Honestly, it was a coincidence that DALI asked me to head to Denmark to cover the release of their new flagship speaker, the DALI KORE, right after I visited the Audio Group Denmark factory and headquarters. I received an email invitation from Jeff Touzeau of Hummingbird Media, the publicist for DALI in North America, and I instantly thought wow, Jeff, I’ll happen to be in Denmark at right around the same time! Maybe I can attend your event in Denmark after all.
That’s how my trip to Audio Group Denmark went from a simple three-day visit to Aalborg, in the northwestern part of the country, to almost two weeks of criss-crossing Denmark, first by plane, then by chartered bus, and finally by train. (I’m not even going to mention the layovers in Schilpol and Heathrow.) I spent time in each of Denmark’s four largest cities—Copenhagen, Aarhus, Odense and Aalborg, and a lot of green farm land in between that reminded me of driving between Syracuse and Rochester along the New York Thruway. The first two times I’ve been to Munich, I’ve flown and, covered a show, and then went home. I feel like I don’t really know what Germany is about. But I feel like I know Denmark now, even though I can’t speak a word of Danish. Yet.
Once I left Aalborg and flew into Copenhagen, DALI proved to be an excellent host especially with Thomas Knudsen, head of Sales and Marketing, herding us cats from one stop to another with incredible yet gracious precision. By cats, I’m talking about me, Neil Gader of The Absolute Sound, Robert Schryer of Stereophile, Michael Trei of Sound & Vision, Robert Archer of CE Pro, Carlo Lo Raso of Secrets of Home Theater and Hi-fi and Jason Thorpe of Soundstage! Also present was Jeff from Hummingbird Media and Jason Zidle from Lenbrook, DALI’s distributor here in North America.
We bonded over audio, the amazing country of Denmark, and an incredible server named Klara at the Asian fusion restaurant we visited in Aarhus who was the best server any of us have ever experienced and might have been the greatest server in the history of meals. Klara probably won’t remember us, but we’ll all remember Klara.
We all made a pact to mention her in our articles. I’ve done my duty.
The D in DALI
It took me some time to spell DALI the proper way, just like it took some time to spell Børresen correctly. It’s not Salvadore Dali’s Dali, but DALI, which stands for Danish Audiophile Loudspeakers Industries.
The D in DALI is a major character in the story of the DALI KORE. While the Danish company has long been known for its gorgeous cabinetry and attractive finishes, and Denmark itself is known for being legendary world-class furniture makers, it’s unexpected—at least to me—that DALI starting outsourcing much of their cabinet production to the Far East about 15-20 years ago, as did many other Danish hi-fi companies. No one’s pointing fingers—you must remain competitive in global markets or you perish.
But an interesting thing has happened since the pandemic. In some cases, it’s more expensive to outsource manufacturing and assembly to China because of the supply chain issues the world is experiencing right now. It might be cheaper to make parts in China, but it’s no longer as cheap to ship those parts worldwide. In addition, many companies complained of receiving unsatisfactory products that did not meet standards, so that often meant another four months for the replacements to arrive. DALI actually owns their factory in China—the DALI logo is right on the building—but this was still no way to do business in an evolving global situation.
One more 510-kilogram gorilla in the room, which happens to be the shipping weight for a pair of the DALI KORE loudspeakers: what would happen if China invaded Taiwan? That’s on everyone’s minds throughout Europe lately, and the consensus was a Chinese boycott would make the fallout from the Russian sanctions look like the discontinuation of the all-you-can-eat breakfast bar at the last Bob’s Big Boy. It was time for DALI, and many other European manufacturers, to look inward.
DALI had been planning to make the DALI KORE long before these supply chain issues gummed up the works on a global basis. Those issues just sped up the momentum to create what DALI considers to be their most accomplished speaker ever, one worthy of being called true high-end audio. DALI examined their capabilities of their own Danish factory, where they already manufactured their drivers and built their crossovers and tested the results. They knew they could build the DALI KORE without needing help from the Far East. All they needed was the type of skilled carpentry—including state-of-the-art facilities—to build the unique curved wood panels for the new flagship.
Made in Denmark
After everyone was scooped up at the Copenhagen airport and allowed to retreat for jet lag therapy, we jumped on a chartered bus and headed to Årslev, outside of Odense, which is in the central part of the country on the island of Funen . This is where we took a tour of Hudevad Furniture, a family-run furniture maker, one of those companies that’s handed down from generation to generation. Erik Jørgensen started the company back in 1967, and his son Kaare (which is pronounced, ironically enough, like KORE) runs the show with his father.
Hudevad takes great pride in their products, and they have most of the fancy CNC machines and presses needed to do just about anything you can to a piece of timber. It’s Hudevad that supplies the curved pieces of birch ply for the DALI KORE that are precisely formed using custom-made jigs that are themselves made from enormous blocks of aluminum.
DALI even invested in Hudevad, becoming part-owners, all to ensure a steady amount of premium Danish timber, delivered by premium Danish carpenters, for the DALI KORE and whatever future products benefit from the trickling down of these new technologies. While labor is certainly far more expensive than in China, the risk and the shipping costs even it all out. That is known sometimes as a paradigm shift, and you can expect other companies to make this move in the near future.
Hudevad is excited and busy, as they were on the factory floor during our visit. But this lovely and enlightening stop outside of Odense was only the beginning of the journey. Once we made it to Aarhus, just to the south of Aalborg in Jutland, we checked into our hotel and then re-boarded the charter bus to the DALI factory outside the small town of Nørager. We stayed for a couple of days touring the factory, seemingly every room including the secretive R&D spaces where ideas were bouncing off the walls and no photographs were allowed.
Building the DALI KORE
Thomas Martin Holm, CEO of DALI, met us at the factory and led us through every department of DALI’s very sizable factory, warehouse and offices. It didn’t take too long for me to realize we were following the journey of the DALI KORE, watching it progress from a stack of layered birch ply into a finished product.
The DALI factory floor was impressive. First of all, it’s a clean room, which meant they probably had to bring in an army of sanitation techs after we contaminated the joint with our sticky fingers. The lighting of the factory was also noteworthy–it emulated the brightness of natural sunlight and allowed the assembly team to see every little nook and crevice in front of them.
The 11.5″ woofer assembly of the DALI KORE was quite impressive–the entire basket, when finished, weighs more than 30 pounds. (“Here, pass this around so everyone can see it.”) This is where we can start talking about SMC (soft magnetic compound) that DALI first developed for their Epicon line back in 2012. SMC is magnetic without being conductive, which means it’s ideal for use in loudspeakers where iron and other metals create eddy currents, which can add noise and distortion. (This is the same reason why Audio Group Denmark is pursuing class D technologies–to get rid of the iron in transformers.)
SMC is used in conjunction with DALI’s Balanced Drive technology, which uses twin voice coils in the driver to reduce harmonic distortion and to “cancel out directional non-linearities by the complementary geometry of the pair.”
The cone material for the DALI KORE woofer, and many other low-frequency drivers up and down the DALI lines, is made from wood fibers–the imperfections and flecks you see actually dampen the cones and prevent them from breaking up. DALI makes all their own drivers, and yes, the milk-chocolate colored cones looked delicious.
In addition to two of these drivers in the DALI KORE, which are each housed in an isolated 72-liter inner enclosure, you’ll also find a 7″ midrange driver that follows the same adherence to SMC and Balanced Drive. Finally, you have the distinctive DALI EVO-K hybrid tweeter where both a dome and a ribbon are used–this has been a common feature for many DALI transducers since 1990. The 35mm dome tweeter is new for DALI, and made in house. The ribbon, which handles the highest frequencies from 15kHz to 30kHz, allows the dome to be better optimized for taking over from the midrange at 2100 Hz.
Here’s the actual crossover for the DALI KORE. Just sitting there on the assembly table. I was worried about taking a photograph of this until I saw an almost identical shot in the press materials and white paper. There is a second board for the crossover that is located in the tweeter assembly, but the main board is actually nestled within the concrete pedestal at the bottom of the DALI KORE.
Once the drivers are all assembled for the 4.5-way DALI KORE, the staff can unpack the shipments of curved enclosures from Hudevad Furniture. You’ll notice that the outer veneer of the enclosure has already been installed back at Hudevad, which is very different from the usual practice of applying the veneer later in the speaker-building process.
That doesn’t mean the cabinets are ready for their close-ups . A final team of DALI’s most skilled and experienced workers do the final finishing, buffing and assembly for the KORE. A series a cranes and brackets had to be designed to accommodate the DALI KORE and its heavy weight so that every detail of the speaker could be attended to by just one or two people at a time.
The finished DALI KORE, in my opinion, is a gorgeous loudspeaker, full of striking colors and textures. The brown and the golds and the blacks all give this tower an earthy look, as if it was unearthed from deep in the ground. Now it was time for us to finally hear these things.
The DALI KORE Listening Sessions
The crew was treated to two listening sessions with the DALI KORE–different pairs in different rooms in very different systems. The first system was in a more finished space, one obviously meant to host visitors or discuss the emerging lifestyle aspect of our hobby. This first system featured a lot of electronics from the NAD Master Series, with hundreds and hundreds of watts on tap, and the DALI DIG used as a digital streaming source.
The second room was a more casual space that featured a more odds-and-ends system with Denon sources and a pair of the DALI Gravity monoblocks which the company made back in the early to mid ’90s. These are pure Class A power amplifiers that offer–get this–around 1500 watts per channel. Pure Class A. I know, right? Are they sure about that?
Well, we quickly found out when the second room turned into a dry sauna after just a few demo tracks. Only the third Atrium Level at the MOC in Munich is hotter than that room–all on a day that was surprisingly warm on a continent that isn’t really big on A/C. But here’s the thing–I think some of us would have risked passing out from heat stroke because this was the magic system, the one that showed what the DALI KORE is all about.
There was nothing wrong with the first room, of course. We heard a lot of big, powerful demo tracks that confirmed that the DALI KORE can play LOUD and that the bass response is mighty DEEP. But the second room revealed so much more of the DALI KORE personality. It’s a well-balanced speaker, more coherent than its five drivers would suggest, and it plays all types of music with finesse. In this second room we heard less pop and electronica and more classical and jazz, and the KORE always sounded relaxed and calm and able to handle dynamic contrasts with that same sense of ease.
After spending time with the DALI KORE in this room, I’m going to declare this a rousing success. DALI is undeniably proud of the KORE, and they should be.
The Future for the DALI KORE
Before I landed in Denmark, I wondered what I’d say about the DALI KORE. I didn’t have a strong opinion about DALI before I arrived–I’ve heard their speakers before, thought they were good, but I also felt they lurked in the mainstream of high-end audio amid the Bowers & Wilkins, Polks, PSBs, Paradigms and the KEFs. Nothing wrong with that world, except that I tend to dwell in the Land of Brands You’ve Never Heard of Until I Tell You About Them. At least that’s what I’ve been told.
The DALI KORE is obviously more ambitious, and it’s designed to lure audiophiles like me who wouldn’t necessarily consider this Danish brand as part of an ultra-high-end system. After listening to it, I have no doubt that it could.
But there are two types of prospective DALI KORE owner. One is the long-time DALI fan, loyal to the brand, who nevertheless wants to move up from the previous DALI flagship. DALI has already sold a few pairs of the KORE to those people. The other group will undoubtedly play hard to get and resist considering the KORE until a dealer sits them down and makes them listen.
The DALI KORE Project, however, came from a very simple idea: “We Danes are modest and don’t like to brag, but our company is expanding and everything is being made in-house. But we stick to our roots by making a product that is also set-up friendly and easy to live with.” (I’m not sure who said it, perhaps because I heard it more than once.) Part of that user-friendly credo has to do with amplification. DALI has always considered themselves agnostic about amplification, and they strive to build speakers that are well-matched to any type of electronics. The DALI KORE is a high-end audio flagship without the high-end audio flagship attitude. It’s like an exotic sports car that can also serve as a daily driver.
That’s good news for audiophiles, especially when the technologies used in the DALI KORE will certainly filter down to their more affordable products. With all of the resources available to the folks at DALI, I’d imagine they’re about to revamp their image in high-end audio in a big way.
DALI KORE Specifications
Frequency range: 26Hz-34kHz
Sensitivity: 88 dB
Nominal impedance: 4 ohms
Drivers (per speaker): two 11.5″ Balanced Drive SMC woofers, one 7″ Balance Drive SMC midrange driver, one 35mm soft-dome high-frequency driver and one ribbon hybrid super high frequency driver)
Crossover points: 390/2100/12,000 Hz
Dimensions: 66″ by 17.6″ by 23.3″
Weight: 160 kg each (255 kg shipping weight)