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Review: Dali Oberon – Slim Surround System with Hip Danish Design

Dali Oberon
The new Oberon series by Dali is not only made up of loudspeakers that are as affordable as they are good looking, Dali Oberon are also very interesting for the film lover who wants to enjoy in style his action films.
4.7 - 10 votes

The new Oberon series by Dali is not only made up of loudspeakers that are as affordable as they are good looking, Dali Oberon are also very interesting for the film lover who wants to enjoy in style his action films.

Introduction Dali Oberon

With the launch of the Oberon family of speakers Dali has a successor ready for the popular Zensor speakers. Just like the Zensors, the Oberons are very affordable products that are finer than budget speakers (such as Dali’s own Spektor speakers) and promise a substantial improvement in sound quality. But it is not just a refurbishment of existing speakers. The Oberons contain technology of more expensive models and – above all – we would say – they are particularly interior-friendly. It is not that Dali suddenly spectacularly walks new ways in design, not that, but the Danish brand has taken the classic speaker and made it a lot nicer. A slim shape, modern looking wood veneer, a front in a contrasting color and a grille in a trendy fabric, it all adds up and gives the Dali Oberon speakers a very high ‘this is allowed in the living’ score.

Dali is moreover, a brand that always had an eye for surround lovers, in addition to its classic target group of stereophanates. Virtually every loudspeaker family from Dali includes not only floor stands and bookshelf speakers, but also centers and on-wall speakers. Add another Dali subwoofer and possibly built-in or the Dali Alteco height speakers, and you have everything you need to build a beautiful surround setup with height channels.

In this test we look at a surround setup built from a pair of Dali Oberon 7’s (499 euro / piece), two Oberon 1 (199 euro / piece), an Oberon Vokal (349 euro) and the very compact Sub M-10 D of 399 euro. We are also going to talk about the Dali Oberon On-wall (249 euros), because this sleek wall speaker also offers something interesting for those who want to use the surface of their home cinema to the maximum. For those who do not have a calculator at hand, the total cost of the 5.1 setup that we test (without the On-Wall) amounts to 2,144 euros. Low-cost can not be called this, but it is still miles away from the 4,000 to 6,000 euros that we have to put down for a 5.1-system from the middle class.

Real Danes

We feel that in other tests the Dali Oberon speakers are often referred to Ikea. The furniture giant is simply what most people associate with Scandinavian design. But Ikea is from across the water, in Sweden, while the Oberons from Denmark lean more towards broader Nordic design trends. If you read our test of the Oberon 7 for HiFi.nl, you will soon notice that this fresh and modern look would suit us. Of course, taste is very personal and nobody says everyone should like Dali’s Oberon flavors. But for those who love classic black speakers: there are more than enough to find others. The Oberons are different, without looking for extreme forms that only fit in abstract interiors. Yes, we are looking at you, Bang & Olufsen.

In all communications around the Oberons the Dali puts the Light Oak version in the spotlight which we also received as a test. To be honest: we explicitly asked for this light finish, just because it is different than usual. But actually there are three other Oberon colors: a normal black, a walnut version and a white version. In the Light Oak version, the front is matt white, a contrast that makes the speaker appear more sophisticated. The Oberons in walnut have a black front, while the white and black versions simply consist of one color. They are immediately less hip and distinctive than the Light Oak version. Even though you have one subtle, yet impactful design element for all four colors: the grille. Just like Jamo at the Studio 8 that we tested recently, Dali opted for a grille from a stylish woven fabric with multiple shades of gray. Moreover, it is rounded at the corners. This may all sound trivial, but it is details that make the difference. The grille looks like a fabric from the Danish Kvadrat, a manufacturer that supplies to many furniture manufacturers and a number of hi-fi brands (such as B & O and Harman Kardon). But it is not from them, we hear from Dali.

From a distance the Oberons in Light Oak look very good at any rate. More expensive and more luxurious than you would expect. If you put your hand on the veneer, you will notice that it is a layer on MDF. The cupboards are very solid, not of it, but the relief of the veneer does not feel completely natural. But you really have to touch the speakers to notice this. Even from a short distance, the loudspeakers look really handsome.

Flat against the wall

The fact that we have been lying about the appearance of the Oberons for so long may make you ring loud alarm bells. What about the sound, because at the end of the day it is for that reason that you spend 2,000-euro plus (without receiver, cables and bags of popcorn, that is)?

If we focus on Oberon 7 and 1, then the Oberons really seem to fit with what Dali did before with the excellent Rubicon and Opticon. The speakers are designed to be positioned right and relatively close to the wall. You must / must not therefore incur them. In a home cinema that might be less of a trump, in a living room because the speakers seem slimmer through that straight positioning – and are therefore more acceptable to skeptical partners. A more important advantage is that the Oberons like previous Dali speakers radiate broadly, which should mean that you do not only hear a correct, detailed sound at that one central location. The sweet spot is much larger, which is an asset if you want to watch a movie in surround with several people.

Unusually, Dali also uses a (piece of) SMC material in the Dali Oberon. We say ‘unusual’, because in the past SMC was described as too expensive to apply in affordable speakers. This material, which has the interesting property to be magnetic but not electrically conductive, finds a place in the magnet of the driver that attracts and releases the voice coil. Due to its properties, the switching of attracting and repelling is faster and there is less heat development (which can change the behavior of the magnet). The practical result is loudspeakers that react faster and suffer less from distortion at higher volumes.

SMC has not suddenly become dirt cheap. That is why the material is used in a modest amount in the Dali Oberon, especially if you compare it with the high-end Epicon and Rubicon speakers. You can not want everything. However, it is difficult to say what the audible impact is of the layer of SMC on the pole piece of the magnet in the woofers.

Large and small

The setup we are testing is a good example of a room-friendly setup. It consists of two large floorstanders and rear-speakers and a center speaker that is much more compact. The Dali Oberon Vokal in particular is remarkably smaller, much more compact than our regular Rubicon Vokal. It is 38.5 x 24.5 x 12 cm in size, which in terms of height is on the edge with some televisions. We also like to place small centers on a few feet, such as a set of Damp-It blocks from Pro-ject, to disconnect the housing from the furniture (and to keep the bottom of the speaker scratch-free). But then it is already an inch higher.

The Dali Oberon 1’s are also very compact, and fit easily on a bookshelf or even a wide window sill. Dali itself also has good stands that do not cost a lot and can do just fine service. These E-600’s cost 159 euros / set and we have been employed for months already. They are basic but good.

The subwoofer in this test is the SUB C-8 D, the smallest in Dali’s subwoofer lineup. After the monstrous SB-4000 from SVS it was a real relief to visit a small subwoofer on a human scale. The C-8 D is small and has a closed housing, two things that make it interesting for living rooms with little space for a large subwoofer. The 8-inch woofer is directed downwards, so you can also place this Dali-sub close to a wall. Even more: the manufacturer recommends it, perhaps because through the interaction of the wall you get an even more impressive bass sound. Because the woofer is pointed towards the ground, the sub is about four fixed legs. Make sure they remain free, because the subwoofer pushes out its sound waves.

Dali also sent a set of Dali Oberon On Wall speakers. Not entirely coincidentally, because Dali knows from previous tests that we find wall speakers an interesting option. Even more, our fixed surround setup consists partly of Rubicon LCRs. Rubicon is the loudspeaker family two steps higher than Dali Oberon (Opticon is still between), with the LCR is a special model with a rotatable tweeter that can hang horizontally as well as vertically on a wall. This way you can use this speaker for both regular channels and the center channel. You do not have the same flexibility with the Oberon On-Wall. This wall speaker can only hang upright on the wall and is therefore less suitable as a center channel.

For surround arrangements we find speakers hanging on the wall quite interesting. You enlarge the space in which the surround field exists and you avoid the phenomenon of reflection coming from sound waves coming from the back of a separate speaker. Good support by a decent subwoofer is a must with wall speakers. Dali itself is clearly a big supporter of this type of speakers, because few others offer as many models as the Danish brand.

If you think that Dali Oberon is meant to be an interior-friendly speaker family, it is also true that there is an On-Wall model is. The Oberon On Wall is quite compact and not extremely thick, so they hang very subtly on the wall. If you have white walls and you opt for the white or Light Oak versions, it is hardly noticeable that they are there. Again the fabric grilles are a real added value at the moment. Compared to the Rubicon LCR set on our wall, the On-Walls are really a bit smaller and they lack the ribbon and dome tweeter combination that gives the more expensive Dali their character. What they do share is the cabinet construction, with two subtle bass ports at the back. In this way, the Dali Oberon wall speaker also lets the wall ‘cooperate’ to create a larger layer. Not that you can suddenly forget that sub, because they can not dive that deep. But they do perform a bit more like a floor stand – in a modest way – than a small bookshelf speaker. We will not take the On-Wall further into this test, but watch them if you want to get surround in a smaller space or find a subtle solution that keeps the floor free.

A room full of music

Before our drawer With Ultra HD Blu-ray discs open, we listen to some music first. We do this via Roon, which streams music to the OPPO UDP-203 which hangs on the MultEQ-calibrated Denon AVR-X6300H. There are many people who absolutely do not like music upgrading from a stereo signal to surround, but we do it in a playlist with songs by indie stars like Cat Power, Agnes Nobel, Feist and Anna Calvi. Sensitive but sometimes also raw music.

We are not always convinced by upgrading music with Dolby Surround, as we do now. But with the Oberons it is possible to create this genre very spatially and coherently. It’s true, even in 5.1, without it sounding like the mix has been pulled apart. In our opinion, it is a merit of the broad appearance, which makes the surround field much more integral and the channels merge into one another. If you only listen in stereo (and in films with a musical soundtrack, like the Joaquin Phoenix -thriller ‘You were never really here’), the Oberon 7’s are a real added value. The rest of the surround setup consists of compact speakers, but due to the larger size of the Oberons, music is presented substantially and full.

A surround test is always started with the fast passage of a number of clips on the DTS and Dolby test discs, to get a first impression quickly. We looked up at the clip from ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ on the Dolby Atmos disc, where a lot of large metal objects rained down on a Chinese city. Think cars but also complete ships that fall from the sky while the heroes try to escape through narrow streets with a wagon. It is a hectic, grand scene filled with colliding objects, complemented by low, robotic tones from the Autobots and Decepticons. The surprise is that the action in this clip immediately looks very impressive, very large and spacious, and with a firmer foundation than expected. The C-8 D immediately impresses by supporting the speakers with bass that sounds fast and potent. And that for something a very modest size.

After the many clips we grab a film, in this case ‘Atomic Blond’ (Ultra HD Blu-ray, DTS:X) with an impressive and surprisingly British-sounding Charlize Theron. A good choice for a surround set that is strong in music, because this spy film takes place in Berlin in 1989 and is supported by many hits from those years, such as Peter Shilling, Sioux and the Banshees and the inevitable 99 Luftballons by Nena.

The fact that the Dali Oberon1’s are not the weak link in the line-up appears, for example, when Theron tries to escape her KGB-pursuers by fleeing into a cinema in which the Soviet blockbuster ‘Stalker’ plays. It only takes a while, but this is surround is at its best: the sound of Stalker in the back of the room, the action of Atomic Blond in front. In this film there are many scenes that take place in large German discotheques, an experience that the Oberons time and time again convey, with dull basses in the background. That enveloping, pack-in-your-sound experience does the Oberons fine, a quality that also makes non-action films, such as the ‘Darkest Hour’ with Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, stronger. A consequence is that our test setup is not super accurate in terms of positioning of effects, something that we occasionally notice in battles in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ (Ultra HD Blu-ray, Dolby Atmos) but we actually prefer atmosphere above accuracy. If a weaker link has to be named, then it is the Vokal. It is a competent center, but we do find it necessary in our setup to use the dialogue enhancement on the Denon to overcome the sound wall of the Oberon 7’s. The floorstanders are just so good that they almost play the center speaker.

Conclusion

With the Oberon speakers Dali has a hit on two levels. In terms of appearance, it is loud enough that you can finally convince everyone in the family to still accept a surround setup in the living room. But your money does not only go to the beautiful design, because the Dali Oberon also creates a large surround field that feels very organic. The Dali Oberon immerse you in films, which is very pleasant and comfortable.

Cons

  • Wood veneer looks beautiful, feels artificial
  • Sets demands on your receiver
  • Centerspeaker is slightly weaker

Pros

  • Fantastic for the price
  • IC-8 D performs strongly for size and price
  • Very easy to install
  • Oberons form very coherent whole
  • Price

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