Kreisel Sound DXD-12012 and Quattro Stack Review

An old master gets up to some new tricks

by AVForums
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Kreisel Sound DXD-12012 and Quattro Stack Review
SRP: £2,000.00

Introduction

Some equipment designers are imbedded in the landscape of the audio world, like stars in the firmament. They are the people that wrote the rule books and invented concepts that will continue to shine, long after their time in this industry has passed. Ken Kreisel, amongst many other innovations, invented the concept of the satellite and subwoofer in 1974, marketed the concept to the world in general in 1976 and finally, added an amplifier to create the powered subwoofer in 1977. And that barely scrapes the surface. I suggest a trip to the Kreisel Professional Sound website timeline page to investigate further. There are plenty of other points of note, not least that Ken appears to have changed not one jot between the 1969 and 2012 pictures, dalliances with a dodgy 70s ‘tache aside.

From the UK consumer's point of view, it was Ken’s involvement in movie sound reproduction that brought his company’s (Miller & Kreisel, or M&K if you prefer) products to the fore. Equipping many of the worlds editing suites with his products, Ken was also instrumental in creating many of the standards applied to products used in this role. His fingerprints run throughout THX certified products to this day. But it was the fact that you could actually buy the self same equipment the sound engineers were using, that marked M&K out. The fact that they were robust, sounded good and best of all, weren’t that expensive, helped to cement the legend.

When the news filtered through that, through reasons too complex to reiterate here, Miller & Kreisel had closed it’s doors and ceased trading, there was world wide angst at the end of an era. With barely a pause for breath, the rumours regarding Ken's future endeavours started almost immediately and in early 2012, pictures ‘leaked’ from Hong Kong of the first of the new Kreisel Professional Sound products. There was simultaneous relief that the pictures showed a shared heritage with their forerunners, but also slight disappointment that, with a fresh sheet of paper to design on, they weren’t more different. A picture might be worth a thousand words, but that’s not enough to tell a whole story. It turned out that images of lone MX-700 MkIII (DXD-808) and MX-5000 MkIII (DXD-12012) subwoofers, were far from showing the whole picture.

Which brings me to the subject of this review. In what is a world first, AVForums have secured not one, but four of the larger MX-5000 MkIIIs, the reasons for which will soon become apparent.

Background

Let me first address the nomenclature as it’s confusing. The name MX 5000 MkIII is the consumer variant of the subwoofer. The DXD-12012 is the professional audio/prosumer variant, that has been released first. I’m not sure what a prosumer is, but it sounds better than a confessional to this lapsed Catholic. The MX-5000 name is historically significant within the previous range of M&K, hence it’s use in confirming where the new product is positioned within the upcoming range. As variants of the M&K legacy designs are now marketed under the Danish (and unrelated brand) of MK Sound, I fear this is bound to cause confusion amongst consumers. As the consumer and pro variants are identical, not to mention that DXD-12012 is more descriptive of the product, I for one wish that the legacy designation was dropped. That the first samples released on the world are the pro variant, carrying the DXD 12012 name, will probably only serve to reinforce this identity.

There are more important issues to deal with, such as what does a DXD12012 do and how? To understand this, it is necessary to understand the ethos of the design, which is in turn, to understand what the designer holds most important. This is particularly pertinent with a Ken Kreisel designed subwoofer as they plough very much their own furrow, although others have flattered with imitation. But first:

Kreisel Sound DXD-12012 Quattro

In the box


Upon receipt of what is the biggest pallet of subwoofery yet to land on my doorstep, I noted that the some of the boxes were a bit courier tatty. Uh Oh! I thought, but upon opening the box, my fears were assuaged as I found it merely contained another box. Double carton - nice. Upon opening that box, I found yet another! Talk about belt and braces packaging. Inside this nest of protection, two large clamshells of styrene foam grip the subwoofer, which sits in its own soft fabric drawstring bag. The subwoofers were pristine. Aside from the manual, there are four screw in feet and a mains lead, which was a Euro style two pin. L-Sound assure me that customer subs will ship with the legally required UK three pin.

Sat on the floor, the DXD12012 is surprisingly svelte, even though it's not a small sub. The immaculately gloss black side cheeks with their inset grills, sandwich the black leather effect front, bottom, top and rear panels. I was circumspect about this particular detail, but I'm pleased to report that in the flesh, it is a nicely understated, satin finish and the detail is subtle even when up close. The grills as mentioned are flush and a very tight fit, serving to add a bit of black on black detail which adds interest. There is one circular grill covering the side driver on the right and then three grills covering the apertures that vent the bottom driver, on both sides and rear. The front panel has nought but a chunky K Kreisel badge, that can be turned upside down. More on why that is needed later, but I would have prefered the badges to be magnetic, as removing them leaves the two pin locating holes visible.

Technical

It should be understood in advance, that if Ken Kreisel has a mantra, it's probably 'time domain, time domain, time domain!'. In a world where subwoofers are aparently judged on sheer output, depth and harmonic distortion alone, this would seem slightly contrary. When you get into the nitty gritty, it makes a lot of sense, even if it's not immediately obvious why. Ultimately, if you want a subwoofer (or any speaker for that matter) to have a real kick, snap, hit, insert adjective of choice, you need to ensure that all frequencies it emits, are emitted at the same time and stop at the same time. A complex sound like an explosion, or a drum stike, is composed of lots of frequencies which all start instantaneously. If anomolies in the phase response of the subwoofer cause certain frequencies to start/stop at different points, then the impact of the effect or sound is softened. The measure of how much a transducer slurs it's delivery is it's transient response and it is a distortion of the original signal as serious as any other, but in the time, rather than frequency domain. I'd also note that even the 'harmonizing' CEA 2010 subwoofer measurement standard, fails to take into account this sort of non-linear distortion.

It's important to note that, only a sealed subwoofer (with a system Q of 0.5 to 0.707) with it's inherent 12dB/octave roll off, can offer the optimal transient repsonse and a natually flat in-room response, albeit below the lowest room mode. Adding a high pass filter to protect the driver from excessive bottom end, internal EQ or tuned ports (which rotate phase) to boost output, ALL impact this requirement. The DXD12012 (and the 808) ticks these respective boxes, with it's internal EQ set to allow the resumption of the natural roll off, below 30Hz.

At the same time, these criteria are not mutually exclusive to the easier to grasp headline figures sub-bass fans chase. Again a KK subwoofer cuts it's own cloth, to achieve solutions to those requirements. The most notable design choice is that of using a pair of drivers in an asymmetric push-pull arrangement. You will not find massive triple stacked magnets, girder like cast baskets, metal cones or huge roll surrounds on a KK subwoofer. On questioning Ken, he used a very apt sports car analogy. Distilled, he likened the current vogue for monster sub-bass drivers to American muscle cars, that can't lap a track as fast as a Lotus Exige. If you add more power to make up the shortfall with brute speed, you add more weight which in turn requires more power and more extreme engineering to keep it all in check. And it still won't go round a corner as fast as a Lotus.

Kreisel Sound DXD-12012 Quattro

Instead Kreisel Sound use lighter, treated long fibre (paper, if you must) cones and smaller nitrile rubber surrounds that control cone resonance far more effectively, whilst maximising cone area. This lighter structure needs less motor to control it and therefore doesn't require massive baskets to support the weight. The smaller, more efficient, voice coils offer lower induction, which improves frequency repsonse and therefore transient response. You also don't need as much power to motivate this lighter structure, which means less heat to disipate, which lowers distortion too. Don't read from this, that there isn't attention to technological detail because there most certainly is. Cone and dustcap topology have been optimized to ensure pistonic behaviour, the voice coil bobbin has been anodized black to shed heat quicker, with significant venting behind the dustcap and through the cone to the same end. An aluminium shorting ring, further controls inductance and much time has been spent optimsing motor linearity. The Kriesel drivers only wear their flash as silk screened logos to the driver dust cap.

All you have really given up through use of non monster drivers, is ultimate SPL at the lower frequencies. That is solved by using two drivers, which brings us to the Ken Kreisel signature push-pull arrangement. You could, in SPL terms, achieve exactly the same SPL output at all frequncies by just having two drivers mounted the same way - i.e. cones out in a push-push arrangement. But a driver is an asymetric structure - when the cone is travelling outward, it does so in a slightly different and opposite fashion to when it is travelling inward and this is a source of non-linear harmonic distortion. You could control this with heavyweight engineering (see above) or you can simply turn one driver around and wire it out of phase. Both drivers still move out and in together, but they are travelling in opposite directions with respect to their own suspension, which cancels the even order harmonic distortion components, resulting from suspension non linearity. As you are now using two drivers, you also benefit from the mutal acoustic coupling that results in an increase in output (and corresponding further reduction in distortion) of 6dB, but you do so off only double the power. With one driver, you would need double the excursion, requiring larger suspension, that would reduce effective cone diametre and also four times the power, but with only one voice coil to dissipate heat. So you build a bigger motor, bigger basket and the arms race resumes. As an erstwhile DIY subwoofer enthusiast, I'd thought about push-pull in the past, but never thought much beyond the benefits of the even order harmonic distortion cancellation advantage. On closer examination, it seems such an elegant engineering solution, that makes the heavy metal engineering solutions appear brutal by comparison.

Turning to the rear of the cabinet, reveals the plate amp. Internally, there are actually two Class D monoblock amps (one per driver) manufactured by Claridy Amps. Each is rated at a "conservative" 375w RMS, with three times that figure available for dynamic peaks. Each amp has it's own 400w (continuous) high speed switching power supply. The amplifiers are wired electrically out of phase, so the cross-coupled power supplies are swinging a simultaneous plus and minus 400w, totalling 800w.

Kreisel Sound DXD-12012 Quattro

Externally, the usual gain, phase and low pass filter (crossover) controls are present, with a separate toggle switch to bypass the latter and let your receiver/processor handle the bass management. The main power on/off next to the three pin IEC mains socket, is joined by an additional auto/always on toggle switch, 'always on' being mandatory when using the XLR input. The mono balanced XLR input, has a straight through (unbuffered) balanced XLR output. This output can also pass an untainted signal from the (left hand) stereo RCA input.

Kreisel Sound DXD-12012 Quattro

The final features of note, concern the rows of six threaded inserts at the top and bottom of the rear panel. When stacking the DXDs, you place four rubber pads on top of the bottom subwoofer, before placing the other on top. Using twelve screws, you then screw three rubber backed metal plates into both of the cabinets. In practice, it's nigh on impossible to slide the top cabinet on the rubber pads, but the plates serve to mechanically lock the cabinets together.

The subject of stacking, brings us to the "Balanced 3D High Velocity Push-Pull-Pulsar Deep Bass Pressure Wavefront Technology", which is but one of a number of trade marked phrases you will find in the technical blurb. Now, whilst the Americans name every function in a way that makes it hard to say with a straight face on this side of the pond, there is huge mileage in what the technology is looking to achieve.

In essence, the drivers vent to the side or rear of the cabinet ("Back-Sidefire"), in order that their output couples as closely with the room boundaries as possible. This not only maximises output through boundary gain (stick your head in a room corner, to see how loud bass is compared to your listening position as an illustration) but also to minimises destructive interference due to the delayed first reflection from that boundary. The next step in the concept is to stack the subwoofers, rather than mount them side by side, or somewhere else in the room. This has the effect of, not only delivering the full monty 6dB of extra output co-location delivers, but ensuring that the subs are time aligned ("3D" & "Pulsar Deep Bass Pressure Wavefront"), as they are basically exactly the same distance from your listening position. But Kresiel Sound go one step further, in turning the topmost sub upside down. The result is that each of the four drivers now has an opposing counterpart, two firing left and right, two firing up and down, the coupling plates ensuring a tight mechanical coupling of the opposing forces between the two boxes. This cancels any movement from the cabinets generated in opposition to driver movement ("balanced push-pull-") which makes the cabinets extraordianarily inert even when playing at high levels. Placing a hand on a pair of DXDs, whilst playing a bass torture track of your choice, is surprisingly uneventful.

The logical extension of this, is to mount an additional pair of DXDs, with the same orientations, on top of the first to form the full Quattro stack. Of course, those living in converted chapels etc, can go on adding extra pairs to their hearts and ceiling height content, so Ken may have sold the concept short here!

Setup

As Kreisel Sound are only just getting into the throws of releasing their own range of speakers as I type, various examples were used, ranging from my own XTZ standmounts, Elipson Planet L and a particularly memorable afternoon, with a trio of Genelec 1037c three way active tri-amp studio monitors across the front. Sub bass EQ was courtessy of the DSpeaker Anti-mode Dual Core.

Setup posed an interesting conundrum, not least because once you've progressed to the full Quattro Stack, it's not exactly an easy thing to move about and it isn't going to fit under your screen. The front right corner of my room is marginally worse than the position to the left of the screen, but it was chosen as it would allow the most direct comparison between one, then two then four subwoofers stacked, without having to change the position for practicalities sake.

As a note of caution, don't assume that your room is the UK 'average' of 8ft, every inch of which the DXD12012 stack will require. You're only a couple of skims of plaster and a thick natural wood floor from not being able to fit a Quattro in. The rubber feet on the base sub, plus the few milimetres taken up by the rubber pads add fractions that all add up too. I know my room is slightly higher than the norm, but even so I was up there with a tape measure before attempting to lift the final DXD.

Listening - Single & Duo Stack


Kreisel Sound DXD-12012 Quattro

Lets not mince words - a single DXD12012 is a very capable subwoofer and probably as much subwoofer as a lot of people will want. I don't know what I was expecting, as my personal exposure to the MX-5000 (and the very occasional MX-5100) is a distant memory, but I wasn't expecting quite so much of everything. This is particuarly pertinent, as the DXD12012 (even before L-Sound's introductory offer) sits squarely in the price bracket of the old MX-350. If the DXD12012 takes the MX-5000 game up a notch or two, then it's price kicks what you could previously buy for the cash, clean into another ball park.

Fans of the legacy M&K designs will be pleased to hear that the trademark mantis style snap, is as savage as ever. But it now sits on top of a bottom end that is as confident in it's depth, as it is in it's ability to punch. This mid-bass ability is wrought, not only from the clean speed at which leading edge transients are delivered, but in concert with the speed at which the DXD12012 lets these moments stop, passing swiftly away without overhang or waffle. Two scenes from Book of Eli demonstrate this, with the superbly recorded gun sounds. The small arms of the street gun fight, are the best I've heard since Open Range and the DXD was in it's element delivering the concussive crack of each shot with weight, but no sense of over inflated, over extended additional boom. Just an instananeous blast. The Gattling gun sequence is pure AV nirvana (and will make another appearance later) and is a relentless series of pounding thuds, that intensify in depth and SPL as the scene progresses, taxing depth and dynamic peaks in equal measure.

It is however, an effect where the dynamics are more important than the depth for its success. A single DXD delivered the grin inducing pulses, only the very bottom end feeling slightly light, at the highest volumes and even then, I only noted this with repeated playing.

In fact, this area of sustained very low frequency effects is the only area of note, where one DXD shows the natural limits of a pair of 12" cones in a sealed enclosure. Physics is physics after all and my room is quite large, but the only subs that have exceeded the DXD on this point alone, have either been a LOT larger and/or more expensive and/or ported. None have outpointed it in any of the other qualities yet mentioned.

Kreisel Sound DXD-12012 Quattro

With music, by which I mean real music, rather than something extracted from the bowels of a computer, the DXD12012 is in it's element. The same qualities, that etch movie bass with such texture and detail, are manna to those who want to not only feel a kick drum, but want to hear how tight the skin is and examine the difference between pedal strikes. The pace of the musical bottom end - whether you're following the complex drums and bass lines of Paul Simon's 'Gracelend' or the feeling the raw anger of The Jam - is breathtaking to the point where you sometimes actually need a breather. At high musical levels, the sensory intensity is quite demanding as your attention is so focused on the extra layers of detail laid before you. It is, to extend an earlier analogy, like the difference between a sanitised Ferrari red letter day, to actually doing a track day. The former leaves you exhilarated, but under sated, whilst the DXD track day blows your mind every ten laps. It should be understood that this not the DXD adding something to the reproduction - it's simply not bluring and softening the intensity of the musical content.

Adding a second DXD to deliver the Duo Stack, added a little more of the same in music mode. I noted that it's addition was most effective with a music recorded in a real acoustic environment, where tangibility of the venue depends on the success of the reproduction in portraying the long reverberations of the room, to add spatial clues. It's less about adding depth and more about adding space and the DXD Duo had a fine grip on this.

Back with movies and the extra headroom and audible depth makes itself more firmly felt. All the nimble dexterity remains, but now it is joined by a thunderous bottom end that rather than merely tickling your room, starts to shake it. Sufficient air is now being moved that the effects designed to be tactile, rather than audible, start to realize their potential. Deep, deep sounds, designed to engender a sense of foreboding, build atmospheric tension more effectively. I noted this in the moments before the huge Terminator (Salvation) attack. Instead of the sudden silence between the characters, hinting at what's coming, you get the same sinking feeling from the atmosphere becomming energized. In fact, the rest of that scene goes to demonstrate what I've come to love about the Kreisel style of bass and it holds as true for one DXD, as it did for multiples. There is a lot going on throughout that scene, much of it very deep and it can become a bit of a rumble fest. A lone DXD might not deliver the very lowest bits, but at no time did if confuse what it was generating, which piece of bass. The quality of the reproduction is not sacrficed at the altar of quantity, although adding the second 12012 pretty much sorted that right out.

I should make specific mention of how clean the upper bass is. As noted the drivers and the topology in which they are employed, is inherently distortion reducing and designed to keep close contol of cone movement and it's damping. I found it possible to comfortably run 120Hz crossovers, without audible location of the DXDs becoming noticeable. On hand during the latter part of the DXD stay, were a set of loudspeakers sporting some very nice drivers, but their slim form factor imposed natural bass and therefore SPL limitations. Upping the crossover the extra half octave, takes much of this stress away and as a result, they were comfortable playing at quite unreasonable levels. It's not enough that the sub will crossover at these frequencies. It has to be reproducing them with low distortion for the speaker/sub blend to remain seemless and with the DXD, it does.

Listening - Quattro Stack


Kreisel Sound DXD-12012 Quattro

After the Duo, the Quattro is a shock. None of my non-AV friends, who normally ignore my excesses, would let the Quattro pass without comment. An expletive riddled proclaimation was the norm and to be honest, I agree. An eight foot pillar of black subwoofer will not blend into any decor, outside of a dedicated home cinema, or a Goth's bedroom. The increasingly tolerant Mrs. Williams, even went so far as to say it wouldn't be so bad if it was white, which is a rare admission. But let's be honest, the Quattro isn't a style statement, so much as a statement of intent - uncompromising bass reproduction.

And boy, does it deliver. Everything yet noted holds true - it's a nimble subwoofer, capable of fine nuance and is remarkably civilised. At late night levels, bass is firm, extended and doesn't simply disappear when the level drops below a certain point. Ninety percent of the time, it just does what a single DXD12012 does, unobtrusively.

Then you turn it up and it's absolutely brutal. The Anti-mode Dual Core I run as an room equaliser has test tones that, truth be told, are too loud. I start the tones at 10Hz, to allow the Dual Core to get a full picture of what the sub is doing, even if most are practically inaudible until near, or above 20Hz. Not the Quattro. I pressed 'Start' and the house (not just the room) broke into a cacophony of disonant protest, as everything - doors, windows, radiators, even a table for Pete's sake - quite literally, tried to disassociate itself from whatever it was attached to. I've been in earthquakes (3 before you ask) that are less threatening and during one, I was on a fourth floor balcony. Do make sure that if you are going to give a Quattro Stack it's head, that breakable objects have been secured. Health warning over and don't say I didn't warn you...

In all practical terms, at least in my room, you can't go as loud as the Quattro. With levels matched to the three big Genelec monitors, your ears became the limit. The sheer scale of unabated, uncompressed peak SPLs, be it from Kodo drums or the Enterprise entering warp, is phenomenal. The amount of kinetic energy the Quattro imparts to the immediate environement purely through the acoustic medium, even more so. If you have a leather sofa, I promise you you will not want for a tactile transducer, as an owner of one confirmed. During some effects, you could even feel your hair moving, if you were lucky enough to have some. In fact, it's hard to descibe what a Quattro does, without digging out the cliché handbook. It seems incongruous to labour this point, especially in the light of having pointed out that Kreisel subwoofers are not foremost about sheer SPL, but it is unavoidable. It's also an education, because it dawns on you that up to that point, you haven't heard eveything encoded in the LFE soundtrack, even if you have a very large, expensive, massively engineered subwoofer.

By 'everything' I don't just mean an extra few Hertz at the bottom end. I'm talking about the savage ferocity of effects across all parts of the bass range. You expect the ground heaving at the beginning of War Of The Worlds to be epic and it is, but it's the Martian rays that benefit more. Whereas they have sounded impressively electric in the past, the energy the Quattro DXDs can pump into the room, makes the room feel like air is being rendered to a furnace of electrical plasma in front of you. The Book of Eli Gattling gun, no longer just hits you, it compresses you with each 20mm detonation. Tai Lun's escape from prison in Kung Fu Panda has, like many parts of the movie, some superb LFE. You wait for the final heart beat of the villains leap, which does indeed result in the room bending pulse you hoped for. Along the way and this was the one that had me hitting rewind, you note the intensity of the double headed axes hitting the stone floor. If you've ever stood on a concrete slab whilst somebody hits it with a fourteen pound sledge hammer, you'll know what I mean about the dull, metallic, transient shock, that can only result from something very heavy, being stopped by something very hard. Many subs deliver the sound of the axe, but none have delivered the impact that makes the effect feel like stone, in the way that the Quattro does.

This is the education part of the Quattro. It's not adding something, it's just not getting in the way of what is flooding off the disc. It's delivering the signal at it's full, uncompressed scale, without a hint of transient compression, or delay and is free of overhang. It hits instantaneously, lets go and is gone and that lends music or a soundtrack, a believable tactile reality and not just because it goes deep.

Kreisel Sound DXD-12012 Quattro

Verdict

10
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Exemplary performance
  • Monsterous mid-bass kick
  • Modular upgrade path
  • One DXD12012 is not that big

The Bad

  • Limited range of inputs
  • Quattro is very large
  • Quattro is very black
  • Don't demo Quattro if you can't afford it

Kreisel Sound DXD-12012 and Quattro Stack Review

The conclusion and the marking is a game of two halves, purely because four subwoofers are a different proposition to one. The marks as awarded are for the full Quattro stack, with a single DXD-12012 maybe loosing a power handling mark. That's not a criticism of the DXD, more a criticism of marks not telling the whole story - so read the review!

A single DXD-12012 is a subwoofer worthy of very strong recommendation, even if you don't take into account the introductory L-Sound offer. It does so much right, because it sticks to it's ethos, refusing to compromise them on the grounds of chasing some headline grabbing low Hertz SPL figure. Next to a DXD-12012, almost any sub sounds leaden footed, such is the alacrity of it's attack and it is one of the very best subwoofers I've ever used with music.

If there's a complaint, it's that it's range of inputs is perhaps a touch parsimonious. The stereo crowd will bemoan the lack of high (speaker) level inputs, as only a stereo RCA phono input is provided. At least the lowest low-pass crossover of 40Hz means those with a spare pre-out will stand a chance of integrating the DXD with full range speakers.

Moving to the Duo stack and the additional output offered by just the one extra sub, does nothing to dilute the good qualities, whilst adding that bit of extra grunt we all like. Okay, we're now effectively dealing with a £4k+ subwoofer, but aspects of it's performance are exceptional amongst it's peers. Some will still go that bit louder and lower but ye gods, the Duo kicks like a mule, whilst maintaining that fine grip on subtle detail that marks the DXDs out as whole. The Duo is reference level subwoofery.

Where the DXD-12012 Quattro is concerned, there needs to be a 'Weapons Grade' mark on the scoring scale. £8k IS a lot of money for a subwoofer, but then it does offer a level of performance, in all respects, that is simply breath taking. It toodles along, subtly adding scale and dynamics to simple acoustic music, performing as if it it weren't there. And yet at the same settings, without tweaking, it can rearrange your giblets with a bombastic movie soundtrack. I could not find a weakness in it's ability with any programme material, nor a volume level that really started to push it's limits, without resorting to dirty tricks like extreme house curves and they are simply not needed.

But what really sells me on the Quattro, is that unlike any other £8k subwoofer, you can buy it in installments. Yes, you can buy other £2k subwoofers and pile them up, but the force cancelling nature of the Quattro delivers an inertness to the whole structure that is demonstrably very effective. At full chat, a hand placed on the cabinet(s) feels virtually nothing. Like so much about the DXD subwoofers, it's a simple, elegant solution that leaves you wondering why nobody else does it.

Reference Status

Scores

Value For Money

10

Sound Quality

10

Build Quality

.
9

Verdict

10
10
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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