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I can't know about you. With me though, "the world's best speaker" and sundry related claims cause an inverse reaction to what I expect the ad writers or tag line creators desired. A recent press release about a TopDog did not. First perhaps because unlike all-encompassing claims, a top dog is specific to a pack. There's other packs. Nobody presenting an alpha dog even implies it's also the omega and everything in-between. With the big dawg in question, the accompanying descriptions also simply hit home. Dipole 10-inch dual-cone paper widebander. Dipole 18-inch woofer for total cone surface of 1600cm². Active 6dB/octave crossover with time correction and equalization. Sensitivity above 100dB. Max SPL better than 115dB, with 450-watt RMS power handling and 1200-watt peaks for expanded dynamic range. Small foot print. Reasonable cost for a statement effort.

The sender of said press release was Olivier Mischon of Dynatone, a Swiss firm outside Bern. He claimed their TopDog wagged its tail at the end of a 3-year R&D period which had successively improved performance while stripping away redundancies. By the latter, we assume he means cabinetry since the end result is a mere skeleton of a conventional loudspeaker, with the widebander mounted on a minimum open baffle while the monstrous woofer is essentially en plain air. Au nature for the Full Monty.

Because dipole bass suffers from the well-known figure 8 out-of-phase cancellation, active equalization for designs that pursue dipolarity into the low bass has been embraced by none other than Siegfried Linkwitz, key proponent of dipoles, designer of the now defunct Audio Artistry speaker house and since offering a number of DIY kit or ready-made speakers through his website. Dynatone's TopDog follows suit. In its base configuration, it is delivered with an Alto Maxidrive 3.4PC digital crossover/EQ which requires bi- or quad amplification since both drivers are filtered.

The core concept recalls Clayton Shaw's Emerald Physic CS-2 and soon-to-launch CS-1. While his are Maggie-type open baffles in appearance, the TopDog eliminates most of their baffle. The Bastanis dipole widebanders circumvent bass cancellation by adopting fully enclosed woofers. Jamo's big dipole does not but runs twin 15-inchers as Clayton does to enter the equation with maximum cone area. Electrostatic and planar magnetic panel speakers also are dipoles unless the rear wave is deliberately absorbed. And to avoid becoming huge, they too tend to rely on sealed or ported bass alignments to turn hybrids rather than full-range dipoles. Many of the most popular MartinLogans are examples of that breed.

In broad strokes, these and related designs would be genetic precursors to Dynatone's TopDog. What distinguishes this newcomer is its 100dB+ voltage sensitivity from a dynamic, non-hornloaded design coupled to a claimed linear 4-ohm+ impedance to be suitable for low-power no-feedback amps. The 10-year warranty adds peace of mind as do new electronic crossover settings by Internet download. Each pair of TopDogs is said to take one full month of hand labor, adjustments and testing. Dimensions are 78cm x 52cm HxW, with depth between 7 and 45cm.

Again, I can't know about you but to me, an 18-inch dynamic dipole 2-way in the raw as it were has that slightly kooky, inebriated by performance promise and appeal that make sense only to the most diehard of sound pilgrims. I don't see who else would tolerate the techno decor of the TopDogs in their living room. Does the performance portion of this equation forgive and forget? In case your curiosity is piqued enough by the above alone to want to know whether your wallet could dance with these wolves, a pair would set you back $8.245, €5.549 or CHF 8.900 (shipping and handling extra).

I visited with Olivier and listened to the speakers in his house from which he works. And that's mostly all I should say. To my eyes and ears, his speaker was far from ready for prime time. But he has orders for two pairs already so others disagree. What I will share are a few observational tidbits.
  • The speaker assembly flexes. A very light push on the upper baffle moves it backwards. Olivier invoked Doppler distortion and how he had calculated what amount of give would make the speaker right 25% of the time (implying that it's wrong 75% of the time but he brushed that off by opining that competing speakers are wrong 90% of the time).
  • Olivier calls the short rubber flare ring around the 18" woofer a horn. If so, it's the shortest horn in history.
  • He also claims that the baffle and horn raise the raw driver efficiencies of 99dB and 100dB for the widebander / woofer respectively to well above 110dB.
  • He further celebrated the ability to input 400 to 800 watts RMS without distortion which, if you think about it, reflects something about his listening habits.
  • The setup was not optimized for path length equality between left and right speaker and both were only about 2 meters apart and quite close to the front wall despite an amply dimensioned room. Olivier claimed that speakers requiring a larger distance from each other are compromised and that for R&D purposes, he had them close together. Of course he did invite me and knew I was coming yet he didn't alter this setup.
  • The bass was so completely overdone that I asked him to shelve it down. Which he did by 6dB at the crossover frequency of 300Hz on his Mac PC. Which served as his source, no outboard  USB DAC involved. It also caused a high amount of noise over the speakers (proven when the noise disappeared the moment the PC was disabled). Even attenuated by 6dB at 300Hz, the bass, cough, was still too prominent.
  • The fit'n'finish of the product at present is not what I'd call ready yet Olivier considers it so. When I asked what took a month to assemble a pair, he referenced the baffles which need that time to cure. Fair enough, but without that explanation, the 1-month statement can be quite misleading.
  • When Olivier asked what I referenced his sound to, I told him that I had run this site for 6 years and that if he read it, he'd know exactly what speakers I've owned and presently own. If you invite me, I expect that you've done due diligence on your guest. Otherwise, you'd be wasting your time and mine.

So, I deliberately didn't take photos as that would only have underlined my misgivings. I also declined to itemize what I thought the speaker was lacking to Olivier since I'm not in the product consultation but reviewing business. And as a reviewer, a very brief audition was sufficient to know that I would not be interested in this assignment. Yet the audio spirit relies on folks like Olivier who apply personal enthusiasm and creativity to experiment. I'm thus not inclined to go into greater detail except to reiterate that his very obvious love for monstrous bass and extreme SPLs and the careless setup, from the get, demonstrated how his goals and my notions diverged fundamentally. He said that his first two paying customers are musicians who require realistic dynamics without compression for an ultra-fi experience. I certainly won't argue about what makes another man's clock tick. There's enough room in audio for everything. In this instance, listening first is simply mandatory to know where you'll stand relative to Olivier's hifi aesthetic.

Dynatone website