Decware DM945 (aka the Mini)
List Price: $895/pair Factory Direct
By: Bill Schuchard;
Second Opinion: Mike Zisserson
A few months ago we initiated a new feature we affectionately dubbed "Stereo for Cheap Bastards" which our readers promply called "S4CB". S4CB is a special section devoted to stereo stuff priced LESS than $1,000. We got tons of mail, most by authors who proudly proclaimed that they were, indeed, cheap bastards, and loved the idea. As part of S4CB, we asked our readers (that would be you) to send us requests for S4CB to review. The problem with stereo stuff under $1,000 is that most of it is made by small companies, often just one guy. These guys don't have large budgets like the big commercial boys so they don't display at expensive audio shows like CES and RMAF. Nor do they advertise. Their sales start out as purchases by friends and spread from there by word of mouth, mostly on audio internet sites. Since we don't have time to sit around all day and read every post on every site, we often never heard about the gems that people find - unless they write us and tell us about them.
Well, I can tell you that the most requested products of all the hundreds of emails we got from around the world were those by Decware. So I sent the an email, telling them about S4CB and that they were the most requested review. I heard nothing back. So, I placed a phone call and got Steve Deckert. Turns out he IS Decware. Doesn't advertise, never exhibits at shows and makes everything by hand. The first thing he says to me is he doesn't do reviews! Apparently he's gotten burned in the past and has a very low opinion of reviewers and review publications. I told him I don't blame him and that he is right. (He is) And that is precisely the reason we started Stereomojo.
To make a long story short, we talked for 45 minutes and I shared with him the differences between us and all the others. Meanwhile, he was perusing the site. Bottom line, after talking and looking, he was happy to send us a pair of his new speakers.
Frankly, it made me proud and honored that he would work with us. Thanks again Mr. Deckert. ~ James Darby
The mini is a small, 94db sensitivity two way monitor pairing an 8” Silver Flute wool cone woofer to an isodynamic planar ribbon tweeter. Decware wanted to create a small, affordable, efficient, smooth, dynamic monitor that provides the best sound for the dollar. Given Decware's credible reputation with tube amplifiers, it should be no surprise that their performance with tubes was also important.
The Decware DM945 takes over where the well known DM944 left off, but it's taken to the next level. The cabinet cleverly uses shredded cardboard to break up any potential standing waves that could color the sound. Shredded cardboard? Bear with me here. If you look inside the cabinet, the bottom floor of it is lined with stiff cardboard that's been neatly shredded. It diffuses the sound waves inside the cabinet by forcing them to bounce off the bottom at slightly different frequencies. Since the length from top to bottom is no longer exactly the same this lessens the chance of one frequency resonating inside the cabinet coloring the sound.
The cabinet is now very square and precise looking with extreme attention to fit and finish detail. The drivers are flush mounted as are the high quality brushed and anodized aluminum terminal plates. Fit and finish is excellent, exceeding what you would expect at this price. The grills exude precision, snapping on or off with just two fingers yet never coming loose or vibrating. This is very desirable for those like me who like to leave the grills on when not listening and are also impatient. These are the easiest grills to place or remove that I've ever come across. This was not by accident. Steve Deckert, the designer, took painstaking effort into getting the grill magnets to the correct depth, down to the millimeter until he thought it was just right.
In a business meeting recently, there were two guys wearing seemingly the same thing; Dark suits, blue shirts, ties, etc. One clearly looked better; The way it fit, the way the clothes hung especially during movement, the sheen of the material, etc. Attention to detail matters and people will notice. The Decware DM945 is just like that nicer suit but with one clear difference; it's also affordable.
You won't be hearing lots of words like WBT, Mundorf, etc in a speaker at this price, but rest assured Steve was critical in picking the parts. The only crossover parts were a very capable Claritycap capacitor used on the ribbon tweeter. There are no resistors, inductors, etc. Decware was clever enough to pick drivers that mate well enough that only a capacitor was needed. Often less is more.
About The Designer
Steve Deckert started Decware in 1996 with the intention of selling hand made, passionately designed products that sound great for the money. Aware that one unhappy internet customer can break a company's reputation, he really does bend over backwards for the consumer. If you speak with him on the phone, he sounds exactly like Jim Koche from the Samual Adams commercials. Calm and at peace. The paradox of a highly passionate, driven person who sounds really laid back and at peace was curiously amusing.
He started with the Zen Triode handmade tube amplifiers which quickly garnered a cult following. Their mantra is if the first watt sucks, why bother?
If you order something for Steve, don't expect to get it the next day; he doesn't have a warehouse full of his babies sitting out back. Everything is pretty much made to order. The beauty of working with a guy like Steve is that he can customize whatever you order to your needs and wants, so yours doens't have to look like everyone else's. Call up B&W and ask them to customize their low-end, made-in-China speakers for ya and see what happens. Have you ever heard Chinese laughter? All of Steve's stuff is made right here in Patriot country.
With an 8” two-way speaker coming in for review, I had to consider the following: Depending on the dispersion characteristics of the drivers and the crossover frequency, what's going to happen is that the 8” woofer is going to start to beam and become directional at it's upper range until it transitions to the tweeter whose dispersion is likely to be super wide with an open bloom from the tweeter at it's lower registers. The result was likely to end up with the overall room response having a hole in the frequency response resulting in something similar to a BBC dip. I was very curious to see how it would work out, especially with a ribbon tweeter which, typically need to be crossed over higher than an equivalently priced dome tweeter. How would it work out? Could he pull it off? I put my bias aside while occasionally checking that UPS tracking number.
The tweeter is an isodynamic planar ribbon from HiVi rated at 96db at 2.83 volts 1 meter away. Using Kapton film, aluminum conductors, and neodynium magnets results in a seriously fast tweeter in terms of starting and stopping. I expected it to sound very clean and quick given this information. Being a rather short line source, vertical dispersion is limited, which I consider a real plus as it helps avoid ceiling and floor reflections which can mar imaging and affect the “in room” response negatively. Note that I do have a personal bias for limited vertical dispersion. It's crossed over seriously high around 8Khz with just one very good capacitor mating to the 8” silver flute woofer rated at 94db efficiency running full range.
Another feature that you don't see often is two sets of speaker posts on the back. You can use them to either bi-wire or bi-amp the Mini. Of course, it costs more to make this provision and it costs more to use them, but either medthod can improve the performance of the speaker. Since we doubt most cheap bastards would want to go that route, we conducted our evaluations in single wire mode. As you can see though, Steve doesn't load his speaker up with cheap crap jsut for the sake of it. These are not cheapo posts. Nicely done, Steve.
When the speakers arrived, I was surprised at how small and light the cabinets were. Apparently that 8” woofer does not require a lot of space to operate. I first placed the Decware Mini speakers on 24” sand filled stands in the usual starting position where speakers tend to work best in my room. If sitting alone in the sweet spot, I found placing them with almost zero toe in and slightly closer together worked well in my room. The tweeter's dispersion is so amazingly wide I was getting subtle reflections off the side walls. Much of the listening was going to happen with multiple people who wanted to hear them... a solution was in order.
Once placed with the tweeters crossing in front of the listener in the sweet spot, the speakers found their home where they would envelop much of the room with a tremendous soundstage. Basically, the speakers were toed in so that one could just make out the outside walls of both cabinets while sitting in the sweet spot. This also happened to be what worked best in Mike Zisserson's listening room when we tried them there. A side benefit is that it smoothed out some of the room gain I was getting from the wide dispersion tweeters. My listening room typically eats some of the treble but this is the first time a speaker had a wide enough sound field to require careful placement. In their final resting places you could still enjoy a bit of that stereo effect when sitting way off axis. Kudos.
The mini is rear ported so if setting up on a bookshelf with rear boundary enforcement one might need some foam or a small ball to seal up the port. I tried this and it worked fine. With regard to bass, the one downfall is what most might expect. It's just not that deep. Those looking for deep bass might want to spring for a subwoofer or look at the Decware full range Zen Zeigler. I finally ended up pairing the Decware DM945 with an HSU subwoofer and forgot about the lack of deep bass as the sub integration went seamlessly.
With respect to synergy, I had to make one change in my system. The Nordost Blue Heaven interconnects were just a bit dry and lean using these speakers. A quick switch to the affordable yet not to be ignored Virtue Audio Nirvana was a much better match. Audio Nirvana if you will. The midrange notes were more round and the highs softened without losing any air. I wouldn't say lush, but it was brought into neutral or still ever so slightly tipped up in the treble with the Virtue cables.
OK we get it. But How Do They SOUND?
The Decware DM945 does something that many more expensive speakers fail to do; they sound like music. First, you're immersed into open airy soundstage with realistic complex imaging. Next, you're moved by the dynamic swings of the music. Pace and rhythm were always spot on. They could use a hair more midrange resolution and they lack actual deep bass, but they sounded more like music than a far more expensive speaker I recently reviewed.
The tweeter sounds seriously open and recreates air far better than its price point would suggest. Although the tweeter is tipped up a tiny bit, it was never sibilant or strident. I have a set of speakers using a different planar ribbon tweeter, the B&G Neo3 PDR. I appreciate the air, imaging, and detail of both of these tweeters but the Mini's tweeter tops it in terms of dynamic attack in the uppermost regions. Plainly put, cymbal crashes and the like sound more realistic through the Decware Mini's tweeter than the B&G. I could envision the exact speed brushes were pulled across the cymbals. The wide dispersion of the Decware's tweeter also excites the room, enveloping you in ambiance which can be fun if placed correctly. Placement is key here.
The speaker's bass is lively and what some might call woolly. The rear port can induce a slight boom or even a boxy sound if the speakers are placed too close to a rear boundary, so be aware of that. Whether we listened to swinging jazz or classic rock, the bass output compressed far less than other monitors of this size. When we played some rock through these, they literally had Mike Zissersion playing air drums. Cool!
The 8” woofer can really keep up with the current youth-quake of bass heavy music where most small monitors just fall apart. Track 2 from Stanley Clark's Toys of Men usually pounds small monitors to submission creating a hair curling sound when they bottom. Not the Decware mini. A teenager took a listen with some pounding music with a comment; “They got the bump but they ain't got the thump.” What?!? After a long careful series of questions, that was decoded into a rocking speaker with tons of punch but missing the deep bass. Phew... Guess it's time to get a teenage decoder ring.
The bass was strong, albeit not terribly deep, even with a 12 watt tube amplifier. Wow. Pop music like that from Will Smith was just plain fun through these.
My friend Joel Trippier brought over his 12 watt Xindak MT-1 class A tube amplifier. He heard it at my house when I was reviewing it and ordered one for himself months later. It's still the best sounding budget amplifier to cross my threshold and the Decware Mini didn't let it down.
Those snappy little EL84 tubes were a very smooth and dynamic match. It was difficult to make out all the words in Heart Attack And Vine from Tom Waits, but since the emotion came through so well, I wouldn't have noticed if I wasn't looking for it. His, and other male voices, weren't boomy like it might sound with other small speakers. A lot of companies boost the upper bass in their small speakers to help mask the lack of deep bass. Steve Deckert would have none of that and voiced these properly. The highs were so accurate the slight improvement in the highs via the tubes over the class D Hephas was subtle but undeniable. Very feminine sounding female voices such as Linda Ronstadt singing Shattered was just a touch too feminine. Now... I'm really nit-picking. Since I enjoyed these more than a rather expensive set of speakers I recently reviewed, I started holding them to a higher standard than their price point would ever indicate.
When listening to Dance of the Tumblers from Stereomojo's demo disk (it's a big orchestral track from Reference Recordings), the soundstage, sense of air, and dynamics were way up there with the big guys. Since I've heard this on many great systems, in many shows, etc, it always gets a whirl or two. The Mini was great with these with either amplifier. There is a great amount of spatial decay in this recording that helps differentiate the placement of the musicians, especially front to rear and the Mini reproduced that wonderfully, creating a rather deep and immersive soundstage.
Just for fun and as a little WAF experiment, I placed them in my wife's system just off the kitchen, powered by a cheap Denon receiver. While cooking up some fresh salsa in the kitchen, these speakers belted out the tracks from “Wild Cool and Swingin'” by the Ultra Lounge folks. Now, this isn't audiophile music but if you only listen to audiophile music on your system, you're missing out. This music is raw, gutsy, and just plain fun, especially through the Decware DM945 speakers. The salsa came out great by the way.
Cooking with the gutsy Decware Mini's belting out some really fun music sums up one aspect of these speakers: They are fun, raw, and honest about whatever music you'll be playing through them, deep bass not withstanding. When I talk about dynamics, there are several aspects.
The first one is what most people think which is dynamic range or the ability to get loud without compressing or distorting. Sure, these do that great but there's another aspect that really helps separate the men from the boys. Dynamic rise time, otherwise known as speed. These things have a sense of attack that really give rise to pace, rhythm, and the emotional side of the music. They sound dynamic even at lower volumes and can capture things like the subtle nuance of a piano key strike being hit just slightly harder for emphasis in a way far beyond their price point.
Input from Others
When I played some of my wife's favorites for her on these such as Jamie Cullum's Catching Tales , she made a strange face filled with curious surprise and awe. How much are these?... Really?!?... They sound great for the money! We listened through the tube output of my Eastern Electric Minimax DAC feeding into my Hephaestus Audio class D monoblocks.
Kids can be a good indicator of whether something just sounds better or not. They are void of audiophile bias and will either just like it or not. They don't care about subtle imaging cues, whether you can tell the difference between a violin or a viola, etc. They just want to hear the music. You know? If my kids enjoy a system, it's a good indicator that others will too. While listening to Clapton by Eric Clapton with my 8 year old, it literally moved him. With each song he came up with a new funky dance and mouthed the words. He got a little silly with the slower songs and rocked out with the songs he liked. In either case, this kept his attention for the entire album. The ENTIRE album at 8 years old. That speaks volumes for the Decware mini.
Better yet, my older son and his friends are discovering classic rock. While I was spending time enjoying all sorts of jazz and classical, my 10 year old shifted back in time with Steve Miller, Queen, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, AC/DC, and the Rolling Stones. It took me back reminding me of the sound from large monkey coffin speakers from the 70's but open, airy, and less boxy and the kids had a blast with it. All this from a rather small speaker and sub. These speakers are a lot of fun. Since we are located in what many consider the Irish Riviera, Dropkick Murphy got a lot of playtime. So much that the 8 year old ran to the piano and tried to play one of their songs by ear.
Bill was kind enough to pack up the DM945's and lug them to my listening dungeon. I was interested since speakers are sort of my thing and 8” 2-ways are one of the tougher designs to pull off due to one of two large sacrifices one must choose: One is a dip in power response and/or frequency response to attain good phase tracking through the critical 1,000-2,000 hertz midrange, or a smooth power response and frequency response at the sacrifice of phase. The earlier presents in the extremes as a little flat and recessed, the latter a little gritty and hot. The DM945 was neither, due in large part to great driver selection, and a very good ribbon tweeter integrated in a unique way. Bill has all the fat on that, so I will leave the nitty-gritty to him.
We hashed through a myriad of music as I knew I would only have a couple of hours with them. They played out like a romantic comedy for me. There's the football star (me), and the girl next door (Decware DM945's). All this quirky, and cute girl can do is be his very best friend, and watch him in the limelight dreaming one day to be good enough for him. When they are together, magic seems to happen, and the story leaves you feeling good inside. That feeling encompasses the heart and soul of the Decware's. They are a bit boxy sounding, the finish and grills are attractive, and the driver compliment quirky to the eye, but they are in the game to win you over.
This driver compliment does seem to sum up to something worthwhile, and though they lacked bass which was surprising for an 8” woofer, and the cabinet interaction with the drivers seemed audible, they made up for it in abundance with a well presented, kind yet truthful sound. My room is somewhat benign and most speakers are close to optimal where I have my floor marked. Took years to find the spot, but luckily it is about 34” from the rear wall and any side wall. The DM945's would not have this and sounded very flat and muddled. Bill then toed them in immensely whereas if you drew a triangle between the speakers, the tip cross about 2 feet in front of the listing position putting the listener way off axis. This worked well.
The girl next door stole my heart once tuned in, and was reminiscent of a HIFI Loudspeaker that may have sold for serious money in the late 70's, with an exception: Resolution and air. They presented this in abundance from top to the sort-of-bottom they reached. The rest was a very classic sound that rocked. Warm and full bodied, perhaps chesty at times, though this may have been due to cabinet resonance. Compared to reference speakers many times their price, they had an upper-midrange glare at times that seemed to be due to the tweeter running a bit louder than the woofer. It is a nit-pick however and never became annoying. If anything, they really make you want to listen to them! The funny this is, they get under your skin without you knowing until you are running the gambit from Miles Davis to Metallica to Mozart and cannot stop yourself from playing the air-instrument of your choice. A rarity at $1,000 these days.
The Decware DM945 Minis are a successful attempt at providing a real taste of high end music on a beer budget. They image well, have a relatively flat frequency response, reproduce ambiance and air like a far more expensive speaker, and have a fit and finish way beyond the asking price. With limited bottom end extension and a trace of breakup around 5Khz, it is not the perfect speaker (there’s no such thing) but in this price range it's reproducing music far better than expected.
The Decware DM945 is smooth when placed correctly in the room, and is quite dynamic and musical. Not to be outdone, its highly sensitive with a smooth impedance curve, and its small size nearly corners the market for owners of magical, low powered and low cost tube amps (Um, like Decware makes!) that need a small speaker. They would also be a perfect candidate for something like the inexpensive Virtue amps we've reviewed. I can also attest that they can handle the punishment of 1000 watt monoblocks as they'll be louder than one might find comfortable in normal sized rooms before they give out.
Although one might end up adding a subwoofer or upgrading to a full range sibling, the Decware (Mini) DM945 is absolutely worth considering, especially for those with low powered tube amplifiers in smaller rooms where a floorstander is impossible, or the wife just won’t tolerate them. Pretty much the same thing, right?
The 30 day trial period helps limit the risk of buying unheard as well. It also allows those who might make the leap for a custom finish to first try the rather beautiful stock cherry finish. Something to think about if you're thinking of taking the plunge but would rather your own distinct finish.
This is a speaker right up the alley of all you Cheap Bastards out there. And they are right up our alley, too. They are also an ideal purchase for all your SMART bastards out there. After all, it's you guys that turned us on to these in the first place. Thank you readers and keep it up!
Cheap isn't always good or even acceptable. These are much better than good. We hope to bring you many more products from Steve Deckert. If they are anything like these speakers, we'll love 'em.
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