In Admiration of Music


Danish speaker manufacturer DALI seeks to replicate its worldwide popularity here in North America.


WITH OVER ONE MILLION SATISFIED CUSTOMERS IN MORE THAN 70 COUNTRIES, DALI speakers provide an honest, nuanced and richly detailed listening experience to bring music and film to life. DALI has been hugely popular for years in Europe and Asia; to replicate this success in the U.S. and Canada, the company appointed Lenbrook (corporate parent of NAD Elec¬tronics, PSB Speakers and Bluesound wireless music systems) as its North American distributor in 2018. We recently sat down with Jason Zidle, Len¬brook’s Brand Manager of DALI, for a wide-ranging chat about the brand’s story, current products and the brand-new, state-of-the-art Kore model – the best speaker they’ve ever created.

GEORGE MCCLURE: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Jason. Can you tell us a little bit about DALI’s history?

JASON ZIDLE: Sure. So many companies in our industry are based on an engineer discovering some sensational technology or a CEO saying, “Hey, let’s exploit this area in the marketplace.” DALI is much more grassroots. It was started by a gentleman named Peter Lyngdorf, who had a store in Den¬mark called HiFi Klubben. He was selling predominantly speakers from Cerwin Vega, which has a hard-hitting American flavor with a very big footprint. It just didn’t fit the needs for everybody in Denmark, so he took it upon himself to start designing speakers that he thought should be made for his specific market.

I love the fact that it started at a retail level, completely based on addressing retail needs. It was originally branded as NAD, because that was a brand that he was carrying, a brand that Lenbrook now owns. But soon he realized it was becoming more and more popular and he was able to sell it well beyond his own HiFi Klubben, so it needed its own name. And before you know it, DALI was born.

A lot of people hear the name and think of Salvador Dali, but DALI is an acronym that stands for Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries.


GEORGE: What time period are we talking about there?

JASON: The first speaker hit the market around 1983, but at that point it was still designated as an NAD. It went into full production as DALI in 1985.

A lot of people hear the name and think of Salvador Dali, but DALI is an acronym that stands for Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries. Denmark is a really remarkable kind of place, a country of about six million people with an amazing number of speaker companies that come out of there. The original electromagnetic driver as we know it was designed there, and of course there are well known companies like Bang & Olufsen and Dynaudio. Danes like to joke that their weather is miserable most of the time, so this is something they had to embrace.

GEORGE: I think I read somewhere that other than Klipsch, DALI makes more speaker cabinets than anybody else in the world. Is that right?

JASON: Yes. Some people find that hard to believe, but around the world, outside of North America, DALI is an ab-solute juggernaut. In stores throughout Europe and Asia, they will put a little flag — a Danish flag — on their speakers to show that they are Danish, because around the world it means something strong.

Here in North America, we’re familiar with the two powerhouses, the North American sound, which is a little bit warm, a little bit strong. And the other is English, which is a little bit sharp. DALI is sort of the Goldilocks of the speaker world — it’s just right, in that it fits in the middle there. That has really been its niche and what has endeared it to dealers and end users around the world.

GEORGE: Great. Let’s talk about the new flagship Kore speakers. I’ve been reading a lot of press coverage and I know you guys are excited.

JASON: Hard not to be! A few things led to the development of Kore, but DALI has always had a high-end bloodline and always made some incredible, almost prototypical statement pieces. And these things allow you to learn a remarkable amount when you say, let’s do the absolute best we can. As I said, DALI is an acronym — the D is for Danish, the A is for Audiophile. This is what we do. We are very audiophile and Kore is just a way of designing a speaker without any kind of boundaries to see exactly what we’re capable of. Yes, it absolutely is expensive at $110,000 a pair, but there was nothing really excessive thrown at it. It was just doing our best to make it sound as good as possible. It was also the first attempt to do absolutely everything in Denmark, and that allows you better control over everything, better com¬munication with the people you’re working with. It’s really a remarkable product.

GEORGE: What else makes the Kore worth $110,000 a pair?

JASON: All the fine details. Everybody always talks about the drivers of the cabinet and of course they’re incredibly important. I’ll come back to details on those. But the cabinet plays an incredible role; as much energy comes out of the back of 6 8 | a driver as it does out of the front. And you have to deal with that and the shape of the cabinet and the material. Do you know what most speakers are made of?


JASON: Exactly. Most speakers are made out of MDF (multi-density fiberboard). This speaker is made out of 17 layers of birch, thin slices of birch laid one on top of the other to make the best sounding cabinets. It’s how some of the most high-end drums are made. The area that houses the tweeter module and the mid-range is a huge piece of solid aluminum, which cuts down on the resonance for drivers in those frequencies. But aluminum alone isn’t enough. The back of it is covered with a special material to help damp that piece itself just to make it the ultimate baffle.

And perhaps my favorite thing about DALI in general is that we make magnets that nobody else does with a material called SMC (soft magnetic compound). This type of magnet has all the magnetic properties with none of the electric properties, so it cuts down on distortion. The other nice thing it does, and this is really very relevant for speaker cabinets, is it does not conduct heat — it runs cool all the time. DALI is always going for this low-loss philosophy, trying to capture all you can out of the signal. And part of it is to reduce as much distortion as possible. This also makes a system that is very, very efficient, so it sounds as good at low levels as it does at high levels.

GEORGE: Wonderful. And they have, I assume, an advanced crossover, as well?

JASON: Yes. Kore was really a very holistic project, with everything considered and done at the same time. When a company designs a super car, you just don’t say, all right, we have this engine. What kind of body are we going to build around it? You think of everything at the same time.

And Kore took that exact approach. When you design the drivers to work with one another, you don’t have to go too in depth on the crossover because you’ve already made the drivers exactly as you wanted to. Now you still need a crossover, you still want to protect the drivers from frequencies you don’t want to get to them. So the crossover is very advanced, using some very, very high quality capacitors and resistors. But we also for the first time used SMC in some of these. So where you sometimes have these coils wrapped around iron, now it’s around SMC to completely eliminate any signal that you may have that might create some distortion in there.

GEORGE: Well, the aesthetics are just fabulous, too — they have that Scandinavian sort of slim, minimalist design that I find very attractive and I’m sure is kind of a cornerstone of DALI in general.

JASON: The cabinet is absolutely gorgeous — we actually decided to buy a furniture factory to help us make the best cabinet possible. The beautiful Ammara Ebony finish has a gold vein that runs through it and then that gold character¬istic is picked up in certain design elements on the speaker itself. Multiple layers of lacquers protect the finish and make it incredibly rich.

In this super speaker category, sometimes you see some very wild designs, and I applaud them, that’s great. There’s a market for them. But an aggressive design can sometimes be trendy and a bit of a fad. The Kore, on the other hand, is made to last you not years, but decades. It’s timeless. It’s something you’ll feel comfortable and appreciate living with for years to come.


GEORGE: Let’s talk a bit about DALI’s other lines, most of which have floorstanders and bookshelf and center channel models to make it easy to put together a home theater or a two-channel system.

JASON: Yes, there’s a variety. To start from the top, we go from Kore to Epicon [shown at the beginning of this article]; one below that would be Rubicon, and then Opticon. Those lines all have the majority of DALI’s signature technologies, including the combination of a soft dome tweeter and ribbon in their high frequency modules, which is the best of both worlds. Soft dome tweeters have fantastic dispersion, are very smooth and can be crossed over very low, but the ribbon just gives that magical airiness to the highs, and the combination of the two really gives a spectacular effect.

You can go just below that to Oberon and then Spektor and just about all these lines offer you floorstanders, a center channel and bookshelf to choose from. In the case of Opticon and up, there are also on-wall models, beautiful speakers that are very flat, very low profile, easy to integrate in the room as main speakers or as surround speakers. There are a few other models, of course. There are subwoofers, there’s a beautiful miniature speaker called a Menuet. The other line that’s really worth mentioning is Phantom, which is DALI’s custom installation series.

GEORGE: Yes, I’m just looking at that right now.

JASON: The Phantom series is pretty impressive. Looking at it online really doesn’t do it justice. There’s a model called the S-280 that when I started with Lenbrook and DALI, I immediately put it into a display because this speaker is about five feet tall and a foot and a half wide. And people had no idea that CI can get so high-end like that. It’s got a closed cabinet, so no matter where in the wall it’s placed, you’ll get consistent sound.

GEORGE: Yeah, that looks like an amazing speaker. That’s definitely of interest to our readership, as we’re all about unobtrusively integrating great sound into the home.

JASON: There was a time when built-in speakers were a sonic compromise, but the CI world has grown by leaps and bounds since then and anything out of the Phantom series is not a compromise at all. You can get remarkable hi-fi sound out of them.

GEORGE: And are Phantom models voice-matched to some of your other speakers? So if you wanted to say, do those in the rear or in the ceiling for a Dolby Atmos system?

JASON: That’s a fantastic question. They absolutely are. There are some that will blend better with others of course, but they do have the overall tonal characteristic of DALI, and you can easily mix and match them. A lot of models like the S-280 that you’re looking at and a few other models, you can also get on-wall kits. So as opposed to a very invasive, large cut in the wall, you can get away with just a small little passing of the speaker wire and hang it basically as easily as a picture. End users like the idea of not necessarily having to make that invasive cut, the advantage of being able to take those speakers with them should they move. But our partners really like it because it means that if they have a showroom, they don’t necessarily have to have all the speakers installed. They can hang a good pair. And if somebody says, well, it’s a little above my budget or I’d like to spend a little more, it’s really easy for them to replace the demo with it.

GEORGE: I see that DALI also has a number of powered wireless speakers, including bookshelf, floorstanding and on-wall models.

JASON: Yes indeed. Our wireless systems are a little different from pretty much everyone else. And I’d almost go so far as to say most people’s wireless speakers aren’t truly wireless. The wireless category sort of falls into three domains. There’s a very affordable approach where you have one active speaker, and then speaker outputs that lead to a passive speaker. One has all the brains, all the power, all the control. I call that the wife. And then it tells the husband over there what to do through the little speaker wire and it’s a great cost-effective way to do something. So wireless in the sense there’s no receiver and you can go Bluetooth, but they’re tethered.

And there’s the next level that more people are familiar with. You have two amplified speakers, with no tether between them anymore, but all the inputs are located behind one speaker. So you are still somewhat chained to your sources, you still are connecting everything directly into the speaker.

DALI takes a different approach. We offer a Sound Hub, which is basically the preamp section that you would have in all these active speakers, but it’s completely separate and completely wireless. Wherever your sources might be, you can plug them easily into the Hub and then it sends a signal to your wireless speaker’s position somewhere else. So I view them as completely unfettered by wire and perhaps the most versatile example of wireless speakers.

The Hub is modular and it lets you upgrade. Lenbrook is famous for Bluesound and BluOS technology. So you can add a card to this Hub and add on BluOS technology to get into that ecosystem, which allows high-resolution streaming from all the popular music services as well as files stored on a local hard drive. It’s very modular and very expandable. So as a lot of these other systems are somewhat limited, DALI just leaves you with more room to grow. And exactly as you said, so many of the companies just do bookshelves. We offer towers as well. And not only that, we offer full surround wirelessly. So with that Hub, if you add the HDMI surround card, then we also make a center channel and towers and those slim on-walls are, referred to before, can be used wonderfully as your surround. We make an adapter for any subwoofer that will still talk wirelessly with that Sound Hub and you can do full wireless surround.