“On your left you can see the Queen of Denmark’s residence, and if you look over to the right, you can see shipping containers converted into university students’ residences,” said our guide as we putted through Copenhagen’s harbor on a tour boat.
“They are very popular,” she added before drawing our attention to an industrial garbage incinerator that doubles as a downhill ski facility.
This most beautiful city absolutely radiated happiness, ingenuity, and cooperation. As we chugged into a narrow canal, I saw people in green kayaks pulling garbage out of the river. I asked our host, Thomas Knudsen, senior area sales manager of Danish-loudspeaker-maker DALI, about this. “The kayaks are rentals, but there is no charge so long as you use them to clean the water,” he told me.
There’s an almost utopian feel to Copenhagen. The streets are clean and litter free, the parks are well maintained, the people radiate good health, and there’s no evidence of homelessness. Add in the stunning architecture and almost painfully good pastries, and it has become a new contender for my Best Cities in the World list.
I was spending the night of August 22 in Copenhagen, along with eight other journalists, as a kick-off point for a tour of DALI’s facilities and an inside look at the company’s new $110,000-per-pair Kore superspeaker (all prices in USD). DALI stands for Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries, founded in 1983 by Peter Lyngdorf.
The next day, after an excellent buffet breakfast, we hopped in a small bus and headed for the town of Arslev, the home of Hudevad Furniture—a woodworking factory that has partnered with DALI to build the cabinets for the Kore speakers. Arslev is about a two-hour drive from DALI’s factory, which is located in the town of Nørager. Per the name, Hudevad is a furniture company that specializes in curved wood.
Hudevad Furniture is run by Kaare Jørgensen, a happy, ingenious, and cooperative Dane. His father, Erik, started the company in 1985, and the facility spans several large workshops. There’s an interesting admixture of machinery here, including Italian woodworking machines from the 1960s. “They’re indestructible,” said Kaare with admiration. There is also a five-axis CNC machine.
Hudevad has extensive experience with steaming and bending wood, and this resulted in a natural fit for building the radically curved cabinet of the Kore’s main body. The cabinet comprises 17 layers of birch veneer, each individually laid and glued, with a Makassar veneer on the outside. Hudevard employs a new process to pre-apply a layer of lacquer to the outside of the final veneer, which greatly aids in the final finishing process.
This multi-layer sandwich is placed into a jig that’s basically a large mold. A matching male image of the cabinet is then placed inside the sandwich, resulting in what’s essentially a giant panini press. About that jig: it’s milled from solid billets of aluminum, and it’s incredibly heavy.
Once the jig is assembled, it’s clamped down with nearly 180 atmospheres of pressure and then heated. Passing longitudinally through the jig are heating cables that draw a total of 61kW of electricity, which necessitates the shutdown of all other equipment in the facility. The jig is heated for 20 minutes, at which time the glue is dried sufficiently to remove the inner press and then the cabinet.
It took me a few minutes to realize what’s actually going on here. Each of the 17 layers of birch veneer are laid up with the grain oriented in alternate directions. Add in the glue between each layer, and what they’re essentially doing is making their own plywood, setting up the shape prior to pressing and hardening it.
In the past I’ve seen a number of speakers with curved baffles or bodies, but whenever I’ve seen the innards of such a speaker, I’ve noted that the inside of the curves was slashed with many routered cuts, allowing the wood—usually MDF—to bend.
DALI is rightly proud of the Kore’s cabinet, and looking at the shape of the cabinet, its construction, and its curved geometry, you can see that it’s exceptionally strong and likely very nonresonant.
It turns out that it wasn’t hard for Hudevard to move from making furniture to building the cabinets for speakers that sell for $110,000/pair. DALI approached Hudevard and started this project in 2019, and the partnership has spawned many ideas for future products. DALI has invested in Hudevard Furniture, and sees the partnership as a significant step in its goal to bring as much of its production back to Denmark as possible. While the cost for labor is higher than it would be if the cabinets were produced offshore, the benefits—which have been made evident by multi-layered disruptions from COVID and the war in Ukraine—are significant.
After lunch we pressed on to DALI’s factory for a look at how these cabinets become Kore speakers.
The Kore is a completely new product for DALI. We started our day talking with Thomas Martin Holm, DALI’s chief operating officer.
Thomas Martin Holm
All of the drivers are new, and while some of the technologies used in the Kore are entrenched in the company’s Epicon line, others are completely new, and DALI has had to develop 1200 new components to fit the scale of this new statement speaker. The project has pushed the people at the company to re-examine the entire product line-up, and they expect that these new technologies will trickle down to other DALI products.
From the bottom to the top, there are a whole bunch of interesting bits here. The base is made from cast concrete, which is—obviously—very heavy and nonresonant, providing a low center of gravity for this 352-pound speaker.
The Kore’s binding posts are specially made and are a design specific to the Kore, as are the substantial footers.
Even the box in which DALI ships the Kore is impressive. Each speaker is placed on a shipping pallet and entombed in fairly high-grade plywood.
The hybrid tweeter assembly—a signature DALI technology—and the dedicated midrange are housed in a cast-aluminum plate that’s extensively damped with thick pools of bitumen poured into the honeycombed backing. The mold for this plate was milled from stainless steel, and was in itself a significant undertaking.
Mounted in that plate is a 1.3″ soft textile-dome tweeter, which is noticeably larger than those used in other DALI speakers. The tweeter has a massive magnet and a large open chamber behind it. Interestingly, DALI has chosen to forego ferrofluid cooling, claiming that its disadvantages—drag on the movement and decreased efficiency—do not warrant its use. It’s more difficult to manufacture a tweeter without ferrofluid, as the tolerances need to be closer, and more attention needs to be paid to the cooling of the voice coil. The larger diameter of the dome tweeter means that it needs to be rolled off at the top of its range. The crossover point is 12kHz, implemented with 6dB-per-octave slopes. At this point, the dome hands off to the magnetostatic ribbon, which reaches up to 34kHz.
Also mounted in the aluminum faceplate is a new 7″ midrange driver with the company’s signature paper-pulp diaphragm. DALI uses wood-fiber material for its cones, feeling that it adds stiffness and helps prevent resonant breakup. The surround is narrower than on other DALI midranges in order to shift unwanted frequencies away from the driver’s working range. The midrange and the dome tweeter transition at a lowish 2100Hz, with 12dB slopes.
The Kore is equipped with two 11.5″ woofers. The top woofer is crossed over at a lower frequency than the bottom woofer. The top driver acts as a dedicated woofer, while the bottom driver contributes to the midrange.
These are special woofers. As explained by Krestian Pedersen, head of product management, the Kore woofers employ dual voice coils in what the company calls a Balanced Drive configuration. Balanced Drive architecture flips one magnet over so that as one voice coil moves inward toward the magnet, the other voice coil moves outward, canceling out directional non-linearities. According to DALI, this results in significantly less odd-order distortion.
The woofer is absolutely massive. The cone, also made from paper and wood fiber, has a maximum excursion of +/-28mm, and the -3dB bass extension is claimed as 26Hz. Given what I heard in our listening sessions, I have no doubt that number is quite reasonable.
Both the midrange and woofers incorporate DALI’s proprietary Soft Magnetic Compound (SMC) technology. SMC is a coated granular material that achieves the contrary characteristics of being extremely magnetic but almost totally non-conductive. When used in the driver’s top plate and pole piece, SMC results in a dramatic reduction in hysteresis—the tendency of a ferromagnetic material to remain magnetized. Hysteresis in the motor system results in a loss of efficiency and the introduction of distortion.
SMC, which is a somewhat shiny material that can be seen on a driver sandwiching its magnet and encircling the voice coil, is used in a number of DALI’s product lines, but the version employed in the Kore is Gen-2 SMC, which is 2.5 times less conductive than the first-generation SMC.
DALI is also using SMC in the Kore’s crossover, which is new. It turns out that inductors can benefit from SMC also. While some of the inductors are air core, the ones that called for iron core benefit from the use of Gen-2 SMC instead of conductive iron.
We had two listening sessions in different rooms. The first session was in a large room that was quite lively. The signal and power components were all from NAD, with a Masters M12 preamplifier feeding signals via AudioQuest interconnects to two Masters M23 power amplifiers per channel, one each for the highs and lows, with DALI’s own speaker cables leading to the Kore.
Please understand that I like my music loud. But compared to Krestian Pedersen, I’m a lightweight. We listened to a number of tracks, in short bursts, but whatever he played, it was loud. I think, at this time, Pedersen was trying to make a point rather than just engage us in a dainty little listening session.
One standout was a James Blood Ulmer track played at beyond concert levels. The kick drum impact was a physical power, and I felt somewhat concerned about my hearing. The cymbals were a crystalline force, and the extreme volume, and perhaps the slightly underdamped room, injected a peak in the lower treble that was a touch troubling. But here’s the thing: despite dynamic peaks that reached 106dB according to one journalist’s SPL meter, there was absolutely no sense of strain from the speakers, and rather than compressing the dynamics—which insane volumes can sometimes do—the high volumes seemed to accentuate the contrasts. That kick drum—it flat out accelerated with an actual sense of a forward thrust from the drum skin. And as fast as it started, it stopped dead. Zero overhang.
We concluded this session with a crazy techno track, “Ratchets,” by Hedegaard. Pedersen backed off the throttle a bit for this one, but it was still very loud. Taking the volume out of the hearing-damage region allowed me to sit there and immerse myself in this clever, rollicking track. Again, that feeling of utterly unrestrained power just took my breath away.
As we left this room, I was dutifully impressed by the sheer, clobbering power of the Kore speakers, but I had one burning, unanswered question: how did they sound at humane, real-world volumes?
It would seem that the DALI folks had anticipated this question. CEO Lars Worre herded us into a smaller room featuring another pair of Kore speakers and a supporting system that was dramatically different from the all-NAD setup we’d just left behind.
In this room, the system consisted of a pair of DALI Gravity stereo amps from the 1990s. These beasties run in pure class A right through 100Wpc, drawing a significant 1600W at idle. Each amp is rigged with an actual key in the front panel, which takes them out of standby. Worre left them in standby at first because—as you might imagine—they generate a significant amount of heat while running, and it had already been a warm week in Denmark. The preamp in this system was a Mola Mola Makua, and sources alternated between a 1990s-era Denon DP-S1 CD transport and DA-S1 DAC and—be still my heart—a Slim Devices Transporter DAC/streamer from about 2007.
The lower treble peak that was rather bothersome at those extremely high SPLs was completely absent in this room. The highs were silky, defined, stress-free, and without a doubt world class in their resolution and imaging.
We listened to a number of different tracks in this session, spanning jazz, classical, and some fairly light, accessible rock. I was honestly astonished by the Reference Recordings version of John Rutter’s Requiem—both due to its almost supernatural dynamics and the intense pressure waves from the organ’s low notes. The massive spread of voices covered the entirety of the room, and (while I’m maybe reaching a bit, as this next statement attempts to cover 22 years of listening to high-end systems) I really do think this was the most impressive demo I’ve heard to date.
The DALI folks seemed at times embarrassed and at other times wistful regarding the Kore’s $110,000-per-pair price. But it’s clear that the company has expended significant resources on the genesis of this product, and in their pragmatic, sensible Danish way, they’ve pegged the speaker at a price that they feel is fair. DALI is a brand that’s always put the concept of value for money on a very high pedestal, and I got the feeling that they were the tiniest bit uncomfortable marketing a speaker at this price. But that said, the marketplace is peppered with speakers that retail for over $100k per pair, and judging by what I saw and heard, the Kore feels seriously underpriced, and DALI has received feedback that seems to mirror my feelings. As of our visit, DALI is currently shipping the Kore and has orders for 75 pairs, which will take four months to fill. I have no doubt that the company is going to sell significantly more than that.
Senior Contributor, SoundStage!