Audio Ramblings - The DEQX Mate... Yes You Can Have
the Cake and Eat It Too!
If you have been lucky enough to hear the DEQX demonstration at various audio shows, well, you will understand what their line of products are all about. If you have not been lucky enough, well… then you are rather unlucky and should avoid any attempt at a wage of chance as you are now stuck with me trying to wrap my mind around what I have experienced here with the new DEQX Mate. Not an easy task for a man possessing a rudimentary knowledge of the English Language, let alone how to string it all together in a way that enthralls, enchants, and provokes the reader to sit on the loo and have a good read.
So anyhow, at various audio shows the gents at DEQX would have a pair of typical PA horn-like speakers sitting in the corners of the room (you know the type—the ones that you see at some discount store or circus hanging on a wall or pole) playing whatever you wanted to hear… with the Mate on Bypass . The sound would go from typical bad-horn-like honky midrange belch to, well… now this is not going to make you go out and buy a pair of the horns… to something that was quite listenable and… musical when they switched to one of the options that was calibrated to 'fix' or 'correct' for the horn's deficiencies.
Wow man that is wacky! Warmth, extension, presence, soundstage, coherency, and so on… all the audio-speak things we audio-speak guys are looking for—except they are still horns possessing that horn-like honk. So the Mate is not going to make anyone toss their audiophile speakers for crappy horns. But if it can do that with such a compromised—and yet made to do what they are supposed to do and do it right—design what would the DEQX Mate do with a real speaker designed for music? Well the demo does that too, with say a pair of Gallos, and even then the speakers are transformed into something differently better. Different in terms of the same things one experienced in the PA horns though not to such an extreme, but now in way that makes one want to listen to music while mulling over the idea of what the DEQX could do with their speakers and room.
But let me digress. The DEQX Mate ($4495) is a sort of "simpler" DEQX HDP-4 or the HDP-4 Express in that it has no digital inputs or outputs… no, with the Mate it is all analog in and analog out.
The Mate does do what the other two do in that it corrects for …."the distortion that all speakers make—electro-mechanical devices that they are—and offer room compensation as an added extra. While righting frequency-response errors as other units do, they also uniquely correct critical timing errors by adjusting thousands of frequency groups so that they arrive on time.
"In correcting the speakers—before the room—our comprehensive DEQX-Cal™ software generates correction filters for phase, timing coherence and frequency-response. Only then does DEQX-Cal measure from the listening area for room correction.
"It corrects speaker frequency-response and timing errors by adjusting thousands of frequency groups, depending on your speakers' measurements, so that they arrive at the correct time.
"DEQX uses real computing horsepower to make that happen with a 240-megaflop, 32bit floating-point Digital Signal Processing Engine that essentially achieves zero distortion."
It just does it without the digital ins/outs and less features in terms of channels and such. Visit their site for all sorts of graphs and explanations as to what each model does and does not do.
The Mate is to be placed between the preamp and amplifiers (or in a tape loop) to do what the others do. This allows you to keep your chosen digital and analog sources (letting them do their thing) and preamp. The Mate then makes adjustments to the analog signal (in the digital domain as it converts the analog signal to digital and back again for the speaker calibrations and EQ). One does end up using the Mate's volume control though. That is a requisite for the Mate to see all the bits. So you set your preamp to a level that keeps the Mate's volume bars at full-resolution (without overloading the Mate) and use the Mate's digital volume for appropriate listening levels. Easy, and I would be hard pressed to say I heard any degradation when doing so. Nice.
And it does this at 24-bit/96kHz to maintain the integrity of the signal. Cool. Simple to use? Well not for me, which was fine, though if you are rather tech-savvy I am confident that you could work it all out. But like I said, not me. I have enough trouble with the Universal remote and my iPhone! If you are as perplexed as I am with a myriad of options and settings, levers and pulleys, widgets and gidgets, well DEQX is more than willing to do a remote/Skype session to set it all up… and they will do this for anyone who does not have a dealer close by to do the same—in person that is. It takes a few hours and is rather painless.
See, DEQX wants their stuff to work and work right, so they offer great support to address any issues or doubts that a buyer might have after purchasing their products. Naturally DEQX dealers are well trained, but it is nice to know that someone is a quick call away when in need.
So what does one do? Well, you connect the DEQX to a PC via a supplied USB cable and run the set up program (either via the supplied disk or as a quick download) to measure the speakers and room (via the supplied mic, stand, and cables which, while not part of the purchase, are available if need be to set things up). This is done one speaker at a time, from a specified distance, with the Mate feeding a test tone through the system. The calibration is really sweet in how it shows what the speakers are doing, should be doing, and are doing after all adjustments are made. That is, the software presents you with three graphs (phase, impulse, and frequency) that are then adjusted, or 'corrected,' so that the speaker outputs a more perfect, well… output. So you have a before and an after of the speakers. These adjustments, or calibrations, are under your control, allowing you to decide the when, what, how, and where; your discretion as to what to correct or change… way cool. Need more? For example if the test shows you have a dip or peak at a certain frequency, you can adjust for that in terms of how wide you want to go frequency wise, as well as how much you want to correct the dip or peak. In the end, you can go as flat as you want, or you can keep some of the blemishes… your choice. (Now my speakers measured rather well, but no matter how good any speaker is, the DEQX can help and make it even better. Naturally, the better a speaker is in with respect to what the DEQX is calibrating for, the less one needs to make in terms of adjustments.)
Then one does the room, to take things even further in terms of getting it all just so—but what is cool is that you have three settings to use. Well actually four if you count Bypass, but three that reflect the speaker calibration combined with a different room EQ; pretty much giving you different flavors of the chosen speaker calibration. Of course you can also have different speaker calibrations, each with a different room EQ or the same EQ, but then things get sort of busy in terms of which one to use… well not really. After awhile you tend to be drawn to one over the others simply because it seems more 'right' than the rest. I say 'right' as the others options are also equally 'right'… just perhaps 'right' in a different way. I have three different speaker calibrations with slight EQ differences—which does give me three choices when listening to music. So what does all this mean when listening to my music? Right… now things get pretty interestingly mind-blowingly different... but good. See, any of my music through the three options/filters presents the music as if it is a different mix. Like the musicians/engineer went back in the studio and redid the whole thing—the sonic transformation is quite startling when compared to Bypass. Way different. I mean, what the DEQX does to the music is not subtle in the least. But for some this is a sticky part; is this difference better or just different? Well for me, and the many who have heard it here, it is way, way different in a way, way better way. I mean damn. I thought that my system was in possession of coherency, resolution, spatiality, soundstage presence… and so on. Everything I had done, or added, made it better and better. Not always leaps—sometimes steps—but the music was so right, so engaging. But with the DEQX I am hearing music in a completely new way… one that is so new that I am exploring and rediscovering all the stuff I have here in any and every format! It's like I own a new collection of music… way cool! Well perhaps not, as the DEQX does cost $4495! But even so, what I had thought was a good sounding sax is now a really great sounding sax—it has so much more presence and tone than before. Switching to Bypass, the sax looses all its life and pretty much drops back into the crowded abyss of chaos. Tonality and that burnished sax-iness is gone… it still sounds like a sax, just not very well recorded sax.
What the DEQX does is create a great presence and separation—in all respects. Instruments become more believable and there. There as in the sense of being there before you… clear and out in an open and 'cleanly' delineated space. Images or instruments are no longer submerged in a messy tangle of musical chairs. Switch to Bypass and you get the 'before it was so great and this is what I am used to hearing music' which is now heard as this tangled mess of obscure images lacking a clear tonal presence or clarity. It sounded great prior - man people love my system—but in comparison… there is little comparison. This is me hearing the timing errors being addressed—the various frequencies are now arriving together and are quite happy as a single cohesive entity. Clear, articulate… yeah, it does take a bit of time to let it all sink in… but man, images are there, whatever sounds more like what I think it should like, the soundstage is open and clean… and the bass is more articulate, defined, tactile, and whatever while still being the thing that makes my music live.
I have extension at either end, combined with air and tonal definition… it all sort of emerges and engages you in a way that I had never expected… nor thought of desiring. I mean, I thought I had it right… had it all. The DEQX removes so much crap… it is scary how the music is just there with nothing to hinder its presence or clarity. Well not scary really… but clearly a startling difference. One that is a positive difference.
It is a bit odd though. Many friends who have spent a decent amount of time listening to my system have a hard time with the three options. Their immediate response is that the three are not right when they switch back to the Bypass. That is they prefer the Bypass… "No Dave, this is how it should sound. I know this cut, CD, album, whatever… and this sounds right. The other three options are messing with the sound. They ain't right." Of course after a while they start switching to 1, 2, or 3 and pretty soon tell me that they get it. "No, wait… I like 1 the best… more air and life. The music sounds killer!" Or, "Yeah, 2 is the way to go…. sounds way better. I can hear more information and the bass is tighter yet more extended." And, "Hey man, I think I prefer 3… it is warmer and fuller than the other two and Bypass pretty much gums it all up." Or my favorite… "This is the best your system has ever sounded!"
The soundstage is now in focus; there is clarity and separation with spot on localization of whatever is happening wherever. Via Bypass, the soundstage seems to be as big but is now spatially diffused and confused. Images lack that clarity and presence. Sure you thought you had it all before, but with the DEQX you quickly realize how dazed and confused your music had been prior. Much like how you have your home decorated, the furniture arranged; it is comfy and what you are accustomed to… it is right, it is what you know and have accepted as the way things are… the way things should be. But then the DEQX rearranges the furniture making it new again, adds light to the darkness, and brings items that were hidden, out once again so you can enjoy them anew. While the room is familiar to you, it is fresh and new. That is what the DEQX does to your music. It makes it fresh and new!
I am also hearing more pace and drive… the stuff that makes the music flow and move: more involvement and life. For sure, it does take some time to settle in and get used to what it is doing… that is the hard part. Or the easy part if you just leave it on one Option and after a week or so, drop it back into Bypass and realize how muddled the music can become sans the DEQX's calibrations. Then again, some music does sound better in Bypass—music that should be muddled or messy. I realize that this sounds a bit odd to say so, but there are times that I do not want all that clarity and presence—sometimes dirty and messy work just fine.
What I mean is that the DEQX will clean up distorted guitars. Like I said earlier, it is as if the mix or EQ has been changed resulting in a different guitar sound—one that you might not like… or like. Dirty and noisy guitars at 11 need to have that dirt… the DEQX can make that distorted-fuzzed-out Marshall stack sound a bit too much like a Fender in overdrive—close but clearly different.
And again, it all depends since it is what you are used to hearing… that comfort zone or awareness/acceptance of what you have lived with for a long time… as the way it is. And then BAM, the DEQX lets you hear things right… things corrected. It is new and you struggle with what is what. What is right, what is wrong, what it should or should not be. This, for some, might be a difficult thing to deal with: it takes time to readjust to what you are hearing… your perception or acceptance of the 'corrected' music—make that calibrated speakers and room—through the DEQX. Sometimes the truth hurts, or sometimes it is just hard to accept the truth and realize that perhaps one has been living a lie. The DEQX is the truth. It can speak honestly and openly even though one can make it say pretty much whatever one wants! This raises the issue that one could sit there and alter or calibrate their speakers and room forever… that is, "Should I add more here, take less there, move this that much and that this much…" and so on and so on. In the end, you are going to have to settle on something; something that is so good, that you really will just leave it as is and love it for making the music so much better. You will find the magic, and at that point, just sit back and enjoy. Yes, I could fidget with what I have here, but in the end I would be chasing the proverbial 'audio tail' for the foreseeable future. I am finding Option 2 to be pretty much all that I could ever want… that… well, okay… perhaps we could make Option 1 a bit more… oh, hell… the damn thing works Dave, leave it alone!
Proof? I took it completely out of the system and started spinning whatever… "Man, this stuff is not doing anything for me. Sounds rather broken and out of sorts." Gee… in goes the DEQX, switch to Option 2 and magic… there it is: Music. Music that sounds right. Music that sounds engaging. Damn… no going back. As good as I had thought my music and system sounded prior to the DEQX, once bitten you are lost forever.
Quibbles? Well wish they had not placed the right and left inputs/outputs in reverse. That is from the rear they are switched with the right on the right and the left on the left... when it should be the right on the left and the left on the right! So one has to cross the interconnects over or under each other... my fix was to run the left to the right and the right to left and reverse the channels via the software. Makes it a bit more confusing when setting it up, but makes it easier for connectivity. Other than that nothing to complain about... the Mate has worked flawlessly for several months now.
You really owe it to yourself to hear the DEQX Mate, or the other DEQX products, for yourself. Only then you will realize that it is so hard to go back to what we once believed to be reality.