One of the more difficult choices to contemplate when choosing a pair of loudspeakers is whether to take the plunge and opt for an all-out pair of floor-standing speakers, or to keep things a little more “streamlined” and go with a pair of stand-mount (or “bookshelf”) speakers instead. While floor-standing speakers usually have a little extra down-low reach and overall heft than their more diminutive siblings, there’s no getting around the fact that having two large audio “totem poles” in your living room might not always be the most life-friendly, decor-friendly, or even kid-friendly option for your home - especially if space is at a premium.
On the flip side, bookshelf speakers can neatly slot onto your existing furniture or bracket your TV in your living room without drawing too much attention to themselves. However, in larger rooms, you may find that bookshelf or stand-mount speakers will necessitate pairing them with a subwoofer in order to eke out that extra bit of bass shove in order to play back a convincing full-range performance.
The two-way passive bookshelf is easily the most ubiquitous form of loudspeaker (and thus, the most hotly contested and saturated speaker category), and as an apartment-dwelling audiophile, they’re also my go-to way of enjoying music at home. As well as being slightly more space and budget-conscious, a thoughtfully-designed stand-mounter can yield stunning levels of audio fidelity while being super-flexible. Need to add a little more bass? Add a sub into the equation. Want to “dial-in” your centre image and perfect your sense of “sound-stage”? Pop them up on stands and play around with placement and “toe-in”.
While I generally don’t tend to use a subwoofer in my main home listening set-up, I’m always keen to ensure that I’m getting a full-blooded experience when enjoying music at home. And so, I’m always on the fence about whether or not to take things up a notch and go all-out on a pair of floor-standers…although that might take some serious negotiation with my other half. The $4199 Dynaudio Evoke Bookshelf Speakers - the subject of today’s review - are one of the few bookshelf-sized speakers that I’ve come across that has genuinely convinced me that they’re capable of bridging the stand-mount>floor-stander gap, having both the chutzpah and finesse to deliver a thoroughly entertaining performance in most average-sized rooms. Oh, and they also look fantastic.
Evoke 20 overview and design
Sitting above the Danish manufacturer’s “entry”-level (but still very impressive) “Emit” range of passive loudspeakers, the “Evoke” range is fortunate to borrow plenty of trickle-down technology from Dynaudio’s premium speaker series, including their “Hexis” resonance-defeating dome inside the tweeters. The Evoke 20 is described by Dynaudio as a “full-sized stand-mounted speaker designed for almost any sized space”. Packing a large 18cm (7 inches in the old money) woofer and a 28mm soft-dome tweeter crossed over at 3.2kHz into a cabinet measuring 215x380x317mm and weighing just under 10kg a speaker, the Evoke 20 is markedly bigger in the flesh than the Dynaudio Evoke 10 Bookshelf Speakers, which are the entry-point to the Evoke range.
As well as being a substantially proportioned stand-mount loudspeaker, the Evoke 20 is perhaps the most handsomely-crafted bookshelf speaker I’ve laid eyes on of late. The Danes are famous for their furniture design, and I can wholeheartedly say that the Evoke 20 would not look out of place sat astride the most high-end of living-room appointments. The Evoke 20 is available in two high-gloss finishes - white or black, as well as two wood-grained finishes: “walnut wood” and “blond wood”, the latter being the colour of the review pair that I had the pleasure of sitting in front of me for some weeks.
The Evoke 20’s wood-veneer finished MDF cabinets feel solidly-made, and under close inspection appear utterly seamless - there isn’t a single visible screw to be found. I can say without question that the craftsmanship here is absolutely first-rate, and although I do admire the finish of the high-gloss colour options, I’d be ticking the box for a pair of “blond wood” Evoke 20s in a heartbeat - they suit my vibe (and furniture!) to a tee. The Evoke 20s come with a set of magnetically-attached black grilles, but unless you have kids (or cats) who are prone to poking things, I suspect you'll want to keep them off to look at the awesome drivers underneath.
The cabinets are somewhat “trapezoidally”-shaped, gently tapering backward from the front to the rear, and combined with the rounded curves of the front and rear of the speakers, this gives the Evoke 20s a low-key purposeful look that places them a cut above the standard rectangular fare that we’re used to seeing in loudspeaker design.
The Evoke 20 is a bass reflex rear-ported design, with two large holes on the rear of each speaker to vent additional air displaced by their generously-sized woofers. Being rear-ported, this means that (like most speakers of this design) careful attention must be paid to placement to avoid any boominess generated from the rear wall or nearby corners - Dynaudio recommends leaving at least 50cm inches of room between the rear of the speakers and the rear wall. A pair of foam bungs are supplied to help assist with bass management if your Evoke 20s ever find themselves closer to the wall if your setup requires this.
The only other physical feature to mention on the Evoke 20 is the single pair of five-way binding posts provided on the rear of each speaker - they’re of fairly decent quality and made for a snug fit with my speaker cables which are terminated with banana plugs.
Evoke 20 - driver technology
The Evoke 20 is rated with a 6-ohm nominal impedance and a sensitivity of 86dB/1W - slightly on the lower side compared to other speakers of its size, but also easily compatible with most modestly-powered amplifiers (Dynaudio states a maximum power handling of 180 Watts). The two-way design is rated for a reported frequency range of 40Hz-23kHz, with the woofer crossing over with the tweeter at 3.2kHz. There’s some pretty serious pedigree behind both the woofer and tweeter, so we’d better take a closer look at how Dynaudio has applied 45 years’ worth of experience into the Evoke 20.
Dynaudio uses a signature in-house material to craft their woofers - Magnesium Silicate Polymer (MSP) which is employed across their entire speaker range thanks to its unique properties, as well as the resulting sound quality. Because MSP can be accurately moulded to any shape and strikes a neat balance between lightness, stiffness and damping, it’s a material that’s ideally suited to the speed and stresses of a vibrating woofer surface. The Evoke 20’s 18cm woofers are made from a single piece of 0.4mm thick MSP, with no separately glued-on dust cap - the uniform construction of the diaphragm makes them far more rigid and less prone to distortion.
The MSP woofers are connected to a 52mm voice coil which is made of aluminium, rather than copper, to achieve the right balance of weight and winding height. Dynaudio explains that this helps provide proper mechanical and electrical dampening to allow for a proper transfer of power for bass notes. Powering the motivation of the woofers is a new motor system consisting of a strontium carbonate Ferrite+ magnet system, and the woofers are sealed in place via a seamless surround trickled down from the Dynaudio “Contour” range which allows the diaphragms to travel further for “greater power and punch”.
Like all Dynaudio tweeters, Dynaudio used a soft-dome design when it came to the Evoke 20. In this case, a brand-new “Cerotar” tweeter has been designed using technologies developed in the “Esotar” tweeter used in the Dynaudio Special Forty Bookshelf Speakers, and also found in their range-topping “Confidence” series.
Behind the 28mm soft dome lies a specially-designed part which Dynaudio calls the “Hexis” - an inner dome that precisely shapes the airflow into the tweeter which smooths the frequency response and helps reduce unwanted resonance which can spoil the way you experience higher frequencies.
Setting up the Dynaudio Evoke 20
The Evoke 20s arrived securely inside a sturdy box, seated in foam cutouts and wrapped in a further light foam wrapping to keep their finish nice and debris-free. Being on the larger side, as stand-mount speakers go, some care is required to lift their 9.9kg heft out of the box and into your desired listening position. Dynaudio takes special care to protect the Evoke 20’s Cerotar tweeters, which are each fitted with a bright yellow rubber cap to prevent any damage to them while in transport (and while you’re handling them!).
Due to their size and format, the Evoke 20 can be used in a “bookshelf” capacity as well as on stands. As their “stand-mount” designation in the Dynaudio product catalogue suggests, having them up on stands is the optimal way to get the best performance out of them, and the best matching stands for them are the Dynaudio 20 Speaker Stands, although any other manufacturer’s stand will work in a pinch as long as you can keep them nice and secure.
Hooking them up to your amplifier is as simple as attaching the correct “+” and “-” speaker wires into the two five-way binding posts on the rear of the speakers. This may disappoint you if you can grand plans of tinkering around with bi-wiring (attaching speaker cables individually to the woofer and tweeter) or bi-amping (using a separate amplifier for the woofer and tweeter), but given the care that’s gone into the internal cross-over and voicing of the Evoke 20, I don’t really think that it’s that much of a tick in the “cons” category.
When I had the chance to have longer listening sessions at home I would pop the Evoke 20s on some jerry-rigged “stands” that work perfectly for my listening position in my living room - they allow me to have each tweeter neatly positioned at ear height, with a gap of around 2 metres between each speaker roughly forming an equilateral triangle with my head. In more day-to-day use, I would simply pop them on either side of my mid-Century cabinet firing directly forwards, however, this only left a gap of only around 20cm between the Evoke 20’s rear ports and the rear wall. The effect of placement was rather dramatic and can change the sound of the Evoke 20 rather markedly - before I explain further, I’d better give you an idea of what they sound like first, and what they’re like to live with and listen to music with.
Listening to the Dynaudio Evoke 20
As well as being an album that I know (and love) intimately thanks to its stellar production and range of eclectic “earworms”, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories also explodes out of the blocks with a veritable bang with its opening track Give Life Back to Music. I like to use this track to give myself an idea of how a pair of speakers perform in terms of dynamics and impact, and with them hooked up to the Lyngdorf TDAI-1120 Integrated Amplifier, the Evoke 20s brought me to attention right out of the gates with deep-reaching, room-filling bass that I could feel in my chest - those long-throw woofers create a real sense of scale and dynamics that belied their bookshelf stature.
The Evoke 20s are slightly lush-sounding speakers thanks to their solid foundation bass foundation and ever-so-slightly relaxed treble presentation. Katie Crutchfield’s vocals in Waxahatchee’s Lilacs come across as organic and velvety rather than strident, as they can with speakers with “hotter”-sounding metal-dome tweeters. This doesn’t mean that the Evoke 20 isn’t a highly-detailed speaker - far from it. Rather than force-feeding “false” detail through shrill treble, micro-details and dynamics are presented in a way that stills lays everything bare, but in an eminently listenable way. I would describe the Evoke 20 as being extremely enjoyable and pleasing from the get-go, but they’re also “growers” - their silky and natural voicing is utterly addictive, and as you start meandering through different records and genres they really do create a singular impression of naturalness.
I did find the Evoke 20s to be somewhat fussy in terms of placement. I highly recommend placing them on stands at least two feet away from a rear wall for best results, and after some tweaking I found that a slight toe-in of about ten to fifteen degrees worked best in terms of their sense of sound-staging and centre-image clarity, in my room at least. The War On Drug’s In Reverse from their Live Drugs album felt wonderfully immersive in terms of getting across all the hallmarks of an excellent live performance - pinpoint placement of each instrumentalist plus Adam Granduciel singing smack-bang in the middle, plus the cheers and applause of the crowd that felt like it was coming from far beyond the actual width and depth of the speakers themselves. The Evoke 20’s even-handed treble helps to tame microphone plosives and all the other spontaneous imperfections that make listening to live music so wonderful, all the while capturing the excitement and energy of one of the finest rock bands doing the rounds these days.
Moving the Evoke 20’s up onto my cabinet did create a marked lift in bass, hitting the room mode that seems to sit around the 45-50Hz mark in my living room. Whereas the kick-drum in All Them Witches’ creeping heavy rock track Diamond hit with precision and tautness while the Evoke 20s were out on the stands, it became somewhat boomy and congested with only a little breathing room behind each rear port. I suspect that this kind of bass emphasis will appeal to some listeners who can use placement and room characteristics to help create a more pronounced sense of low-end from the Evoke 20. Popping in the port bungs immediately tightened things in terms of bass speed and overall “correctness” - if you do plan on pairing the Evoke 20 with a sub I suspect that you’ll probably want to keep these in. On the subject of subwoofers, there was absolutely zero need for one for me to add one in my room at my usual listening levels, although there was naturally some roll-off at the lower end of the spectrum in Aphex Twin’s produk 29 .
Off-axis performance from those Cerotar tweeters is excellent - even with each speaker firing directly forward, I was able to move around my listening room and still get a sense vastness and vivid placement from each individual track in the vast, ethereal track Wading In Waist-High Water by Fleet Foxes. The choral vocals and instrumental parts in this track are also rendered beautifully, the Evoke 20’s midrange is expressive and beautifully well-textured.
Despite their low-ish sensitivity of 86dB, the Evoke 20 is remarkably versatile when it comes to amplifier pairing. I was thoroughly impressed with the way that the diminutive Burson Funk Headphone & Speaker Amplifier was able to handle these large stand-mounters, despite its spec sheet listing them as having a modest 45 Watts of power on tap (at 4 ohms). The Funk’s bigger sibling, the Burson Timekeepre 3i Headphone & Speaker Amplifier did noticeably up the ante in terms of scale and grandeur, with a more surefooted low-end and overall tonal weight. The aforementioned amps are both Class-AB designs, which did tend to suit the Evoke 20’s rich voicing and organic timbre.
The Class-D-based Lyngdorf TDAI-1120 a, on the other hand, lent the Evoke 20s a little more treble clarity and note definition. My favourite amplifier pairing with the Evoke 20 was easily the HiFi ROSE RA180 Integrated Amplifier with its BTL (Bridge Tied Load) mode engaged, which is able to unleash an entire 400 Watts per channel. The RA180’s control over the Evoke 20s low end was absolutely stunning, as was its ability to eke out a degree more structure and incisiveness when it came to treble information and note separation.
If you’re sitting in front of a pair of entry-level bookshelf speakers right now as you read this, there’s every chance that you’re thinking about what your next speaker “upgrade” might be. Before you start mentally moving furniture around in your listening room to work out how you can squeeze in a pair of floor-standing speakers, I’d highly encourage you to take the time to audition a pair of Dynaudio Evoke 20s. I say this because they’re not simply a stunning pair of stand-mount speakers - they’re a pair of stunning speakers, period.
Dynaudio has absolutely nailed the design brief here - they get full marks in the aesthetics category, and no matter your decor, one of the four finish options is bound to give your listening room a stylistic upgrade. Style aside, The Evoke 20 is a leaps-and-bounds upgrade in terms of what you think might be possible for a bookshelf speaker to provide - they have the scale and impact to fill a room with incredible-sounding music, and have equal amounts of flair and subtlety when it comes to technicalities. If you do get the chance to listen to a pair of Evoke 20s and eventually take them home, I suspect you’ll be hanging on to them for a very, very long time.