Author: Karsten Hein
Category: Gear & Review
Married audiophiles will confirm that you can tell you are onto something special, when your wife comes home and—without prior talk on the subject—leaves you baffled with a congratulatory comment regarding your new loudspeakers. I cannot remember the exact words, but they were something along the lines of: “By the way, I saw the new speakers. They look absolutely fabulous! Are they here to stay?” With us, the latter is a valid question. Because, more often than not, the speakers are only with us for testing, before they are given back to their owners.
The loudspeakers on display were a pair of Dahlquist DQ10, and they were given to me for sampling by my friend and fellow audiophile Luigi. This is nothing unusual, and those who have followed my reviews will know that I have tested much of Luigi's HiFi equipment over recent months. And—to my surprise—my wife was not the only female showing instant affection regarding the Dahlquists. My sister in law, someone who is aware of my hobby but does not stop by our house on a regular basis, marvelled at the new speakers when she noticed them in the room. I think you will agree that this is not something that women usually do, regardless of how much money you have spent. It is pretty much the equivalent of a guy commenting on the beauty of a girl’s makeup or shoes. Normally that doesn’t happen, right? And yet, with the Dahlquists, it happened twice within a very short timeframe.
The Dahlquist DQ10 was the first loudspeaker manufactured by the Dahlquist company, then based in Hauppauge New York. Among the company’s founders were some famous names in audio, such as Jon Dahlquist and Saul Marantz, Irving M. Fried and Werner Eymann. The DQ10's design was first exhibited at a New York audio show in 1972. It was revolutionary, because it parted with the traditional boxy shape of conventional speakers. Dahlquist had instead constructed a cabinet that suspended its drivers freely in an open array and in correct phase alignment. From the DQ10 onwards, the term 'Phased Array' became the Dahlquist trademark.
The design idea was loosely based on the popular Quad electrostatic speakers of the 60s and, among Dahlquist enthusiasts, is said to have successfully achieved a marriage between the powerful bass slam of conventional cone drivers with the low refraction, high transparency, and phase accuracy to be expected from electrostatic speakers. The resulting loudspeaker had a square and convex frontal face that was covered in dark cloth and flanked by slim sides of natural wood. To play at ear level, the speakers were then positioned on slender stands that, at their base, matched the wood colour of the speaker sides and held each unit suspended on three black columns or pillars.
In combination with the speaker stands, the DQ10 looked light and non-technical from the front and slim from the side. It arguably held greater resemblance to a radiator than a loudspeaker, an aspect that made it both stand out as a design element and an understatement in terms of technology. Strangely enough, its appearance fits into a modern household just as well as it did back in the seventies. It is not surprising, therefore, that close to 60,000 pairs of Dahlquist DG10s were sold between 1973 and the end of its production in 1988. And the Dahlquist remains popular among audio enthusiasts until this day, reaching 4.8 out of 5.0 stars on audio-review. With more and more units going out of service due to their advanced age, used prices of this speaker have been on the rise over the past 15 years.
The DQ10 featured a closed bass cabinet with angled sides and an asymmetrically positioned 10” cone driver. It had a dedicated 5” mid-bass driver to support the woofer and provide the Dahlquist’s legendary mid-bass punch. The midrange was produced by a 1.75" soft dome driver, much like the tweeter, which was of 0.75" dome design. A super tweeter served to extend the upper frequency band using piezo technology. With the exception of the woofer, all drivers were held freely suspended by metal brackets and radiated both towards the front and the speaker's open back. A 5-way crossover made sure that each driver only played a limited frequency band and cut off from mid-bass to super tweeter at 400, 1000, 6000, 12000Hz, respectively. The crossover components played such an important part in the Dahlquist’s overall performance that there were many specialists in the market offering upgrades.
The Dahlquist was rated at 8 Ohms and appeared to be easy to drive, and yet, the phased array design required lots of clean power from the amplifier to sound at its best. 150-200 watts paired with high-current ability went down well with the DQ10. In many ways, its demand for power and its overall performance were similar to Martin Logan, Magnepan, etc. speakers that were of electrostatic or magnetostatic design. The positive aspect was that the DQ10 was also able to compete in this range and that the investment into a decent amp was poised to be rewarding. I hooked the Dahlquist up to our Hafler XL-280 power amplifier to satisfactory result, however, Luigi was quick to assure me that the large Audio Research D-115 tube amplifier (which I had already returned to him) would have been able to bring out even greater effortlessness and transparency in the DQ10. This was well possible, as the Dahlquist liked to be driven a little harder to achieve greater musical coherence.
Although the speaker was positioned relatively low for many seating arrangements, its height became less of an issue when sitting further away from the speakers. Generous distance to the speakers was essential to minimise phase differences resulting from the spacious array design. In our less than perfect listening room under the roof, I was sitting just two meters from the speakers with a huge space opening behind me. I was positively surprised by how full and consistently lush they sounded, both in my listening position and when walking across the room. The DQ10 produced a spacious, intense, and full soundstage that was in many ways similar to a live-event. The thumping of the mid-bass, the space between instruments, and its timbre when playing Jazz and Vocal Jazz resembled the sensation of being at a dingy small-club concert. The speakers produced the most realistic audience clapping that I had ever heard coming from a two-way system. The highs were detailed and spread out as you would expect from an electrostatic speaker and they were non-aggressive at all times. Voices were affectionate and full with a slight leaning towards throaty.
If you like your music to sound lush with rich harmonics, and if you enjoy full-bodied vocals and a live-feel when playing music from acoustic instruments to be found in Jazz, Folk, Singer-Songwriter, etc., and if you own a beefy high-current amp to pair them with, the Dahlquist DQ10s just might be the right speakers for you. Give them a bit of time to settle in and some space to breathe on all sides, and they will make music for you like few other loudspeakers today. And let's not forget the wife acceptance factor, of course.