My very first hi-fi purchase was a pair of Dynaudio Contour 1.8 Mk.II floorstanding speakers, in 2002. My local dealer had set up a head-to-head with Bowers & Wilkins’s vaunted Nautilus 804, a beautiful loudspeaker that I fully expected to take home a pair of. But something about the boxy Dynaudio spoke to me.
Today, Dynaudio speakers -- including the subject of this review, the Contour 20i -- don’t actually look much better than they did in the early aughts. Nor does the company’s sonic profile particularly stand out from the crowd. What they are is direct and honest. And in a year like 2020, when the very fabric of reality often seems warped beyond comprehension here in the United States, it’s comforting to know that at least one fundamental truth remains unchallenged: Danes don’t lie.
There’s comfort in consistency. Some folks may enjoy flitting from product to product, chasing that ephemeral audial nirvana that all of this hardware, extremely expensive or no, promises but rarely delivers. Dynaudio is more philosophical than most makers of high-end audio gear in their marketing of their wares. The Contour line was last updated in 2016, though Dynaudio’s website states that “There was nothing wrong with the 2016 Contour. We love it . . . and many of us at Dynaudio even bought some ourselves.” But the years march on, technology advances, and Dynaudio eventually thought it time to refine the Contour recipe. However, as with the various iterations of Porsche’s iconic 911, the resulting differences are indeed refinements: they’re subtle, not wholesale.
The Contour i range comprises four models, led by the flagship Contour 60i ($10,750/pair, all prices USD). Like its three siblings, this big, three-way floorstander uses Dynaudio’s new Esotar 2i soft-dome tweeter; below that, in a vertical array, are a 5.9” midrange and two 9” woofers. The Contour 30i, a smaller floorstander ($8250/pair), forgoes a dedicated midrange driver and instead has two 7” midrange-woofers in a 2.5-way configuration. The speaker reviewed here, the two-way Contour 20i minimonitor ($5250/pair), mates its Esotar 2i tweeter to a single 7” midrange-woofer. Finally, there’s a center-channel model, the 2.5-way Contour 25Ci ($3750 each), in which the Esotar 2i is paired with two 7” midrange-woofers. Each model is available in Walnut Wood, Grey Oak High Gloss, or the Black High Gloss of my review samples. Dynaudio says that the quality of the High Gloss lacquers and the Walnut veneer have been improved since the last generation of Contours.
The Contour 20i arrived in some of the cleverest packaging I’ve seen in my nearly ten years of reviewing. Instead of the usual cardboard double boxing, the 20i’s inner cardboard carton had locking plastic clips on two sides. Pull those out and the box unfolds to reveal the big stand-mounted speaker within. The 20i’s finish was deep, lush, and perfect, but I’m not the biggest fan of gloss-black finishes. If it were my money, I’d spring for the more natural tones of the Walnut or Grey Oak options. The Dynaudio’s size and weight are noteworthy: at 17.3”H x 8.5”W x 14.2”D and 30.8 pounds, the Contour 20i is a real unit. Its lines are clean and attractive, with curved vertical edges at all four corners, and inward-tapering sidewalls that wrap around to the rear panel with nary a joint or seam. It’s all extremely well executed for the price, and felt very solid to the obligatory rap with the knuckles.
The drivers are mounted on a low-profile aluminum baffle affixed to the front panel proper, offering a subtle and unbusy flourish. Unfortunately, $5250 doesn’t buy you hidden mounting bolts for the drivers, which is a bit disappointing. Magnetic grilles were included, though I left them in the box, as is tradition. Out back are a pair of high-quality, easy-to-use binding posts that accept banana plugs or spades.
At first blush, the Contour 20i looks like a generic, two-way, bass-reflex minimonitor: 1.1” soft-dome tweeter, 7” polymer midrange-woofer, small port in back. But Dynaudio, as ever, designs and manufactures all their own drivers. The original Esotar tweeter was legendary, and its descendant, the Esotar2, previously used in Dynaudio’s flagship Confidence range, has won plenty of accolades from the hi-fi press.
The Esotar 2i, an improved version of the Esotar2, has a bigger neodymium magnet and a larger rear chamber, the latter “for more effective damping.” It also has Dynaudio’s proprietary Hexis inner dome, which supports the outer dome of coated textile and is used in their new reference tweeter, the Esotar3. The dimpled Hexis dome, made of injection-molded plastic, is damped at its center with a piece of felt, to eliminate the tweeter’s rearward energy. Dynaudio says that the dimpling optimizes airflow and smooths the tweeter’s frequency response and filtering resonances.
The 7” midrange-woofer, made of Dynaudio’s tried-and-true magnesium-silicate polymer (MSP), carries over from the outgoing Contour 20i model its aluminum voice-coil and “dual-ferrite magnet system.” What’s new is this driver’s spider suspension, made of Nomex instead of phenol fabric. Dynaudio notes that these changes have made this driver more linear in operation, which in turn meant that the 20i’s crossover could be simplified -- it now comprises fewer components. Finally, based on lessons learned in the design of their latest Confidence models, Dynaudio has updated the Contours’ internal damping, using pads of polyester fiber.
Like my old Contour 1.8 Mk.IIs, all current Contour models are still made in Dynaudio’s factory in Skanderborg, Denmark, where they also manufacture over a million drivers per year, for themselves as well as select OEM customers, and have impressive measurement and quality-control facilities. Dynaudio is a hi-fi heavyweight. Unlike many newer, smaller outfits, where production volumes are low and post-sale support can be spotty, Dynaudio warrants the Contour 20i for five years, extendable to eight years with registration of the units on Dynaudio’s website. Nice.
The Contour 20i’s specifications are about what you’d expect: a frequency response of 39Hz-23kHz, ±3dB; a sensitivity of 86dB/2.83V/m; a nominal impedance of 4 ohms; and robust power handling of 180W. The drivers hand off to each other at 2.2kHz via second-order slopes. So far, so good.
With the Contour 20i’s, Dynaudio also shipped me a pair of their Stand 20 stands ($499/pair), available in Black Satin, White Satin, or Silver. But I was lazy -- the Stand 20s stayed in their boxes for two weeks while I listened to the Contour 20i’s perched on my KEF stands. When I eventually got around to assembling the Dynaudio stands, it took me way longer than I’d anticipated -- some of the threads for the top- and bottom-plate bolts proved uncooperative. But when I was done, I appreciated what $499 can buy in a pair of speaker stands. The Stand 20’s four-footed base has a wide, deep stance for maximum stability, and there’s built-in cable management, as well as room for filler (not included) to make the stand as inert as possible. Unfortunately, you need to lay out another $70 for a pair of Contour Adapter Plates, which allow a pair of Contour 20i’s to be bolted directly to their Stand 20s. However, these Plates did work well for me.
The Contour 20i’s replaced my reference minimonitors, KEF’s little LS50s, in my system. That system is laid out along one long wall of my midsize listening room, where I tend to set up stand-mounted speakers closer together than I do floorstanders. The Dynaudios ended up 5.5’ apart and 7’ from my listening seat, to maximize soundstage focus over width, and about 1’ from the wall behind them -- they enjoyed a fair bit of boundary reinforcement.
The Contour 20i’s came already broken in from Dynaudio’s North American office, but just to be safe, I drove them hard with several integrated amplifiers: my reference Hegel Music Systems H590, Linear Tube Audio’s Z40, and Vinnie Rossi’s L2i Signature Edition. The Danes played nicely with all three -- I particularly enjoyed their synergy with the LTA Z40, which can muster up only 51Wpc into 4 ohms. But if you’re not trying to damage your hearing, 50Wpc into 4 ohms should be plenty for the Contour 20i’s to shine -- just make sure your amp is stable into a 4-ohm load. Other hardware included Mytek Digital’s Brooklyn DAC+ and Mola Mola’s Tambaqui D/A converters, and cabling was courtesy AudioQuest, DH Labs, Dynamique Audio, and Nordost. I use an Emotiva CMX-2 power conditioner to help eliminate hum from my century-old home’s electrical system.
I never took myself for a Taylor Swift fan, but her latest album, Folklore (24-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Revolver/Republic/Qobuz), is straight-up fantastic. “My Tears Ricochet” is far more delicate and thoughtful than anyone might normally attribute to this 30-year-old country-cum-pop-cum-indie folk artist. The ethereal intro danced from channel to channel before Swift’s voice emerged from darkness at center stage. With the LTA tubed integrated and the Mola Mola DAC in play, the sense of the holographic presence of that voice was delightful, chock-full of ambience, detail, and dimensionality. And yet that Esotar 2i tweeter never sounded “analytical.” It’s one of very few soft-dome tweeters I’ve heard that could provide the kind of effortless sound that the finest metal-dome tweeters can. It didn’t produce the airiest soundscape with this track -- it was a touch polite -- but it was deeply satisfying in terms of reproducing inner detail while remaining refined.
The title track of Empathy Test’s EP Bare My Soul (16/44.1 FLAC, Empathy Test/Qobuz) is one of my favorites of the last few years, and this 2017 recording from the London-based electronic-pop duo highlighted several of the Contour 20i’s talents. Isaac Howlett’s atmospheric vocals were articulated with good if not laser-guided specificity. The soundstage was impressively deep, even if it couldn’t match what, say, a beryllium dome from a far more expensive speaker by Focal or Magico might conjure from the same recording. But I’m not criticizing -- I think these qualities were what made the Contour 20i’s sound so endearing. I got generous dollops of pretty much every aspect of sound reproduction, yet this speaker’s sound was never defined by any one of those aspects. Of particular note with “Bare My Soul” was just how well behaved the Dynaudio’s bottom end was. I can’t think of another two-way minimonitor I’ve heard whose control below 120Hz was as linear and tight-fisted as the Contour 20i’s. I can’t say that this little Dane sounded like a floorstander, because mostly it didn’t. The bass line of the Empathy Test track was more linear than punchy, but it remained exceedingly well-controlled all the way down to about 40Hz. Such bass control, and its seamless integration with the speaker’s midrange reproduction straight up through its treble, added up to an overall sound that was coherent and consistent from nearly the bottom to the top of the audioband.
Swapping out the LTA integrated and Mola Mola DAC for my Hegel H590 integrated-DAC was interesting for what changed and what didn’t. The H590 managed to coax a bit more bass energy from the Contour 20i’s -- perhaps not surprising, given its immense power-output spec of 580Wpc into 4 ohms and seemingly endless reserves of current. Less expected was how the Hegel’s built-in DAC -- which I find is best at fleshing out midrange texture and weight -- retained much of the LTA-Mola Mola tandem’s immediacy, and suggested that the Contour 20i’s sound isn’t strictly neutral through the upper midrange. But again, this voicing seemed tactical: Howlett’s voice wasn’t crudely launched into my listening room -- a trick that might wow on first and second hearing, but that quickly leads to listening fatigue. Instead, the Contour 20i’s gently nudged Howlett’s voice forward in the mix. This lent the Dynaudio a welcome hint of midrange dynamism.
When I threw on “Mombasa,” from Hans Zimmer’s score for the film Inception (16/44.1 FLAC, WaterTower/Reprise/Qobuz), I was blown away by how unfazed the Dynaudios were by this fast-paced, complex music. The opening cannon shots were supremely well controlled, providing more than enough bass extension to make this track satisfying even for this bass junkie. The Contour 20i’s nailed the balancing act of low-end extension and control. Marry to that the pacey percussion that rang out from the rear of the soundstage, and it was clear that these minimonitors could hang on the dynamics front. Admittedly, the Contour 20i’s didn’t give me the most forensic look into the nooks and crannies of this recording -- their sound was more smooth and textured than airy and incisive -- but as someone who generally prefers the latter sort of sound, I didn’t feel I was missing out. The Contour 20i’s weren’t “thrilling” or “exciting” with Zimmer’s high-octane track, yet I found them eminently enjoyable, in the moment and over the long haul. This was unexpected. Another mark in their favor was their ability to scale: When I cranked up “Mombasa,” the Contour 20i’s remained utterly composed, even as their 7” midrange-woofers pumped violently in and out.
This sound came to the fore with such intricate recordings as “A Blessing,” from Max Richter’s original score for HBO’s The Leftovers: Season 1 (16/44.1 FLAC, WaterTower/Reprise/Qobuz). As Richter layers each stringed instrument atop the last in a terraced crescendo, I appreciated the Dynaudios’ focus on fundamentals. There was no bite or sparkle to these strings, just smooth, natural extension, with gobs of body and detail -- a feathery or threadbare sound this was not.
The Contour 20i’s didn’t sound particularly expansive -- the Richter track exhibited moderate soundstage depth, and width that didn’t threaten to extend past the speakers’ outer side panels. Rather, the Esotar 2i tweeter’s calling card was its refined liquidity. It’s not hard to hear why Dynaudio’s Esotar tweeters enjoy such a glowing rep -- they’re so easy and comfortable to enjoy throughout long listening sessions.
If I had to sum up the sound of the Contour 20i in one word, it would be balanced. It did everything well, yet was never so vulgar as to overdo anything. While I have audio products I really enjoy, I usually wouldn’t make a blanket recommendation for any one of them. We all have our own tastes and preferences -- what excites me may not excite you. But as I listened to the Contour 20i’s for hours, days, and weeks, I came to believe that it has something for almost every audiophile to appreciate. Not everyone will love its sound, but I believe the great majority will like it. That’s a neat trick.
EgglestonWorks’ Nico Evo loudspeaker ($4995/pair, including stands) is similar to the Dynaudio Contour 20i in being a large, bass-reflex minimonitor with a soft-dome tweeter and a single midrange-woofer (6”). The two are even closely aligned in dimensions and overall weight. Differences are instantly apparent, however: The Contour 20i’s cleaner, softer lines contrast with the Nico Evo’s more angular profile; and while the Nico Evo’s paint job is fantastic, its fit and finish aren’t quite up to the Dynaudio’s.
Where these two pairs of speakers greatly differed was in their sounds. The Contour 20i’s called little attention to themselves, but the Nico Evos are much more flamboyant -- their forward, vibrant midrange lets voices and solo instruments really pop from the soundstage, and their stereo imaging was a bit better defined than the Dynaudios’. While the Nico Evos often produced very compelling, dynamic musical experiences marked by snappy, attack-oriented sound, with some tracks that was too much of a good thing, and sounded a bit unnatural. The Eggie’s low-end extension is similar to the Dynaudio’s, though I’d give the Contour 20i the nod in terms of absolute control down under -- which the Nico Evo countered with a bit more midbass energy. But while both speakers had a tapered-off top end, both also seemed able to mine an awful lot of low-level detail from the recordings I threw at them. I have no doubt that the Eggie, with its more contoured frequency response and higher-contrast sound, will delight more people over the short term than will something like the more restrained and demure Dynaudio, which I suspect will prove the more companionable partner over the long term -- I found it unfussy and easy to live with, regardless of the music I played.
Sonus Faber’s Electa Amator III ($10,000/pair) is a different proposition. The big Italian minimonitor is as much work of art as loudspeaker, and thus anathema to Dynaudio’s trademark Scandinavian utilitarianism. With its riches of solid real wood -- no mere veneer here -- Carrara marble, leather, and brass, the EAIII is sumptuous. It also includes gorgeous matching stands. At twice the Dynaudio’s price, the build tolerances and solidity of the EAIII’s cabinet aren’t actually any better, but the materials and aesthetic decidedly are. The Electa Amator III sounds nowhere near neutral, and that was deliberate on Sonus Faber’s part. The speaker’s 1.1” silk-dome tweeter and 7.1” midrange-woofer produce additional energy at the far top and bottom of its range, for a smile-shaped frequency response audible as a bass-heavy sound with serious punch almost regardless of the type of music played. Of course, such a sound is not strictly accurate -- but it sure is serious fun to listen to.
The Sonus Faber tweeter is good, but it couldn’t touch the refinement of Dynaudio’s Esotar 2i, sounding a little coarse by comparison. Like the Contour 20i, the EAIII midrange is a touch smooth and forgiving, ensuring that even sub-par recordings sound pleasing.
On raw performance, I’d say that the Dynaudio Contour 20i, with its better tweeter and more linear and better-controlled bottom end, was just as good as the Sonus Faber Electa Amator III. Like EgglestonWorks’ Nico Evo, SF’s EAIII offers more excitement and fun -- but there’s no question in my mind that the Contour 20i is the more accurate loudspeaker.
I really like what Dynaudio has done with the new Contour 20i. Your $5250 earns you the privilege of owning a mature, no-compromise, two-way minimonitor that does everything well. Built and finished to a high standard, it can play loudly and cleanly without the assistance of a high-powered, high-current amplifier. Its supremely balanced sound has been only slightly [ahem] contoured to have a subtly polite top end and a touch of midrange emphasis. Its bass performance is flat-out excellent, with healthy extension and outstanding control. It likely won’t thrill you in the ways some of its more effervescent competitors might, but I believe that the Contour 20i will prove to be a loudspeaker that the great majority of audiophiles could happily live with in the long run. It makes everything played through it sound good, whether it be after ten minutes of listening or ten hours.
Today, 18 years after I bought my first serious audio component, Dynaudio’s Contour 1.8 Mk.II speakers, a new Dynaudio Contour speaks to me. I like what it has to say.
. . . Hans Wetzel
- Speakers -- EgglestonWorks Nico Evo, KEF LS50 and Reference 3, Sonus Faber Electa Amator III
- Integrated amplifiers -- Hegel Music Systems H590, Linear Tube Audio Z40, Vinnie Rossi L2i-SE
- Digital-to-analog converters -- Mola Mola Tambaqui, Mytek Digital Brooklyn DAC+
- Sources -- Intel NUC computer running Roon, Tidal HiFi, Qobuz Studio Premier
- Speaker cables -- AudioQuest Rocket 33, DH Labs Q-10 Signature, Dynamique Audio Caparo
- Analog interconnects -- Dynamique Audio Shadow unbalanced (RCA), Nordost Blue Heaven LS balanced (XLR)
- Digital link -- DH Labs Silver Sonic (USB)
- Power conditioner -- Emotiva CMX-2
Dynaudio Contour 20i Loudspeakers
Price: $5250 USD per pair; Stand 20 stands with Contour Adapter Plates, add $569/pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor; eight years with registration.
Phone: +45 8652-3411
Fax: +45 8652-3116
Dynaudio North America
500 Lindberg Lane
Northbrook, IL 60062
Phone: (847) 730-3280
Fax: (847) 730-3207