Dynaudio Special 40 Speaker Review. Are they really that Special?
By Steve Huff
UPDATE! A new video on the Special 40’s – October 2019. I also updated the review in some areas with more thoughts after buying a second pair. BTW, You can get a great deal on a red pair HERE.
Before I write more, most should be aware that how these speakers sound in my space may be wildly different to how they sound in your space. Our room where we listen in indeed the #1 factor in how our system sounds, or I should say the room is the #1 component in your system! My room is 12X13, carpeted, couch, pillows, and very NON reflective and damped. It’s well balanced but most speakers here sound fantastic though there are huge differences between the presentation of a small bookshelf and a larger floortsander here. In my room, I MUCH prefer a nice set of bookshelf speakers as long as they can boogie, give me some weight and also have MAGIC within them.
Also note I use quality cables from power (Audioquest Tornado and Hurricane) to interconnect (Valhalla) to Speaker. So again, how these Dynaudio speakers sound here may differ from how they sound for you. Everything comes into play, even my amp (Luxman 590 AXII) to DAC (PS Audio DirectStream w/Snowmass)..
But back to high cost speakers vs lower cost…
Sadly I used to think that the more you spend the better the sound you will get. These days HiFi is a tricky thing. Costs have gone through the roof for some amps, pre amps, dacs and speakers. Hell, even cables can cost a small fortune these days (and should be considered as important as your amp, source, etc when shopping in the higher end realm os sound). But over these last 25 years or so I have learned quite a bit about this HiFi game and realized that sometimes, it can be the little things that really leave an impression on me.
Speaking of little things.
I recently acquired a pair of Dynaudio Special 40 Speakers in the stunning red gloss finish. Before I go on and talk about how they compare in my room to speakers that cost 2X, 5X and even 10X the cost I would love to share a story about the first time I heard Dynaudio speakers.
It was many many years ago (maybe 2003) in Phoenix AZ at a HiFi shop that no longer exists. I believe it was called “The sound of Music” if my memory serves me correctly. I went in looking for a pair of speakers but my budget at the time was pretty small, somewhere around $2500. To some reading this, $2500 so many years ago doesn’t sound too small but the speakers in this store went up to $30 or even $40k. So yea, my $2500 was sort of small ; )
As I walked by a demo room I heard the most amazing and sweet sound and as I walked in a salesman was there just listening for his own enjoyment. He said “sit down and have a listen, these are my favorite speakers in the store”
They were Dynaudio C1’s, the very 1st original models and boy did they sound special. The salesman was excited to see I was into them, and quickly threw on a CD, which was Patricia Barbers Cafe Blue.
They were running them with some sort of super thin and expensive Linn amps and electronics that cost a small fortune but man, this was the finest sound I have ever heard up until that point. At home I had a pair of the original Avantgarde Uno’s and these Dynaudios just sounded so much more pure, so magical and smooth…and I wanted them so bad. But the air was let out of my sails when I asked the price. I do not remember what the price was but may have been around $6000-$6500. Way out of my league at the time.
I went home with a new pair of Audioquest interconnects that day (and no speakers) but I never forgot that demo, even to this day. I did manage to have a pair of C1 Signatures in my home for a couple of weeks a few years back and for me, in my room (and my gear at the time which was McIntosh) they did not recreate that magic I remember (I think the McIntosh was too warm and dull, as well… McIntosh is indeed a tad dull in their sound signature). But hey, sometimes our memories make things out to be better than they really were. Or maybe not. In any case. one thing I have learned is that SYNERGY is VERY important. Without it, great speakers or a great amp may sound horrible. Back when I had those C1’s here I did not have the best amp or cables for them, which is why they did not win me over like they did in 2003.
The time is NOW and something Special arrived..
Here we are in 2018 (as I write this) and last year in 2017 Dynaudio released the new Special 40 Speakers to celebrate 40 years in the business. Wow, 40 years. Time sure does fly. The new Special 40’s follow in their tradition of releasing “special” speakers when they hit certain anniversaries. The last “special” I remember was the Special 25 and that speaker is well loved by many audiophiles. With a rep for being hard to drive, and still pricey even when used, I never did get a pair but these new Special 40’s? One can get them new for under retail if you search around. With a retail of $3000, even that seems low for a new set of “special” Dynaudio speakers. These are the real deal Dynaudios, Esotar 40 tweeter (which is better than what is in their C1), a nice big woofer and a beautiful cabinet that is small (but not tiny) and looks so much nicer in person than in photos. I have the RED and they are striking in the flesh (or the wood). These have the latest tech from Dynaudio, and they are not anywhere near their flagship range in price. The only limitation with these seem to be the smaller cabinet but even that is not so small. For the money these were looking mighty fine to me, but how do they sound and would my Class A Luxman power them ok?
I had to try them…
With stellar reviews pouring in for these special 40’s I was intrigued. Especially since a local dealer, Dedicated Audio, had a brand new red pair in stock.
So I email Dan the owner and tell him I will head out and buy a set of these from him. I was so curious about them and seeing that I have my room and equipment so dialed in these days I knew these Dynaudios would, or should shine. I wanted to relive that memory from 2003 and thought maybe, just maybe these could do it for me. If they retain the Dynaudio house sound and my Luxman 590 AXII, Nordost Cables and DirectStream DAC have synergy with them I knew I would be in for a treat.
The 40’s are getting high praise…
One review I read of these speakers proclaimed them as the best bookshelf speaker Dynaudio has made. Others gave them rave after rave. I have been wanting to add a pair of small speakers to my large Klipsch Cornwall III’s when I wanted that more magical experience only a small speaker can give you but the only problem is, every one I try sounds so bad compared to my Cornwall III’s I just never can stand to listen to them! They always sound thin, small, anemic and sometimes harsh in comparison. Some sound dull, boring and flat. Some start out with a WOW but long term seem too shrill. I love these Cornwall III’s and they are one of the most satisfying speakers I have ever owned in life. They offer a “flow” and a wall of sound that is hard to describe. While not as detailed as most audiophile speakers they play music, not sounds. So finding a bookshelf that could do this is harder than I thought, while staying under $3000.
So away I went…I bought the Special 40’s as many reviews were shocked at the bass and weight they had, all while retaining detail and offering up a delicious soundstage and midrange and supposedly not being harsh at all.
I get them home set them up and away we go.
I cue up Patricia Barbers Cafe Blue, “Ode To Billy Joe” and before I press play I say to myself “C’mon Special 40’s show me just how special you are”. With my Luxman 590 AXII warmed up, I press play and WOWZERS. I was in awe. The sound was big, open, clear and had snap, dynamics and weight. As I listen to song after song that memory from 2003 was creeping back in but I was saying “THIS IS EVEN BETTER”, and it was. Holy Cow.
FOUR HOURS LATER…
I was still listening, never a hint of fatigue… just sweet room filling music that seemed to have more weight than what my Cornwalls deliver. (Scratching my head) Now I will say my Cornwalls put out a much bigger wall of sound that is more flowing but the Dynaudios shine in the MIDRANGE where there is gobs of magic pouring through the speakers and they made the mighty corns sound…a bit muffled or veiled.
With the Dynaudio’s, vocals are amazing, there is more detail than the big corns for sure, and a more 3 dimensional effect going on with the imaging. They do sound cleaner, and crisper than the Cornwalls but they do this without being thin or light sounding. It’s interesting as these may be some of the most well balanced speakers I have heard in my life, no matter the size, or cost.
Bass is deep and low when called upon but never loose and flabby, in fact it is tight as can be. Using the PS Audio Direct Stream DAC with the latest OS “SNOWMASS” I was so impressed with the sound of these speakers that I thought for sure that I found the elusive pair of under $3k bookshelves that could keep me excited listening to them day after day. They were reminding me a little of my old magical Sonus Faber Guarneri Evolutions but they were lighter in the bass, which was good as those EVO’s sometimes overloaded my room with certain tracks. They seem to have a sweeter treble too though not as big sounding as the old EVO’s. But magical? YES. Sweet? YES. 3 DIMENSIONAL? YES YES YES! With some tracks I FEEL the bass in my chest as I sit eight feet away. Yet it never booms..rather it’s TIGHT.
As I listened to more and more music I was drawn in to the sound and even at night with low volume these were doing so much better than I imagined using only minimal power from my Luxman 590 AXII.
The sound is rich, smooth, neutral to warm in sound character and with a full midrange that makes vocals pop. The high end seemed a tad recessed if anything for the 1st 2 weeks but in this room these were beating the C1 Signatures without question which made me realize that for what I paid for these, it may be the best deal of the last few years for me in HiFi.
These speakers DO change over the 1st few weeks as they loosen up and break in (yes it’s a real thing). They go from being fat and full with a recessed high end, to outright dull to thin and etched. These went though a transformation over the weeks and when they stopped changing I realized what the final sound character was of these very Special 40’s. (Since writing this I bought a second pair in Grey and went through the same EXACT burn in process, and yes, it’s VERY REAL so be prepared if you buy a pair of these. My second pair took a few weeks to come into their own and sound EARGASM good.
Those Mids are Gorgeous..
Clean, full Beautiful Midrange. 3 Dimensional. Spacious. Sweet. Bass is there when in the recording but never artificial. Smooth. Superb imaging and soundstage width with decent depth. Compared to my old faves, the Sonus Faber Guarneri Evolutions, these are lighter and smaller sounding, not as full in the mid bass, have more detail and do not exaggerate any frequency..BUT THIS IS A GOOD THING IN THIS ROOM. Nothing sticks out, but they do play beautiful music and if I were to nitpick after they were broken in I would say at times their bass is too plentiful. To fix this just move them into the room more or use the foam plugs if need be. I tested everything and with these speakers about 2 feet from my back wall AND using the foam plugs I get the most 3D sound I have had in this room and still have amazing bass. So these are near or at full range sound in some rooms. Believe this, it’s true.
These pump out more quality bass then the Focal Sopra 2 I had in here, and those were some big speakers! But it’s also a quality bass as Dynaudio is using their most advanced drivers here in the S40. Think huge organic sounding wall of sound. That’s what I got when I switched in an Octave V40 SE tube amp that delivers only 40 watts per channel. No issues at all powering the S40’s as they are NOT hard to drive, and no, they do not do better with 200 WPC of solid state. The best sound I had from these has been with low wattage tube Amos between 20-40 watts. (tested a Raven Nighthawk III, Octave V40 SE, McIntosh 252, PS Audio Sprout 100 and a Luxman 590 AXII. The most powerful, the sprout, did the worst of all. The best was the Luxman, Octave and Raven, by far. Worst was the McIntosh. Not a good match with Dynaudio IMO.
I really am enjoying these speakers…
I do not write reviews for all gear I use, test or own. Only what I truly love and would recommend. This is why I seem to love everything I review, because I DO! If not love a piece of gear I do not waste my time writing about it as who wants to read a negative downer review? I try many pieces of HiFi and listen to way more than I write about. These made the cut and inspired me to spend a little time writing this for anyone who has interest in these speakers.
Do these speakers beat my Klipsch Cornwall III speakers that retail for over $5500 new? No. Do the Cornwall’s beat the Special 40’s that I paid $2600 for? No. Huh? Well, both beat each other in some ways and on others they do not.
Both have their strengths and both offer a unique sound experience. I could live with either as my only speaker but will keep both around as the Special 40’s give me what the Cornwall III’s can not (update 10/19 – SOLD the Corns as the S40’s beat them for me in nearly all ways after much more listening).
Detail, spaciousness, and a much more 3 dimensional soundstage emerge from the Special 40’s. With the 40’s I do hear things the CWIII’s just can’t seem to get out. After trying a few small speakers here just recently in the same price range as the 40’s (Falcon LS3, RAM, Focal 1008) these are my faves without question. The others could not even get close, not even close.
For the money, I do not think you can beat these. If you can, I have yet to find it. Going up to $8k or so will get you something comparable (Focal Sopra 1 for example) but that’s quite a jump from the $2600 that I paid for these truly special speakers. The Focal Sopra 1 will have a lighter sound though, and a more recessed thinner midrange. I fact, I like the S40 better than the Focal Sopra 1, though I prefer the style and looks of the Sopra.
One more thing…
I am running these with a Luxman 590 AXII that puts out 30 juicy watts of class A power and I’m using very little of those 30 watts to fill my 12X12 room with huge glorious sound from the 40’s. These are NOT hard to drive but do not try with a cheap receiver or home theater receiver. These need current more so than watts. Most high quality amps will do.
Update 10/19 – As stated I also tested these with 20-100 watt amps. The best sound came from the low wattage HIGH CURRENT designs. In fact the 20 WPC Raven Nighthawk delivered a sweet romantic sound, the Octave V40 SE delivered dynamics and a huge wall of sound with more transparency and the Luxman was just magic with these speakers, in my room. Those who say you need massive watts for these to come alive are wrong. Of course if you are in a big huge room you will need more grunt but in my 12X13 room, the sweetest sounds were coaxed from the S40 with the low wattage tubes and low wattage Luxman. Volume was not an issue. The Octave V40SE powered these to deafening levels while remaining composed and sounding amazing.
Wrapping it up
Here I am so many years after hearing my 1st Dynaudio speaker and while I have not loved all of their speakers over the years these special 40’s are quite different from the usual Dynaudio’s. Using some of their most advanced materials and drivers, yet coming in at a lower price point tells me they are doing things right. I emailed Dan at Dedicated audio the 2nd day I had these and said “These sound like $5000 speakers” and I still feel that. UPDATE 10/2019 – I now feel you can’t get better than these unless you spend over $10k. In all my years into HiFi I have never seen a deal such as what you can get with these speakers. So good I bought them twice, in each color. THAT has never happened.
The Special 40’s are indeed very special. They are well worth the cost and then some. They do most of the things audiophiles love..huge soundstage width, decent depth, precise imaging, detail without being etched or bright, smooth tweeter and a rich midrange that excels with the human voice..smooth, clear and spacious and HOLOGRAPHIC with the right amps, cables, stands, etc.
They sound very big but not HUGE like a set of Cornwalls that are the size of small refridgerators. If the cabinets were larger they would be even bigger sounding but if that was the case, then would also be much more money and I feel take away from some of the magic these hold. To me, these sound better in my room than the C1’s sounded (they were way more laid back and too smooth) and they sound equally as good as my old $20k Sonus Faber’s. They sound better than the Focal Sopra 2 I had in here, and beat the pants off of any $1-$3k speakers I have had in here. They are easy to drive with a quality amp that has HIGH CURRENT. Forget about “watts’ but go for current. A good tube design that puts out 40WPC is perfect and the Octave drives these with authority, transparency, huge bass, big midrange and lively top end. Something like a Raven Nighthawk III delivers a more romantic sound, more 3D even and without the slam of the Octave. The Luxman all class A design brings a special magic to the sound in the form of an ease, a detailed yet warm leaning layering of sound that is breathtaking.
No matter the music I threw at these, they played it well. Never thin, harsh or fatiguing in any way. THIS to me is the best Dynaudio speaker I have ever heard. I feel it is also more liquid than the Dynaudio C20 and not as dry sounding as those more expensive speakers. These play music, and can touch your heart.
Highly recommend these 40’s but make sure you have quality stands. I recommend these, as for me they sound better than the 3X as pricey Dynaudio Stand 10’s (which I tested these with). Be sure to fill them 3/4 with sand! I have also tested the Stand 6 with these for my 2nd pair and prefer these to the newer Stand 10’s as well.
I bought these from Dedicated Audio in Scottsdale AZ. Great group there with some great brands like Focal, Dynaudio, Monitor Audio and VPI.