Danish loudspeaker leader Dynaudio likes a good birthday party. It turned 40 years old in 2017, celebrating four decades since its founding, and it chose to mark the occasion by, amongst other things, releasing a special anniversary loudspeaker, aptly named the Special Forty.
It’s not the first such special edition speaker. A ‘Special One’ closed off the company’s first decade, and was memorable as a contender for the first truly high-end compact monitor, so well regarded that the same concept was used as the basis for the now-legendary Contour 1.3 SE. To celebrate its 25th anniversary Dynaudio produced the ‘Special Twenty-Five’, finished in an exclusive veneer, and for its 30th anniversary, the unusual Sapphire. And now the ‘Special Forty’. What wonders have the Danes delivered this time?
The Special Forty was fully designed and engineered in Dynaudio Labs, and is built across the road in the company’s Skanderborg factory. It continues the tradition of high-quality standmount designs — not super-compact, being a medium-sized speaker 36cm high and 31cm deep without counting protruberences — but certainly very room-friendly. And while Dynaudio is currently creating an ongoing series of active and wireless models for the new age of streaming audio, that’s not the ‘focus’ of the Special Forty — this is a firmly traditional passive speaker. Indeed Dynaudio says its goal here was to revisit the company’s 40 years of innovation and bring it all together in the light of everything it has learned since. We like the description of the Special Forty as “our greatest hits… reimagined, remixed, remastered...”
One key approach has been to deliver a tweeter with an extended response not so much upwards (the -3dB point is quoted at 23kHz) but significantly downwards into the midrange, as low as 1000Hz, while the woofer is engineered to extend upwards as far as 4000Hz. That creates a natural crossover between the two drivers, while one of the benefits of designing its own drivers is that Dynaudio’s tweeter and woofer also deliver as similar tonality and dispersion as the physics of the varying frequencies allow. So Dynaudio’s preferred first-order crossover circuit need apply only mild slopes and simple circuitry to achieve the desired impedance and phase alignment. As it says, why manipulate the musical signal to make the drivers gel, when you can make better drivers in the first place?
We first heard the Special Forty on demo at the Australian Hi-Fi & AV Show, proving they could combine finesse with out-and-out dynamism, and looking replendent in the red birch finish. Our review pair was in the less striking but no less luxurious grey birch (pictured), and as is invariably the case with Dynaudio models, the first thing to impress is the immaculate build quality and finish — the deep gloss of the varnish, and here the way the wide stripes of the birch flow around from the chamfered baffle (the overall shape is similar to the Focus series) to the side walls without a hint of a join, and then over the top, so that the baffle and top grains meet at 90 degrees. The stripes of the veneer vary quite dramatically in colour on the grey version because these are not age rings, as you might think — they are too straight and uniform, for one thing. Rather multiple layers of birch wood have been coloured and compressed in blocks before slicing sideways to produce this striping effect. Heaven knows how it all stays together; we salute the craftsfolk who achieved the effect, prior to the piano lacquer being applied.
Around the back below the rear-firing port is the small and robust connections panel, presenting a solid pair of binding posts good for spades, bananas or bare wire. No biwiring or biamping is possible — Dynaudio being too proud of what it has achieved with its crossover and drivers to let you bypass its work!
Up top, then, is the Esotar Forty tweeter, currently unique to this model, a 28mm soft-dome diaphragm, the coating of which, applied in variable thickness for maximum performance, is described as ‘DSR’, tongue-in-cheek initialisation denoting ‘Dynaudio Secret Recipe’. Behind the tweeter is a new magnet and venting system designed to relieve the dome from back pressure (improved damping is also used to absorb rear radiation), with the result of reduced resonance and improved speed and accuracy.
The bass driver is described as “the ultimate incarnation of our legendary 17W75 MSP woofer”, ‘MSP’ being Dynaudio’s exclusive magnesium silicate polymer, and the cone benefiting from all the stability and strength of attachment of a one-piece design, held in place with the company’s AirFlow Basket and hybrid magnet system inside rather than around the voice coil. Neodymium delivers the abundance of magnetic force, while a ferrite is used to control it.
The resulting combination of clarity, detail and control was nicely displayed by Angus & Julia’s Stone’s Grizzly Bear and its opening combination of clicky guitar and reverbed Rhodes before the beat and bass kick in. Open and wide is this Rick Rubin soundscape through the Special Forties: Angus front and real, Julia placed slightly behind in soulful support, then split to ping-pong sides for the delightful ‘ba-ba-ba-ba’s.
The thrilling speed of the bass here was evident when spinning David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ LP, a recording only seven years younger than Dynaudio itself. On China Girl there’s not a nanosecond of overhang to the Carmine Rojas bassline, and it’s tuneful too, with every note of its busy run over the intro and closing defined in tone and shape, solidly underpinning Omar Hakim’s spare 80s’ beat, and Bowie impeccably imaged and unimpeded by the surrounding flow.
And the dynamics — The Who’s ‘Tommy’ (24/96) came crashing in, the entry of 1921 making us near jump out of our seat with its entry, so sharp and powerful an impulse did the Dynaudio’s deliver. IQ’s Mellotron-laden 1312 Overture combined snapping snare and octave-leaping bass over multiple layers of choir and synths that can swamp lesser speakers — here everything was swirling and spreading through real space both between the speakers and apparently beyond. An ability to deliver depth of field was enjoyably revealed in a Philip Glass Ensemble strings piece from the ‘Mishimi’ soundtrack (1934: Grandmother & Kimitake), also thrillingly rich in tone.
While enjoyable at lower levels, these speakers beg to be turned up, and of course benefit from decent amplification to fully open the available dynamics and slam, and to deliver that bass to its full effect. Their sensitivity is only average at 86dB/W/m, while they’re given nominal impedance of six ohms, so they don’t need an absolute beast to drive them, though you should invest in power to have them deliver their best; the large reserves of a Classé integrated amp bringing them thrillingly on song.
We also experimented with positioning, and clarity was certainly highest with the speakers in a good amount of free space, some metre or more out from any walls. If you need them further back, there’s some bass tuning available from the foam bungs supplied for the bass ports — either full bunged or with centres removed to tame any rear reflections that muddy rather than support their balance. We just kept them out in free space, toed in, their sound easily filling a medium or even medium-to-large space, although these are speakers with such brilliance of imaging and dynamics that they are best appreciated in reasonably close proximity, where they can fully weave their magic.
Dynaudio has been sensible to finish these speakers so strikingly in sliced birch, as the unusual finish draws attention to their similarly high level of design and performance. The Special Forty is an exceptional standmount worthy of its anniversary status, with dynamics, tone and imaging highest on their list of strengths. Put them in a high quality system, and hear how they sing.
Dynaudio Special Forty stereo loudspeakers
+ Highly musical loudspeakers
+ Thrilling imaging and staging
+ Particularly fine crossover between drivers
- Best with high-quality power
Drivers: 1 x 28mm Esotar Forty tweeter, 1 x 170mm MSP cone
Crossover: 2000Hz, 1st order
Frequency response: 41-23,000Hz -3dB
Impedance: 6 ohms
Sensitivity: 86dB (2.83V @ 1m)
Cabinet: Bass reflex (rear port)
Finishes: White bitch, red birch
Dimensions (hwd): 198 x 360 x 307mm
Weight (each): 8.1kg
Warranty: Five years