If there’s a speaker brand that can rightly use the word ‘heritage’; it’s Dynaudio. The Danish company has been making high-performance drive units and both pro and domestic loudspeakers of all kinds since 1977 and has more than a few hits up its sleeve. For example, while we as hi-fi buffs lavish praise on the BBC-designed LS3/5a monitor, ‘Auntie Beeb’ itself prefers to use Dynaudio AIR 6, AIR 20 and BM5 monitors and has done for the last 17 years. Recently in the domestic market, the company’s Special 40 has become recognised as one of the stand-mounts to beat, irrespective of price.
None of which acts as preparation for the Heritage Special.
This is a strictly limited, hand-built two-way stand-mount monitor, designed from the outset to take advantage of all those classic aspects of speaker design that have sort of ‘drifted’ a touch in the modern era. That’s neither a criticism of modern speaker design, nor an indictment of Dynaudio’s current crop of loudspeakers; in fact, if anything Dynaudio is going through something of a purple patch right now. However, there are some elements of classic loudspeaker design and construction that are extremely difficult to implement in today’s products without incurring high production costs.
The Heritage Special reflects that high production cost while reflecting the high production values of what is, in essence, an artisan product. That could, so easily, spell the worst of all worlds, producing a ‘me-too’ product that is expensive to build and offers little in the way performance improvements, leaving the owner with not much more than a rich wood finish and ‘custom shop’ brownie points. The more positive approach – and the one adopted by Dynaudio – is to make a loudspeaker that is, in essence, a distillation of all the things that were and are good about the best of Dynaudio and put them in one single two-way stand-mount.
The speaker, limited to 2,500 pairs worldwide, has a 19mm-thick MDF cabinet finished in sustainable American Walnut veneer. It’s internally braced for extra rigidity and lined with heavy bitumen to further minimise unwanted resonance. This is a tried and trusted method of internal damping, although stuffing the cabinet with foam or similar is often common due to the extra ‘faff’ involved in making bitumen-coated panels. Each piece of veneer (including the thin list strips surrounding the front baffle) is matched to its companions – and those for each speaker are matched to each other – for complete consistency. The cabinet goes through three meticulous sanding and lacquering processes. It takes just over three days to build each one from start to finish.
The tweeter plate is from the highly regarded Esotar T330D, but it’s coupled to the latest Esotar 3 tweeter unit – as found in the top-of-the-range Confidence family. It’s the finest, most sophisticated tweeter Dynaudio has ever produced – featuring a larger rear chamber, powerful aerodynamic neodymium magnet system, the resonance-defeating Hexis inner dome, and Dynaudio’s characteristic precision-coated soft-dome diaphragm.
Meanwhile, the mid/bass driver – the 18W75 XL Heritage Special MSP Woofer, a name that trips off the tongue almost as effortlessly as ‘Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch’ – is a ‘breathed on’ version of the one you’d find in the company’s recently discontinued Evidence Platinum series with its exponential diaphragm construction; that’s a mid-bass unit hitherto found in a loudspeaker that cost more than the highest-spec Volkswagen Arteon. This driver overlaps the grooved edges of the front baffle and its signature groove, although its incursion into the side panels doesn’t mean a bulge.
Staying with that enclosure for a moment, the rear of the Heritage Special is a large aluminium panel, with a surprisingly huge bass port. The binding posts are the top Nextgen 710 Cu from WBT; a pure copper that uses WBT’s sophisticated atomic-level bonding process to create gold terminals with no need for the more capacitive nickel-plated protection on the surface (gold version and silver version). While not huge in signal degradation terms, even these terminals were selected to help prevent eddy currents from interfering with music signals.
A classic Dynaudio touch is the use of a first-order crossover. That means the simplest possible network in place, made up of the highest quality components. The problem with making a first-order crossover is it’s an acid test for a loudspeaker drive unit, and few companies chose to test their mettle this way. Especially as many loudspeaker manufacturers choose off-the-shelf (or slightly-modified off-the-shelf) drivers. As Dynaudio controls all the key components in the loudspeaker itself (including the drive units) it can design a loudspeaker crossover to deliver excellent phase linearity and absolute clarity, primarily because there’s almost no crossover to speak of. Many Dynaudio loudspeakers have used first-order crossovers for that reason and have been praised for their speed, their timing, and their phase integrity… these points might be worth remembering for later in the text.
There’s a little bit of marketing shtick in the box each Heritage Special comes packed. It’s a ‘thank you’ from the Dynaudio team for being that sort of discerning customer. And I’m sworn to secrecy as to what it is. OK, so it’s not a solid gold brick, a magic potion that can roll back the years (or the pounds), and it’s not free access to the world’s music archives. But it is one of those ‘oh… that’s nice’ promotional goodies that you will probably take out of the box, get a bit of a warm fuzzy about, then put in a drawer for a decade. Still, it’s the thought that counts.
There is something truly lovely about the sound of the Heritage Special. Not ‘lovely’ in a saccharine way, or even in a rose-tinted manner, even though the design and execution of the product has a touch of the WayBack Machine about it… in all the right ways. No, instead, it’s got that ‘lovely’ way of captivating you, of drawing you into the music and glueing you in place. The ‘records strewn around the floor’ cliché is hackneyed but has a kernel of truth here; you do find yourself in unnecessarily long yet hugely entertaining listening sessions, fighting back waves of tiredness to experience just one more New Order or Little Feat album or that one last solo cello piece from the Bach suites.
However, just saying, “it sounds lovely… buy it!” probably isn’t going to butter any parsnips, so what does it do that makes it so lovely sounding? Well, first it’s a very lively-sounding loudspeaker without being in any way too lively. A good speaker should have some bite and some bounce to its presentation, but not so much you are reminded of Jaws and trampolines. And that bite and bounce is perfectly balanced in the Heritage Special; play the live version of Donny Hathaway’s ‘The Ghetto’ [Donny Hathaway Live, Atlantic] – all twelve minutes and change of it – and the sheer funkiness of it carries you away to a place where dark beige leather safari jackets are still cool.
Truth be told, it’s a struggle to describe the Heritage Special because you get too carried away with just listening to music to take good and cogent notes. A note pad full of ‘Oh Yeah!’ and ‘Nice!!’ statements perfectly describes the feeling you get when listening to music through these speakers, but it doesn’t convey the excellent stereo imaging (that phase coherence coupled with their relatively small size makes them throw out a 3D image like a monster) or the speed of attack, the dynamic range, the seeming freedom from cabinet distortion (unless you really play that box hard), the detail you get, and the surprisingly deep and powerful bass and at once snappy and powerful bass lines you get from this two-way stand-mount. But in another very real way, none of that matters next to the sheer wig-out feeling you get when listening to Donny Hathaway like you were there.
Of course, that doesn’t just hold with schizophrenic soul singer-songwriters of the early 1970s. I threw everything from fey, breathy songstresses to heavy opera at these babies, and nothing fazed it. The limitations of box and cabinet volume do ultimately hit with large orchestral works, but even here the Heritage Special covers its tracks well, with only a slight foreshortening of dynamics and scale when compared to much bigger boys.
Sometimes, good audio gets so wrapped up in the medium that it overlooks the message. The Heritage Special is one of those rare beasts that does both equally well. There will, of course, be those who can’t see the (nicely-finished) wood for the trees and never be able to get past the small box with a £5,500 price tag. Then there are those who heard them. Yes, you get a lot of the way there with the Special 40, but the difference between the two is marked. A rare pleasure to hear; you’ll regret it if you don’t.
- Type: two-way stand-mount bass-reflex loudspeaker
- Drive Units: 28mm Esotar 3 tweeter, 180mm MSP cone mid-woofer
- Box Principle: Bass reflex, rear ported
- Frequency Response (±3dB): 42Hz–23kHz
- Sensitivity: 85dB (2.83V/1m)
- Impedance: 4Ω
- Crossover: 1st Order, 2.2kHz
- Power Rating: 200W (IEC)
- Dimensions (W×H×D):
20.8 × 38.5 × 33.7cm
- Weight: 11kg
- Price: £5,500
UK Distributor: Dynaudio UK
Tel: +44(0)1638 742427
Tags: STAND-MOUNT LOUDSPEAKER