering on the album all the more poignant. It makes me want to play some Gillian Welch albums (pretty much the same band), which aren’t in the same sonic league, but the stronger songwriting makes up for a lot.
You don’t have to play great recordings to enjoy this speaker; just play great music and you’ll soon be having fun. I plucked Frank Zappa’s ‘Magic Fingers’ [You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Vol.6, Zappa Records] – not the original Flo and Eddie version, but a later one with Ray White (or possibly Ike Willis) on vocals. The sound on this is good for a live concert of its era (1980) but the performance is stunning, and the DALIs let you know this without trying. This track features another powerful kick drum (the Epicon 8 seems to like them) as well as some fine high tempo playing from one of Zappa’s many well-honed ensembles. This speaker does the important job of bringing the concert alive in your living room with panache. It has the ability to produce decent SPLs, yet remains calm and composed, which is more than can be said of this particular audience when things got going.
When the recording is stronger, the levels of realism go up in proportion. This was achieved with Janine Jansen’s Prokofiev [Decca]; the violin playing totally escapes the cabinets and takes its place in the room with absolute conviction. The effect is enhanced when the basses join in thanks to the scale that they add, but it’s the purity of the mid and treble that makes the lead instrument so convincing. Few speakers can render the softness that a violin is capable of because most introduce at least a soupçon of grain: the Epicon 8 is extremely refined in this regard and thus leaves very little imprint on the end result.
This degree of transparency inevitably means the Epicon 8 is a slave to whatever goes before it. Most of the listening was done with a Naim NAP 250 DR power amp, Townshend Allegri pre, and the Leema Libra DAC with Melco N1-A source over USB. This system clearly suited the DALIs, but out of interest I also tried Marantz’s relatively affordable but highly capable PM14 S1 SE integrated amplifier. This brought more richness and warmth to the presentation albeit at the cost of less gripping timing, the Naim’s speciality. Adding the matching SA14 S1 SE CD player/DAC produced a more muscular and pacey sound, one that suits funk/jazz classics like Conjure’s Music For The Texts Of Ishmael Reed [American Clavé]. Here the bass was juicy and ‘phat’, the instruments really well separated, and the detail resolution impressive. It’s not the sweetest of recordings, but this system proved that neither does it have any inherent glare. Again, tone is king; in this case it’s the electric guitar that stands proud, proving that treble can have body that equals the rest of the range.
Going back to the Townshend/Naim pairing, I also tried the CAD CAT transport and 1543 MkII DAC as a front end, which readers of issue 132 may recall is a pretty special digital source. It’s also a sound that perfectly matches the DALIs’ finesse and detail retrieval, so the system created a truly ‘reach out and touch’, super deluxe sound. A close miked piece by Sarabeth Tucek [Get Well Soon, Echo], where the recording level is clearly on the hot side, is nonetheless capable of raising the hairs on your neck when delivered with the degree of transparency presented by the Epicon 8. You can hear the effects that have been used in the studio, but there is nonetheless a ghostly presence to this performance that perhaps relates to the subject matter; the death of the artist’s father.
The DALI Epicon 8 is a remarkable loudspeaker. Its warmth comes from the absence of grain across the board, and the capabilities of two decent size bass drivers. The fact that it worked in a narrow room proves that although the bass can be fulsome, it is also perfectly controlled. The mid and top ice the cake with a relaxed transparency that anyone will enjoy if they have a source and amplification that is at least clean. I really like the way that there is so little sense of strain; in this respect the Epicon 8 is easily on a par with the best at the price. DALI may not have the sort of boutique brand profile of the most revered speakers in high-end audio, but the company’s scale means that it can produce a genuinely high-end speaker at a far more sensible price than smaller operations. The Epicon 8 is a winner, no doubt about it.
Type: 3.5 + 0.5-way, five-driver, floorstanding speaker with reflex loaded enclosure
Driver complement: One 10mm × 55mm ribbon, one 29mm soft dome tweeter with 34mm surround; one 165mm midrange driver; two 200mm bass drivers with doped wood pulp cones
Crossover frequencies: 550Hz, 3,100Hz, 15kHz
Frequency response: 35Hz–30kHz (+/- 3dB)
Impedance: 5 Ohms
Dimensions (H×W×D): 1225 × 264 × 485mm
Finishes: ruby macassar, black, walnut
Manufacturer: Dali A/S
Tel: +45 96 72 11 55
Distributed in the UK by: DALI UK
Tel (UK only): 0845 644 3537
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