The Dali Cal­listo 6 Cs: com­bin­ing pre­mium sound with wire­less con­ve­nience

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Own­ing a pre­mium hi-fi has al­ways car­ried with it a cer­tain amount of com­pro­mise. You get great sound, but you also have to put up with a mul­ti­tude of elec­tronic boxes and the spaghetti of ca­bling it takes to get them work­ing.

Dali’s Cal­listo range of pre­mium wire­less speak­ers is in­tended to get around such is­sues. There are two op­tions in the range – the smaller stand mount Cal­listo 2 Cs lose out on a ded­i­cated bass driver and a chunk of cab­i­net vol­ume to the 6 C floor­standers. If you have a larger room, or crave a pre­sen­ta­tion full of au­thor­ity and scale, the 6 Cs are the way to go.

Lux­u­ri­ous aura

Dali has gone for an en­gi­neered look, which doesn’t quite ex­ude the lux­u­ri­ous aura ex­pected of speak­ers at this level. But the 6 Cs are much more than just speak­ers. Each of those me­tre-tall cab­i­nets houses a pair of Class D power amplifiers, a clever hy­brid ac­tive/pas­sive cross­over cou­pled to 24-bit DSP and all the bits re­quired to make wire­less work.

Dali de­scribes these ac­tive floor­standers as hav­ing a 2.5-way, plus a 0.5-way con­fig­u­ra­tion – some­thing we can’t re­call com­ing across be­fore. Firstly, there are two tweet­ers. A 29mm soft dome han­dles the sig­nal up to around 15khz, when the 17 x 45mm rib­bon tweeter takes over. The idea is to pro­duce de­tailed highs while keep­ing a nice, wide dis­per­sion right to the 30khz up­per fre­quency limit.

Add the 16.5cm wood fi­bre mid/bass unit (the up­per of the two larger driv­ers) and you have a 2.5-way de­sign. The 0.5-way takes the form of the lower 16.5cm bass driver fed through a sim­ple ana­logue fil­ter. The main cross­over split, at 2.6khz and tak­ing place be­tween the mid/bass unit and dome tweeter, is done dig­i­tally. We can’t re­call see­ing a speaker that mixes both DSP and ana­logue in its cross­over this way be­fore.

There are two amplifiers in each en­clo­sure – one to drive the tweet­ers and the other to power both larger driv­ers. These Class D amplifiers are rated at a max­i­mum of a mod­est 30W con­tin­u­ous out­put, but can de­liver up to 250W for up to five sec­onds. This, Dali claims, is enough to de­liver large dy­namic shifts, mak­ing the 6 Cs sound far more pow­er­ful than the base­line fig­ure sug­gests.

These floor­standers are nicely built, with slim cab­i­nets made of 25mm MDF and heav­ily braced to add rigid­ity. Fin­ishes are lim­ited to black or white vinyl and, on our early sam­ples, the fit is spot on. The com­pany has added some nice touches, such as the abil­ity to change vol­ume by mov­ing your fin­ger on the front edge of the top panel. The vol­ume level is shown by a row of bright LEDS be­low the bass driver.

While the Cal­lis­tos can ac­cept a wired single-ended ana­logue sig­nal di­rectly from a con­ven­tional pream­pli­fier, they aren’t in­tended to be used in that way. To get the most from these speak­ers, you’ll need to buy Dali’s Sound Hub, a preamp that con­nects to the speak­ers wire­lessly, at an ex­tra cost of £549. Trans­mis­sion be­tween the two is done at 24-bit/96khz and the com­pany has taken much care to en­sure low la­tency to avoid lip-sync is­sues with video sources.

Cov­er­ing all bases

The Sound Hub of­fers a range of in­puts, from two ana­logue op­tions in the form of stereo RCA and a 3.5mm jack to a pair of op­ti­cals and a coax­ial. Aptx HD Blue­tooth is also here, and – as if to cover all bases – the Sound Hub has ana­logue stereo and a sub­woofer out­put. You could use it as a con­ven­tional wired preamp, though that de­feats the point of the Cal­lis­tos.

Look at the Sound Hub’s back panel and you’ll find two blank­ing plates for add-on mod­ules. At the mo­ment, the only one avail­able is a net­work and streaming board that uses tech­nol­ogy from Blue­sound. Spend an ex­tra £459 and the Cal­listo 6 Cs can be in­te­grated seam­lessly into a Blue­sound ecosys­tem, as well as en­joy net­work streaming and in-built streaming ser­vices.

“To get the most from these speak­ers, you’ll need Dali’s Sound Hub (£549), a preamp that con­nects to the speak­ers wire­lessly”

The Sound Hub's plas­tic case­work lacks a bit of sub­stance, but the sim­ple, classy ap­pear­ance ap­peals. The Hub comes with an un­clut­tered re­mote, but the dig­i­tal vol­ume dis­play in the mid­dle of the smooth ro­tat­ing vol­ume con­trol is a pleas­ing touch.

For some, the Cal­listo 6 Cs plus a Blue­sound-equipped Sound Hub could be all the hi-fi they need. A tra­di­tional sep­a­rates sys­tem has no chance of match­ing the neat­ness of such a set-up. While the Dali isn’t truly wire­less – you still have mains power go­ing to each of the speak­ers and the Hub – it’s no­tably ti­dier and more flex­i­ble in place­ment than con­ven­tional pas­sive al­ter­na­tives.

Fired up

We place the speak­ers around a me­tre from the back wall and fire them straight ahead, rather than at the lis­ten­ing po­si­tion. This is how Dali de­signs its speak­ers to be heard, and it helps with dis­per­sion and sound­stage width.

We start with Blue­tooth from our Ap­ple iphone 6S Plus, and are im­pressed. The con­nec­tion is quick and fuss-free, while the pre­sen­ta­tion is pleas­ing. Ob­vi­ously, de­spite the use of aptx HD, the over­all sound lacks the in­sight and dy­namic sub­tlety we would ex­pect from a qual­ity hi-fi source, but the Dali pack­age still man­ages well enough to keep us lis­ten­ing. De­spite that mod­est­sound­ing power out­put, these speak­ers are ca­pa­ble of fill­ing a large room.

Switch­ing to the line-level in­put and us­ing our Naim NDS/555PS mu­sic streamer im­proves the per­for­mance mas­sively. The speak­ers sound more trans­par­ent, track­ing dy­namic nu­ances with the skill of qual­ity sep­a­rates.

We play Orff’s Carmina Bu­rana and are im­pressed by the con­trol and com­po­sure on show, as well as the grip at low fre­quen­cies. Bass is de­liv­ered with pre­ci­sion, agility and tex­ture. The Dalis im­age well too, lay­er­ing an ex­pan­sive sound­stage with fo­cus and care. Tonally, things are nice and even. Dali’s speak­ers don’t tend to be shy at high fre­quen­cies and that con­tin­ues to be the case here.

The dome and rib­bon tweeter ar­ray pro­duces such an in­sight­ful and re­fined sound that even harsh record­ings remain lis­ten­able. The Cal­lis­tos are re­veal­ing enough to show up flaws in record­ings or source com­po­nents, but don’t go out of their way to em­pha­sise short­com­ings. But when we try the Blue­sound mod­ule fit­ted to our Sound Hub sam­ple, that trans­parency turns out to be a li­a­bil­ity.

We are im­pressed by the way Dali has seam­lessly in­te­grated this tech­nol­ogy into the Cal­lis­tos. The Blue­sound app of­fers the user the op­tion to stream from a NAS unit con­nected to their net­work or lis­ten to the many mil­lions of tracks avail­able from the likes of Tidal.

It’s a use­ful ad­di­tion to the pack­age and, at £459, rep­re­sents de­cent value for its fea­tures alone. Blue­sound’s Node 2i, our favourite af­ford­able streamer, uses sim­i­lar tech­nol­ogy and has the same fea­tures, but for an ex­tra £40 cost, and the added clut­ter of an­other box.

Our is­sue is that the mod­ule isn’t good enough to show just how ca­pa­ble the speak­ers are. If you buy the 6 Cs and the Sound Hub with the Blue­sound mod­ule as your main source, you’ll miss out. The pre­sen­ta­tion is bal­anced, full-bod­ied and re­fined, but it doesn’t have the fi­nesse or ex­pres­sion these speak­ers de­serve.

We feel the same way about the Hub’s dig­i­tal in­puts – the sound through these fails to ex­cite sim­i­larly. It’s neat and de­tailed, balanc­ing the fre­quency ex­tremes well, but it’s also a lit­tle or­di­nary. Dali has a rep­u­ta­tion for ex­cel­lent speak­ers, but the elec­tron­ics side of this pack­age needs to im­prove to get the best from the Cal­lis­tos.

None of this stops the Cal­listo 6 C/ Sound Hub com­bi­na­tion from ap­peal­ing. It may not be uni­formly ex­cel­lent, but its per­for­mance through the line in­puts is ter­rific, and the con­ve­nience of Blue­tooth and the streaming mod­ule can­not be de­nied. For a per­for­mance close to that of pre­mium sep­a­rates but with re­duced clut­ter, there are few other al­ter­na­tives.

“While The Dalis aren’t truly wire­less, they are no­tably ti­dier and more flex­i­ble in place­ment than con­ven­tional pas­sive al­ter­na­tives”

The Dali Sound Hub con­nects wire­lessly to the speak­ers

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