The legendary Dahlquist DQ-10 speaker
Mar 31, 2005 (Updated Oct 31, 2005)
Popular Products in BooksThe Bottom Line Still wonderful after all these years, though still just as fickle as ever.
I wrote a somewhat long-winded article previously in which I mentioned this remarkable loudspeaker, but deleted it as it wasn't as focused as it should have been. Hopefully, this will be a better effort.
The Dahlquist DQ-10 loudspeaker (no longer manufactured and only available used on ebay and other such locations) all but revolutionized the high-fidelity industry, when it was first introduced at a Hi-Fi Show in New York in 1972. Jointly designed by the late industry legend, Saul Marantz (who sold his namesake to the Japanese, so that current product bearing his name bears little or no resemblance to Saul's greatness) and a young engineer named Jon Dahlquist, the DQ-10 all but stood the industry on its ear (please pardon the pun).
Here, for the first time, was a speaker system, utilizing five separate, and quite conventional drivers, all arranged on different planes (Dahlquist called it a "phased array") to yield a totally uncolored, and transparent sound heretofore available only in electrostatic speakers, but without any of the numerous drawbacks that electrostatics had. The term "stereo image," or "soundstage" suddenly cropped up amongst the elite, as the precise positioning of various instruments, not only from left to right, but also from front to back was now a very real benefit of listening to music on these speakers. (Hearing Joan Baez singing "Diamonds and Rust" was what did it for me: I'd never heard a female voice sound so clear and pure.)
The DQ-10 was praised by just about every reviewer, and soon found its way to an increasing number of "high-end" audio shops all across the country. When used with appropriately high quality peripheral equipment, the DQ-10's all but sang. Unfortunately, as they required very large amounts of power, needed to be elevated via the optional stands, and most definitely needed to be augmented by a sub-woofer (something unheard of at the time), the speakers often fell prey to less than scrupulous retailers.
It was pretty easy to make the DQ-10 sound lousy: using an underpowered receiver, or amp, and placing the speaker on the floor, and under a counter (as opposed to being at least 3 feet from the wall) did the trick. Soon, two different "camps" developed: one that loved the DQ-10, and the other that hated it.
All of this occurred at least 25 years ago, and now, if one judges by the preponderance of praiseworthy comments on the web, the DQ-10 is enjoying a resurgence of interest. Audiophiles have long "tweaked" with products, and the DQ-10 was perhaps their favorite toy to play with. Changing tweeters, electronic components (capacitors, resistors, etc.) and replacing internal wiring have all met with great praise, though such tinkering isn't something most people would wish to do.
As these speakers are old (I believe Dahlquist closed its doors in the late 80's), another problem has occurred that is quite easily fixed: the foam surround on the woofers rots. This isn't a sign of abuse, but rather, simply something that happens to most speakers of this age. There are several places to repair Dahlquist woofers. I used one called "Simply Speakers" in Florida, and there is a website called "Regnar.com," composed of many of the people from the original, New York-based company. Both do a fine job of repairing these woofers.
Why would one even bother fixing a speaker that's 25 years old? Aren't new speakers better? Well, the answer is that, despite decades of "new & improved" techniques, the DQ-10 still holds its own as one of the very best speakers ever made, and even stands up against others costing four or even five times as much. So, if that's so, then why doesn't everyone have a pair of DQ-10's?
Well, there are many answers to that. For starters, they require very large amounts of power, and also benefit from what's known as a "high-current" amplifier, which most conventional stereo receivers just aren't. Unless you own a separate pre-amplifier, and a separate high power, high current amplifier, you won't get the full benefit from these speakers. Also, they're almost 3' square, and need to be elevated on the optional Dahlquist stands, so they won't comfortably fit in many a living room. And, they must be at least 3' from a wall for best performance. Then too is the fact that they need to be augmented with a sub-woofer.
Though the original Dahlquist sub-woofer (The DQ-1W) may still be available used, it is not a powered sub, and requires either the Dahlquist passive crossover network, or an electronic crossover and an additional amplifier. Frankly, you're better off simply purchasing a new, powered subwoofer from a variety of manufacturers. Just don't buy one that's not up to the same standards of the DQ-10's themselves.
Not everyone can accomodate these speakers, nor their fickle pre-requisites. If, on the other hand, you can, then go check out the Dahlquist DQ-10 on the web to see what's available. Remember: these speakers originally sold for $500 each, with the stands costing an additional $100 each. Also, inquire as to whether or not the woofers have had their foam edges replaced (if they haven't, that's very likely going to be something you'll get stuck with in short order).
There's also something called "mirror-imaging," in which the drivers in one of the two speakers are reversed to provide a precise mirror-image of the other speaker, in order to further improve the soundstage. The benefit here is actually minimal, though very real. If the speakers listed on a particular site aren't mirror-imaged, don't use that as a deterrent: you can do this yourself, if you're so inclined.
I'm writing this because I recently had the woofers repaired in my 28 year-old DQ-10's, and am absolutely stunned at how good these speakers still sound. I also have a much, much more expensive pair of loudspeakers from another, respected manufacturer, and greatly prefer the sound of the DQ-10's, now that they've been fixed. I'm fortunate enough to have a room in which they fit comfortably, and have a very powerful, "high-current" amp and associated equipment of a very high order of quality.
If you have the space, and the equipment needed to adequately drive these speakers, then you owe it to yourself to check out the deals on the websites (just Google "Dahlquist DQ-10," and lots will come up) and snatch up a pair as soon as you can. If you, like me, appreciate genuinely excellent, high fidelity sound from a good pair of speakers, then you'll love these speakers. I certainly do.
UPDATE: October 31, 2005
In this original post, I state that there are two companies, each of which does a fine job of refoaming woofers on DQ-10's. My experience with both has altered that statement dramatically: I initially sent my woofers off to Simply Speakers in Pinellas, Florida for a re-foaming. While initially pleased, I subsequently heard loud distortion on certain deep bass passages that the folks at Simply Speakers chose to say was my playing the speakers beyond their limits. Having owned them for lver 28 years, I knew this not to be so.
I then sent these "repaired" woofers off to Regnar, Inc. in Patchogue, NY for a complete rebuild. Cost difference? Simply Speakers: $70, plus shipping. Regnar: $291, plus shipping. Why such a huge difference? Instead of merely affixing a new foam surround, Regnar completely rebuilds the woofers to all-new standards, and as a matter of principle, doesn't ever just refoam these woofers.
The re-repaired woofers are back and now the DQ-10's sound better than ever. Did I waste my money by paying Regnar so much? Not at all. But I certainly did waste my money paying Simply Speakers anything. Let this be a warning to others.