High End 2023 - Munich, Germany
- Written by Jason Thorpe Jason Thorpe
- Parent Category: Shows-Events Shows-Events
- Created: 18 May 2023 18 May 2023
High End 2023 Listening Session: DALI Epikore 11—the Sensible Trickle-Down
Last year I spent a week visiting Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries (DALI), one of the world’s largest manufacturers of hi-fi speakers. DALI had invited a group of journalists to Denmark to tour its factory and gain detailed insight into the design and construction of its flagship Kore loudspeaker.
To say that I was impressed by the 350-pound Kore is an understatement. I also sympathized with the slight embarrassment the practical, value-minded Danes radiated as they sorta-kinda apologized for creating a speaker that cost this much—even though the Kore was clearly worth the asking price of €90,000 per pair.
I left Denmark feeling somewhat wistful that I’d never have a chance to hear a pair of Kores in my own listening space. While I loved everything about them, I was very much aware that these great, honking speakers were far too large for my room, so a review was out of the question.
DALI CEO Lars Worre
Also tumbling around in the back of my mind was a suspicion that we’d eventually see at least one DALI speaker that would bridge the gap between the €20,000-per-pair Epicon 8 and the Kore. So I wasn’t surprised to learn about DALI’s new Epikore 11, which used High End 2023 for its worldwide debut. Priced at €40,000 per pair, this new speaker will bridge that gap perfectly.
The familial resemblance between the Kore and the Epikore 11 is obvious. The tall, elevated form, the same high-gloss walnut veneer (gloss black and maroon wood veneer are also available), the trickle-down woofers—it’s all pulled straight from the Kore. But to create a speaker that costs €50,000 less per pair, the company had to cut a few cost-no-object features. The concrete base is replaced by a cast-aluminum subchassis. Instead of inheriting the bent-plywood laminate shell from its big brother, the Epikore 11 assumes the layered-MDF cabinet construction from the Epicon line. But there’s a whole bunch of tech baked into the Epikore 11 that DALI developed for the Kore project.
The generously sized 35mm (1.38″) EVO-K soft dome tweeter was designed from the ground up for the Kore. On the Epikore 11, it’s housed in a similar diecast aluminum plate along with DALI’s signature ribbon supertweeter. That ribbon is derived from the one in the Epicon lineup, but modified with a more powerful neodymium magnet and a new waveguide with a die-cast aluminum rear chamber, also a Kore technology. According to DALI, those changes result in a 7dB gain in sensitivity, along with reduced distortion and compression.
DALI developed the 165mm (6.5″) midrange driver specifically for the Epikore 11. The cone is made from embossed paper and wood fibers, and the surround is formed from low-loss rubber. Interestingly, the voice coil former is made of titanium and is a direct descendant of the Kore’s 7″ midrange driver.
All the drivers in the Epikore 11 are made in DALI’s factory in Denmark. Perhaps the most distinctive tech is the proprietary and patented Soft Magnetic Compound (SMC) material DALI uses in the motor structure of its midrange drivers and woofers. SMC is formed from a powdered metal with very high magnetic conductivity and very low electrical conductivity. Adding a layer of SMC serves to eliminate eddy currents and reduce magnetic hysteresis. The result is a significant reduction in harmonic distortion. The Epikore 11’s bass and midrange drivers employ a second-generation version of DALI’s SMC technology, which was, again, developed specifically for the Kore.
Instead of the Kore’s two 290mm (11.5″) woofers, the Epikore 11 is armed with four 203mm (8″) low-frequency drivers. If my math is correct, that means the Epikore 11 has roughly the same bass-radiating area as its big brother, though with more limited cone excursion. The top woofers have different crossover points from those at the bottom of the cabinet, another technology borrowed from the Kore.
The Epikore 11 is an imposing but elegant speaker. At around 5′, it’s quite tall, but its narrow front panel (not much wider than the woofers) gives the speaker a fairly low-profile presence.
For its demo at Munich, DALI partnered with NAD, using a setup similar to the one I heard recently at Montreal Audiofest 2023. This time the company used one M23 amplifier bridged to mono for each speaker, with NAD’s brand-new Masters M66 streaming DAC-preamplifier as the front end.
The sound was instantly recognizable as coming from the Kore family, with smooth, easeful highs that still managed to wring out tons of detail. And that bass! Unbelievably tight, deep, and tuneful. This is how I’d always wanted a subwoofer to sound, but I’ve never managed to hear a sub deliver deep bass that integrated so well with the main speakers.
DALI CEO Lars Worre was in charge of the demo, so most of the music was unfamiliar to me. But Jesus God, do these things slam out high SPLs. And they do it without the slightest strain. That said, Worre played some acoustic tracks at more reasonable volumes (the rooms in Munich’s MOC exhibit hall aren’t particularly well insulated, so they did kinda have to jack up the level), and the Epikore 11s retained their superb dynamics.
There’s nothing like a big speaker that truly integrates all its parts, but large speakers don’t often pull it all together. But when it works, there’s an integrity to the sound that just pulls you right into the recording. The Epikore 11s’ ability to soak up the huge amounts of power those NAD amps were chucking out and convert it to clear, pure sound is what makes this speaker (and its big brother, the Kore) so unique. There’s an openness to the Epikore 11 that’s distinctly at odds with the density of sound it can slam out.
I’m of two minds about the Kore family. DALI is either adding more definition to the imaging and tonality, or it’s getting rid of an intrinsic distortion that exists in other speakers. Or maybe it’s something else entirely. I’ll have to spend more time listening to get to the bottom of this.
I think a pair of Epikore 11s will fit in my room very nicely. I’ve asked the people at Lenbrook Industries, the company that distributes DALI in North America, to see if they can direct a pair to this frostbitten Canadian boy.
Senior Editor, SoundStage!
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