DALI Rubicon 8 Speaker System Review Page 2

I was immediately impressed by the Rubicon 8’s crisp, tight bass. Close-miked Kodo drums hit hard, with their bass echo reverberating deeply into the recording space. The bass drum on “The Longships” from Enya’s Watermark was more distant and subtle, but just as intense—if not more so. And the snarling drums punctuating several of the cuts on the soundtrack from Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World clearly showed why the music made a significant contribution to the film.

Most drums don’t produce low frequencies that extend exceptionally deep—40 Hz or so, to be generous—but the Rubicons dredge deeper than that. While the speakers won’t fully satisfy fans of the lowest ranks of the largest pipe organs (few full-range speakers do), they do make a good stab at it. The deepest bass on “Gnomus” from Pictures at an Exhibition, transcribed to organ and performed by Jean Guillou, challenges the bottom of that instrument’s capabilities. And while I can’t say that it shook my pant legs as rudely as it did with a subwoofer in my previous listening room (with more help from room gain there than in my current space, which is more than twice as large), it was certainly satisfying. Ditto for the deepest bass on “Napalm for Breakfast” from the Rhythm Devils’ Apocalypse Now Sessions.

On some recordings, the Rubicon 8’s bass was a little lumpy-sounding, but rooms affect the bass of any speaker in a multitude of ways, good and bad. Nonetheless, in my room the Rubicons’ “good” definitely prevailed.

I’m always a bit dubious about using a 6-inch driver to cover the range up into the 2-to-3-kHz area. The limited dispersion of a driver that size at higher frequencies can be hard to deal with, though in affordable bookshelf speakers, it’s a cost-based necessity. But if that limitation has any audible consequences in the Rubicon 8s, I didn’t hear them. Well-recorded voices were clear and open, with no hint of boxiness, nasality, or smothering of detail. The male singing group Fairfield Four was an audiophile favorite a few years back, and the Rubicons reminded me why. I’ve never heard their album Standing in the Safety Zone sounding better, their voices more immediate and in the room. The same was true for another old audiophile favorite, Jennifer Warnes’ Famous Blue Raincoat, where the Rubicon 8s clearly revealed small differences in the recording perspective and quality from cut to cut.

The pride of team DALI, however, is its dome/planar tweeter combination. It’s something of a mixed bag since it can be revealing of a bright or harsh recording, particularly when played back at high volume. A prime example of this was the alarm clock cut “Time” on the rock classic Dark Side of the Moon. I suspected the speaker’s on-axis response was somewhat tipped up, which may be why the company recommends the speakers be set up to fire straight ahead, placing a centered listener well off axis. DALI confirmed this, noting that the slightly rising on-axis response aids overall dispersion and linearity when the speakers are pointing straight ahead, but can indeed be slightly bright if you're sitting directly in front of the speakers. Again, in their words: "The benefit comes when you are off axis with the speaker. While the narrow 5 degrees on axis [window] is a little brighter, the other 175 degrees is much more even and detailed than would be with a traditional design. DALI recommends either a straight ahead orientation or a very slight toe-in of less than a few degrees." (The company also recommends spiking the feet when possible, which they say can generate a smoother overall response.)

Even with the slight toe-in I used, the Rubicon’s top end came down firmly on the plus side more often than not. The top end sparkled with life on recordings that offer it, none more so than another old favorite of mine, La Folia De La Spagna—a bizarre combination of medieval-style chamber music punctuated by chirping birds, church bells, race cars, a few babbling voices, something that sounds like a kazoo, and more. It’s as if Spike Jonze and company stumbled into a 1300 A.D. concert and started to jam with the monks. The Rubicons took it all in stride, with gobs of inner detail and at least one transient that made me leap out of my chair on this familiar (to me) recording. The DALIs’ imaging, while not spectacular, was good in my room. Sometimes a centered vocal would loom a bit too large and slightly spread out, but that’s common in closely miked pop music. At other times, vocals and solo instruments were crisply located. Depth was also believable, helped as always by the speaker placement well forward of the wall behind.

Movie Time
As impressed as I was by the Rubicons on music, I was even more drawn to them with movies, typically when supplemented by a subwoofer as discussed earlier. And from my preferred off-center movie seat, the Rubicons never sounded bright on any of the many films I threw them.

The explosive music cues in Oblivion, particularly near the opening sequence just before the title hits the screen, will pin you to the wall on the DALIs. The same goes for the entire closing sequence, from the end of the attack on the Scav stronghold to Jack’s flight to the Tet. This movie, with its combination of great music, a spectacular dynamic range, and an audio balance inviting playback levels that will bring over your neighbors, either with pitchforks and torches or popcorn and chips and dips, has never sounded better in my room than it did on the Rubicons.

But the system not only excelled on the big stuff. In the opening scenes on the ship in Prometheus, as David makes his rounds while the other crew members are still in stasis, there’s a wealth of fine sonic detail—noodling with a basketball, seeing and hearing the dreams of a shipmate as she sleeps, watching a scene from Lawrence of Arabia, the groaning of the engines as the ship slows, and much more. The Rubicons excelled at all of it.

Most of all, I was impressed by how the DALIs handled film music. From those music cues in Oblivionto the sweep of the music score in the new live-action Cinderella, my new listening space offers a big, theater-sized, live, and majestic quality on such scores, and the Rubicons took full advantage of this.

While the timbre of the center LCR didn’t match the left and right particularly well on my pre/pro’s calibration test tones, I never noticed any matching issues from my off-center listening seat. From there, the center channel blended beautifully, including sublimely natural and uncolored dialogue. My one criticism of the center-channel LCR is that it was a little too crisp and sibilant from the center seat. Like the other Rubicons, the LCR is better balanced when listened to off center, but in a home theater group setting, someone may invariably have to be on axis to it.

There’s a lot of competition for loudspeakers at or below the prices commanded by the DALI Rubicons. I’d never recommend that anyone purchase an expensive speaker package based on a review alone, since no speaker speaks to everyone’s taste. And if your requirements don’t extend to an on-wall installation, you might want to look to one of DALI’s less pricey options for the center and surrounds. But the Rubicon LCR does get the job done in impressive fashion, and the Rubicon 8 is truly special.

The Sound Organisation
(972) 234-0182

brenro's picture

This is the first time I've seen Marantz's universal player chosen over the highly touted Oppo for music. Very interested in your impressions.