Here's where I usually go crazy and tax Roget to the limits. It's also the point where I regret that specialist magazines haven't taken note of what's going with graphic novels, because I sure could do with some help from the likes of Alan Moore. Picture a frame-by-frame EC-type cartoon of KK, saliva dripping down his stubble'd chin, eyes wide and nearly touching his Zeiss lenses. The hair -- what's left of it -- is up on end and a balloon from KK's mouth reads 'YAAARGH!' or some such exclamation. Yeah, the DAX is like that. If this wasn't a family magazine, I could really go to town, but it is so I can't and besides, Editor Harris prefers to have contributors of sluggish pulse.
Well, THAT'S TOO DAMNED BAD!!! The DAX is simply the niftiest little marvel I've ever used, a jolt of steroids which boosted a system that I thought could only be improved by tiny increments. It is to the Diva what spinach is to Popeye. And it's Kryptonite
to everyone else.
Listen: When I set up the DAX, I was also playing host to somebody who has no reasons for wishing success on this product. I won't embarrass him by revealing his name; all I'll say is that he's from the competition. Anyway, we put on some serious music -- Billy Cotton's Wakey Wakey Show and George Melly on C5 Records -- and he just looked at me, uttering a British expletive which rhymes with 'buckshee' and grinning from ear to ear. We fiddled with the knobs, cranked up the volume, dug out some naff mono CDs of ultra-thin-sounding British pop from the 1960s. We rocked. And we heard the Kinks' 'Waterloo Sunset' like it's never been heard before.
What the DAX does is turn the Diva from a simply magnificent speaker system into some kind of limitless performer which virtually defies criticism. Auditioning the system with music of
utter familiarity, I was embarrassed at how much more the Diva could offer. And the areas which benefitted most were areas which I didn't think need any improvement.
The most blatant manifestation of the DAX is the way it allows the Diva to present deep bass notes. I admit that, on occasion, the Diva can sound a bit overwhelming, with bass which thunders and roars. Suitably DAX'd, the Diva's extension remains constant but the bottom octaves acquire a sensation of greater control. That's with everything set at '0'. You want to tighten things up even more or recess the midband for reggae or House at the max, a touch of the controls will shift the balance to suit your tastes.
Equally chilling are the gains in soundstage creation, image placement and specificity. The Diva, sans DAX, is simply one of the best imagemakers I've used; the DAX opens the sound and removes and last vestiges of texture to the silences between instruments and players. What the controls do is allow you to dial in the most realistic stage depth in a manner not unlike that of the control unit for the Infinity IRS Betas.
And the more you learn about the controls and their capabilities, the more they take on the nature of a focussing ring on a camera lens. What they do is nudge the sound one way or the other in tiny, repeatable steps and without any sense of added noise.
But here's where I find myself at cross purposes with the whole concept of active crossovers. Until the DAX arrived, I thought of trick crossovers as a way of optimising the speaker, something to set once and leave alone. Because I reviewed the system with such a wide range of material, from LP transfers of 78s from 1926 to too-hot-to-handle club mixes to purists' delights, I found myself using the DAX to compensate for the recordings rather than the hardware or the room.
The DAX is ghostly quiet and absolutely precise in everything it does. Although it doesn't have an instant bypass mode to allow the user to compare settings in A/B fashion, the digital readout means that you can tweak something and return to a previous setting for comparison purposes with absolute accuracy. Starting each LP or CD with the readings at '0', I then altered the sound as per the above-mentioned steps. After a few hours, I was able to ignore the four-step procedure and go straight to, say, woofer-mid/tweeter balance or rake if I knew that the other controls didn't need adjusting. Judicious use would suppress ludicrous sibilance (some Juice Newton and Poco recordings) or restore weight to thin recordings (most Beat Boom UK pop).
What I don't want to do is give the impression that the DAX works like a dream-world equalizer or even like the rather splendid Cello Palette. The effects are most assuredly audible, even those 0.2dB changes, but the adjustments to the sound are too subtle and too precise to suggest any gross tampering. What it becomes, then, for an Apogee owner is the ultimate surgical instrument.
Which leads me to the two questions I asked Apogee. The first is whether or not they'd be offering it with remote control, because it sure would be handy to be able to adjust it from the listening position. They have thought about it, but the price -- already breathtaking at #4500 -- would have to go even higher and they're not certain the demand is enough to warrant the option; call it a 'maybe'. The other question is whether or not Apogee would consider making a version for use with other makes of speaker, but -- in line with their arguments about the need for absolute dedication ot each model -- this would be too impractical and probably too much hassle in simple political terms.
So that means that this joyous device is only available to Apogee owners. All I can say to those who possess Duettas, Calipers or Divas is that you must forget about everything else in your upgrade progression and put the DAX at the top of the list. And here's a justification if you need it:
In the year I've been using the Divas, I've tried them with single amplifiers (in bi-wired mode) running to over #10,000 per pair. The DAX offers such a transformation with even the affordable Aragons that two Aragons plus DAX at a grand total of #8100 is preferable to any other non-DAX combo I can name. What I have yet to experience are the gains of going to balanced operation, and I still want to try the mix'n'match flexibility, especially as the DAX renders the system 3dB more efficient and therefore even safer with big valve amplifiers. As it stands, the DAX is nothing less than the most exciting development yet for Apogee owners, a device so clever that I wish other manufacturers would offer similar units for their bi-ampable speakers. #4.5k for a black box? Yes. And it's worth ever single penny.