DALI (Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries) is a high-fidelity speaker brand that’s amping up its presence in the North American Hi-Fi speaker market. The company’s new Callisto 6 C speaker system ($5750) consists of two active towers with wireless connectivity, and the DALI Sound Hub. There is also a standmount model, the 2C ($4750), but this review is about the towers.
I’ve spent a couple months with the Callisto 6 C system and had a chance to listen to it as a standalone 2.0 rig, a 2.1 system, and connected to an AVR using room correction, bass management, etc.
Features and Specifications
The DALI Sound Hub communicates with the speakers through a dedicated 5.6 gHz network with the full bandwidth needed for wireless hi-res audio, and do so with minimal latency. The DALI Hub contains two modular expansion slots; the first one to be released adds BluOS wireless audio capability. The result is a self-contained rig capable of offering serious, high-fidelity wireless sound. And yet it also has the user-friendly ergonomics of a lifestyle-focused, multi-room audio system. Best of both worlds!
The hub itself is basically a box with a large rotary dial featuring a small monochrome display in the center. The dial shows the volume level and current source. It also comes with a basic remote for volume adjustment and source switching, as well as power and mute.
With this system, input selection is either manual or automatic. When you start playback, if things are silent, the DALI Sound Hub will switch to the active source. On the rear of the hub are the expansion slots, as well as stereo RCA inputs, a 3.5mm aux stereo input, a coaxial-digital input, and dual optical-digital inputs. You’ll also find a USB port that’s for service, as well as for use as a power source, for example if you add a Chromecast.
This system included the NPM-1 BluOS module, which supports hi-res playback capability including MQA decoding. But this is not a review of BluOS, which is also built into the NAD T777 V3 AVR I used. However, I did use it as a conduit for playing tunes through Roon, which in turn is connected to my Tidal HiFi account—that combination provides a sublime music browsing and playback experience.
Notably, if you decide you don’t want to use the wireless functionality of the speakers, each one does have a digital RCA input built into it as well.
Also, for those who are fans of MQA compression, the Callisto system supports it when utilizing the NPM-1 BluOS module and is fully certified.
These are three way, active speakers utilizing class-D amplification. The built-in amplifiers offer a peak output of 250 W RMS (per speaker).
DALI Specifies the frequency range of the speakers at 37 Hz to 30,000 Hz +/-3 dB, which is quite broad if a bit shy in the bass department. But let me state here, it is an accurate +/-3 dB specification, unlike the numbers included with some speakers that have actively powered bass sections, where you have to take the bass spec and literally double it to find the -3 dB point. These specs are legit, and with room gain that bass response stretches quite a bit lower—it’s still clean, and shaking the walls—as low as 25 Hz at usable (i.e. loud) levels, but with audible distortion kicking in at frequencies below that. Frankly, I’d say these speakers exceed their published specs, for all practical purposes.
Peak output is rated at 110 dB. Sound comes from a ribbon super tweeter, a 29 mm soft dome tweeter, and dual 6.5 inch wood-fiber cone woofers.
Each speaker has a built-in, onboard Burr Brown PCM1796 DAC with balanced output connections.
The physical dimensions of the speakers are 1004 mm (H) x 200 mm (W) x 346 mm (D) and each speaker weighs 49.8 pounds. The cabinets utilize 25 mm MDF with internal bracing, all the cabinets are cut and constructed in DALI’s woodworking facility in Denmark. The review units came in a matte white finish, these Callisto 6 C speakers are also available in black ash. The speakers ship with matching grills, which interestingly uses both magnets and rubber pegs to attach. The holes for the pegs are cleverly integrated into the ring around the woofer, so you don’t see them when the grill is off. Presumably the idea is that this approach secures the grill to the speaker more strongly than just magnets, anyhow it works and doesn’t have any aesthetic disadvantages when the grill is off.
DALI puts some specialized technologies into its drivers, with an emphasis on lowering distortion. The woofers and the amplifier are designed to be a perfect match, with enough power to drive the system to its outer limits. All the while, the system maintains time alignment between the drivers. The company says that the carefully designed, symmetrical nature of its woofer suspension results in a more detailed and defined soundstage through the reduction of mechanical distortion.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention DALI’s use of SMC in the woofer. This “soft magnetic compound” is a material developed by the company that it utilizes in the pole piece of the motor. According to DALI, a combination of low electrical conductivity and high magnetism decrease distortion and mechanical loss.
The wood fiber woofer used in the Callisto 6 C. Photo by Mark Henninger
DALI refers to the high-frequency driver array of the Callisto 6 C as a hybrid tweeter. It consists of two separate drivers, a magneto-static ribbon that plays up to 30 kHz, as well as a soft dome that offers favorable dispersion characteristics and playback down to 2000 Hz, allowing for a 2600 Hz crossover to the woofers.
Here’s DALI’s 29mm dome tweeter. Photo by Mark Henninger
And here’s a close-up of the ribbon super-tweeter used on the Callisto 6 C. Photo by Mark Henninger.
Setup and Use
AVS Forum members who are in the know, understand that there are many factors with setup and rooms that impact the final sound. I’ll try and avoid making this a long review about exactly how this or that track sounded while listening to the speakers. But I will say this, it was fairly easy to start experiencing “proper” audiophile soundstaging by just plopping these speakers in a room and sitting directly between the two, in traditional audiophile fashion.
There are many situations where I can envision this simple setup being more than enough for even a picky music lover. In particular, utilizing Roon and Tidal provided a level of quality and ergonomic ease that deliver a premium experience that truly feels like the future of Hi-Fi listening. Official Roon support for the Callisto 6 C is coming soon, but you can still use it today. And Roon already supports the T777 V3 AVR that I used for much of my listening.
Okay, let’s get down to the reality of the situation. This is AVS Forum, where there’s wide awareness and acceptance of the acoustical advantages conferred by AV receivers (and pre-pros) that have advanced room correction built-in, as well as bass management. The DALI Sound Hub and Callisto 6C system do not have these things, and while audiophile purists likely love having it be that way, I’m the opposite. I want that deep control I get with Dirac Live at my fingertips, and the benefits of advanced room correction to always be in full effect.
That’s a long-winded way of saying that the primary source for this Callisto system was an AVR, connected through the RCA analog inputs on the DALI Sound Hub. And this configuration made me very happy indeed, because it totally takes AVR amplification out of the equation; you can save it for surrounds, or just buy a pre/pro instead. Moreover, it eliminates the need to run speaker cables from the AVR to the speakers, which means that the AVR itself can be placed a good distance away from the speakers, and you can have a clean look to the room without having to run cables inside your walls.
This worked like a charm! I suppose I could try to get the speakers to disconnect, but from the moment I first turned them until the end of the review, they have maintained their connection to the Sound Hub. And with this configuration, you get the bonus of touch-sensitive control of the volume—it’s as simple as swiping left to right on the top of the speaker cabinet.
I utilize this system in my living room set up, flanking a 85″ Sony X900F TV. The TV is so big, the speakers are automatically the proper distance apart for critical music listening—in this case 7′ 6″ apart with my head 9 feet away from each speaker. Of course, an ancillary benefit to this configuration (AVR, huge TV) was being able to use these speakers while playing video games or watching movies.
As for BluOS, as I noted I used it as a conduit with Roon as the interface and Tidal HiFi as the streaming source. It’s awesome, but I’ll have to leave that all for a standalone review since there’s such depth to the feature set. Suffice to say, I had all the uncompressed music I could ever want (Tidal and local ripped CD files) at my fingertips—music-lover heaven.
While I love to create some drama here, I simply cannot. These are extremely well designed speakers, they don’t really exhibit notable flaws. They seem to be able to meet their specifications, and there is certainly no sense that going wireless is a compromise in any way in terms of the sound quality.
First up is the 2.0 configuration, which I think is how this system was envisioned being used (most of the time, anyhow) by those who created it. Overall, the frequency response is quite favorable for a residential room but there was a bit too much bass. I had to move the pair a fair distance away from the wall to tame the effects of room gain on the bass. Typically, I prefer using EQ to do this. Keep in mind, I write that knowing my room is perhaps smaller than the room somebody who can buy $5750 lifestyle speakers would likely put them in. I’m sure that in larger, open the rooms, the bass response of these speakers is a good match.
The thing is, once you get these speakers set up properly and feed them good, well-produced music, the magic begins. For most music (aside from organ music and some genres of electronica) these speakers cover the entire range you’ll find in a recording. If you play some Pink Floyd at high volume through this system, you get a visceral listening experience that’s physical and not just mental. These woofers have the “punch” needed to provoke tactile response, which of course is part of the thrill of a live show. Anyhow, I thoroughly enjoyed how the rig handled Pink Floyd’s opening track “Signs of Life” from Delicate Sound of Thunder. The sound of rowing, the entry of the synths, the first bass notes, twinkling sounds… a sense of foreboding, chattering voices… aaah, yes. Pink Floyd, rock god masters of the studio album, always let you know if your speakers are up to snuff. Hello David Gilmour, thanks for bringing your guitar… so clean—floating right in the middle, it knows it’s the star (with Roger Waters having been banished for this outing).
And then… boom, it’s the anthemic “Learning to Fly” which is a track I listened to countless times as a budding audio enthusiast in high school. With the glorious studio drums sending chest-thumps through the room, I was reminded of what got me into this as a hobby to begin with—that feeling you get when the music washes over you and you get lost in it, because it sounds so good, so real. That happens with these speakers, just FYI. And when the major reverb comes on thick in the second half of the track, it’s at once grand and psychedelic, and surely that was the “creative intent” of the group. Finish up with a nice guitar solo… so good. Too bad it’s not that good an album, the first two tracks are so promising.
You never know where you’ll find great production value in music, but if you are at all a fan of industrial, then you should check out a classic by Skinny Puppy, Last Rites. It is a bonkers recording, I think it must contain every recording trick in the book, and while you cannot escape the aggressive goth/industrial sound, you also need to respect what the band did with the samples, projecting sounds into the room like this was a surround-sound system. But the real threat of Skinny Puppy has always been its willingness to use a huge, harsh, powerful, sounds in the mix and then somehow punctuate it with catchy hooks, melancholy horns, whatever it takes.
So many layers, even in the opening track “Love in Vein” the order starts to break down and when you get four minutes and twenty seconds into the track, you learn that the band expects you to have a subwoofer, or at least speakers that dig deep. Swirling synths swoosh and disorient—soon you realize that the music is having emotional and physical effects—hello goose bumps.
The fourth track on Last Rights, “Mirror Saw” offers a (relative) respite from the heavy opening. This beat-forward track has layer upon layer of synths and effects that provide a fascinating listen, all the more so if you have speakers that at once image well and can peel through layers to reveal hidden detail. This is one of those albums that’s worthy of many, many relistens to pick up hidden nuances. And track eight, “Lust Chance” absolutely pounds you in the chest with its percussive blows. It takes skill to craft sounds with such specific texture, and the right speakers to deliver the message.
Ki-Oku is a catchy album by DJ Krush and trumpeter Toshinori Kondo. Press play (or cue the record) and you’ll be taken to a funky, jazzy, toe-tappy world in no time. Track one, Toh-Sui, had the floor shaking just a bit. The reward of careful listening, of course, is how the (real) trumped floats on top of the (played from vinyl) grooves DJ Krush lays down. It’s fair to say trumpets test tweeters, and here you get that “eardrum-tickling” sensation from the highs, but it does not hurt and it does not fatigue. It just sounds… real.
So, what I found is that while the un-EQ’d bass from these speakers may be a bit “hot” for my room, I liked it (big surprise) because it translated into a warmer, fuller sound and more instances of tactile feel than I expected. And running the speakers full-range with Dirac Live correction was tremendous. I’d like to reiterate here that these speakers are able to play visceral, tight, deep bass at frequencies lower than what the specs indicate. from 25 Hz to 30 Hz, I achieved so-called “room lock” with the bass, with ease. Everything throbbed, and the system handled a continuous sine wave, no problemo (there’s NO reason to do this yourself, leave the warranty-voiding stunts to me!). It’s really refreshing to have speakers that understate their capability.
Oh one more thing about the bass deep bass… I ran a 26 Hz sine wave continuously, and switch the speaker configuration between large and small, thereby alternating between having the sub take care of that tone, and the speakers. It sounded just about identical, and I had the volume set to where I have it for “spirited” music listening, which is not quite as loud as a live jazz club, but louder than background music. So before we move to the next section, I really want to underline the point that these speakers have great bass that’s tight and deep and that you can feel, and that’s absolutely free of audible distortion within its specified response range, and evidently beyond that.
Now, while I loved the sound of the un-EQ’d standalone, 2.0 Callisto 6 C rig, moving to a 2.1 system featuring a Rythmik G25HP subwoofer and the T777 V3 AVR brought the listening experience to another level. Now, the bass sounded “perfect” with an 80 Hz crossover, and I was able to enjoy the music I own that I know requires a subwoofer for proper playback. From Coil to the Orb to Bassnectar to Snoop Dogg, there are some tracks where I need a powerful sub taking care of the deep stuff, no matter how good the speakers are.
For example, Schoolboy Q’s album Oxymoron’s fourth track (NSFW, btw) has a throbbing bass that dips really low, and reveals the limits of what towers with (dual) 6.5″ woofers can do. It should surprise no one that a dual-15″ subwoofer handles the deep stuff better, but the thing is it needs to be a good subwoofer, you will not get much (if any) benefit from a smaller, less capable sub (like a sealed 12″) since these speakers do dig deep (well, aside from running it concurrently to smooth out the inevitable peaks and dips in bass caused by the room).
With the AVR in the loop, the Callisto 6 C behaves like “regular” speakers, just without the cord. According to the AVR, there is an approximately a 15 millisecond delay, which causes the room correction to register the speakers as being an extra 17 feet away. That’s still quite minimal, and does not affect video sync at all. You can go ahead and add surround speakers and have great 5.1 using a phantom center setting, the great imaging of these towers puts voices right in the center of the 85″ X900F Sony, which is something a center channel speaker located above or below it cannot do.
And the AV sound… oh man. Movies benefit as much as music from the power and the clarity of these towers. The nimble nature of DALI’s design means you feel every tap, crunch, blast, whoosh, bang, rumble—it’s all spelled out very clearly. My last movie with these speakers was The Predator, which is absolutely jam-packed with effects and this rig had me feeling like I was right in the action—no Atmos required.
Sorry for the diversion as this is not intended to be a subwoofer review. The DALI Sound Hub supports adding a sub, if that’s the route you take (just make sure it’s a really good sub). It is absolutely reasonable to say that these speakers do not need a subwoofer, they will deliver deep and powerful bass on their own, at least within the physical limits of their drivers. They will not “run out of juice” when presented with tough material. It’s just that (and you’ve probably read this here before) the ideal location the bass module of a speaker is not necessarily the same as it is for the mids and highs.
I suppose the primary concern here is whether these speakers are worth the sum of their parts. After all, you can get tower speakers with a similar driver array for not as much money (from DALI or from others) and power them with a beefy amplifier, and pop something like a Bluesound Node 2 on top. But that’s the whole point, what I just described is a piecemeal system, whereas this is a fully integrated lifestyle audio system. The difference is its simplicity, and the holistic effect of it being engineered as a single product. For example, once you get used to double tapping the top of the speaker to mute, you might find yourself tapping the top of other tower speakers and wondering why it won’t work.
The Foobar ABX Test
One interesting test of a speaker’s fidelity is if it is resolving enough to help you hear differences in sound that lesser systems might mask. To that end, I used the DALI Callisto 6 C to take an ABX test of two clips posted here on AVS Forum that was about the minimal differences in sound between preamps (in this case, a photo preamp). To keep the story short, the first time I too the ABX test with $900 headphones, I got 15/16 correct—definitely not guessing. And when I switched to the Callisto, I got 16/16 correct quite quickly, and with ZERO doubt about there being a difference, and exactly what that difference was (one has a deeper, more “liquid” sound to the bass, the other a bit dryer but perhaps flatter). You can read more about that by clicking here.
Of course, it likely helps that I have a lot of experience in critical listening, in terms of detecting these differences in the ABX test. But the sense that I got, using the DALI speakers, was one of obviousness. I flew through the test and knew which clip I was hearing without even having to listen to the other, and I would have been shocked not to get a “perfect” score on the ABX test. It’s reasonable to think the difference between the sound of the two clips (one was a of a $4500 phono preamp, the other a $400 “4 in 1” device) was as obvious as it was due to the highly resolving nature of this system.
This is, without question, the best-sounding lifestyle speaker system I have heard. The credit for this has to go to DALI, which has put together a speaker that has all the qualities—transparency and detail and dynamics and soundstage—that make for exciting, fulfilling, fatigue-free listening. This is “bulletproof” sound, you can scrutinize it all you want and still, finding flaws will be tough.
The price is going to be the big sticking point for many folks, and the reality is this is not the right solution for all situations. The easiest configuration to justify is any installation where plugging in a couple of power cords is preferable to running speaker cables to a pair of tower speakers. I cannot quantify the value of moving digital decoding and amplification to the speaker itself, but it does simplify things and the resulting performance is impossible to criticize. That is the rationale for giving this system a “Top Choice” award for premium wireless lifestyle speaker systems.