The Zensor 1 5.1 is the latest entry-level 5.1 speaker system from Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries, or DALI to its friends. With the Zensor range, the company is looking to bring its patented blend of chic, high-quality design and polished performance to an affordable price point – just like it did with the impressive Fazon Mikro system.
The range caters for everyone with a choice of floorstanding, standmount and centre speakers, but this particular package includes two pairs of 274mm-high Zensor 1 standmounts for the fronts and rears, making it more space efficient than the Zensor 5 or 7 floorstander packages.
Joining them are the Vokal centre speaker and E-9 F subwoofer, the same bass bin that accompanies the Fazon Mikro. Scooping up this 5.1 package gets you a discount over the cost of buying all the speakers separately.
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The Zensor 1 is a delectable speaker, classy-looking and well made. It’s available in Black Ash and Light Walnut, both of which are easy on the eye but we prefer our samples’ moodier Black Ash finish. There’s a whiff of affordability about the faux wood vinyl veneer, and the cabinets lack the curvy elegance of the Quad L-ite Plus or Roth OLi RA, for instance, but the luxurious high gloss lacquered front baffle elevates it above many speakers at this price. A White Satin version of the system is available for an extra £40.
A black cloth grille with a classy silver DALI logo is attached to the front with plugs. Pull it off and you’ll see the lacquered baffle in all its glory, plus the gorgeous aluminium surrounds framing the drivers.
Despite being the smallest speaker in the Zensor range, its dimensions are manageable rather than compact, but they shouldn’t require a major reshuffle to accommodate. You can place them on a tabletop or mount them on the wall using the integrated bracket. The rubber bumpers in the box can be fixed to the back (for wall mounting) or bottom (on a tabletop) to quell vibration. The sturdy gold-plated binding posts are encased in chunky plastic, which makes it nice and easy to clamp your cables tightly.
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Vokal is one of the biggest centre speakers we’ve encountered with any affordable system. The width and height are fine, but it’s the 281mm depth that sets it apart – we’ve seen shallower AV receivers. That means you’ll need plenty of space in your AV rack to accommodate it.
By contrast, the cube-shaped SUB E-9 F is a pleasingly compact affair. It’s not actually part of the Zensor family, but luckily the Black Ash finish and lacquered front panel is a perfect match for the other speakers. It’s sturdily built and features cone-rubber feet to guard against vibration, while on the back are controls for volume, phase and upper cut-off frequency (crossover). Sockets include line-level and LFE RCA inputs.
The drivers and crossovers used across the Zensor range have been designed to achieve wide dispersion, which DALI hopes will result in a well integrated sound whether you’re listening on- of off-axis. For that reason, they’re not designed for ‘toeing in’ (turning their angle inwards slightly towards the listening position).
The Zensor 1s use a 5¼in mid/bass woofer cone, made from fine grain paper pulp reinforced with wood fibres. DALI says this stiff, lightweight cone – in conjunction with the low-loss surround and spider suspension – can reproduce the all-important ‘micro details’ in the audio signal. The Vokal uses two of these mid/bass drivers.
For high-frequency reproduction, both the Zensor 1 and Vokal use a 25mm soft dome tweeter, with a magnet system that incorporates ferro-fluid to improve power handling.
The SUB E-9 F features a 9in, front-firing woofer (hence the ‘9’ and ‘F’ in its name) and a down-firing bass port, which means you can place it against a wall if you wish.
Unusually, the cone is crafted from pure aluminium for maximum stiffness, and it looks pretty cool too. With a 170W Class D amplifier on board, this is a small sub with big ambitions.
The Zensor 5.1 system is a stunning performer, making light work of The Desolation of Smaug’s brilliant DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack. Zensor 1’s silky, natural character makes it easy to immerse yourself in the vivid soundscapes of Middle Earth, but the real star of the show is the subwoofer, which underpins the action with seamlessly integrated bass.
The SUB E-9 F felt a bit like overkill for the Fazon Mikro but this brilliant little sub is the perfect match for the Zensor system. During the face-off between Bilbo and Smaug, it makes the dragon’s voice deliciously rich and floods the room when he breathes fire.
It’s agile too, emitting tight, visceral pulses every time the beast stomps its foot on the ground or smashes into a stone pillar. It’s so natural and seamless that you forget the sub’s even involved.
It also melds beautifully with Vokal’s authoritative midrange. This assured centre speaker picks out subtleties in every voice, from Azog’s coarse growl to the erudite dragon’s intonation and sibilance.
The tweeters also pull out plenty of top-end detail from the disc, resulting in an open and nuanced sound. Skip to the scene in which Bilbo and the dwarves are wrapped up in silk by the spiders and the soundstage fidgets with tiny clicking and creaking noises, all rendered with amazing clarity. It’s both eerie and magical.
We also love the smooth integration between each speaker, resulting in a uniform sound as effects pan across the front, and the system’s ability to stay composed even when you crank up the volume.
With our critical hat on, some listeners might crave a little more snap and maybe a bigger soundstage – there are limits to what speakers of this size can muster – but these are minor quibbles.
Switching to music, the Zensor is a real delight. With light, frothy jazz and pop Zensor renders top-end detail and vocals with grace and fluidity. Switch to some slamming house or hip-hop and that nimble, punchy sub adds heft to the kick drums while the Zensor 1s attack transients with vigour.
Anyone with a grand to spend on a 5.1 speaker system is absolutely spoilt for choice right now. Roth, Wharfedale, Quad and now DALI have all made a decent claim for your cash with systems that deliver maximum bang for your buck.
But where the Zensor 5.1 system steals a march on the competition is in the bass department – there aren’t many systems with a subwoofer as well-integrated, punchy and natural sounding as the SUB E-9 F, which works in perfect harmony with the Zensor 1s and underpins a superbly rich and weighty sound.
But it’s not all about bass – the Zensor system is also a dab hand with detail and dialogue, while offering a smooth and tonally seamless soundstage. What’s more, the dashing design and solid build quality are as good as we’d expect for the money (even if they’re not as sexy as the Quad), making it a terrific purchase overall.
DALI’s 5.1 speaker package offers stunning sound for the money, with seamlessly integrated bass and dazzling detail.