May 2002Dahlquist Audio QX6 Loudspeakers
by Doug Schneider
The Dahlquist brand name has a long and storied audio history, and even today the venerable Dahlquist DQ-10 speaker, which was last produced decades ago, has many fans still talking about it virtues. But Dahlquist is new again, as the original company ceased production some time ago and a Canadian firm, Jonic International, has since brought the name back. Although Jonic has no intention of resurrecting Dahlquist designs from years gone by, they maintain that the new Dahlquist still stands for the innovation and commitment to high-quality sound that established the name in the first place.
The new Dahlquist has its sights set on the entry-level speaker market -- most likely the single largest market of music-buying consumers. Coming out of the gates, Dahlquist has an impressive number of speakers in its lineup -- including full home-theater systems and large floorstanding models. Currently, the QX6 ($500 USD per pair) is the top Dahlquist bookshelf-sized speaker. The smaller and less expensive QX5 and QX4 are also available.
Dahlquist speakers are designed and manufactured in Canada with a hint of British influence -- the companys engineers come from Canada and England. Since the Canadians and British have long been known for producing the lions share of the high-quality, cost-effective speaker designs sold around the globe, Dahlquist feels that they have the best of both worlds with their design talent.
Although there may be some British influence on the sound of the QX6, the appearance is very Canadian. The vinyl-clad, rectangular enclosure measures 14 1/4"H x 7 7/8"W x 11 1/2"D and comes in either a black oak or cherry finish. Its a compact, fairly lightweight design, weighing in at 15 pounds. As is expected today, the finish is to a very high standard. A close look at the enclosure reveals tightly fitting edges and flawless veneer. Overall fitnfinish are very good, and I certainly have no quibbles given the price.
Both finish options are attractive, but the black is, well, black. The cherry, on the other hand, is very sharp. The review pair came in black, but if I had to choose, no question Id take cherry -- it has a little more sophistication and is less techie-looking. This criticism isnt directed solely at Dahlquist -- Im bored to death with black components.
Every line on the speaker is straight -- perhaps more British influence -- save for the curve at the bottom of the removable grille. Taking off that grille, though, reveals a little more flash, with a silver front baffle and a "keyhole" driver configuration reminiscent of some Paradigm models. Grilleless, the speaker's striking contrast of the front baffle to the sides does make the black finish look considerably more attractive. If you plan on keeping the grilles off, the black finish may be the way to go.
On the back panel are threaded inserts for potential wall-mounting brackets and also dual five-way binding posts ready for biwiring. Jumpers are supplied for single-wiring.
The driver complement is a 6 1/2" polycone woofer and a 1" aluminum-dome tweeter. Like many similar designs, the QX6 is ported out of the rear, more or less behind the tweeter. The crossover frequency is 3.5kHz, sensitivity is said to be 87dB, and the impedance is a reported 6 ohms. Most moderately powered amplifiers and receivers should have no trouble with the QX6es.
Dahlquist maintains that the British influence shows itself in the speaker's voicing. The company doesn't ignore the far-off-axis response of the speaker, an important consideration with a number of the Canadian-produced speakers. Dahlquist is more concerned with the direct sound of the speaker and works to optimize that. They stressed the importance of getting the midrange just right, and they also say theyll forgo overly deep bass response to produce tighter bass of higher quality.
System and setup
I used the QX6 speakers with the splendid 100Wpc Arcam FMJ A32 integrated amplifier and its companion, the CD23T CD player. Wiring was S-L series from Nirvana Audio, and the speakers sat atop of my 26"-high Osiris stands.
Setup was a snap. The QX6es ended up a couple feet from the side walls and about five feet from the front wall. Obviously placing the speakers closer to the front-wall boundary helps reinforce the bass and get a little more oomph in the bottom end, but, as I found out, the small QX6 is quite a robust speaker, and for my tastes, it didnt need any help. The company says 37Hz is typical in-room response limit -- perhaps a little generous -- but the speakers do go surprisingly low. Toe-in was a modest ten degrees or so, and this provided good imaging with strong center fill.
I listened to the QX6s in two discrete phases. My final listening phase followed time with Ruarks new CL10 -- a speaker that retails for many times the QX6s price. The Ruarks are good -- really good -- and obviously a hard act to follow for something a fraction of the price. However, I was impressed when I slipped the QX6es back in and found that they acquitted themselves quite well. This speaks plenty for what the QX6 achieves.
The QX6 is a smooth and, as I mentioned, surprisingly robust- and weighty-sounding speaker, especially given its size. Its also very articulate, with traits that match the upper end of the small-speaker set. When I switched over from the Ruark speakers to the QX6s, I was playing Bruce Springsteens The Ghost of Tom Joad [Columbia 67484]. This is one of the few Springsteen albums that has decent sound quality. The differences between the speakers were far less than I expected them to be.
On Tom Joad, Springsteens voice is recorded close-up and with plenty of detail, resulting in full-bodied and almost in-your-face sound. The QX6 couldnt quite match the level of detail that the CL10 provided -- nor should it be expected to for a fraction of the price -- but I was surprised at just how tight and controlled the voice was. The QX6 has a smooth midrange presentation that is impressive because it exhibits very little chesty or woolly character. The QX6 is not as open-sounding as the CL10 -- or the very best, and more expensive, bookshelf speakers that you can buy -- but its sound is clear and well articulated. The speaker can also play quite loud and still hold itself together nicely. The tonal balance is dead-on, and Springsteens voice had the right amount of richness and texture to it. The swelling bass on this disc hints at what the QX6es are capable of down low.
Springsteens harmonica soars with excellent extension and a lot of finesse. The QX6's refined treble is readily apparent, and there is the right amount of texture and bite to provide detail. Sibilance on female vocalists like Norah Jones (Come Away with Me [Blue Note Records 32088]) is only minimally exacerbated. The tweeter doesnt have the sparkle and infinite airiness that you get with a loudspeaker that costs, say $1000 or $2000, but like the midrange, the treble is refined and notable given the price point.
Hearing the level of sophistication up top brought to mind just how impressed I am these days at what you get with the best lower-priced speakers in terms of high-frequency extension. Even a few years ago, the tweeters of such speakers were a dead giveaway that the speakers were low priced, mainly because the speakers were grainy, brash, or tizzy. You certainly dont have to put up with such sonic maladies anymore. With the QX6, cymbals may still have a bit of splash, and you wont necessarily quite get that bell-like clarity on the upper registers of a piano, but from the midrange on up, this speaker has a clear, smooth, and seductive quality and no obtrusive sonic anomalies that give away that the speaker retails for an affordable price.
Soundstaging and imaging are also quite good, with a solid left-to-right spread and a reasonable amount of depth. Overall resolution is fine, with an ample amount of detail and ambience coming through to give a good re-creation of space. More expensive speakers with the airiest of tweeters tend to give more of this, but whats here is commensurate with the price.
The center image I achieved with the QX6es was excellent in terms of solidity, even when I spread the speakers fairly widely apart. The images in the stage arent as vivid as those of some of the more expensive bookshelf speakers, but they are stable and the overall presentation is quite dimensional, particularly in light of the fact that many low-priced speakers create a disappointing illusion thats as flat as southern Saskatchewan. The QX6es give a much more voluptuous presentation.
Buena Vista Social Club Presents: Omara Portuondo [Electra/Asylum 79603] features well-recorded female voice that shows the smooth and almost velvety texture of the midrange. Even the most discerning of listeners will agree that this speaker has a pleasant overall balance. The QX6 doesnt cut out and delineate the musicians on this disc like a reference-level bookshelf monitor such as the $1265 Amphion argon2 would, but it shows itself to be an admirable and more-than-competent speaker. And, of course, it costs far less money.
I found the midrange performance of the QX6 interesting because it differs a bit from that of the Axiom speakers I think so highly of and also compete in this same league. The Axiom speakers midrange tends to be a little more crisp and lean. This is particularly true in the case of the up-front and open $400 M22Ti SE and the large $1100 M80Ti SE. The QX6 is more full and relaxed in the mids. Which one is more realistic to you will likely depend on your tastes.
Its the percussion, though, that I wanted to listen for on this disc to see how the QX6es handled drums and the like. This album has dynamic and lively sound, and it can tell me if the speaker is razor sharp down below. I already knew that this speaker had bass, but I wanted to see just how tight and controlled it was. I wondered if they were delivering quality with the quantity.
I find bass performance to be the biggest variable among the budget-speaker bunch and where a definite "flavor" shows through. This is largely because at the $500 price, youre never going to get perfect bass -- the size of the enclosures and the driver used dictate that you can only get so much bass. But just as with tweeters, things have improved with woofers of smaller speakers.
The QX6 does display good bass tightness and control, and these are balanced with roundness and fullness -- without sounding overly fat or too loose. Kick drum is softened a bit, and the low end of a piano is a little obscured, but its pleasingly full-sounding, and I found this trait to be a good thing for listeners who want something fairly full-bodied but dont necessarily want to add a subwoofer. Ill forgo really deep bass as long as the speaker doesnt sound lightweight or thin. The QX6 definitely isn't these. In fact, I found the QX6 to sound even more full than some more expensive, comparatively sized two-ways with the same type of driver configuration.
A contrast in design style in terms of bass performance is Polk Audios diminutive $810 LSi7 loudspeakers. This speaker uses a 5 1/4" woofer and has a more punchy and visceral sound down low. It hits with a thwack and reaches down just low enough so that it doesnt sound small, but its definitely not as full-sounding as the QX6. I think that given the price of QX6, Dahlquist has achieved a good low-frequency balance. Not only is the bass impressively deep, it's also pleasing to the ear as well as coherent and consistent with the rest of the frequency range.
The new Dahlquist has made a successful entry into the fiercely competitive affordable-loudspeaker market by, in my estimation, getting two things right: The QX6 is well built, and it's good-sounding. There are other speakers, even more expensive ones, that dont even get one of these two things right. I still shake my head in disbelief at how many mediocre speakers around the $500 price point are being gobbled up by unknowing buyers when recent offerings Ive heard from companies like Paradigm, Polk Audio, Axiom, Athena Technologies, Energy, and now Dahlquist, are not only writing the definition for whats good sound for the price, theyre also shaking up the status quo for speakers priced higher.
Sound-savvy consumers who do a little reading and go out and learn to listen dont have to worry about being taken when buying speakers. Just as you no longer have to put up with tizzy treble and bad bass, you dont have to expect just average sound for a modest outlay of money. Trust your own ears, not the sales and marketing hype, and you can expect to come home with something quite stellar that youll be happy with for years to come.
The QX6 has a number of distinct traits that Im sure many listeners will love, and it should certainly be on an audition list of $500 speakers.
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