KEN KREISEL DXD-808 Subwoofer
By Jim Wilson (theJman) Introduction
The subject of this review is the KEN KREISEL DXD-808
subwoofer. The DXD-808 is what's called a "push-pull" design, with the drivers offset in such a manner that one of them faces outward -- like a "normal" driver would -- while the other is wired out of phase and has just its back half exposed. It's not large by subwoofer standards measuring in at only 17.5"x10.75"x13" (HWD), yet it weighs an impressive 46 pounds. Everything about the DXD-808 is solid and well built - there's not a single part that feels cheap or flimsy.
According to the website the class D amp is conservatively rated at 750 watts RMS, with a peak of 1500-2200 watts (depending upon measurement conditions). In actuality it's dual 375+ watt monoblock amps, one for each driver. The amp is a custom design from Claridy, a renowned amplifier company. The typical in-room frequency response is listed at an incredible 15Hz-200Hz. The DXD-808 includes a very generous 5 year warranty.
Ken Kreisel, the founder and proprietor of his eponymous company, has a very distinguished resume in the audio world. His first foray was as a teenager back in 1969. By 1974 he and partner Jonas Miller started the legendary Miller & Kreisel Sound, or M&K Sound. What made them legendary? Well, among other things they originated the subwoofer-satellite package (1976), engineered the first powered subwoofer (1977) and were the first company to have a THX approved sub (1992). Ever hear of the Dolby Digital format? It was created on M&K speakers. Ken's products are so widely acclaimed that they're actually used to mix the soundtracks for major motion pictures, among them Star Wars, Pearl Harbor, Black Hawk Down, Lord Of The Rings and The Incredibles. Ordering
KEN KREISEL is like most other ID manufacturers, meaning they sell their products on-line. They have a link on the website for their Online Store
, as well as one titled Where To Buy. The latter eventually takes you to KEN KREISELS store, just like the first link does, so it appears as though they don't currently have a dealer network. Well, at least not in the USA; there are links for Europe and the Far East that take you to the websites of third party distributors in those regions.
A single DXD-808 retails for $1995, while a DUO pair like I reviewed is $3995. You can stack up to 16 of these subwoofers together in towers of 4 each, but there isn't any price consideration when purchasing multiple units. There is a rather innovative way to get a discount though, and that's using their Competitive Upgrade Program
. This is an unprecedented, and as far as I know completely unique program, whereby KEN KREISEL will give you credit for your old subwoofer that can then be applied to the purchase of a brand new sub. Details about the program on their website are a bit sparse, but they do supply contact information so you can find out what your current unit might be worth. I really like companies that think outside the box, and this program certainly qualifies. Unboxing
At this price point I expect to see extra steps taken to ensure my subwoofer arrives in one piece, and I wasn't disappointed. The DXD-808's came double boxed with large medium density foam end caps covering the entire top and bottom of the inner box. For added structural integrity there were additional cardboard sleeves in all four corners. The sub itself was in a heavy cloth bag too. All-in-all, a very good packing job.
Accessories include a power cord, along with two small plates and commensurate screws used when connecting two subwoofers to form a DUO configuration. One glaring omission was there isn't an owners manual. On the KEN KREISEL website, under the Support link, you can download PDF versions of the Quick Start Guide, Install Sheet and instructions for installing the brackets used to connect the subwoofers together. But that's it - unfortunately when you click on the Product Manuals link there's just a paragraph that says manuals are not available yet. A $2000 subwoofer should really have an owners manual. When I contacted Ken about this he said "We are now putting the final touches on the owner's manual which will be posted online soon", so shortly after you read this review one should be available. Initial Impressions
The DXD-808's have impressive cabinets that are heavy and feel very sturdy, easily passing the universal knuckle rap test. They're gloss black on the sides and have a leather-esqe material that wraps around the front and top panel. With one side mounted driver and several small grills interspersed at the bottom of the enclosure they present a very unique appearance. For those who read my reviews on a regular basis you know that I respect people who take chances and do things differently; square black boxes get boring after a while. Ken Kreisel definitely bucked the trend here, and personally I like it.
Build quality was excellent, with no visible defects and only two or three screws that needed a slight twist to snug them down. The cabinets are made from 1" MDF side panels, while .75" is used everywhere else. There was an extra .75" MDF panel added where the outside-facing driver is mounted, so that area is an incredible 1.75" thick. This is one rock solid enclosure. There is damping material stapled to the inside of the front and top panels, which is the only place you could really apply any.
Even the grills fall into the over-engineered category. They're made from .5" MDF, which isn't terribly uncommon, but they don't flex at all. The cloth material was applied perfectly and looked very transparent. They fit so tightly that it was hard to remove them. One thing I did find odd is the round grill over the driver uses metal pins, while the two rectangular grills have plastic pins instead. For a subwoofer in this class all metal seems more appropriate to me.
The dual 8" drivers are little beasts, weighing more than most 10" drivers I've come across. The cone material is a treated pulp blend attached to a cotton/nomex spider. The single slug magnet is huge, relative to the size of the driver, and contains a secondary magnet used to minimize interference with surrounding electronics. They're held in place by machine screws and inserts, mounting them securely to the cabinet. The material used for the surround is a mouthful; nitrile rubber acrylonitrile butadiene copolymer. The only voice coil venting I saw was under the dust cap. I found it surprising that all this came wrapped in a stamped steel basket, not cast aluminum. I half expected some type of exotic material, but it was plain old steel. The lower driver had its magnet sitting right up against the bottom panel, so KEN KREISEL added a foam sheet between the two that acts as an isolator. Nice touch.
KEN KREISEL's website lists a number of key features for the DXD series of subwoofers, such as:
- "BACK-SIDEFIRE" design optimized for very tight time domain pressure coupling with your studio or room
- Unique Modular Scalable Building Block Design, upgradeable to the DUO and QUATTRO
- Dual 8" Long-Throw KEN KREISEL PROFESSIONAL SOUND HIGH VELOCITY DEEP BASS PUSH-PULL-PULSAR Drivers
- Custom Molded NBR Surround for Ken Kreisel’s Silent Running Suspension system
- High Strength Extremely Linear Spider made from a special blend of cotton and pure NOMEX
- Optimized Magnetic Structure using an undercut T-Style Pole Piece and Aluminum Shorting Ring
- Precision Ultra High Temperature Wound Voice Coil on Black Anodized Bobbin for Maximum Cooling
- Dual Class D Push-Pull Cross-Coupled High Current - Hybrid Bridge Monoblock Amps Delivering 750+ Conservative Continuous RMS Watts
- Dual Integrated Cross - Coupled High Speed Switching Power Supplies for Maximum Dynamic Peak Headroom
- Dedicated Monoblock Amplifier for each of the High Velocity Deep Base Drivers
- Professional Grade High Performance Pre-Amp using a Pure Analog Circuit Design
- Variable Bass Level, with Fixed Level Setting, Phase, Low Pass Filter Controls with Filter Bypass Switch
Frankly, I don't know what a few of those features are or what they're supposed to contribute. Is it simply marketing gobbly-gook or do those things actually represent genuine technical advancements? Some of them I can't say for certain, but I can tell you that the end result is nothing short of amazing; the DXD-808 is a tour de-force when it comes to rich, clean, pitch-perfect bass. This little subwoofer with the dinky 8" drivers should not be able to produce this type of sound. It's not just the quantity that's astonishing though, it's the quality; these are the most musical and articulate subwoofers I have ever heard. I could easily listen to these all day long and not regret a single minute of it. Being OCD and very picky means I am not easily impressed, yet these little buggers have won me over. Even the auto on/standby functionality worked perfectly, always coming out of standby when it should and never once going back in unless it was suppose to. You know how much that irks me when it doesn't function properly.
The excellent bass tone left me stunned more then once. About the only thing I would have liked was a bit more depth, but I guess that's what the DXD-12012's are for. Don't take that to mean the 808's were deficient though; I often marveled at the deep, rich bass I was hearing. I wanted more, as is often the case, but I wasn't necessairly left wanting. Everything the 808's did had a "snap" to it, clearly indicating just how quick and precise the bass was. I actually looked forward to listening to music and movie soundtracks simply because these subwoofers were that enjoyable. I wonder how many people reading this can truthfully say that about the subwoofers they have. Setup
To an extent hooking up the DXD-808's depends upon how many of them you have. I had a pair -- DUO in KREISEL-speak -- so that's what I'll focus on primarily.
It starts with the standard sub-out connection from your AV receiver, which in most cases means RCA. The amp on the 808 has XLR inputs as well, so you can use a balanced connection if you have that option. There are no speaker level connections though, just balanced and unbalanced. One thing I found a bit different from most amps is that the gain is called "bass level", and it has + and - offset to 0dB. There's also a setting on the knob for "reference level", which clicks and locks into place.
The phase adjustment is accomplished via a dial, so you can set it for anything between 0 and 180 degrees. The low pass filter (LPF) is also a dial, which can be set anywhere from 40Hz-160Hz. It's a 2nd order low pass, so it rolls off at 12dB per octave (which means the slope is gradual, not sudden). I like the fact that this dial clearly lists all the LPF settings, instead of just a few like most companies seem to do. There's a switch that allows you to completely bypass the LPF, as well as one for Auto On/Always On. Curiously, both the Phase and LPF dials have detents for exact positioning -- which is a very nice touch -- but the Bass Level doesn't. And finally, there are the 'green dots'...
Setting all these dials and switches can be a daunting task for a lot of people, especially when you're new to HT. Which one does what? If I turn a dial or flip a switch what will happen to the sound? Which of these are mutually exclusive? That's potentially intimidating, because there are myriad combinations, but that's a thing of the past for a customer of KEN KREISEL. They have very thoughtfully placed green dots on every connector, switch and dial (except for the LPF setting) to show you exactly how to hook up and configure your subwoofer in a typical home theater setting using a modern AV receiver. I don't know why more manufacturers haven't figured this out, because it's a simple yet effective method to take the guess work out of it. The reason there isn't a green dot on the LPF dial is because once you set the Low Pass switch to the by-pass setting, which is where the green dot is for that, the LPF is disabled and taken totally out of the circuit. Listening
My living room is 13x17x8 (1768 CF), so it's not terribly large. The main seating position is approximately 11 feet from the subwoofer. All testing was done after both units had been broken in for at least 25 hours. The DXD-808's needed a long time to come into their own, but once they did I was rewarded with incredible bass.
Out of the box they were actually on the weak side. At first I was a somewhat concerned about how I was going to review $4000 worth of subwoofers that required me to run them +3dB hot, along with setting my AV receivers trim to +1dB. I always find that subwoofers sound better given a few hours, but this seemed a bit extreme to me. Then the drivers started to loosen up and a wonderful metamorphosis occurred. By the time I began doing my critical listening and taking notes in earnest I had backed the subwoofers gain down to 0dB and my AVR's trim to -1dB most of the time, which collectively equates to a huge
difference. The DXD-808's need time to get their legs underneath them, but once that happens they truly come into their own. Movies
I run each test scene twice; once while seated in my normal listening position, and then a second time while sitting a few feet from the subwoofer. This allows me to hear it as I normally would, yet also affords me the opportunity to determine if the subwoofer is straining even the slightest bit. Both tests are run at the same volume level. Lord of the Rings: Fellowship Of The Ring
The opening scene started it all off on the right foot by producing some of the most extraordinary detail I have heard to date. The marching of the soldiers and the fight with the Orc's were real treats. Everything struck me as being clean and sharp, but perhaps a touch light in the depth department. As Saron's hand is cut off and the Ring and his helmet hit the ground there was only a little bass ripple. When Isildur picks up the ring there's supposed to be a short but very intense bass sweep, which wasn't as pronounced as I would have liked.
The foreboding rumble in the background that signals the Balrog's existence in the Bridge Of Khazad Doom scene was clean and precise, with a good amount of impact. Its initial roars had excellent texture and definition. So precise was the sound that I actually caught a few underlying subtilties I didn't even know existed. As the chaos builds, and structures start to crumble and break, the dynamics and balance was nothing short of superb. As I'm wont to do I cranked the volume when the Balrog jumps out of the cavern and lands behind the Fellowship. While the clarity was amazing the impact could have used a little more kick, especially his thunderous footsteps as he chases after the Fellowship. War Of The Worlds
The lighting strikes from In The Storm were quick and decisive, with a nice jolt. The Machine Emerges is "the" scene though, so I was anxious to see what the DXD-808's could do when confronted by the ultimate test. I'll start out by saying there wasn't quite enough feel to make this scene completely real for me, but there's no denying how incredible the definition and dynamics were. Whether it was explosions, buckling pavement or subterranean rumbling the DXD-808's were just sensational.
The Heat Ray had a wonderfully rich pop as it went about obliterating everyone. The demolished house at the end of the scene exploded with authority. Perhaps the best part was a mere few seconds long, when the Tripod walks past Ray as he's hiding at the end of the street. Those footsteps had a magnificent clarity. The bridge destruction during The Escape is the loudest part of the entire movie and the DXD-808's handled it well, but knowing how powerful that part of the scene is supposed to be I found myself a little underwhelmed. As soon as the Hudson Ferry scene kicked off all was forgiven though.
When this scene opens the Tripod lets out a bellow from its horn that the 808's reproduced phenomenally. The sound was so clear that it revealed a faint undertone, a slight change in pitch, I didn't even know existed. I replayed this part several times because I couldn't believe what I had just heard. That's the same thing I did when it came to the Tripods footsteps; as it starts walking forward towards the ferry and stepping on the trees there was a previously unheard second tone that was no longer hidden. At first the snap it created was so sharp I thought the driver may have bottomed, but it turned out to be nothing of the sort. As I came to realize what I heard was how the audio track was supposed
to sound, yet this was the first time it had revealed itself to me. This seemingly minor revelation intrigued me though, so I tried an experiment. I unhooked the DXD-808's and replayed the same portion of the scene with two completely different subwoofers. One of them didn't have sufficient transient response to do much with that tone change, while the other barely did if you sat close. As soon as I hooked the 808's back up it was prominent once again. Now that I've heard it I may not be able to watch this scene again without knowing it's supposed to be there. Underworld: Awakening
Truth be told, I don't ever recall watching this movie where I didn't feel as though at least a portion of the LFE track was indecipherable. No matter what subwoofer I've reviewed something was missing, and in this case it was no different. However, here the missing piece was depth not precision, as is often the shortcoming. The DXD-808's didn't have the guttural impact this movie requires, but pitch, clarity and accuracy were never at issue. It's quite possible I now know what this soundtrack is supposed to contain, and like certain parts of War Of The Worlds I may never be able to use it again because anything less than this will probably be a disappointment. One of the most punishing parts has always been the pounding footsteps of the huge Lycan Selene fights in the underground layer. A lot of subwoofers produce bass that lacks distinction, so what you hear ends up sounding like nothing more then harmonic distortion. Not this time. While I didn't really get room-shaking depth I could actually discern the individual footsteps. Tron: Legacy
As frequently as I use this movie for subwoofer reviews let's face it, the sound track is a bit of a mess. Far too often it strikes me as droning and sloppy. One of the worst offenders are the engines on the Transporters that pick up Kevin Flynn. Well, on lesser subwoofers perhaps; the DXD-808 actually produced a semblance of clarity. They weren't able to turn lemons into lemonade, but they came as close to cleaning this up as any subwoofer I've heard. The elevator that takes Kevin down to the lower levels almost sounded as though it was bottoming the drivers, but it was difficult to tell. The pulsating Daft Punk soundtrack during The Games was delivered, for the most part, with good definition, but you could tell the 8" drivers were reaching their limits (or was it simply the crummy audio track?). The Light Cycles during The Grid were quite powerful, but bombinated too much for my tastes. Since I do hold this soundtrack in such low esteem I was anxious to see what the DXD-808's could do with it. They certainly helped, but ultimately they proved over-matched. However, I don't necessarily consider them to be at fault. Sometimes there's only so much you can do. Avatar
The engines of the gunships during the opening of Assault on Home Tree weren't quite powerful enough to make them seem real; very clear, but could have benefitted from a bit more presence. The incendiary rounds and missiles fired at the base of Home Tree during the actual assault hit with a nice thud. The plethora of rumbles, crunches and crashing sounds as Home Tree collapses were outstanding. A little light on overall impact perhaps but very precise and defined, each maintaining its own distinct character. As the troop transporters land and deposit the invaders on Pandora there's a nice solid thump, same as when the robot warriors jump out of the cargo hold and hit the ground. The stampede of beasts ridden by the warrior clans might have been the best part, with excellent power and dynamics. As the troops discharged their various weapons trying to repeal the advancing clans the reports were clean and quick. Everything just seemed properly weighted.
After all the testing was finished I checked both amps for heat, but there was hardly any. It's as though they were laughing at me, saying "is that all you've got?". Music
I used a combination of lossy and lossless material -- MP3, WAV and CD's for the most part -- to judge how musical the DXD-808 subwoofers were. As adroitly as the DXD-808's performed with movie soundtracks, it was music that made me fall in love with them. To be succinct, I have never heard a more musical subwoofer in my life. While I spent a lot of time watching TV and movies, music was where I spent the most time. What follows below is but a brief sampling of songs I auditioned; I spent countless hours just listening to one thing after another. When it comes to music the KEN KREISEL subwoofers are in a league of their own. G3 Live In Concert - Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Steve Vai
G3 -- which stands for Guitarists 3 -- is actually several permutations of people who go out on tour every once in a while. Joe Satriani is the organizer, so he's in every version of the group. This CD also includes Eric Johnson and the unbelievably talented Steve Vai. Each guitarist gets to play a few songs, then they all come back on stage for an encore together. I chose one song from each, with Satriani up first.
Summer Song is a fast paced tune with a driving beat, along with a lot of soloing from Joe of course. Often times the rhythm section is prominent in live shows, and here it was no exception; the kick drum and bass guitar had a very realistic live feeling to them, with Stu Hamm manning the bass while Jeff Campitelli banged away at the drums. As I cranked it up the DXD-808's just kept getting louder, with no audible strain whatsoever. I had a smile on my face while I replayed this song a few times, harkening back to the Satch concerts I've been to.
For Eric Johnson I picked Zap. EJ has a very distinct sound, and he likes to keep his guitar tuned a certain way. He also sticks to just a few different effects pedals, but his signature sound almost always gives away the fact that you're listening to Eric Johnson. I've always liked the song Zap because it has a lot of energy. Roscoe Beck (bass) and Brannen Temple (drums) don't get enough credit in my opinion because they're both very talented. For this song the bass has a rich and textured feel to it, which the 808's faithfully reproduced. The drumming hit with a nice solid punch, with no overhang or slop. Everything seemed spot on.
What can you say about Steve Vai? If you have an affinity for rock guitarist then you simply have to see him play live. In all my years of going to concerts -- and no, I'm not telling you how many that is -- I have never seen anyone do what he can. Words like "prodigy" and "natural" get tossed around too easily in my opinion, but if there was ever a person born to play the guitar it's Steve Vai. His instructor as a kid? None other then Joe Satriani taught him, but he's surpassed the master. I've seen Steve play and he really can do the stuff you hear on his CD's, which makes it all the more stunning. For The Love Of God is an almost 8 minute jam which showcases what this man is capable of, but it also generates a lot of power from Philipe Bynoe (bass) and Brannen Temple (drums). The bass lick in this song is slow but it nonetheless enabled the DXD-808's to showcase what they can do, and that can be summed up in one word; precision. The bass was clean and tight throughout. The kick drum in particular hit with a decisive thump, and it blended perfectly with the bass guitar.
I finished out this CD with the trio's rendition of Red House, a smokey blues song with a lot of room for soloing. However, I focused almost exclusively on the bass and drums because I was reviewing a subwoofer after all. The DXD-808's did not disappoint either. The bass guitar was powerful and clear, with virtually every note coming across as though you were actually at a live show. It was the drums where the engineering excellence of Ken Kreisel really came into play because they hit with an attack that was both sharp and precise. Even though this song is 9+ minutes long I listened to it several times, the last time being at 0dB. Foo Fighters - My Hero
This is perhaps my favorite Foo Fighters song, I just love the driving rhythm. What I didn't know, even after listening to it at least 100 times, is there's a subtle change in the pitch of the opening bass line. During that riff -- which continues, to a large extent, throughout the rest of the song -- Nate Mendel does a 3 or 4 note detour into a much deeper realm. Until I listened to it on the DXD-808's I never realized just how far he went with that. It was almost as though I was hearing it for the first time. By now you've probably noticed this type of thing has happened to me more then once while listening to something on the DXD-808's. Soundgarden - My Wave
From the fabulous Superunknown album this song is similar to My Hero, with a powerful driving rhythm. While not as much of a revelation as the Foo Fighters song I did experience dynamics better then practically every other sub I've reviewed. I love the pairing of Ben Shepard on bass and Matt Cameron on drums, they were Soundgarden's best line-up in my opinion. The attack from Cameron's drums was amazing, while the texture of Shepard's bass was rich and full. The Cult - Fire Woman
This song has a real slick hook to it, one where you almost feel compelled to start rocking back and forth. Both Ian Astbury's vocals and Jamie Stewart's bass are dominate with this song, and the DXD-808's did not disappoint when it came to producing the low end. The bass had magnificent quality and definition. No matter how loud Astbury howled he simply couldn't drown out Stewart, at least not at 0dB. Yup, it was cranked and I enjoyed every minute. Rush - Limelight
Yea, you know this song, and probably why I selected it. Two words; Neal Peart, one of the most talented drummers ever to pick up a set of sticks. This song clearly shows his prowess, with one of his now famous unique time signatures. The DXD-808's played Peart's entire drum piece with exquisite detail and authority, especially the kick drum. And let's not forget about Geddy Lee, for his bass sounded rich and forceful with a wonderful balance. This one was worth playing a few times as well. Grand Funk - Closer To Home
From the album of the same name. Recorded during the days when thick, heavy bass was king, and the DXD-808's simply ate it up. The song drags on a little too long towards the end, but a true classic and representative of the era. Mel Schacher's bass was absolutely commanding, pushed front and center just like it should have been. No matter what else was going on in this 10+ minute song, the bass was omnipresent and simply luscious. Electronic
- Bass Mekanik (WAV) - Welcome Stranger was crisp and sharp, but it was evident the sweeps were missing the lowest notes. Seeing as how the DXD-808 only have 8" woofers I wasn't surprised. What it could play was produced with excellent clarity though. I would prefer that behavior myself; if the depth or volume is too much I would rather have a limiter step in then hear some awful noise. Funky Annihilating Bass was similar to Welcome Stranger with wonderful detail but the lowest notes were absent. Although, to be honest, there were a few portions of this song that I was stunned by just how much bass these subwoofers were able to put out. In Bass Station there were a couple of times during the sustained sweeps that I felt a little bit of a pressure wave, which is certainly not something I had anticipated.
- Dub King (WAV) - There's an HTS member named Dub King that makes bass heavy electronic music available free of charge. Some of his songs are absolutely torturous, so naturally a few of them have now become staples for me. During Dead Serious I detected a slight sensation being transmitted into my chair. These little woofers were pounding away, yet it was just bass and no unpleasant noises. During this song I checked the cabinet for vibrations, but there were none. Dub Kingdom Come has a funky little beat, but it hides a brutal amount of low bass. I ran it at -10dB just to see how the DXD-808's would perform, and they comported themselves brilliantly. At times I actually felt a few bass waves in my chest from this one, a remarkable feat considering we're talking about 8" drivers here. What struck me the most though was the extraordinary detail these subwoofers were producing. Halloweener, which is perhaps the most unforgiving, didn't fare as well. This was probably the only time I heard the drivers audibly protest.
I always dealt directly with Ken Kreisel himself, and each time found him to be friendly, polite and professional. His answers were always thorough and contained a great deal of information. I'm not certain what KEN KREISELS normal support structure is, but if it's Ken who answers your questions you'll definitely be in good hands. Who better to be speaking with about the products than the person who designed them? Conclusion
This review turned out to be a bit of a double-edged sword for me. On the one hand I was treated to a level of articulation and perspicuity unlike just about anything I have experienced in the past. The downside is now that I know what things are supposed
to sound like it may be difficult to evaluate anything else and know what I'm not hearing that I should be. I'm not sure if I should thank Ken Kreisel or curse him for that. It will probably be the former though, because ultimately this turned out to be a very enjoyable experience. Ken Kreisel has created a subwoofer with my name written all over it, and considering how picky I am that's nothing short of amazing. If you desire exquisite high-quality bass, and can afford the price of entry, KEN KREISEL should be one of the very first companies you look to. Please use the KEN KREISEL DXD-808 Discussion Thread for questions and comments