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Dunlavy SM-1.

Manufacturer: Dunlavy Audio Labs, Inc., P.O. Box 49399, Colorado Springs, CO 80949-9399; 719/592-1159;

Price: $1,995/pair

Source: Manufacturer loan

Reviewer: James T. Frane

Audio designer John Dunlavy founded Dunlavy Audio Labs (DAL) in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 1992. DAL set forth with a stated goal to design and manufacture the best high end loudspeakers and cables in the world. While I question whether any product can be labeled "the best in the world", the DAL products I have seen have been of very high quality.

DAL's latest stand-mounted speakers, the twoway model SM-1, recently arrived on my doorstep. They were well-packaged in cartons within larger cartons.

Standing 25" tall x 11" wide x 13" deep, and weighing 45 lb., the SM-1 is no mini-monitor (DAL calls it a "desktop monitor"). The SM-1 speakers are toward the smaller end of the Dunlavy line, which comprises mostly floor- standing models. The sealed, beautifully made enclosure is constructed of 0.75" MDF covered with high quality oak veneer. The front baffle is black 3/4" MDFA. Solid oak is used at the corners where sides, top, and bottom join. The SM-1s are also available in black-stained oak as a no-cost option, with rosewood, cherry or natural cherry finishes available at extra cost.

The removable black grilles (sockets in the frame fit over posts on the baffle) are cloth-covered 0.5"-thick MDF. They also have an unusual feature: The entire inner periphery is lined with a 0.5"-thick felt-like material to prevent sound reflections and delayed sound redirection (diffraction). There are no feet, spikes, or threaded holes for feet on the enclosure. I used 1" diameter, 1/8" thick adhesive-backed felt pads at all four comers, which seemed to work well.

Two 6.5" mid/bass drivers with cast frames are mounted on the front baffle above and below a 1" composite fabric dome tweeter that is recessed to align its voice coil with those of the other drivers. Felt blocks surround the tweeter to focus its output and mitigate diffraction effects. The crossover is first-order (6 dB/octave). The bass resonance is given as about 51 Hz with sensitivity of 91 dB. Rated frequency response is +/- 1 dB from 60-20,000 Hz. Impedance is shown as 3 to 10 ohms, with 6 ohms nominal, which should be an easy load for most amplifiers to drive. Rapping on the enclosure surfaces with my knuckles indicated internal bracing, although some places sounded less solid than others. I could not feel any enclosure vibration while they were playing. DAL recommends a minimum of 50 watts of amplifier power into 8 ohms.

DAL says that pairs of SM-1 speakers are matched to within less than about [sic] +/- 0.3 dB for frequencies up to 15 kHz. DAL provides a complete set of anechoic measurements for every pair of speakers. Two pairs of gold-plated 5-way binding posts with gold-plated hex nuts are mounted in a recess on the enclosure back. They are linked by gold-plated straps for single wiring. The straps are to be removed for bi-wiring.

DAL also sent a pair of their large-diameter, multi-strand speaker cables and three pairs of interconnect cables, requesting that I use them in my auditioning. I complied with this request, BUT I first used the speakers with my cables. Over time, I introduced each of the pairs of DAL cables, one pair at a time, to assess their effects (see "The Cables" section later in the review). My only difficulty with the binding posts was with DAL's own cables. The gold-plated spade lugs are large and the cables sufficiently stiff that I had to bend the lugs a little to tighten them on the posts. A larger recess around the posts to provide more clearance would be helpful.

DAL offers a five-year transferable limited warranty covering all components and labor. It does not cover any components damaged by excessive abuse. The owner's manual is 44 pages long and covers such subjects as features, unpacking instructions, system, basics of loudspeaker and room, etc. It contains much useful information and is more thorough than most manuals.

Placement: Dunlavy suggests an initial loudspeaker placement centered against the long wall of a room, approximately 3 feet in front of the wall. I placed them at a height of 19" off the floor, 8' apart, each and aimed at the listening position 10' away. There was a space of 30" from the back of each enclosure to the wall behind them and the nearest side wall was 5' away. Over the years, this has been the best starting point for speaker placement in my sound room. I returned them there after trying a few variations, as the changes made no improvement in the sound.

Associated Equipment: My system consists of a Parasound HCA 1000A power amp, Carver CT-17 preamp-tuner, Parasound P/ PH-100 phono preamp, Denon TU-767 tuner, Thorens TD320 Mark III turntable with a Grado Prestige Red cartridge, and Sony XA20ES CD player. Speakers were Mach One model M-Two 2-way speakers sometimes used with NHT SW3 subwoofers run in dual mono and separately driven by an NHT SA-3 power amplifier with integral electronic crossover. The Mach Ones were run full range, and the NHT low pass control was set to about 40 Hz. Interconnect cables were by Gotham, WireWorld, Mach 1, Dunlavy, and Monster Cable, and speaker cables were Mach 1, Kimber 4PR and Dunlavy (see text) to the Mach Ones and SM-1s and Original Monster Cable to the NHTs. I also use an ADC SS-525-SX 2/3 octave frequency spectrum analyzer/graphic equalizer (not used in equalizer mode).


Listening: I first tested the speakers using Chesky Record's "Jazz Sampler and Audiophile Test Compact Disc," Volume 1 (JD37) left-right imaging test. Each of the announcer's positions, including off stage right and left were located properly. The "up" test, in which the sound is intended to move vertically upward, tilted slightly inward (about 15 degrees) toward the other speaker. "Over" rose about 3' above the tops of the speakers at the center. "Lateral" panned smoothly from side to side, remaining at a level that was on even with the upper drivers.

The depth test, in which the announcer and a tambourine move successively back from the microphone in increments, was credible. I conducted these tests with and without grilles in place and noted no sonic difference. This indicates that the grille cloth is acoustically transparent and the felt lining the inside edge of the grille frame is an effective mitigator of diffraction.

Both male and female voices sounded natural on the SM-1s, as did instruments. Julie London's voice on "Cry Me A River" from The Best of Julie London (Rhino / Capitol 2 70737) sounded essentially the same on both the SM-1s and the M-2s. The only real difference was that there was more of a lower register foundation with the SM-1s. Nat King Cole's "Love is Here To Stay" and "Autumn Leaves" from the CD Nat King Cole Sings for Two in Love (and More) (Capitol CDP7 46650 2) again went a little deeper with the SM-1s, but with good orchestral spread on both pairs of speakers. Low-volume detail was very clear on both sets of speakers and neither became congested on loud passages. The M2s with the NHT subwoofers added went deeper than the SM-1s, but large differences showed up only with music having deep bass content.

The music could spread beyond the confines of both sets of speakers and portray great depth when the recording contained this information. Fine detail was excellent, such as the cymbals in Julie London's "You Do Something To Me" from All Through the Night (Jasmine JAS CD 308) and the rain in "Riders On The Storm" on the Doors' L.A. Woman (Elektra EKS-75011-2). Highs were extended, but natural, with no hint of hardness.

Listening for long periods of time was easy and enjoyable with types of music. Dave Brubeck's "Three To Get Ready" and "Take Five" from the LP Time Out (Columbia CS 8192) sounded very close to the same on both sets of speakers, except for the deeper bass on the SM-1s. Detail was very good, even at low volume settings.

Yo-Yo Ma's rendition of Bach's Suite No. 1 from The 6 Unaccompanied Cello Suites (CBS Masterworks M2K 37867) had a touch more body on the SM-1s, but otherwise sounded much the same on both, with realistic body and texture.

Jefferson Airplane's "She Has Funny Cars" from Surrealistic Pillow (RCA PCD13766) had the same wide spread, depth, and spaciousness on the SM-1s and M2s.

We recently heard Tina Turner live in her "Twenty Four/Seven" concert, and the album sounded very similar between both pairs of speakers (Virgin Records America 7243 5 23180 2 5). We admittedly listened to the electronically amplified concert through 30 dB attenuation ear plugs and the album at a much lower volume without ear plugs, but the point is that the CD had the same dynamics and sense of excitement as the concert. The SM-1s reveal the details on a recording.

Large-scale orchestral works, such as Kurt Masur and the New York Philharmonic performing Mahler's Symphony No. 1 (Teldec 9031-74868-2) were presented with depth, width, dynamics, and the majesty appropriate to the composition.

The LP The Kirby Stone Touch by the Kirby Stone Four (Columbia CS 8164) was beautifully reproduced, with a spread of instruments vocals from speaker to speaker. I could easily differentiate individual voices. Depth and placement were very realistic, and this with grilles in place. Very often diffraction from grille edges creates sound delays that muddy the image. I tried many other musical selections with very similar results.

The Cables: With respect to the interconnect cables: I have found that competently designed and built interconnects tend to vary from one another by no more than 1 or 2 dB over the entire frequency range. I measured this by connecting cables between the output and input on the ADC analyzer and using pink noise. Most cables are quite nearly flat across the spectrum, with differences (if any) showing up at only one or two frequencies. The Dunlavy interconnects performed very well and are sturdy with high quality, gold plated RCA phono plugs that fit tightly into the jacks with all of the components with which I tried them. The tightness of the connection is the one area where I have noted shortcomings with some otherwise very good cables.

I evaluated the DAL speaker cables (Patent No. 5,510,578) by listening comparisons with my Kimber 4PR and Mach 1 cables and later with measurements. Variations between cables did not exceed 2 dB at any point. The Dunlavy cables are multiple twisted pairs in a single outer sheath with screw-in individual spade lug connectors at each end. More details are available in the patent (viewable on line at the US Patent Office website at The Mach 1 cables are twisted-pair; the Kimbers are braided. There were very minor differences, but I would give the slight edge to the sound with the Kimber with my system, room, and these speakers.

Conclusion: The major difference between the Mach 1 speakers and the DAL SM-Is was that the SM-Is go lower in the frequency range. They improved with use, eventually gaining a couple dB in the lowest two octaves. This maintains the bass foundation that adds so much to many musical works. Their extended highs are without a hint of hardness. Besides being easy on the eyes, they are (most importantly) sonically attractive. Musical performances were stable through the well-integrated drivers, and the sound did not seem to emanate from the speakers.

Many listeners probably will not need a subwoofer with the SM-1s. At my listening position, 25 Hz was 10 dB down relative to the very flat response between 100 Hz to 2 kHz. The slope from 25 to 100 Hz was a smooth upward ramp. If you want to bring the bottom end of the spectrum up, you will likely need a powered subwoofer with an adjustable electronic crossover to avoid boosting the lows to an unrealistic level or extending them too high.

There are many good speakers in approximately the same price bracket. The SM-1s are not inexpensive, but I think they are a good value because of the high level of performance and accuracy. I listened for hours without fatigue, boredom, or the desire for other speakers. Just pure enjoyment, which is just what the goal of a hi-fi system should be. They are a Sensible Choice in this price range. -JTF
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Author:Frane, James T.
Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Evaluation
Date:Jun 1, 2001
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