Under review today are the Lyd 8, a pair of active studio monitors from Dynaudio. There is nothing velvety about these.
The Dynaudio Lyd 8s are active speakers, and active speakers are on the rise. No wonder, because they sound good and they are Marie Kondo’s best friend: like integrated amplifiers they ditch the separates approach, ditto the interconnects and, for them, speaker cables. If they come with onboard DAC and streaming it’s one cord to each speaker and you’re done.
That’s basically how the KEF LS50 Wireless or Devialet Phantom-range work. It’s an all in one package that performs like a full rack of gear. Everything is controlled from your phone. Every individual component is optimized to sound its best in relation to the others. What’s not to like?
The Active Crossover
Let’s look at the main advantage of an active vs. a passive speaker design. In a passive speaker the crossover comes after the amplification, and the amplification is whatever amplifier you choose to drive your speakers. That gives you a lot of freedom in adjusting the sound of your speakers: different amplification will make your speakers sound different. Tweakers rejoice. Consequently, there are endless speaker/amplifier combinations and they all sound different. Welcome to the traditional way of doing things. Welcome to mix-and-match hi-fi. Wunderschön, nicht wahr? Not so fast. There’s another way of doing things that takes the guesswork out of amp and speaker matching.
In an active design, like the Dynaudio Lyd 8, the crossover comes before the amplification. One of the clear advantages to this approach is that the amplifiers are matched exactly to their individual drivers. In a three-way active loudspeaker there are three amplifiers, one for each driver. That means that the power-hungry woofer doesn’t eat all the energy from one external amplifier, leaving the midrange and tweeter starving. Not only is the amplifier and the driver perfectly matched, each driver always gets exactly the power it needs.
Taking the guesswork out the equation essentially means that your loudspeaker already sounds as good as possible. Everything is as perfectly matched as budget and size allow.
So why aren’t active loudspeakers like the Dynaudio Lyd 8 more popular? Why do audiophiles insist on putting their own amplification before a passive crossover?
It comes down to choice. At Green Audio Review we postulate this: audiophiles will, uh, choose choice over sound quality. Audiophiles will rather exercise their free will (?) and spend more money on something that sounds inferior, than have the option of mixing and matching components in an endless cycle taken away from them. You might say that a pair of all-in-one active loudspeakers take the hobby out of the hobby. – Which perfectly illustrates that being an audiophile is – or have been? – as much about changing gear and one’s system being in a constant state of flux as it’s about music and how it sounds.
This commentator understands completely. I have auditioned speakers, amplifiers, DACs, streamers, phono stages, cartridges ad nauseam. It can be a lot of fun. It can also be very frustrating. It is guaranteed to be very expensive.
Another way forward
Dynaudio need no introduction. Or maybe a short one: they are a Danish company that build loudspeakers, both active and passive, both for the home and for recording studios. They design and build their own drivers. No off the shelf components here. Their first active studio monitors, the BM6A and BM15A, were introduced in 1997. They are still in production and used in recording studios all over the world. On review here, however, are their newer two-way studio monitors, the Dynaudio Lyd 8 (£1100).
At first glance the Lyd 8s seem to be a simple construction. They have two inputs, RCA and XLR. There’s no streamer or DAC inside so we might think: analog in and we’re done? Not even close: the Lyd 8s are anything but simple. At their core they are controlled by a very powerful DSP (digital signal processing). The analog signal from your pre-amp is immediately digitalized when it enters each speaker. Because the signal reaching the crossover is digital Dynaudio say that it is much easier to control.
Purists and purity
Vinyl purists will cringe in horror at their pristine analog signal being converted into ones and zeroes. But, really, who cares? And who can hear the difference? And how many of the records being spun by analog purists come from a digital master? The world of audio is full of prejudices and this is one of them (we’ll get to a few other below).
The Dynaudio Lyd 8s don’t make Leonard Cohen sound digital, if there is such a thing. When I played vinyl through them it sounded like vinyl – or, rather, it sounded like my turntable, cartridge, and phono stage – with all comforting the surface noise. When I changed to my DragonFly Cobalt the sound changed correspondingly. As with everything else, DSP is about implementation. And I invite analog purists to try to experiment with different phono stages and cartridges: the Lyd 8s capture every upstream change you make: they are supremely transparent speakers. In fact, if you want to know how good your analog setup really is, the Lyd 8s will let you know exactly.
One the advantages of DSP is the way it allows Dynaudio to offer us the ability to tailor the sound of the speakers. On the back of each speaker we see five DIP switches that control how the speaker behaves and sounds. There’s a Position switch if your speaker is either up against a wall or freestanding. There’s a Sensitivity switch which changes maximum input voltage, mainly because of the difference between professional interfaces and consumer output levels. There is also a switch that takes the speaker in and out of automatic standby mode. Neat.
But there are particularly two switches that made a difference in my system.
First, there’s a switch for Bass Extension which changes the cut-off frequency of the speaker, certainly useful in a mixing situation, but also in a hi-fi setting. This Bass Extension switch is related to the maximum volume of the speaker. Low frequencies require more energy to reproduce. Therefore, with full extension of the bass the speaker can only play so loud. Dynaudio:
- -10 Hz (greatest low frequency extension, -5 dB output)
- 0 Hz
- +10 Hz (loudest output with least low frequency extension, +5 dB output)
I have a fairly large room (60 m2) – which the Lyd 8s had no trouble filling – so after fiddling around I left it at -10Hz for the best bass extension. Even with that setting the speakers filled my room and could go louder than I would ever need. In another room with different gear, music, or preference another setting would possibly be more appropriate. The key here is that Dynaudio give us the reins. That means choice, versatility, adjustability.
Second, Dynaudio have incorporated a Sound Balance switch that changes the sound signature of the speaker between three tilt filter settings: Bright, Neutral, and Dark. Again, Dynaudio give their customers the tools to control what would otherwise be a competent but finished system. – And that’s before we’ve begun to choose our upstream hardware. This sound balance switch lets us tweak the speakers to their surroundings. Every audiophile knows that your room is the single biggest arbitrator in how your setup sounds. Here’s Dynaudio explanation:
The sound balance, or tilt filter, represents a refined way to affect the overall tone of the speaker. Depending on the room treatment among other factors, it may be necessary to make the loudspeaker darker or brighter than the normal setting...
What this filter actually does is tilt the entire spectrum by 1,5 dB at either end using minimal phase or linear phase filters to either brighten or darken the overall response. This minimal filter alters the tonality without inducing audible phase anomalies, thereby maximizing the linearity of the loudspeaker.
A quick listen of these various settings confirms what I hoped: this is an active speaker that is anything but a take-it-or-leave-it solution. I settled on full bass extension and a dark sound balance. Not because my room is lively but simply because I liked the sound better. The tailoring of sound that is possible in the Lyd 8s is remarkable. Active speakers don’t leave any choice for audiophiles? Think again.
Active speakers and obsolescence
Lyd 8s are designed to work as nearfield monitors in a studio. But that’s not how I used them. I put them on a pair of stands and fed them from a number of pre-amps with both digital and analog sources. They resided in my living room like any pair of speakers.
What I like about speakers like the Lyd 8s (and the AE1 Actives (£999) from Acoustic Energy that I’ll get back to) is that I get the advantages of active speakers, while having control over my pre-amp and sources.
And, crucially for us a Green Audio Review, if the need arises, I can upgrade my pre-amp, DAC, or phono stage as time passes without changing my whole system. The perfectly matched speaker/amplification synergy will translate any upstream improvements.
As much as I like a speaker like the KEF LS50 Wireless, it is kind of counterproductive (but not impossible) to tweak its sound. That is its strength and, I find, its weakness. You can’t replace the DAC inside. You can’t bypass the DAC inside. That is the road to obsolescence. – And obsolescence, perceived or real, is biggest challenge when we talk about making audio greener: we need to be smarter when we invest in the gear that plays the music we love. We don’t need to stop buying gear, we need to buy the right gear the first time.
The only active speakers I have around to compare to the Lyd 8 are the small and very capable AE1 Actives. That suits me fine because they are both active speakers at around the same price-point. Neither have onboard DACs or streamers – basically, you need a pre-amp to control them. Further, I can test how speakers designed toward recording studios and speakers aimed at the audiophile at home differ.
The consensus in hi-fi is that studio monitors aren’t suited as hi-fi speakers. They sound hard, cold, unforgiving, fatiguing. Much the same sort of consensus that Class D amplifiers sound sterile. The Lyd 8s are studio monitors powered by Class D amplification. Does that make them sterile and fatiguing times two?
The studio-heritage is certainly evident in their clarity. You can see all the way to the end of the mix. The first thing I notice is the prominence of the midrange. Sat right in front of them, voices leap out at me. The transparency is vivid.
On the Lyd 8s Leonard Cohen’s voice on You Want it Darker sounds like what it is: a voice (almost) from the grave. Deep and gravelly, rich and raw – and anything but sterile. Studio monitors are fatiguing? Not here. Not if you take heed of your upstream hardware. Cohen doesn’t sound buttery or romantic. He sounds exactly like what he is: an old man, dying, an great artist with one last waltz to his name – and who would want it to sound any different?
My regular system sounds very different. But I must confess that even though I love the velvet enormity of my Guru Q60s and Croft tube amplification, there is great appeal in having the music stripped of excess fat and laid bare. It’s not clinical, but captivating. It is right in front of you, in your face. What’s wrong with that?
Upstream choices and placement
I used the Dynaudios with two different pre-amps. The Schiit Asgard 3 (US$199) and the Cayin HA-1A MK2 ($999). The sources were the same: a nice selection of vinyl via my Croft Micro 25 acting as phono stage, and a run of the mill iPad streaming Tidal into a DragonFly Cobalt. The difference between the two pre-amps were as expected: the solid state Shiit was punchy and über clean. Cold and sterile, no. Clean and invigorating, yes. The Cayin gave music a mellifluous touch, making poorer recordings more palatable. It was also more detailed. Both pre-amps worked splendidly. Overall, I preferred the Cayin – as well I should at five times the price.
I listen to a lot of electronic music and the Lyd 8s have the dynamics and clarity to light up an album like Barker’s already fantastic Utility. The stuttering beats and microdetails – which make that album such joy – are brought forward with immediacy and control.
Electronic music was also where I got a sense of a limitation in the Lyd 8s. They appeared slightly bass-light with some music.
What to do? I had already used the DIP switches to fatten the sound an getting the best bass performance. So I went back to the excellent manual and found that if you have the Lyd 8s on stands they might require a sub to get the low end you want. I don’t have a sub. Dynaudio make several, but I didn’t have time for that.
Time for plan B: speakers off the stands and up on my wall-mounted and massive bamboo sideboard. This made Utility sound fuller and fatter without any loss to the detailed and prominent midrange and a firming of the stuttering and broken beats that drive his album forward.
In my review of the Schiit Asgard 3 I talked about the little Schiit giving dub techno, specifically Deepchord, a little bit of welcome bite. That goes doubly for the Lyd 8s. I love dub techno but on occasion it becomes too THC hazy – which I think is sort of the point.
If the prejudicial consensus in audio is that studio monitors and Class D sounds lifeless and hard people haven’t heard Basic Channel’s Radiance or Pole’s 1, 2, or 3 played back on the Lyd 8s. Or Earthen Sea’s Grass and Trees. Or…. I can’t remember if the blurry reverbs and pulsating bass of those albums have been so positively revitalized. It seems I can hear the mix all the way into the studio. Microdetails that are lost in the normal chunkiness, thickness, and ambience now appear as if they were always there. It doesn’t make it hard or cold or sterile. Rather, it breathes new life into this languid sea creature that is dub techno.
It is one of the most thrilling aspects of music playback, to suddenly hear new layers and details emerge from music you have listened to before. One of the things I love about electronic music is the inner detail. That feeling when listening to a complex mix on a new pair of really good headphones or with a quality DAC and out of what was earlier a foggy background emerges previously unheard microscopic weird sounds. The Lyd 8s offer the same sort of discovery: new truths from music known and unknown. I hold that in very high regard.
Studio monitors vs. Active hi-fi speakers:
Is there any fundamental difference between studio monitors and active hi-fi speakers? From this, albeit, limited trial, no. They behave completely alike. They respond to changes in the upstream hardware. And they don’t sound alike. Quite like every other piece of equipment.
There are, however, some clear differences between the AE1 Actives and the Lyd 8s. Firstly, the Lyd 8s are bigger. And they sound bigger with better bass and they can go louder and can fill a bigger room.
The AE1 Actives have a smoother presentation but they are not as clean. On the other hand, they sound better from a distance or at an angle. They are also easier to listen to. Inoffensive might characterize them best – but only in relation to the Lyd 8s. The Lyd 8s grab your attention while the AE1s are more relaxed. The AE1s are composed, the Lyd 8s riveting.
Which you prefer is subjective. This commentator favors the truth, the clarity, and the power of the Lyd 8s.
For any audiophile looking to build a simple and sharp system this is a very keen start. For any audiophile looking for a pair of speakers that already sound as good as they ever will, this is the way to go. And for any audiophile tired of the mix and match approach: well, you know what to do…