A few weeks ago, I (Lee) headed over to Denmark to visit friends of the family in Copenhagen. While there, I thought it only appropriate to head on over to see one of my biggest suppliers: DALI.
When I launched Yorkshire AV during the pandemic, there were a handful of select brands that helped my business get off the ground. DALI was one of the first brands we took onboard and it's been quite the journey to date as we represent nearly everything from their portfolio in store.
What that means is everything from Headphones, portable bluetooth speakers, active desktop speakers and everything up to the high end Epikore 11 loudspeakers can be experienced and purchased in store as well as online.
A passion for music
What attracted me to DALI when I approached them to sell their products was excellent innovation and price points that enabled anyone and everyone to enjoy what they do. Price points aren't everything - and once I had the products in my demo room, I immediately got a sense that DALI were doing something a little different.
SMC driver technology, wood-fibre driver cones, wide dispersion tweeters for great off-axis listening - great styling, modern finish options and of course - a really pleasing sound.
What perhaps gripped me the most a few years ago was the excellent Oberon 5, the on-wall speakers and the little Oberon 1 bookshelf speakers. With those 3 products - I felt I could grasp everything one needed to know about DALI. And with all the listening I did before I invested, I recognised a charm, a particular characteristic about the sound which I hadn't experience from other brands with similarly priced products.
The characteristic that I identified with the Oberon series was how great a sound can be, how perfect a stereo image could perform and how innovation allowed that some experience to exist be it from an on-wall speaker at only 120mm deep, the smallest of the bookshelf speakers or one of the best selling products, the Oberon 5 mid-height floor stander... innovation, fuelled by passion for music and accuracy of sound is what I love about DALI.
Where are the products made?
Like most manufacturers - there is a business model which utilises a dedicated factory in China for the high volume and entry level products such as Spektor and Oberon with everything else made in Denmark at the factory in Norager.
It was interesting having the luxury of a personalised factory tour where I witnessed everything from Opticon Mk2 having the finish applied, to Rubicon cabinets being made on the CNC, the production line for Epicon, Epikore and KORE as well as watching the Menuet SE / Menuet being hand assembled. Within the factory are some 45 workers - all of whom work between assembly lines. Drivers are assembled here, crossovers and soldered here, cabinets are made, sprayed or veneered (which comes in from Germany) as well as warehoused here for the many markets that enjoy DALI.
Production lines were surprisingly quite "manual" in process. It is true that DALI do have automation and robotics doing particular tasks - but one thing that stood out was how tasks which you envisage being automated, weren't! When I queried with Thomas (COO) - the answer was simple: people do it better and more of a feel for it than a robot ever can. This was related to the assembly of the drivers.
Above - the KORE assembly line.
Paint finish - leading the charge on water based lacquers!
The factory has invested a huge amount of money on a new automated paint spraying system which can spray 30 cabinets per hour consistently. The paint once upon a time would have used a solvent based lacquer which takes multiple coats, lots of time curing and was easy to have rejections in QC. The new water based solution requires less coats, is quicker to cure and is more reliable / consistent in finish resulting in products being turned out of the factory much quicker than ever before (and thus why lead times are now usually only a few weeks vs a few months of before).
Assembly and test
Above - DALI Opticon LCR Mk2 on the production line
I was fortunate enough whilst at the factory to be set a challenge: assemble my own pair of speakers.
Now - I've had experience with driver replacement before but never with the full build of a speaker.... I was chuffed to get to do this!
The production line has matched cabinets ready for assembly, with matched drivers that come through the rigorous test procedures throughout the build process.
I was presented with a pair of DALI Menuet in white to assemble. This required:
- crossover and terminal assembly block
- internal acoustic wadding
- tweeter and mid/bass installation
- testing in the chamber
- documenting serial numbers with the assembly member (only one person builds a pair of speakers)
Watching Karen (my mentor for the session), I was quickly shown the tools, the method and under her careful guidance, I assembled my own speaker. With tools that deliver a pre-set torque setting, it was difficult to get it wrong! The only thing that could really go wrong was the acoustic liner which, if you bunged the port for example, could affect phase and response. Similarly, if you incorrectly cabled the drivers, you'd affect polarity.
Below: installing the crossover and terminals, then drivers and finally calibration.
The Menuets are now at home with me, pride of place with my Lyngdorf TDAI-1120 and my Pro-Ject Audio Debut Pro turntable which is in my family room. I’m pleased to say they did pass the test in the factory and have now had many hours of fun over Christmas and into the New Year!
Some of my first dedicated cinema rooms featured DALI Phantom loudspeakers. In store until recently, we had a DALI Phantom 7.1.4 theatre - which now feature in several customer homes across the UK.
Much like their wider product lines - there’s been huge investment by DALI in the last few years in the CI market. With new K series (SMC based ceiling speakers), rectangular in-wall speakers (based on their H-60/80 square speakers), slim profile in-ceiling for the harder solutions and an expansion of the M series LCR’s with the massive M-675 (pictured below around the cinema screen). At ISE last year, the new In-Wall subwoofers were launched and at the HQ, I got my first experience of the immense wall of the CI products which has the flagship S series as well as an array of subs, each individually controlled by DALI’s own DSP amplifiers.
Not only do these look impressive - the solution is super impressive too. Finer details such as a Lyngdorf inspired driver permits higher levels of output at lower distortion.
Cinema rooms always have the challenge of immersive bass without huge subwoofers everywhere (we know this pain!) so another competitive, high performance subwoofer gives us all more solution options for the future. I’m assured there are many new products on the roadmap within this space - and I hope to catch up at ISE in Barcelona in a few weeks time to see if any of these are ready for display.
We have a selection of DALI CI products in store from in-wall to in-ceiling speakers.
Differences: The listening room
I’m sure every manufacturer has a room like this space at DALI HQ. Full of their current and legacy products - spanning 40 years of technology, innovation and bringing delight to homes along that journey.
It was in this room that Krestian Pederson (Head of Product Management) allowed me to experience both the flagship KORE against the DALI Epikore 11 (which we have in store).
I was able to play my own music (TIDAL Streaming) and enjoy hearing both familiar details as well as experiencing a SPL (volume) that I’d not been able to achieve in our smaller demo room.
This did 2 things: 1 - showcase just how capable both speakers are and 2 - give me as a retailer the confidence that the product can go seriously loud, whilst remaining composed and distortion free.
So the burning question: the Kore is £85,000 vs the Epikore 11 at £40,000: is it worth spending double the money on?
I can honestly say: yes.
The Epikore are charming, they’re elegant and they’re able to play anything you throw at them easily. They make you move with the music - activity engaging with the music and take you to new levels of detail and textures that you would likely never of heard of before. And importantly - no matter what music you want to play; it never makes you turn it off by being too revealing or neutral. It’s typically DALI - but new, and refined and luxurious. This is why I bought them - it’s the foundation of DALI with the future in there.
Then there is Kore. Kore is a monster - it’s big, it’s angular, it’s imposing. It hits you like WHACK when the midrange and massive 11” bass drivers starting moving air. It’s altogether more impressive out of the gate in every way.
It had similarities to the Epikore but it took elements (bass in particular) to whole new levels.
I will say this; you have to be more selective with your music. The Kore is able to retrieve and highlight every detail and inconsistency in the music which some may find too much. But listen to something grand with scale (Tutti Orchestral Sampler - track 1 [Snow Maiden]) and you’re blown away. You’re not just there in the audience - you’re in the centre of the stage with absolutely incredible holographic / 3 dimensional sound. Again - the Epikore does this, but the Kore does it effortlessly.
The detail is outstanding: never once does it fatigue and play something with thunderous midrange and be prepared to smile as that’s all you can do.
The experience was useful. It reassured that the Epikore 11 are an excellent speaker with a fresh direction of travel for DALI and that they’d already learnt how to take tech from the flagship product and implement it the next level down. It was also true that the technology gap was there and subsequently, budget permitting - Kore still holds the banner of the best speaker in the range from DALI.
A huge thank you to the team for allowing me the time and the energy to educate me, share their passion and be totally open and transparent.
If we can help in any way with your next DALI purchase be it the IO-12 headphones or the Epikore 11, I’d love the opportunity to share their story with you and showcase their products appropriately.
Come and experience these amazing speakers with myself, DALI and Luxman at the Audio Show on Delude on the 23rd and 24th March at Whittlebury Park (near Silverstone). Contact me to get a free ticket and to book a listening session.
Above: KORE (outside) and Epikore 11 from my listening position.
Below: our listening room here at Yorkshire AV with our Reference system installed.