The annual prestigious German hi-fi show, Munich’s High End, is the stage Dali has chosen to launch his new “state of the art headphones delivering true hi-fi sound”, the IO-12, which impresses with its looks – easily as great as most the best on-ear headphones available today.
They too come from a strong herd; while TechRadar reviews of Dali’s gear excel at the brand’s more traditional speakers, my tenure in our sister publication What Hi-Fi? helped me flip through the 2019 edition They gave iO-6, They gave iO-4, the Danish audio specialist’s first foray into the world of wireless on-ear headphones. Why mention it? Because for an inaugural effort, these cans were nothing short of perfect detail, finesse, and form, spoiled only by a slightly over-cautious delivery that lacked an extra ounce of punch for the price.
Travel to May 2023 and step into (with some fanfare) Dali’s new IO-12 wireless over-ear headphones featuring custom 50mm drivers, active noise cancellation, aptX adaptive support and to top it all off, USB-C (read: wired) 24-bit/96 kHz high-resolution audio.
They are also the world’s first headphones to feature Dali’s patented Soft Magnetic Compound (SMC) magnet system. Let’s delve into it, because although it uses the same material as in Dali’s high-end speakers, you need to know about “hysteresis” to understand it. When conventional magnets are used in loudspeaker construction, said magnets may introduce unintentional resistance to the voice coil, which may lead to undesirable distortion of the audio signal, or hysteresis. This is not an unusual phenomenon at all.
Dali’s SMC technology combined with proprietary paper fiber cones promises to significantly reduce hysteresis and drastically lower uneven harmonic distortion. The goal, of course, is crystal clear sound with very low distortion and better depth and musicality.
And Dali doesn’t back down on all of this, telling me, “By using SMC in the IO-12, we’ve essentially achieved an electrostatic level of midrange clarity.” Dali refers to electrostatic loudspeakers that use a completely different type of technology, which is a huge advancement in detail, but also in price – and they are difficult to drive.
For audiophiles, the Dali IO-12 headphones are designed for wired or wireless use. With the aptX Adaptive Bluetooth adapter and the included 3.5mm mini-jack and USB-C cables, you can listen to music from a wide range of devices, including the best smartphones, the best high-resolution audio players, PCs, game consoles and more. Using the supplied USB-C cable, depending on the source and device, you can listen to high-resolution audio up to 24-bit/96kHz.
Opinion: Dali stuck to his morals and dropped the app for his 2023 over-ear headphones, and that could be a problem
Dali is perhaps best known for its line of speakers drawing on an impressive 40 years of heritage, including the stunning Oberon series launched in 2018 and the 2017 Spektor series opted to hold their guns with a simple no-app operation here. But will it be enough in 2023?
Users can of course skip tracks, adjust volume and more with the IO-12’s integrated buttons, but will that hold up in a still-crowded market where in-app EQ fixes, sound zones, sidetone and hearing tests are shown on the left-right and center ? I bet if the sound is good enough, listeners will forgive the omission of the companion app – but Just if the sound is special.
Battery life is also good, giving you 35 hours of fatigue-free listening, and thanks to the high-quality integrated microphones, you should be heard clearly when making hands-free calls or voice control with a compatible device.
Interestingly, the Dali IO-12 also offers two sound profiles for listening to music. Want to hear music the way the artist intended and leave the extra sound profiles alone? No problem. But maybe you’re looking for a more dynamic, bass-focused performance? The IO-12’s customized “Hi-Fi” and “Bass” sound modes offer a novel choice.
Attention vegans: the foldable design has a leather headband and beautiful, large, square ear cups.
Price list? Of course (get ready): $1,499 / £999, which is around $1,870, which is a lot of the best headphones on the market, and more expensive than even the Focal Bathys or the Bowers & Wilkins PX8 – but not quite as expensive as the Meze Audio Liric.