The price the DLS Audio D series speakers is perhaps a tad inflated than would be generally expected.
The D series are a highly-developed lifestyle product from a manufacturer known for its high audiophile standards, and as such you might presume a price of perhaps three grand.
However, these are new, post-crunch products and priced by the US dollar, despite being Swedish. So, take the price at the top and divide by 100, multiply by seventy and you get three grand.
Point is, we are now seeing the prices of goods going up in lumps as predicted, due to the knackered quid and rising materials costs. Bugger.
So any product you buy in future is going to have to be even more carefully chosen from reading quality reviews, which keeps us even higher up your 'must not do without' list.
'If you're looking for the more familiar square speakers you won't find them in the D series.' That's DLS's marketing mantra, and I agree with it. The D series are all about looking groovy next to your flatscreen TV, as well as creating a serious output to please both hi-fi and home cinema urges.
The only truly negative thing would be the 'me-too' woofer. An 8in driver in a sealed box and a 100W AB amp is just way undergunned for what this system can do and, in fact, it's a bit weedy in general.
I'm sure it's crisp and accurate and melodic but when the Child Detection Agency put a dome over Harryhausen's Bar in madcap toon classic Monsters, Inc and zap it free of human kid toxin (27m 20s), it is supposed to be seismic... and it just wasn't. Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. Back to those cabinets.
If all you cared about was the piano-black look, you could do far worse than leave the main speakers, called D3 towers, unadorned and they'll go with the glossy black of the average modern TV a treat – even if their odd tapered-from-top-to-base shape makes them look like the logo for the perfume called Excla-ma-tion!
However, these cabinets bear embedded Neodymium magnets – they're also hidden in the optional wooden 'cheeks'. Supplied in a number of deeply shiny finishes from woody to white to red, they sort of perch on tiny excrescences at the bottom of the sides of the speaker and the magnets hold the panels in place in a rakish fashion.
The speakers themselves are placed on discoidal plinths that bolt onto the bottom. Around the back you find an odd-shaped hole with foamy stuff over it. A square hole? The D3 towers are rare transmission-line enclosures. Without getting all technical, this means they behave a bit like an organ pipe and can deliver oomphs of bass from very small transducers.
Those transducers are the story really, with a superb 28mm fabric dome tweeter that sings like ABBA in each box. The D3 towers wear a petite 4in mid-range driver on each side of the tweeter, but the DCS3s use only 3in mids with the same HF device.
These latter cabinets, used here for the centre and rear channels, are simple dual-ported boxes with 'P' holes on the back to hang them on a screw (not supplied). This is almost quaint in its primitive nature.
No bushings in enclosures, nor fancy brackets on offer. The grilles have holes in them for the two ports as well as the speaker drivers, and you get white and black sets with each speaker, which I feel is a needless cost to add.
Also, the grilles are cut so as to add a gas-flowed extension to the ports, albeit as deep as the thin slice of MDF used. Whether this adds to the effect of the port I couldn't guess, but I do know that using MDF – instead of taking the costly step to tool up for a single injection-moulded plastic frame to put the grille cloth over like everyone else – is a bit poor.
The grilles are easier to break than eggs, and after one hi-fi show and one careful photography shoot, I still got two broken ones delivered. They were snapped at an obvious weak point at the edges by the biggest round holes.
Also, while I'm dishing it out, I'll mention that I hated the ugly big Eelon clips used to hold them on. They help to explain why the grilles are so thick. Remove them and the Eelon bases look huge. Rather sad when compared to the absolutely class-leading use of Neodymium magnet-adhered side cheeks.
I have a new Harman Kardon DC 250 multi-format deck with upscaled output via HDMI – which was excuse enough for me to revisit Pixar's Monsters, Inc and its glorious visuals and surround sound.
The first thing my ears noticed was the DLS's efficiency – or rather lack of it. The normal serious testing level on the system I have is fifty out of a possible seventy notches in the display. To get the same decent level with these, I had to crank it to 58. And at that point I could perceive the noise floor. The resolution and power remain but dynamics are a little truncated at this level.
On the other hand, the sound was astonishing for the size of the speakers. The tweeters are what really make it happen and the detail is tremendous. I heard background diners for the first time ever in Harryhausen's sushi bar (24m 25s). Imaging and placement was excellent. This DLS system worked as well as speakers with five times the cubic space. There's nary a hint that the drivers are so small.
Even the sequence where the little girl blows up most of the electrics in the city of Monstropolis, with what I can only describe as, erm, a great big fizzing zoomy throb (29mins 29secs) is handled with aplomb.
This is a truly dynamic effect and the D3 speakers didn't turn a hair. All except for the subwoofer, that is. It had to be set so low and gently that it really wasn't providing a service much of the time, or would otherwise overdrive.
That said, the 'booooom'! that you hear as the secret tunnel closes at 48m 44s is surprising in its lowness and scale, so the DLS system isn't ineffective. It just needs a bigger sub.
Ups and downs
I have mixed feelings about this DLS array. Looks-wise, I think the D3 towers are gorgeous and I love those cheeky bits, but would like to see bushings and brackets for the little DCS3 centre/rears and magnet-fixed skinny grilles rather than MDF and Eelons on the front.
In performance terms, the soundstage created is massive for the size of the cabinets and the tweeters deliver excellent detail, but the subwoofer feels out of place. My advice is to track down a set for an audition and see if it meets your specific aural requirements.