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DALI Oberon 1C: ‘no strings’ Future-Fi

  • There has never been, in the history of the world, a money shot of loudspeakers in situ that also shows the speaker cables. The reason for this purposeful omission is obvious: loudspeakers look better without wires.

    The DALI Oberon 1C ($1499.00/pair) is a small (274mm H x 162mm W x 234m D) ‘wireless’ standmount loudspeaker that incorporates DALI’s in-house manufactured 5.25” Wood Fibre Cone bass/mid driver and 29mm Soft Textile Dome high-frequency driver. On the back, large diameter dual-flare reflex ports allow for near-wall or even on-wall positioning — handy built-in keyhole slots are included for this purpose.

    The fact that each driver in the Oberon 1C has a dedicated 50W (peak) Class D amplifier means an active crossover plays traffic cop to the incoming signal, splitting it before sending it onto those amplifiers. Crossover before amps. This is unlike most “powered speakers” where a single amplifier drives a passive crossover that sends split signals along to the drivers. Crossover after amps. A subtle but important distinction.

    DALI specifies the Oberon 1C’s frequency response at a healthy 39Hz – 26kHz and that this model’s low-frequency reach (+/-3 dB) can be attributed, in part, to internal DSP equalization. The cabinets are made from CNC-machined high strength MDF panels covered in wood-effect (Black Ash, Light Oak, Dark Walnut) or Matte White laminates. Attractive grille covers come as standard.

    Dispensing with loudspeaker cables means that complexity for the newcomer can pop up elsewhere. So let’s dig into where the devil resides…

    Integral (but outboard) to every active speaker in the DALI range is the company’s Sound Hub (US$799). There’s also the Sound Hub Compact (US$399), designed with the Oberon C series in mind or for those who wish to same some coin and/or deal with a more svelte-looking intermediary. The Sound Hub Compact + Oberon 1C package sells for US$1948.

    Think of either hub as connectivity central for the Oberon system. Two major differences between the Sound Hub and Sound Hub Compact are: 1) the Compact offers HDMI for TV viewing, while the Sound Hub skips HDMI to add two slots for optional add-in modules.

    My review pair shipped with the more expensive Sound Hub whose front panel gives us on/off, source select, mute, and volume control. ‘Round back, we note two Toslink inputs, a single Coax input, a pair of analog RCA inputs, 3.5mm Aux input. An AAC- and aptX HD-loaded Bluetooth input also presents.

    The Sound Hub’s input signals are fed to the DALI speakers wirelessly via a proprietary feed-forward error-correcting 30-bit digital stream that operates over 5.2 GHz or 5.8 GHz bands. This wireless connection can parse uncompressed 24bit/96kHz audio data and boasts a sub-15-millisecond input-to-speaker latency which means no lipsync issues when deployed in an audiovisual system (Bruce Lee movies aside).

    My review pair of Oberon 1C’s also shipped with the optional DALI BluOS NPM-1 Module (another $499) that slots into the Sound Hub; it adds network streaming capabilities to the Oberon C via Ethernet or 24bit/192kHz-capable WiFi. Hello Tidal, hello Qobuz. There are also a pair of USB-A inputs for streaming from directly-connected USB storage devices. Outputs include a volume-controlled, line-level analog subwoofer output, Pre-Out, USB-A for powering a streaming device, like an Amazon Echo or a Google Chromecast Audio, or for charging a mobile phone.

    The BluOS Module is plug and play. Installation involves removing the two screws holding the Plug-In Module cover in place, removing it, sliding in the BluOS Module, putting those two screws back, and powering up the Sound Hub. We then download the BluOS Controller App and follow the on-screen setup instructions. The app auto-discovers the DALI Sound Hub. Done. This modular approach also means you don’t have to upgrade the loudspeakers when new technologies emerge: you simply take out the old module and install the new one. THIS is what I mean by ‘no strings Future-Fi’, because…

    …you have to plug the 1C into the mains – so there are two wires coming off the back – but since the Sound Hub handles the speakers’ ins and outs, the rear panel of the Oberon C is a fairly simple affair with IEC inlet, USB service input, and a LINK & CONNECT button for Sound Hub pairing.

    During set up, these LEDs light up to show the position of the speaker (L or R) after it has been linked to the Sound Hub. The pairing process takes all of a few seconds and all one needs to do is first press the LINK & CONNECT button on the Sound Hub, then go to each speaker and press its LINK & CONNECT button until the corresponding LED/position is lit up in the proper position. When the speakers are set, press the LINK & CONNECT button on the Sound Hub and you’re done.

    In case you weren’t adding things up along the way, all told, the review system – Oberon 1C + Sound Hub + BluOS Module – comes in at US$2797 but I’ve seen some online retailers offering less costly package deals on the Sound Hub + BluOS Module.

    Unlike the Bluesound and NAD BlueOS-equipped products, the Sound Hub is not (yet?) Roon Ready. While I view this as a bit of a drag since Roon is my preferred player, the BluOS Controller app is also a pleasure to use. I mainly used my iPad as a remote control and left the included DALI remote mostly unused.

    If you’ve read my review of DALI Oberon 3 passive speakers, you know that the DALI sound offers real ear-appeal at what I consider to be real-world prices. The Oberon 1C carry this offering into the streaming speaker domain.

    Much like its passive brother, the Oberon 1, DALI pitches the Oberon C for smaller rooms where space is a precious commodity and volume levels are relatively modest. While I typically listen at modest levels, space in the Barn is in abundance with 7500+ cubic feet of volume to fill in the listening area. I did two things to compensate for this physical fact – when using the Oberon 1C solo, I moved my Eames red chair closer to them at a 6.5’, roughly the same as the distance between the two speakers, and I later added the PSB Alpha S8 Subwoofer ($449) to help fill things out.

    But we’ll start out listening to the Oberon 1C solo. DALI recommends no toe-in for them and that’s exactly how I liked them – straight ahead. They inherit a number of sonic traits from their larger, passive cousin the Oberon 3. These include a superbly defined and fluid sound without even a hint of etch or edge. Silky smooth would not be going too far when describing the Oberon 1C’s frequency reach up top.

    The 1C also sound as snappy as all get out, matching time with Milford Graves’ frenetic percussive energy on the wondrous album Lowell Davidson Trio, released on ESP Disk in 1965. This record, Davidson’s only release during his all-too-brief lifetime, isn’t easily pigeonholed in any meaningful way as it embraces aspects of any number of genres, runs them through the creative genius blender, and serves them up anew. I hear Debussy – I always love hearing Debussy – Bach, Art Tatum, and Ornette Coleman. This record moves from some piano-focused shimmer to blasts of unrestrained energy thanks to Graves’ seemingly endless energy. The diminutive Oberon 1C did a wonderful job of conveying the voice, energy, and movement of this frantic album albeit coming up short on the body and brute force of larger speakers…like the passive Oberon 3.

    Fontaines D.C. sophomore release, A Hero’s Death, is a recent release favorite and its brooding intensity makes for a moody blue listening experience. The Oberon 1C grabbed hold of Grian Chatten vocals, lending them sculptural presence in-room. As you might expect from a speaker described as being superbly defined, Carlos O’Connell’s guitar rings out true and resides in a voluminous space with plenty of reverb to trail. The Oberon 1C’s overall clarity lends this music plenty of sparkle and shine with cracking good dynamics. But here’s me sounding like a broken record – I did miss the body, weight, and physicality of larger speakers with bigger drivers.

    Enter the PSB Alpha S8 subwoofer. In brief, the PSB Alpha S8 houses a long-throw 8” driver in a bass-reflex enclosure with 150 Watts of continuous power on hand. PSB rates the Alpha S8’s frequency response at 35Hz – 150Hz and the rear-mounted controls allow for crossover frequency and bass level adjustment. The S8 was connected to the Sound Hub with a length of RCA-terminated cable.

    In many ways, subwoofers are obvious. If I were to tell you that with the Alph S8 I heard more from Conor Deegan III on bass and Tom Coll on drums on A Hero’s Death, no one is going to respond with surprise. After all, that’s what subwoofers are for. Music, all music, simply filled out with added weight, body, impact, and bottom end. The less obvious benefits of adding a subwoofer include a more relaxed listening experience because music doesn’t sound as forced as it does when lacking a goodly amount of its energy. I’ve read many a DAC review that says listening can be fatiguing because our brains are being asked to fill in what some digital replay leaves out. I would offer that the same holds for listening to music on speakers that are too small for the space they’ve been asked to fill. Of course, the Oberon 1C make zero sense as a barn speaker for this very reason but they acquitted themselves laudably when I shifted the chair up close — and even more so when the Alpha S8 was invited to help.

    A pair of PSB’s new Alpha AM5 Powered Bookshelf Speakers ($599/pair) are in-Barn for review so let’s spin the comparison wheel of fortune and see what we get. The elevator pitch on the Alpha AM5 includes a ¾” aluminum ferrofluid-cooled tweeter, 5 ¼” midbass woofer, and single 50 Watt Class D amplifier, which resides in the main speaker along with the 3.5mm analog, MM Phono (RCA), USB Audio, Toslink, and Qualcomm aptX Bluetooth receiver. To be clear: the AM5 are powered in that an internal stereo amplifier powers everything inside both speakers.

    The PSB’s are a tad larger than the DALI, measuring 6 3/4” x 11 2/5” x 9 1/2” (but in this case, a picture tells us more). To my eyes, the PSB look more workmanlike when sat next to the DALI and I appreciate the finer details in the DALI’s construction and looks. Sound-wise, I could live with either as each speaker has its pluses.

    To lend the PSB streaming functionality, I connected a Bluesound Node 2i’s Toslink output to the AM5’s Toslink input with a length of AudioQuest Cinnamon Toslink cable.

    For this standoff, the PSBs sat in the exact same spot as the Oberon. And while the AM5’s frequency response is specified as 55Hz-20Khz by PSB, they certainly sound heftier than the Oberon 1C, as if they had more bottom end. I’ll have more on this in my review of the PSB (coming soon).

    The PSB present as weighted toward lower mirage richness and a fuller, rounder bass response. The Oberon 1C come across as sounding more interested in clarity and speed with a more fully developed sense of tonality.

    Without getting too far into the PSB weeds, the Node 2i offers app-based EQ and when I engaged the Tone Controls, this over-ripe bloom went away with treble and bass set to 0.0dB. When the tone controls are defeated, which I’d normally assume would be the same as setting treble and bass to 0.0dB, the Node adds what sounds like an old-fashioned loudness boost. Running with the Node 2i’s Tone Controls activated and set to 0.0dB, I was able to settle down more comfortably with the PSBs as they sounded better balanced. I’ll get into this a bit more in the upcoming PSB review as well as why the PSBs sounded more bass-heavy as compared to the DALI, even though the frequency response specs for these two speakers suggest the opposite should be the case.

    Back to Fontaine’s D.C., A Hero’s Death: still captivating through the PSBs even though I still noted a shift toward a fuller-bodied, more mid to lower-midrange tipped sound. In comparison, the DALI Oberon 1C retained that fleeter-footed feel coupled with a more refined sense of the unique tones that make up music’s full voice.

    These sonic traits travelled with each speaker regardless of the music being played and I would sum up by suggesting that the DALI simply sound more refined while being leaner than the PSB. In the accounting department, we’re talking about a $1,148 package with the ALPHA AM5 + Bluesound Node 2i. That’s US$1649 less pricey than the Oberon 1C system (and a lot of chicken feed).

    Before we finish, let’s take the barn out of the equation and give the Oberon 1C a more suitable home on my desktop. Lo and behold, DALI was right! They are better suited not trying to fill a barn-sized space. Who’d thunk it?! All of the DALIs’ refined goodness tickled my ears even more up close and personal than it did ‘in room’ and the Oberon 1C’s nearly on-wall position kicked bass response up a few notches to where everything sounded better balanced.

    You can also see that you can’t see the Sound Hub that’s still sitting across the room from the speakers. This kind of placement flexibility is also something to keep in mind if you care about how things look.

    When properly situated and asked to fill a smaller than barn-sized space, the DALI Oberon 1C shone with what I’ve come to expect from a DALI speaker – a brilliant, tonally rich sound that draws one into the performance and keeps you there, finding delight in music’s kaleidoscope of riches.

    Further information: DALI Speakers

    Written by Michael Lavorgna

    Michael Lavorgna was born in Paterson, NJ into an audiophile’s home. He’s been listening to music on the hi-fi since the ‘60s and has been writing about this experience for some 15 years. Michael has contributed to 6moons and Stereophile and was the editor of (the recently-disappeared) AudioStream from its inception in 2010 until 2018. Michael's new home is TwitteringMachines.com.

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