The superb Zensor 1s are never far from our thoughts when recommending budget speakers – even now when, after wallowing in five stars for the past four years, they lose one due to the arrival of more talented newcomers.
The Dalis remained a front-runner even after the Q Acoustic 2020is took their crown in 2012. But now the bar has been raised courtesy of the Wharfedale Diamond 220s, they no longer have the level of subtlety, refinement or dynamics to remain in the top tier.
Still, one thing tough competition can’t take away from the Dalis is the fact they’re simply a joy to listen to.
There’s no questioning their listenability: lively and musical, they make the most of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories album. The Zensor 1 effortlessly belts out its funky tunes, firing energy into catchy beats with a potent sense of attack and rhythmic drive.
Skip to one of the album’s downtempo tracks, Within, and notes pull through with definition and weight. The Dalis sound more solid and sure-footed close to a rear wall (whether stood on stands or wall-mounted) and deliver greater low-end presence at the same time.
Considering the diminutive size of the speakers, the openness of the soundstage takes you by surprise. You’ll hear that it’s detailed and balanced, too.
Bass is taut, and clean, sparkly highs meet a clear and communicative midrange. Dynamic insight usually makes or breaks speakers at this level, but the Dalis do not stumble. They’re slick and agile enough for the piano of Within to come through fluidly.
However dynamics need a touch more expression (particularly at the quieter sections) and a larger scale to match the Q Acoustics and Wharfedales of the budget speaker world.
The Zensor 1s have the talent to sit at the front of your system, even long after you’ve upgraded the rest of it. Paired with kit that’s one or two price points above – the Arcam A19 FMJ amp (£650) and Marantz CD6005 CD player (£350) combo, for example – they still shine.
Thankfully, build proves as strong as performance: their partially glossy cabinets are small yet sturdy, meeting (rather than perhaps exceeding) expectations at this price. Design is clean and unfussy, although you’ll have to look to Monitor Audio or Q Acoustics for something flashier.
However, the big selling point of the Zensor 1 is sound quality. And despite going down the pecking order, our much-loved Zensors have not fallen from grace (now if only they’d fall in price a little…).