REVIEW: DALI OBERON 7 – Calling the Oberon 7 the most beautiful loudspeaker that DALI ever designed, that is perhaps a bit short-sighted. And yet it may just be the truth. The key question is of course: does the Oberon sound as good as it looks?
Last year, DALI pleasantly surprised us with the Spektor family . For a very reasonable amount you get a nice piece of hi-fi sound at home with these cheap DALIs . At the same time, we found the Spektor really an entry-level model, especially in terms of finish. The slightly more expensive – but still very accessible – Oberon speakers that the Danes launched this autumn seem to be an answer to that criticism.
They replace Zensor, a very successful line for the Danish brand. The DALI OBERON 7 are speakers that are particularly interior-friendly even for DALI, both in terms of placement and looks. And they’ve also received a nice upgrade in sound technology. For the first time, DALI applies its SMC material in drivers in the affordable segment. Strong, because it was not so many years ago that the manufacturer explained to us that SMC is extremely expensive and therefore only got a place in high-end ranges such as the Epicon, the Rubicon and the Opticon. In this test we look at the Oberon 7, the largest floorstander in this DALI family, in a two-channel arrangement. Well, ‘biggest’… It remains a pretty slim thing. Soon you will read on homecinemamagazine.nl, our FWD Media sister site, a review of a surround setup built around several Oberon models.
DALI Oberon 7
The Oberon 7 costs 499 euros each, a price point at which it hits rivals such as the KEF Q550, the Monitor Audio Bronze 6 and the Polk S60 . Serious challengers, and consequently the Oberon 7 has to be very strong to impress. And we really mean that, because there are actually several hi-fi manufacturers who have marketed particularly strong speakers in the entry-level segment. In addition to the KEFs and Monitor Audios , we speak of highly accessible toppers such as ELAC’s Debut 2.0 family and the Q Acoustics 3000i line .
DALI has always finished its speakers neatly, but with the Oberon line it still reaches a new and higher level. Only now is the brand really ‘Danish’, or what many people associate with that label in terms of design. As always with successful design, this is due to small but important things that ensure that these speakers are a lot more suitable for modern furniture. Such as the embossed wood veneer used that is laid over the relatively solid MDF cabinet. The version we received, which we had also explicitly requested because it looked so beautiful in the photo, is Light Oak, a light type of wood that is nicely complemented by a matt, white front. The wood veneer looks very good, just a bit better than the beautiful wood finish on the Q Acoustics 3050iwhich we recently viewed. If you run your hand over it, it will feel noticeably more artificial than real wood. The relief is not completely realistic. But how often do you trim a speaker, really?
A third design element that gives the Oberon a contemporary look is the grille with rounded corners and covered in a fresh, modern textile with fine shades of gray. It looks like something from Kvadrat, a well-known textile maker from Copenhagen who also collaborates with Bang & Olufsen, Harman Kardon and KEF, but it comes from elsewhere. Yes, it would have been completely ‘finished’ if the grille had been magnetically attached, as is now the norm with all but the cheapest speakers. But since the Oberons encourage you to leave the grille in place, it might not matter much in this case.
Finally, there is an elegant base that is delivered factory-assembled. A detail, but one that makes the life of the average buyer easier. Not that taking a speaker out of the box requires a higher degree, but screwing feet and spikes is just something that not everyone likes.
In addition to the light oak version that we received on test, Dali also provides Oberons in the classic matte black, a matte white and a dark walnut. The white version has the same gray grille as the light oak, the walnut and black versions have an almost black grille with a much more subtle color scheme. It is therefore the oak and the white versions that score in terms of design appearance.
It is also remarkable that in a short time we have two speakers that focus on an interior-friendly design with a trendy grille. In addition to the Oberons, there are also speakers from Jamo’s Studio 8 family . They are even cheaper than the Oberons, but the DALIs have a slightly nicer finish.
Right against the wall
As we are used to from DALIs, the Oberon 7 is designed to be relatively close to the wall. Not screwed in, just flush with the wall behind. And that is – again – slightly more interior-friendly. The fact that you don’t have to screw in the speakers in this case is because DALI always tries its best to achieve very good horizontal off-axis reproduction. Or in human language: even if the speakers are not aimed straight at your ears, you will experience a lot of detail. It also makes the Oberon 7 a family-friendly speaker. Everyone in the sofa experiences music in a good way.
In terms of sensitivity, the Oberon 7 is at 88.5 dB, the impedance is 6 Ohm. That makes this DALI not the most insensitive, but also not the easiest to control. It does benefit a bit from an amplifier with some power, yet if you like to turn up the volume when listening to solid orchestral works or techno stuff with a lot of dynamics. You still have a bass port at the back, so we feel that you should keep the Oberon 7 at least 20 cm from the wall. Or mute the gate with a plug.
Incidentally, DALI has provided an interesting option for the Oberon family for those who really want to build a very unobtrusive setup: the Oberon LCR wall speaker. This is not completely new for the brand, because you will also find such an LCR speaker in the Opticon and Rubicon families. It is made to hang on the wall and can in principle be mounted both horizontally and vertically. There are a few interesting things at the Oberon LCR. For example, it applies the same bass port principle of the Rubicon LCR, with an opening at the bottom. The Rubicon LCR is a speaker that we also use in our fixed surround setup and which we are also very satisfied with. The Oberon LCR is a lot more compact and thinner, which gives it less impact power in the bass, but makes it very discreet. Still worth a look if you are looking for something nice for an audio set in the dining room. If you can add a small sub, then it’s all right. You can read more about the Oberon LCR in the surround test of the Oberon series that will be released next week.
SMC: Soft Magnetic Compound
More expensive DALI speakers (such as the Rubicons that we have a soft spot for) are really very strong in radiating broadly from the high thanks to the combination of a dome and a ribbon tweeter. The Oberon 7 sticks to a fairly large dome tweeter, a new design with a much lighter weight than is normally the case.
This tweeter is supplemented with two 7-inch wood fiber woofers on the Oberon 7. The infamous SMC material that we already referred to has been used with those woofers. DALI watchers will know that SMC is pretty much the ‘secret’ ingredient of the more expensive lines (Epicon, Rubicon and Opticon). It is a material that is used in the magnetic system of drivers, with the special property that it is very magnetic, but not very conductive. This ensures that a magnet system with SMC makes the transition from attracting to repelling (and vice versa) of the voice coil more quickly, without hysterisis – a physical phenomenon that introduces distortion. SMC is also less affected by unwanted eddy currents that heat up the magnet system and change its behavior. Just to say: SMC is quite an interesting material. But even more interesting is that DALI is applying SMC for the first time in the budget segment, albeit in a more limited form. Where in more expensive loudspeakers large parts of the fixed magnet consists of SMC, the Oberon has a disc of the material on the top of the magnet (more specifically on the pole piece, the central part around which the voice coil moves).
Okay, Gregory Porter’s ‘Liquid Spirits’ isn’t exactly an album that challenges speakers to the extreme. Plus, Porter’s voice was too ubiquitous on hi-fi demonstrations at one point, just as Diana Krall was until recently. Maybe that’s why we haven’t played this album for a long time. A bit wrong, we realize again, if we play it in lossless FLAC format from a Synology NAS with Minimserver on a Primare i15 amplifier that drives the Oberon 7s. As Dali prescribes, the Oberon speakers are not set up twisted, in our test room at about 3 meters from the listening position.
What seems? We listen to tracks like ‘Liquid Spirit’ and ‘Lonesome Lover’ again on these Danes with great pleasure. The DALI OBERON 7 presents these crackling-like-a-fire songs just very beautifully, nicely between the two speakers and also separately from them. The broad image that Dali is so good at really delivers what it promises. The music fills the room and does not suddenly change character as you reach for your cup of coffee on the table next to the sofa. When you’re sitting on a long couch with some friends, you don’t hear radically more detail than the guy about two feet away. They are social speakers, these Oberons (and actually all Dalis, except for the Epicon, perhaps).
The very open and grand rendering makes Thom Yorke’s already quite nasty ‘Suspiria’ soundtrack even more chilling, especially on ‘The Hooks’ and ‘Belongings Thrown in a River’. The strange piano tones and macabre sounds of this horror soundtrack are really all over the room. Jazz techno pioneer John Hopkins’ Neon Pattern Drum also leaves you with a wall of sound coming your way, while all kinds of synthesizer sounds echo in the thin air. This is what you expect from a better and more expensive speaker, but let’s not forget that the Oberon 7’s actually only just exceed the budget segment in terms of price.
Also more funky (and after Suspiria: optimistic) tracks like Mark Ronson’s ‘Feel right’ and ‘Happy’ and ‘Come Get it Bae’ by Pharell Williams, the Oberon 7’s go very well. The placement and positioning is not very precise in the stereo image, which is a bit of the downside of the wide appearance, we suspect. And the high detail isn’t quite there either, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to listen to. These Dalis are looking forward to it, with a good, fast reproduction that is not hypercritical for pop music. And no, with Max Richter’s ‘War Anthem’ the Oberon 7 cannot dive deep enough to really bring the extreme low tones into this track with enough body. That is not what they are good at. They do have enough layer extension and speed to quickly make you head nod to the fast beats of techno artist Rone’s Mirapolis Remixes (via Qobuz and Chromecast, built into the Primare amp). For us, War Anthem is all about that last bit of ultra-low, which swells and goes out with every hit. We miss that sustain a bit here. But in all fairness we compare with a more expensive class of speakers, such as the Rubicons. What is wonderful is how the strings in the six-minute Richter epic are very open and detailed in your room. Big enough to drag you into the history of writer Virginie Woolf, the theme of the album on which this War Anthem is written. For us, War Anthem is all about that last bit of ultra-low, which swells and goes out with every hit. We miss that sustain a bit here. But in all fairness we compare with a more expensive class of speakers, such as the Rubicons. What is wonderful is how the strings in the six-minute Richter epic are very open and detailed in your room. Big enough to drag you into the history of writer Virginie Woolf, the theme of the album on which this War Anthem is written. For us, War Anthem is all about that last bit of ultra-low, which swells and goes out with every hit. We miss that sustain a bit here. But in all fairness we compare with a more expensive class of speakers, such as the Rubicons. What is wonderful is how the strings in the six-minute Richter epic are very open and detailed in your room. Big enough to drag you into the history of writer Virginie Woolf, the theme of the album on which this War Anthem is written. What is wonderful is how the strings in the six-minute Richter epic are very open and detailed in your room. Big enough to drag you into the history of writer Virginie Woolf, the theme of the album on which this War Anthem is written. What is wonderful is how the strings in the six-minute Richter epic are very open and detailed in your room. Big enough to drag you into the history of writer Virginie Woolf, the theme of the album on which this War Anthem is written.
If you look at the rest of the playing field, the Oberon 7 is one of the high-flyers in the segment. Some, such as Monitor Audio’s Bronze series, have similar qualities. Do you want to compare the Oberon 7 with something ‘different’, which is often more interesting because you can experience big differences? Then we would recommend you to listen to the Q family of KEF. Thanks to the Uni-Q driver, they offer a different experience and a more neutral sound. The new 600 series from Bowers & Wilkins may also be worth considering, although with the 603 you are immediately a lot higher in terms of price. Those who really go for the looks (without neglecting sound quality) can also put the very affordable 3000i’s from Q Acoustics on their listening list. Chances are, however, that the Oberons will remain at the top of this list.
The Oberon 7 and its smaller Oberon brothers are nice successors to the Zensor speakers. You can take that literally. They are the kind of speakers that you would happily recommend to a couple of friends who ask you for advice on an affordable hi-fi set for their living room. That the price tag is indeed still very acceptable, you do not see this speaker. And you don’t hear it either, because the Oberon 7 is an all-rounder that performs well for the price segment. The Dali speakers go well with music of today: pop, techno, rock and hip hop. Not that they should shy away from the finer work, but they have just the right qualities to bring those genres very enjoyable.
PLUS POINTS of DALI OBERON 7
- Very nicely finished
- Light oak version is particularly hip
- Wide appearance
- Very easy to install
MINUSES of DALI OBERON 7
- Wood veneer does not feel completely natural
- Enjoy a better amp