I’ve spent a lot of time enjoying large, floor-standing, top o’ the line speaker systems. But it wasn’t until the Dynaudio Confidence 50 loudspeakers showed up at my place that I’ve been able to experience a pair of big boys in my current listening room. Bigger is not always better, but in the case of the C 50s it was still pretty awesome.
Words and Photos by Dave McNair
When these large coffins arrived, my bud Chris Livengood and I (mainly Chris) unboxed the beasts and wrestled them around to where they would live for the next couple of months. The first listen was encouraging but things didn’t get interesting until after a LOT of the obligatory run-in. I’m talking hundreds of hours.
My partner works at our house so it was a game of how long and how loud could she tolerate me leaving CDs on repeat or streaming stuff with large helpings of low end to get those big dawgs loosened up. D’Angelo’s Voodoo on repeat for 6 hours? Thank you, Linda.
It took a minute, alright WEEKS of messing with positioning and swapping out upstream gear to get the most out of these new Danish leviathans. The hassle was well worth it. I would listen for just a little bit every day or so to check the changes over time which were clearly audible. I was a bit surprised by how much the top end opened up. Less surprising was the bass.
Occasionally I’d move the Dynaudio Confidence 50s around to see what happened.
With the low end seeming to change every few days, I had to be patient and wait until things below 100hz stabilized sufficiently to get the all-important distance from the back wall nailed down. The position that seemed best after futzing for a few weeks turned out to not be entirely right.
At first, I liked them at the approximate spacing and location of where the other speakers I’ve had worked best. And with a moderate amount of toe-in angle. Later, I tried them closer together with almost no toe-in. I liked that too, but something was still off.
Then, one day after mentioning to Chris that I was having problems with imaging, at his suggestion, I moved the Dynaudio Confidence 50s wider apart and with a lot of toe-in. Boom. There it was. This is why any serious audiophile needs to find a dealer that has a deep knowledge of their products and proper setup. Especially if you’re like me and you think you know it all…
Dance of the Sugar Plum Amplifiers
With a speaker this good, I tried lots of preamp and amp combinations including the most excellent Octave V 80 SE integrated. The Octave sounded great with the Dynaudio Confidence 50s but was a tad too forward, although it was a beautiful tube forwardness.
About this time I received the new preamplifier offering from Tidal Audio, their Prisma. The Prisma was so good I decided to keep it in the system. With a phono pre to die for, the Prisma has a subterranean and controlled low end coupled with an exquisitely smooth and organically detailed top end. All this Tidal goodness was quite obvious on the Dynaudio Confidence 50s and became a sweet match for the speakers.
With the Prisma in the driver’s seat, I rotated between Pass Labs’ XA-60.8s, a Bel Canto S500, the Octave V 80 SE, a Naim Supernait 3 with Hicap power supply, and went with the 100 WPC, KT-90 tubed, Audio Hungary Qualiton APX-200 for power. The Supernait 3 added a brawny, exciting, thrust to the Dynaudio Confidence 50s, but I favored the more refined yet powerful and dimensional sound of the Tidal/Qualiton combo. Digital sources used were my ancient California Audio Labs Delta CD transport or streaming off a Mac laptop with Qobuz into a Berkeley Audio Designs Alpha II DAC. Analog was a Rega P10 with ZYX Ultimate 100 cartridge.
To be clear, nothing else in the gear pile particularly sucked, it was simply a matter of finding what the Dynaudio Confidence 50s liked best. Up to a certain point, the more alive and organic sounding the upstream gear was, the happier the C 50s became.
I never felt the Dynaudio Confidence 50s were difficult to drive. The speakers sounded huge with the lower-rated power of the pair of Pass Labs XA-60.8 monos that I used during most of the break-in period. Ultimately, I judged the Pass amps while lusciously clear with sub frequencies to impress any bass freaks, just a bit too polite for the Dyns.
At this point, the fun had officially started.
Mission Control, We Have Lift Off
At first, I wasn’t too keen on the idea of wrestling these beasts around to find the magic spot in my room. As it turned out, they were pretty easy to position with the round, slider pucks underneath the four-point feet of the built-in metal stands. After over a month of burn-in, positioning, and re-leveling using the provided spirit level (made super easy by the grab-and-turn knobs on top of the feet), it was time for that special, time-honored audiophile commitment ceremony, Attaching the Spiked Cone Feet. I can’t say the improvement with the sharp spiked metal cone feet was ultra-dramatic. However, there was a noticeable increase in tightness and clarity in the bass.
Several times I swapped out for my reference QLN Prestige Threes, so I could “check my head.” Yes, I still love everything about the presentation of the QLN but there was no denying that the Dynaudio Confidence 50 is a large, well-designed speaker that can pop a top on a tallboy can of whoop-ass.
The upper bass/lower mids seemed fleshed out in that way that’s different from a typical 2 way. Not quite MORE, but certainly beefier in a particular way. The QLN Prestige Threes never sound thin or scooped but the C 50s were more robust around the 150-300Hz region. I heard substantially more meat on the bone and richness in the lower frequency range of vocals, the upper range of bass instruments, and the like when listening to the Dynaudio Confidence 50s.
Amazingly, the Prestige Threes seemed to reach down about a half an octave lower than the Dyns, but for sheer, butt shakin’ powah in the low end, the C50’s took the prize by a hair.
In the Dynaudio literature, there is a lot of info about the new Esotar 3 tweeter used in the latest Confidence line. The entire Dynaudio Confidence line has been extensively redesigned, which is no small thing when you manufacture the drivers. Quite different from the series of incremental improvements since the Confidence line was first introduced in 1989. The drivers, crossovers, baffles, and cabinetry are new in all current Confidence line speakers.
In the C 30, C 50, and C 60, the Esotar 3 tweeter is mounted in a uniquely shaped baffle of composite material that Dynaudio calls the DCC Lens waveguide. This is for controlling dispersion.
The highly controlled off-axis dispersion of the DCC/Esotar 3 tweeter along with the new crossover design (2nd and 3rd order slopes which departs from the classic Dyn 1st order filters) is said to be a large factor in making the speaker work well in rooms having little or no acoustical treatment. It also looks very trippy. And beams messages to the Borg.
I listened closely around the sides of the speaker and can report that the treble energy is very attenuated and smooth off-axis. Pretty impressive how those Dynaudio engineers seem to bend the laws of physics with careful attention to baffle geometry, driver and crossover design.
The important lesson I got out of all this swapping out of electronics along with my normal speaker reference is that sometimes different is the enemy of familiar.
Our brain can very easily make an aural memory of our familiar favorite to equal better. That’s not to say I had to live with different for a long time before it could become very enjoyable, just that our listening biases are somewhat rooted in aural memory. How invested I am in that fuzzy memory being better or worse, has a strong influence on how the New and Different will be judged.
The first hump I had to get over was how differently the Dynaudio Confidence 50 presented spatial information in a recording. I have been used to an image that seems to be projected outward from the speakers in a convex manner and extends laterally beyond the box location.
In my room, the C 50s didn’t do that. What they DID do is present a very deep picture of musical information that was almost completely contained within the width of the speaker’s location. This is not a Bad Thing, just something I had to vibe into.
My usual listening position remained the same but for best results, I had to sit higher to have my ears be level or slightly above the tweeter location. All the spatial cues in a great recording were delineated and defined in a concave arc between the speakers. The phantom center image was very stable but within and behind the lateral plane of the speakers. For a 5’ 4” 109-pound floor-stander, things never seemed too large in scale or exaggerated in height, yet recordings had a very enjoyable, impressively large sound. Sometimes I wanted them to sound even larger!
I know that sounds contradictory. Let’s just say when I went back to the QLNs, I got back the midrange and imaging I love but missed some of the C 50’s sonic girth.
The top to bottom tonal response was very good although I could detect a slight dip in the midrange/lower treble area that gave me a general feeling of the overall frequency response to be on the warm end of the continuum – not enough to seem lacking in resolution or presence but with a slightly relaxed nature to the sound.
This was quite enjoyable on everything I listened to. The overall sense of resolution or information retrieval was good without being too In Yo Face. That Esotar 3 tweeter never called attention to itself, never sounded harsh, and delivered all the detail my ears wanted. When playing some of my tried and true reference recordings, I heard the top end presented in almost a multi-shaded way.
Recordings that were bright leaning, with a slightly white noise-like quality during dense sections of a song, were played by the Dyns in a way that revealed more separation between cymbals, airy vocal sounds, and acoustic guitar upper harmonics. Imagine a colorized version of a black and white movie. And this was without any exaggerated sense of air on top.
I heard this clearly when I first switched to the built-in phono stage of the Prisma. So maybe it’s an attribute of the Tidal circuitry, but the Esotar 3 tweeter certainly has the resolution to reveal this. Even with that slight dip around 1-2K, I could find no major faults with the Dynaudio Confidence 50’s mids. I did get a sense that the music was a little shy of a certain textural richness in the midrange. Tubes went a long way towards fixing this for me.
The summed response of two 7” woofers, two 6” mids, and a tweeter per side seems flat enough, yet I missed some undefinable amount of holistic mojo to the sound. Almost like the speaker doesn’t have any obvious colorations or stylistically chosen voicing about it, but it also doesn’t completely get out of the way and disappear. Think more science and less sorcery.
There is, however, something special in the way the mids work in conjunction with the bass drivers. On several recordings, I was amazed by how well the C 50s presented the low mid/bass area. In other reviews, I’ve talked about using Jeff Buckley’s Grace on vinyl to tell me a lot about components. On “The Last Goodbye,” the white-ish high end became colorized in an aforementioned way, and the low mids and bass had more power and clearer separation than I’ve ever heard. Not in an artificial hi-fi spectacular way, but in a very musical and satisfying manner. The large room ambiance and meat of the bass drum coupled with the cool bass line were powerful AND full of detail.
The gobs of low end on Donald Fagen’s Morph The Cat dramatically pressurized my room via the Dynaudio Confidence 50s but still had lots of midbass/lower midrange definition. While the tuning of the downward-firing bass port felt slightly less damped compared to what I’m accustomed to hearing, the overall linear response and just plain SLAM of the low end was super satisfying.
Once again, no overly exaggerated vibe to the low-end performance but on recordings with great bottom, there was a massive, detailed, and very linear perceived response on full display. One of the reasons I spent a lot of time trying different components was to fine-tune this area to keep all the size, depth, and punch while tightening up any very slight amount of smear. The Tidal Prisma preamp KILLED in this regard.
The second hump that I made peace with was in the Dynaudio Confidence 50’s presentation of dynamics. Dynamic contacts of the micro variety were there, but the C 50s don’t quite dance in the way the QLNs or even my other speakers, a pair of Dynaudio Special 40s, do. Things get loud. Things get soft. However, the more granular contrasts are a bit smoothed over.
I don’t consider this a major flaw, just something to consider if the majority of your listening is classical string quartets or solo oboe that’s recorded very naturally and leans heavily on very small dynamic cues to communicate the emotion of the performance. My personal listening bias is heavy on the perception of dynamic contrasts both large and small. I enjoyed playing plenty of vintage bebop and classical, I just found the C 50s much more impressive and fun while playing modern rock, pop, fusion, EDM, prog, hip hop, etc. I found it interesting that I gravitated to playing digital a bit more than vinyl, although I can’t say why.
Suzanne Vega’s Nine Objects Of Desire on CD was pretty much The Greatest Thing I’ve Ever Heard when played on the C 50s. That low end……dang. Oh, did I mention they will play LOUD AF with zero sense of strain or dynamic compression? NIN and Tool lovers, I’m talkin’ to YOU.
Skrillex at club volume, no sweat.
Yeah, the C 50s practically thrive on that kinda stuff.
For me, the Dynaudio Confidence 50s started as a sound that had something cool and certainly interesting in the beginning but it was only after spending time getting to know them that I truly appreciated their strengths. I expect that more than a few listeners will be completely blown away on first listen by the sound of music emanating from these visually striking Danish tech marvels. Some folks may need to leave their biases at the door and give the speakers a little time for a love affair to fully blossom. I was unconvinced at the beginning of my time with them.
At the end of the review period, I wondered how I could go back to the presentation of a smaller pair of speakers.
The Dynaudio Confidence 50 retails for about $27,000. Do you have a listening room somewhere between L and XXL size? No interest in putting up a lot of acoustical treatment that some speakers would need to shine? Are you looking for a large, clear, full-range sound and crave for the tunes to get loud and clean with an ear-friendly vibe and an impressive bass response, but don’t have $80,000 to spend?
The line starts here.
The C 50s might not quite go far enough to get Gold in the Hammer Throw of Speakers That Perform Feats of Alchemy, but they will get you on the podium. If you’re willing to spend the required setup time and find just the right combo of electronics, you will be amply rewarded by the Dynaudio Confidence C 50, just like I was.