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Wireless active speakers are currently one of our favourite breeds of hi-fi — especially when they come from an established loudspeaker company. The ‘wireless’ bit means you can stream music directly to them in some way (they still require power cables), while the active bit means they have their own amplification inside, so you don’t need a hi-fi amplifier to drive them. And that makes them one of the neatest décor solutions in home audio — music can stream from your smart device of choice, straight to the speakers. Potentially no other equipment required. And assuming there’s a suitable input on them, you can also plug your TV in, and enjoy far better audio than your TV alone (and if the speakers are good, far better than most soundbars too).
And DALI is most definitely an established loudspeaker company. The name may make you think of extravagant moustaches and melting timepieces, but in our present context it actually stands for Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries, established in, of course, Denmark, and dating back to 1983.
As often happens with real loudspeaker companies, DALI’s foray into active speakers is based heavily on an existing line of passive speakers, in this case not surprisingly called its Zensor range. That’s a full range, with floorstanders, compact units and centre speakers. The Zensor 1 is the smallest of the range, and the Zensor 1 AX here is the powered version of it.
The speakers are marked ‘Designed and Engineered in Denmark’. Black and walnut finishes are available, but we had the white models for review, as in the main image above, which also shows how they can be easily wall-mounted. The white vinyl wrap was neatly finished, with a groove around the edge just behind the baffle, and forward of that a few millimetres of edge and the front of the baffle finished in gloss.
Not that you’ll normally see that, since a grille sits in front of the baffle, held on four posts. But it is removable, and to our eyes removing the grille elevated these speakers from nondescript boxes to rather elegant transducers (see below left, the black version)... though that’s perhaps because we do like a fine speaker driver. The DALI units certainly did look fine with the 25mm soft-dome tweeter centred in a large aluminium faceplate, and the maroon/brown cones of the woofers with their hints of wood fibre seeming decidedly classy.
If you’re up for something larger, note that DALI also does active Zensor 5 AX floorstanding speakers. Apart from the larger enclosures those add an additional 133mm mid/bass driver, 10Hz of bass extension and two decibels of peak output level.
But back to the Zensor 1 AX. Each of the channels has 50W of power available, from Class D amplifiers. Both amps are in the left speaker, along with the input connections and controls.
Those inputs are analogue audio (via a 3.5mm socket) and optical digital audio. The Bluetooth connection supports the aptX codec for use with higher quality with higher-end Android phones. Apple devices will have to fall back on the basic SBC codec. There’s also a subwoofer line-level output, so that the bass of these relatively small speakers can be supplemented, should you wish.
A compact infrared remote control is included. The IR receiver is on the baffle to the left of the drivers on the left speaker. It also carries an indicator light which illuminates in four colours, giving easy visual indication of what input is selected (once you’ve memorised them).
The on-enclosure controls are all at the rear (see below): buttons for cycling through the inputs and raising or lowering the volume. Using both up and down volume buttons together activates Bluetooth pairing. There’s also a hard-wired rocker for power. But you’ll generally be using the remote control, which has direct selection of the input, volume, mute, power/standby, and a button, again, to invoke Bluetooth pairing mode.
Setting up was straightforward. Apart from checking that the analogue connection worked properly, we mostly used the optical input, feeding it from a high-quality network audio streamer. And the Bluetooth connection of course. Note despite the wirelessness there is a power cable required to the left speaker and a four-metre cable to connect the active left speaker to the passive right speaker; this is of impressive quality and nicely thick, but slipped easily into the holes in the binding posts on both ends.
We started with something a little light: the album ‘La Prima Stavaganza’ from the Australian Baroque ensemble Capella Corelli. With a beautifully restrained harpsichord underpinning, sometimes leading, the strings and the occasional recorder, this can break speakers that are unpleasant in the treble and upper midrange. But not these, which seemed equally restrained and smooth, and completely up to the task. Each note of the harpsichord occupied its own place in the plane between and around the speakers, with decent height and fine accuracy, the tune dancing delightfully from place to place.
Heartened by that, we moved on to the Schubert String Quintet in C (D.956), performed by the Australia Ensemble. We’ve long had somewhat of a not ‘love/hate’ exactly, but ‘love/meh’ relationship with this recording. We’ve felt it ought to be great, but somehow it lacked an attack and energy that would lift it above the average. But with these speakers, that energy was brought out in a new way, turning it from meh back to love.
Sometimes speakers of this kind come with rather course volume controls, so that the output level changes three or even four decibels with each button press. These speakers were nicely fine, moving by one decibel with each adjustment.
Moving from classical delights to a rawer pop, we tried Cake’s 1996 cover of I Will
Survive. Again, fine tonal control and balance was in evidence, with good dynamic handling of the drums. But our main interest was the bass guitar, which itself dances around the scale.
This delivered a nice grind and excellent control. The kick drum was well sketched, if not fully delivered in its fundamentals. The limited stereo spread of this recording didn’t hide the accurate image placement.
We then had lots of fun with the live 1987 recording of the Capp/Pierce Juggernaut ‘Live at the Alley Cat’. The big band wasn’t too big for these speakers and the rhythmic brass blasts provided plenty of energy. Guest singer Ernestine Anderson’s voice was somewhat emphasised in the upper harmonics, but otherwise the performance was exemplary.
Moving over the Alice Cooper’s ‘Billion Dollar Babies’, delivered at 96kHz and 24 bits to the optical input, the track Generation Landslide was delivered with a touch of zing, again suggesting a high-end boost. The kick drum was again sufficiently well sketched out to give a solid sense of the whole rhythm section. Imaging, again, was excellent. Despite the strong bass, we felt a slight hollowness in the middle, and since we’d installed the speakers well out from the rear wall, we experimented with this positioning and found a noticeable balancing with the speakers pushed back to within 20-30cm of the wall.
The specs suggest that the optical input is only good for 96kHz. Yet it somehow coped with some Art Blakey at 192kHz.
The DALI Zensor 1 AX speakers are fine little units that give an outsized performance, and work particularly well with classical music. Just get them in a bit closer to the rear wall for rock and roll.
DALI Zensor 1 AX active stereo speakers
+ Good solid performance across audio band
+ Plenty of volume available
+ Very pleasing styling
- A touch bright on some content
Drivers: 1 x 25mm dome tweeter, 1 x 170mm bass driver
Power output: 50 watts per channel
Frequency response: 54-26,500Hz ±3dB
Inputs: Optical digital, analogue stereo (3.5mm), Bluetooth
Output: Subwoofer out
Cabinet: Bass reflex, rear ports
Dimensions (hwd): 274 x 162 x 240mm
Weight (left/right): 4.35/4.0kg
Warranty: Five years (two on electronics)