Dali iO-6 Review – The debutant as class leader…

It takes courage to venture into a market that is still flourishing, but in which a wide variety of suppliers of different kinds are already providing an almost unmanageable supply. Nevertheless, Dali Speaker A/S took the plunge and presented the Dali iO Series, the first headphones that are to prove themselves as wireless hi-fi headphones.

One thing is certain, headphones are a virtually flourishing product range in all segments, from inexpensive entry-level solutions to reference systems, in the field of portable solutions as well as in the classic HiFi segment. If you take a closer look at the market, you will inevitably come to the conclusion that this is actually a well-positioned area of consumer electronics, with an almost unmanageable range of products presented to the customer. Designated specialists, who have been involved in the development and production of headphones alone for years, are just as numerous here as are newcomers, many of whom interestingly enough come from the loudspeaker sector, but many a real newcomer to the industry is also represented here.

As a company that has not yet had any experience with headphones, there are some risks involved in venturing into this highly competitive market. Especially as the “laws” here are sometimes completely different from those in other areas. It is well known that headphones are not only regarded as tools for optimum music reproduction, but also as lifestyle solutions, or even as accessories. They are therefore subject to constantly changing trends, which are influenced by a wide variety of factors, such as current fashion. In addition, the best technology is sometimes of no use if the image is not right, and this is defined above all by “right” marketing to the “right” target group.

Nevertheless, with all this in mind, the Danish company Dali Speaker A/S has now also ventured into this highly competitive market, albeit surprisingly late compared to many other competitors with similar business strategies. However, it is a virtue that Dali Speaker A/S has been cultivating for years, not to react immediately and sometimes hastily to every trend, but rather to observe the market and its development carefully and only then to draw the appropriate conclusions. Where one clearly sees oneself as a pioneer is on the technological side, and this should also apply to the headphones that Dali Speaker A/S presents in the form of the new Dali iO Series, the models Dali iO-4 as well as Dali iO-6.

Dali iO-4 and Dali iO-6 – The double pack…

The two headphones of the Dali iO Series were the surprise that Dali Speaker A/S had in store for IFA 2019. Lars Worre, CEO of Dali Speaker A/S did not miss the opportunity to present the new solutions personally together with Frank Hagemann, Managing Director of Dali Deutschland GmbH. This alone shows the importance of this new business area for Dali Speaker A/S.

Twice Bluetooth, once with active noise cancellation…

The two new headphones from Dali Speaker A/S are similar in almost all features, so they are identical with one single exception. Both are over-ear headphones that use Bluetooth for signal transmission, but only the Dali iO-6 is equipped with active noise suppression, so we chose this model for this test. The ratings in terms of technical features, workmanship, wearing comfort and, of course, sound can be largely transferred to the smaller Dali iO-4 model.

It’s 100 percent Dali…

Regardless of whether Dali iO-4 or Dali iO-6, both headphone models are Dali through and through, they stand for the very special philosophy, above all the sound philosophy, as does the entire existing product range in the area of loudspeaker systems. In order to achieve this, the new headphone models have been developed from scratch and the design has been created by the company itself, the Danes promise.

The company follows the same basic principles as all other products in the range, so every component is designed to meet the highest standards of design, durability, comfort and functionality. Everything serves the goal of achieving the best possible sound quality with optimum wearing comfort.

It will be noticed that one thing is left out, namely production. This is not done in Denmark, but in China, and this must be openly acknowledged. But Dali Speaker A/S is by no means alone in this, which is true for almost all products in this segment, and the extremely attractive price of this solution could not be achieved otherwise.

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First contact…

Dali Speaker A/S has a big advantage for the Dali iO-6. If you open the package, you will see an elegant, high-quality manufactured bag, in which the actual headphones are stored. A robust textile fabric, reinforced in the right places and provided with a high-quality padding on the inside, protects the headphones and also offers enough space for the accessories, which we will discuss in more detail in the following. A carrying strap on the top is an extremely practical detail. The headphones can be quickly accessed via a zipper all around. The Dali iO-6 doesn’t have a special folding mechanism for transport; the ear cups alone can be turned by 180°, so that the headphones can be folded and stowed flat.

The headphones themselves are not the lightest in their class at 325 g, which is noticeable when you take them out, but at the same time, the perfect feel of the headphones is the reason for their weight. Those who build stable and durable headphones with high quality materials have to accept the corresponding weight, and the main components of the Dali iO-6 are comparatively solid, as for example the headband, but also the ear cups of the headphones that are of course constructed as a closed construction. Moreover, one has to consider that it is a Bluetooth headphone that thus contains not only electronics but also a battery. And in the models of the Dali iO Series, especially powerful batteries are used, but more about this later…

Dali Speaker A/S offers the headphones in two design variants, black and caramel white. While the black version is in fact only black with silver metallic applications, the second version combines three different shades of brown padding with caramel white plastic elements and silver metallic applications.

It can be stated that the designers at Dali Speaker A/S focus on elegance, the target group for these headphones is probably not the hip youngsters, but people who value a rather noble lifestyle with timeless elegance.

Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX, aptX HD and AAC, analog cable and USB as alternative…

The underlying standard is of course essential for optimal sound quality in “wireless” solutions. For the Dali iO-6, Dali Speaker A/S relies on a Bluetooth 5.0 module from specialist Qualcomm. Bluetooth 5.0 is significantly more stable and therefore more reliable in signal transmission than previous standards, and also significantly more energy-saving. Furthermore, all relevant codecs are supported, not only aptX for Google Android and AAC for Apple iOS, but also aptX HD. As long as the source device also supports aptX HD, such as selected smartphones with Google Android and various portable hi-fi audio players, signal transmission with up to 24 bit and 48 kHz is possible. aptX and AAC at least allow signal transmission in “CD quality”.

As an alternative, the Dali iO-6 can also be used purely passively in the tried and tested manner, using a cable with a 3.5 mm stereo mini jack plug, which is included in the scope of delivery. An adapter for in-flight entertainment systems is also included in the package, so that the in-flight entertainment system can be used on flights.

A USB-C port is also available for the Dali iO-6. This allows the Dali iO-6 to be connected directly to a PC or Mac via a USB cable, and thus used directly as an “audio interface”. A suitable cable with USB-C to USB-B is included in the scope of delivery, but due to its length of a little more than one meter, it is primarily designed for charging the battery. So if you want to use the option of direct connection to a PC or Mac, you should buy a cable of an appropriate length.

By the way, the Dali iO-6 can of course also be used as a hands-free kit in combination with a smartphone. For this, it is equipped with the respective microphones, whereby it is also used for an optimal voice quality on Clear Voice Communication, short CVC.

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It’s under control…

Especially with headphones that are primarily designed for use on the road, it is of course essential that they are simple and easy to use.

Thus, the Dali iO-6 offers a four-way control cross on the right earcup, which is not recognizable as such, but rather presents itself as the manufacturer’s logo in pretty silver. Play, Pause and Skip Forward or Skip Backward can be displayed, a pressure on the upper and lower side increases or decreases the volume. It is important to mention in this concern that these keys can actually be touched “blindly” at any time and thus can be used easily at any time, even gloves in the cold season are no real obstacle.

We would also like to positively emphasize the “main switch” of the Dali iO-6, which can be found here at the bottom of the right auricle. Compared to many other such headphones, this slide switch actually knows two positions, so it is not only a filigree push button, maybe without a clearly defined pressure point, where you might wonder if you have pressed it or not. Here it is immediately obvious whether it is switched on or off, especially as a green or red marking visualizes this even more clearly. Furthermore, a voice, surprisingly even a male voice, informs about the operating status. “Power on” or “Power off” is “whispered” into the user’s ear, the battery charge level is also announced, as well as an established Bluetooth connection and the operating mode of active noise suppression, for which another button is available. In addition, there are two status LEDs, one for an established Bluetooth connection, the second for the battery charge level. There is hardly more that can be done in this respect to make the operation as easy, even intuitive as possible for the user.

And now the really important thing…

The heart of the Dali iO-6 is a driver with a very generously dimensioned diameter of no less than 50 mm. At Dali Speaker A/S nobody will be surprised that they use a driver with a paper fibre cone, exactly the same material that has long been legendary in the field of classic loudspeaker systems and is actually a kind of trademark of the Danes. However, you won’t see the reddish-brown membranes here, of course, as they are protected by a wafer-thin but robust and acoustically transparent fabric.

In both cases, this membrane material is characterized by its high rigidity at a very low weight, and the fiber composite material alone creates a chaotic surface structure that ensures a controlled, natural reproduction over a wide frequency range.

In the Dali iO-6, this diaphragm is driven by a powerful neodymium magnet system, which is, of course, specially optimised for this driver. This system is designed to ensure the lowest possible distortion, minimal discolouration and a pronounced fine dynamic response.

And now silence, please…

As already described, the only difference between the Dali iO-4 and our test candidate Dali iO-6 is that the latter has active noise suppression as an additional feature. A feature that will be especially important for all those who travel a lot and place the highest value on untroubled music enjoyment.

However, it must be said that even without this electronic solution, the shielding against ambient noise is already quite good, thanks to the closed construction and the comparatively thick ear pads around the ears of the Dali iO Series headphones.

As already mentioned, the electronic noise suppression is activated by means of a button, as confirmed by the sonorous male voice. Three operating modes are available here: off, needless to say, active, and probably the most interesting, the so-called transparency mode.

With the Dali iO-6, the developers concentrated primarily on eliminating low frequency frequencies, such as those that occur in airplanes or trains as well as in cars or buses and are perceived as disturbing in the long run. It is also those frequency components that are not effectively damped by the padding alone.

If one activates the noise suppression, often also briefly called ANC for Active Noise Cancelling, it actually becomes astonishingly quiet all around, one can concentrate much better on the music even in comparatively loud, lively surroundings, which is thereby presented fuller and more balanced. Yes, you can even reduce the volume significantly, which ultimately has a positive effect on long-term healthy, flawless hearing, especially when using the headphones for a long time.

We have already mentioned it, but the most exciting mode from our point of view is still the so-called transparency mode, because here you are not completely decoupled from the environment, but rather announcements on the plane, on the platform, or to a certain extent conversations of people, sounds of events are let through all around. If you are travelling in public space, for example at the airport or train station, this would at least be our choice.

Permanent runner

The crux of many Bluetooth headphones is still the battery life. It’s not so much a question of whether a headphone actually offers enough “power” for use on the road in one day, many people manage that, especially in the field of on-ear or over-ear headphones. The decisive factor in everyday use is rather whether the headphones have to be plugged in every day, or whether they can even perform their duties over several days without “stopping”. And this is where the Dali iO-6 proves to be a true “endurance runner”.

Listening to music for days on end without recharging, this promise of the manufacturer is not empty, but simply a fact. The lithium-ion battery installed here has a capacity of 1,100 mAh and this enables a playing time of a full 30 hours. This specification applies to Bluetooth and active noise suppression. For the Dali iO-4 without ANC, the manufacturer even states a battery life of up to 60 hours. This should be mentioned here for the sake of completeness, as it also applies to the Dali iO-6 if ANC is disabled.

This means that in the evening you don’t have to worry about whether the battery will last for the next day, also short holidays over the weekend can be easily managed without cables and power supply in your luggage.

Comfortable even when worn for long periods

Well, it would be an exaggeration to say that you can hardly feel the Dali iO-6 when you have it on your head, but one thing is for sure, even with very, very long use, and the amazing battery life described above is really inviting, there is nothing to complain about regarding wearing comfort. And this, although the Dali iO-6 is not a lightweight. On one hand, this is due to the very, very soft ear pads that are also covered with a pleasant feeling artificial leather, but also to the temple that is also softly padded in the decisive areas, but at the same time generates enough pressure in order to guarantee a safe hold.

It pays off that Dali Speaker A/S produced numerous prototypes during the conception of these new headphone models, in order to test in intensive tests different ear pads, head bands and last but not least also details like different ear cup angles, in order to finally reach an ideal, natural fit, whereby for example the earpiece together with the position of the ear cup adapts almost automatically to the individual head shape when put on.

Finally, it should also be mentioned that the Dali iO-6 complies with IP53 certification and is therefore protected against dust and splash water. Thus, as long as it doesn’t really rain, storm and snow, one hardly has to worry about using the headphones outdoors in everyday life.

From practical experience

Impeccable workmanship, first-class wearing comfort and practical features such as the intuitive controls and, last but not least, the active noise suppression, the long battery life, we have already appreciated all this in detail, but what about the most important thing, namely the sound?

Well, we already gave a very decisive hint when we mentioned that the Dali iO-6 is 100 percent Dali. Dali Speaker A/S has indeed succeeded in implementing the typical sound characteristics that characterise so many speaker systems from the Danes, also in the headphone segment at their premiere. Everything that is appreciated about the speaker systems from Dali Speaker A/S can also be found here.

And this is above all a very natural, and therefore extremely musical performance, which is unfortunately far too seldom found in the headphone segment. Many headphone manufacturers are tempted to exaggerate, especially in the bass range. Often, they deliberately “lay it on thick” in the truest sense of the word, talking about rich beats, whereby it must be said that this is also desired by a large number of customers. Dali Speaker A/S clearly refuses to do so, but rather remains true to its own philosophy and attaches great importance to a balanced, clear and detailed illustration, which – at least in the modest estimation of the author of these lines – is ultimately much more fun. The Dali iO-6 also delivers full bass, but only when the music is right. On the other hand, there’s no need to worry when dust-dry bass is required, especially when male voices are not washed out, but are reproduced clearly and nuanced, the same applies to instruments, solo or in a large orchestra. Female voices are drawn crystal clear into the room, and even the finest details in the middle upper and uppermost frequency range are clearly reproduced. This is exactly what one would wish for headphones that are designed for travelling, HiFi on-the-road…

Getting to the point

HiFi on-the-road, that is what Dali Speaker A/S can offer with the headphones of the new Dali iO Series. It is obvious that a lot of time was taken to analyse the market thoroughly and on the basis of these findings, coupled with the company’s own decades of experience, a product was realised that can really enrich an actually saturated market and that without any compromises shows those features that have been appreciated for years and days in the Danish speaker systems. Impeccable sound, impeccable workmanship and maximum wearing comfort in combination with outstanding technical features such as an impressive battery life are the basis for the fact that the Dali iO-6 is the first of its kind in its class.

HiFiBLOG Award Outstanding

Impeccable workmanship, first-class wearing comfort and practical features such as intuitive controls and, last but not least, well thought-out active noise suppression, especially a very long battery life, all this is worthy of the Dali iO-6, but the really decisive factor is that, in addition to all this, it also offers excellent sound, making it clearly one of, if not the best Bluetooth over-ear headphones on the market.

HiFiBLOG Award OutstandingDali Speaker A/S speaks at the premiere in the headphones section of the Dali iOS series of Wireless HiFi headphones, our test shows that first and foremost the Dali iO-6 actually guarantees HiFi on-the-road.
Manufacturer:Dali Speaker A/S
Distribution:Audiophil GbR
Germany:Dali Deutschland GmbH
Price:Dali iO-4 € 299,-
Dali iO-6 € 399,-
The Good– Excellent natural sound
– Impeccable haptics
– High quality processing
– High wearing comfort even over hours
– Active noise reduction with transparency mode
– Sophisticated operating concept for control on the road
– Practical accessories
– Impressive battery life
The Bad– Only available in two design variants
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Michael Holzinger

Michael Holzinger, founder and editor-in-chief of HiFi BLOG and sempre-audio.at, has been working for years as a journalist in the fields of IT, photography, telecommunications and consumer electronics.

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