Duntech PCL25 Speakers
While a handful of Australian budget and mid-price speaker manufacturers plugged away through the '80s to get Australians to overcome our cultural cringe and recognise the quality and cost advantages home-grown speakers, one company, Duntech Audio, went for the empyrean heights of the high-end and took the world by storm. And in wowing the world's audiophiles with the massive, Duntech Sovereign 2000s, (selling for around $US 30,000), they woke Australians up to the possibility that Australian-made speakers could beat huge international companies at their own game.
Since those heady days, when Duntechs were being featured on television shows such as Beyond 2000, the company has undergone extensive corporate reorganisation while all the time continuing to produce excellent speakers of all sizes. The main result of the restructuring has been some far more affordably-priced speakers bearing the Duntech badge.
The latest Duntech offering, from the prestigious Studio Series, is the PCL25. Easing these speakers from their 'bullet-proof' packaging, I was immediately overawed by the magnificent finish of the wide-grain, real Brazilian Rosewood veneer with its perfectly seamless edges and corners. Unusually, the luxurious veneer extends to the back baffle, and the sides, top and bottom are covered in a single sheet of veneer, with a continuous grain pattern.
The PCL25s are dual-woofer two-ways which team two polypropylene-cone woofers from Morel with a Morel 30mm soft-dome tweeter. These are arrayed down the front baffle's centre line in the D'Appolito configuration - with the tweeter placed between the two woofers.
The Morel woofers have effective cone diameters of around 115 mm with an effective cone area of about 104 cm 2, measured from the inside edge of its beefy-looking butyl-rubber roll surround. The central plastic dust cap is about 72 mm in diameter constituting most of the woofer's actual 'piston' area. In the centre of each dustcap is glued a circular pad of felt - a means of damping the woofer.
The tweeter is ruggedly constructed and integrated with its own circular, flared-duct mounting plate of 3 mm steel, firmly Phillips-bolted to taps in the front baffle. The self-cent-ring, hand-treated soft-fabric dome has a diameter of 32 mm and the magnet is enclosed in a damped, vented chamber to lower the resonant frequency and obviate any possible tendency to 'honk'. The aluminium voice coil (on an aluminium former) is surrounded in the gap by magnetic cooling/damping fluid.
The tweeter's double magnet assembly is shielded by a vented steel enclosure integrated with the driver basket: the circular vent stopped with a foam plug to keep dust and dirt at bay.
Removing the Phillips bolts that hold the woofers in place and delving within reveals a double-enclosure cabinet almost filled with dense foam: leaving just enough space for the driver magnets. The 18 mm MDF cabinet is divided in half by an internal MDF baffle immediately behind the tweeter, but a gap of a few centimetres still couples the two compartments. The seals between drivers and baffle are rendered airtight by the use of rubber gaskets and all connections between drivers, terminals and the complex first-order crossover are made with very heavy duty cable.
The front baffle profile is staggered, with the central tweeter panel recessed about 20 mm from the level of the woofer baffle, in order to place the nominal source of all drivers on the same vertical plane and ensure that complex waves from woofer and tweeter arrive at your ears at the same time. Glued to all front surfaces are thick layers of soft blue felt, with the edges of the tweeter aperture felt cut into a twelve-pointed start to further absorb and dissipate early reflections.
The Duntech PCL25 speakers came with a pair of sturdy and elegant Duntech stands which supported the PCL25s in style at the appropriate height. They are not purely cosmetic, not solely for positioning convenience: they are one of the few readily available stands big enough and stable enough to support the PCL25s and their design contributes tangibly to the speakers' performance.
Our first impression of the PCL25s was one of total neutrality. In direct comparison with a speaker of a similar size without marked colouration, they made the reference speakers sound very boxy indeed. Bass was not hugely extended - not a great surprise in a smallish sealed enclosure modem - but it's rich, authoritative and always musical. Protracted listening revealed a sense of proportion in the bass by which the PCL25s delivered the bass that was there without gilding the lily. In fact, the sound across the entire spectrum is incredibly well-balanced and impeccably focused. The feeling is one of supreme accuracy: the speakers metaphorically providing a rock-solid stage platform for performers of all genres to give of their best.
While some speakers will slightly recess the lower midrange to emphasise inadequate bass, the Duntech's midrange response was full and smooth, releasing vocalists from their complex backings with their unique personalities intact - some revealing subtleties that had previously eluded us. A good example was the a capella singing of Cafe At The Gates of Salvation (Cotgos CD 001) in which the voices blended perfectly in a warm, human and natural way while retaining all of their individuality.
The shimmering string of the SSO's version on Percy Grainger's version of Danny Boy (ABC 426 298-2) have never sounded better. The gradual crescendo to quite high levels showed no change in tonal balance and the triumphal French horn descant shone like the sun through the mix.
The PCL25s's sound stage is not exaggeratedly wide but it has strong depth and height cues which help rebuild the original venue (or the ersatz creation of the producer) with astonishing tangibility. Response is quick and highly-detailed with never a hint of shrillness or busy-ness, the depth impression giving each instrument and voice a separate space, effectively enhancing the intelligibility of each discrete element. Ambient clues in recordings were not over-emphasised, but where they were a definite feature, the decay into silence of subtle echoes and reverberations created strikingly realistic spaces.
While they disdain the cheap tricks of artificially extended bass and forward treble that tend to win over novices in the showroom, a week with Duntech PCL25s revealed their overall integrity, neutrality and transparency. We were hooked and subsequently forced to plough through our favourite discs to hear what we had been missing. Selling well around the world, the Duntech PCL25s should prove equally popular with Australian audiophiles, who have the added advantage of enjoying the lower costs enabled by local production.