Interview: Roland Hoffman, Dynaudio

When Roland Hoffman, Senior Manager at Dynaudio Academy, came to Australia last year (2017) to visit Dynaudio's Australian distributor, BusiSoft AV, and release the Contour Series range, Australian Hi-Fi Editor Greg Borrowman took the opportunity record the following interview, which appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of Australian Hi-Fi Magazine. This is the first time it has been published on Australian Hi-Fi's website,…

GB: You’ve travelled all the way down to Australia for the local launch of the new Contour Series loudspeakers, and to publicise the free software update for the Focus XD range. Australia must be an important market for you!

RH: Our sales have surged in Australia ever since BusiSoft AV started distributing Dynaudio for us. George [Poutakidis] has been doing such a wonderful job for us that we’ve now appointed BusiSoft to also distribute our range of car audio speakers. George and BusiSoft will also be responsible for distributing our new range of custom install products, which will be introduced to dealers tomorrow by our product manager for custom install, Michael Munch.

GB: The Contour Series has been in Dynaudio’s line-up for some time. Can you tell me what’s different with this latest Contour Series?

RH: You’re right that the Contour Series is not new—or at least the Series name is not new. The Contour has always been the heart of Dynaudio since the first models in 1989. We’ve had three generations since that time, and despite the fact that we have both more expensive and less expensive models, the Contour range has always been our most successful. However, creating only one new generation every 10 to 12 years means it’s very challenging to make an improvement.

GB: I wonder why you even thought it was time to improve the range. Was there a catalyst?

RH: We had had feedback from dealers, distributors and customers that Dynaudio should have a new Contour model—one that was completely different than before, so initially we considered many options. Do we do a face lift? Do we dare to make an active version of a Contour? In the end we decided that even before we started we’d take a new and unusual approach to such a re-design. We assigned three different engineering teams to the task. One team comprised our own engineers, all of whom have been with us many years. A second team was comprised of new engineers, fresh out of university. The third team was comprised of engineers who’d worked for various other loudspeaker manufacturers in Europe.

GB: I can begin to see the challenges already!

RH: It was one of the most exciting R&D projects we’ve ever done! Right from the outset the other two groups were challenging us to re-prove our own technologies. One of the longest-running debates was whether to use our own soft-dome tweeter technology in the new series, or switch to using a hard dome. One of the engineers was vehement in his arguments in favour of switching to a hard dome tweeter. In the end we went with one of our own soft-dome tweeters… though admittedly it was one of our best, the Esotar2. I was really pleased that more than a year later when I was discussing this choice with the same engineer I discovered that he’d since changed his mind. ‘I would never have believed a soft-dome tweeter could perform at such a high level,’ he told me.

GB: Did the engineers straight out of university come up with any fresh ideas for the Contour?

RH: Yes, they did. They were adamant that if we made the cones of the cone drivers we were using thinner, we’d get better midrange. When our engineers pointed out that if we did this we’d lose too much rigidity, they came up with a finite element analysis that proved that if we changed the existing shape of the cone slightly, to be more trumpet-shaped, we’d be able to reduce cone thickness without any loss of rigidity. This also meant we had to re-design all the other parts of the drivers, so with the exception of the tweeters, all the drivers in the new Contour range are completely new: the magnets, the suspensions, the chassis, the spiders... everything except the actual material used to form the cone, which is the same MSP material we’ve been using since the 80s... except that it’s now thinner and has a different profile. We went from a thickness of 0.5mm down to one of 0.4mm.

GB: So presumably this worked for the midrange driver in the Contour 60 and the bass/midrange driver in the Contour 20 and 30, but what about the bass driver in the Contour 60?

RH: Strangely enough, the finite element analysis showed we could improve its performance by making the cone thicker, so it went from being 0.5mm thick right up to a thickness of 1.0mm. For me this was a perfect example of why each driver must be examined individually and also an example of what it’s possible to do when you make your own driver units, as we have always done at Dynaudio.

GB: Of course I am aware that Dynaudio has always manufactured its own drivers in Denmark, but has this changed since the company was purchased by Chinese manufacturer Goertek?

RH: There has been no change in production at all. All Dynaudio driver units are still manufactured in Denmark, in our own factory in Skanderborg, and all the cabinets also in our own factory, which is also in Skanderborg. The cabinets for our entry-level Excite range are also made by us in our own factory, but in this case that factory is located in Latvia.

GB: Have there been any changes at all since Goertek purchased Dynaudio?

RH: Oh yes, there have been many changes, all of which are the direct result of Goertek injecting capital into our company. The best example is that we have just built a brand-new, three-level research and development facility very close to our existing factory in Skanderborg. It’s more than 1,600 square metres in size, has the largest loudspeaker measuring room in Europe, at 13 by 13, by 13 metres, and we’ve tripled the number of our research and engineering staff. We have also dramatically increased our budgets for research and development, as well our marketing budgets. Goertek also provided the finance to design a new range of custom install speakers that will carry the Dynaudio brand. However, unlike all other Dynaudio loudspeakers, the custom install drivers will be made in Goertek’s factory in China... but the drivers themselves were wholly designed in Denmark.

GB: So it’s been a great outcome not only for Dynaudio as a company, but also for Denmark as a country?

RH: Yes. I know a lot of people were not so sure about the change, but Goertek has proved that it wants to invest in Dynaudio in Skanderborg and wants Dynaudio products to remain 100 percent designed and manufactured in Denmark. It means we can now do things much faster than before. For example the new free-field measurement chamber has 31 Bruel&Kjaer microphones so we can measure speakers from every direction at the same time. [The image above shows the microphones in the new chamber]

 This means that measurements that used to take our engineers days and days can now be done at the press of a button. And as the result of tripling the size of the research and development team we can now work on several different projects simultaneously, whereas previously they’d have to sign off on one project before being able to start on another.

GB: Was it the new team that was responsible for the updated software for the Focus XD speakers?

RH: When we tripled the size of our team, we made sure that many of the new engineers were specialists in digital signal processing, because for us, when we first introduced DSP to our speakers we realised we were at the start of a very steep learning curve, because it was a new approach for us...we were acoustic engineers. We now have a whole team of DSP specialists who have tweaked the algorithms in such a way that we’ve been able to improve the sound of the Focus XD without changing anything else about the speakers at all. This means we not only have better-sounding speakers, but also that existing owners of Focus XD speaker can update to the latest software version at no cost at all and benefit from the same improvements. We have added one feature in the new software, which enables owners to disable the ‘eco mode’, which would automatically power-down the speakers if an audio signal had not been detected for more than twenty minutes. You can now force the speakers to stay on permanently. We have also changed the colour of the driver chassis.

GB: Many people find it strange that Dynaudio should be building both conventional passive loudspeakers as well as active, powered speakers. After all, most companies tend to build the one or the other… not both.

RH: It’s true that we did indeed have some adverse reaction when we first introduced Focus XD, which was both active and digital, with some dealers and journalists saying it was ‘not hi-fi’. The fact is that if you have total control of music playback, so you know what amplifiers will be driving the speakers, you can design a better loudspeaker. 
One reason I think many object to active speakers is that some manufacturers of active speakers buy cheap drivers with known acoustic failings, and then try to use DSP to correct those failings electronically.  Our view is that you first choose the very best drivers for the purpose, and then specifically design the amplifiers and the DSP to extract the best performance from them.

GB: If active speakers result in better performance, why continue to build passive designs?

RH: There will always be two camps in pursuit of the best audio. One will want to use passive loudspeakers and try to get the sound they want by using Class-A amplifiers, tube amps and so on. The other camp will champion active designs. Dynaudio understands both groups, and so for us whatever approach our customers prefer is neither right nor wrong, so we cater for both.

GB: I’d imagine that many of the dealers and journalists who were saying active speakers were not ‘hi-fi’ were actually talking about the signal arriving at the speakers via Bluetooth, rather than the concept of active designs per se.

RH: It’s certainly true that high-end users want to avoid Bluetooth because of the lossy, compressed signal, but you have to realise that there is a whole generation of younger customers out there who are already listening to Bluetooth, but through inadequate portable Bluetooth speakers. For them, when they hear their music through the Xeo 2 they hear for the first time how good their music can sound when it’s reproduced through high-quality Bluetooth speakers. # greg borrowman [This interview first appeared in Australian Hi-Fi Magazine July/August 2017 (Volume 48 Number 4.]