DALI ZENSOR 1 AX active speakers
WITH all the conveniences that modern technology brings, you have to wonder why the typical audiophile bothers with separates any more. What’s that I hear you say? “It’s all about the sound!” Well, I won’t argue with you there, since I myself own large, ungainly components with cables snaking about everywhere.
But then, there are the Dali Zensor 1 AX active speakers. When you hear what a straightforward, plug-and-play piece of gear like this can do at a modest asking price, you do start wondering if why you’ve spent a disproportionate amount of time on your main hi-fi rig when this can deliver such a level of instant gratification.
BITS AND PARTS: As the name implies, the Zensor 1 AX requires no partnering amplifier – all you need is a single power outlet and a source of choice. For traditionalists, it sports a stereo mini-jack input and a Toslink optical digital input, while for those toting smart devices, you can connect via Bluetooth (with aptX, if supported by the device).
Note, however, that the Zensor 1 AX does not offer aptX HD, which indicates that audio data will be lossily compressed on transmission. While it only has three possible connection options (no USB, electrical digital or even standard stereo RCA inputs), the Zensor 1 AX is sufficiently functional to fit the role it is meant to play.
The speaker itself is built to typical audiophile standards, with excellent fit and finish. The cabinets are veneer-wrapped (black, white and walnut options available) save for the front baffle which has a piano finish – a nice touch! Mounted to the baffle are a 5.25-inch (13.3cm) “wood-fibre cone” woofer and a 25mm soft textile dome tweeter. The cabinet, measuring 274 x 162 x 240mm (h/w/d) and weighing 4.6kg, comes together very well and the pair looks great with the grilles off.
Amplification provided under the hood is 50W of Class D power, which was more than enough to drive the speaker. Dali also states that the Zensor 1 AX is compatible with PCM signals up to 24-bit/96kHz resolution – however, this is only accessible via the Toslink connection, and I was unable to utilise it as none of my devices are able to output that via optical digital.
However, the optical connection worked flawlessly with the TV, satellite decoder and media player source, but wasn’t playing anything remotely close to high-resolution audio.
Oh, and I should also mention that the Zensor 1 AX can be controlled via a remote (supplied).
IN CONCERT: Setting up the Zensor 1 AX was a breeze, and everything you need is included in the box. All the electronics, physical connections and controls are on the left speaker, so you only have to provide power, connect the supplied cable to the hefty speaker posts on both speakers, plug in the source and it’s good to go! As these are small-ish speakers, a pair of stands or placement on a cabinet/rack is required to bring it up to the correct height.
The first impression I got was that the Zensor 1 AX sounded big, belying its actual physical dimensions. It surprisingly had very good dynamics and weighty bass, and while it did not extend to the extreme lows, was fast and snappy. With either movies or music, it managed to convey the impact of the odd explosion or two and bass lines from tunes very well. And if you want more bass, it offers a subwoofer out connection.
The spoken voice is also rendered very well on the pair, which I noticed with a foreign football pundit speaking in one of those not-so-easy-to-decipher accents (Brazinglish would best describe it). I was watching him the day before and could barely understand him via the internal TV speakers, but with the Zensor 1 AX, I could actually make out most of what he was trying to say. In a musical context, this translated into good clarity with the singing voice – fairly neutral, with just a slight sweetening of the midrange without being overly cooked, just enough to give it a seductive quality.
The Zensor 1 AX was also capable of delivering good treble detail – cymbals, hi-hats and guitar riffs that reached the higher registers had the right amount of “bite”, without being strident.
Music via its Bluetooth connection was a bit of a mixed bag, given its sterling performance with AV material. Some high-resolution FLAC files – which I know sound pretty darn good – came across tinny and etched by comparison. But when using streaming apps, however, it made a lot of sense – especially if you consider most people’s previous experiences with audio over Bluetooth involved components with high-profile consumer brand names. The Zensor 1 AX is able to properly render the nuances of the music being played, rather than just the overwhelming tuneless bass note you hear from those toy-like boxes.
APPLAUSE: An affordable as well as easy way to dramatically improve the sound of movies and music from AV material. Music playback, while not exactly reference level, is still highly enjoyable.
BUT…: No USB, electrical digital or stereo analogue inputs available, which limits its utility somewhat as a dedicated music playback system.
FINALE: The Zensor 1 AX isn’t meant to replace a full-blown hi-fi separates system. Instead, with minimal effort, it offers high levels of performance where the mundane is expected. I’m keeping my separates, but the Zensor 1 AX will be welcome in my living room any time.
Sources: Samsung UA65H6400 television, TviX Slim S1 media player, Astro B.yond satellite decoder, Chord Hugo and Chord Mojo DAC headphone amplifiers, Apple iPhone 5s