- Aug 15, 2020
It is great to see a small manufacturer growing fast like it was in the good old days.Hi everybody,
As you may know, Dutch & Dutch is a Dutch (duh) manufacturer of super high-end, hi-tech, active cardioid loudspeakers, their famous latest model being succintly called '8c' and costing around $12.000 a pair (more or less depending on the options, feel free to check their website). They are based in Rotterdam. Their reviews are all over the web, and the experts are unanimous, qualifying their current model (8c) as a true endgame speaker. 12K for an endgame speaker? Sounds (almost) reasonable to me!
I've been wanting to meet these guys for a while. Three months ago I went to the Netherlands for a DJing gig. Rotterdam was on my way, so it was a perfect opportunity for a listening session and a tour of Dutch & Dutch facilities. It all should have taken place in 2020, but the pandemic decided otherwise. Anyway, I got in touch with them, and thanks to their kindness despite their busy agendas, we managed to make it happen.
It needs to be said that this whole post was entirely my idea. Nobody at Dutch & Dutch ever suggested it, nor offered any form of compensation in exchange for it. Sorry guys, I didn't get a pair or 8c's, or a discount, or a meal or a sticker or anything. This text and pictures are my own (unless noted otherwise for only a couple of pictures). I'm posting them because I want to, because I'm sure some of you will be interested, and because even if the guys at D&D don't need any promotion (their products speak for themselves), they absolutely deserve it.
One last thing: I'm not an audio expert by any means, so if I made any technical mistakes, feel free to chime in.
1. ABOUT THE 8C
The 8c is a speaker like (almost) no other. Its innovative cardioid design and overall technology allow for some pretty amazing features:
(*) "front wall" relative to the listener, which means "back wall" relative to the speaker.
- No need for an amplifier, they have their own. Just power them straight from the grid.
- No need for a DAC, they have their own so you can feed them a direct digital signal (you can of course also feed them an analog signal if you want)
- No need for heavy acoustic room treatments: they adapt to your room just by knowing their distance to the front (*) and side walls. They couple to the walls by being placed ideally 10 to 50cm from each of them, and they "work with them" unlike most other speakers that basically "fight against them".
- They connect to your local network via Ethernet, which allows for audio streaming (Roon is supported), smartphone control, firmware updates, remote support, etc.
- Exceptional horizontal directivity across all frequencies, as shown by measurements (see links below)
- Bass is clear and detailed down to 20 Hz, with as little excitation of your own room modes as possible (read on for more explanations)
Long story short: with the 8c, Dutch & Dutch are really bringing high-end speakers into the 21st century. But don't take my word for it! Just read some of their reviews below, and go get a listening session at the nearest dealer.
Specs and measurements:
2. A BIT OF HISTORY
Dutch & Dutch was created about 8 years ago, by 4 founders:
Just a little later, Rolf joined the company to be in charge of sales and marketing.
- Martijn : in charge of acoustics. He's often seen as 'the genius behind the 8c', and it's true of course, but we also need to give proper mention to the other great people working with him.
- Kevin : in charge of software
- Erik : in charge of industrial design
- George : in charge of general business
They say that behind every great company there's a story, so here it goes:
Initially, Dutch & Dutch's aim was to design loudspeakers with for a specific purpose. You see, in Amsterdam there's a square where outdoor parties are held. That square is surrounded by wealthy apartments whose occupants would hate to be disturbed by the sound of parties. So the goal for Dutch & Dutch was to create directional speakers that would be able to provide sound for those parties, without disturbing the rich neighbors. Pretty cool, right?
Those were the first speakers Dutch & Dutch ever designed, and... they still have at least one pair, half-hidden under a staircase in their factory ! They were called Pro-Fidelity, and here they are:
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So these were the first speakers ever produced by the company. From there came the idea that directional speakers could find their way out of the square and into our homes. D&D has gone a long way since the Pro-Fidelity era, but it's good to know that those speakers were the ancestors of the famous 8c (see picture below, which is not mine):
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Finally, despite their expensive price, the 8c are selling great, as shown by the serial numbers I saw at the factory (about 3500, that's 1750 pairs and counting).
3. FIRST LOCATION - HEADQUARTERS
This was the original D&D location in Rotterdam, and was used as both office and factory until recently the factory was moved to a second location, 20 min from there by car.
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Once you enter, you can see this on the left:
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Those are some remains of the time when the factory was there, so D&D folks had to deal with both incoming boxes from component providers, and outgoing boxes of loudspeakers ready to meet their owners.
One funny fact (well, funny for us, not for them) is that everything happened in the basement of that location. You see, there is a narrow spiral staircase that goes down (I didn't take a picture of it). So you can imagine all those big boxes having to make their way in and out of the basement. It was probably a nightmare at the time. Thankfully those times are over, and as you will soon see, the new factory is much bigger.
But first, some pictures of the basement. Keep in mind that D&D is in the process of moving stuff to the second location, so this location will serve as office / corporate headquarters. So all we can find for the moment are some tables...
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... and oh, yes, some large shelves full of speakers. You can see some 8c's, and also some old 8m models. The 8m was basically a 8c (same outside dimensions) without cardioid design, without dual rear subwoofers and with a BR vent instead. It's not sold anymore.
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Finally, a bunch of drivers on a table, which gives you an idea of the size of their motors. BTW, don't mind the huge 15" driver on the floor: I'm pretty sure it doesn't fit into any 8c!
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While touring that basement, I discovered that Dutch & Dutch folks are already preparing the future, so many things are in the works in their labs. Among them, possibly a new speaker derived directly from the 8c. I've seen a couple of drawings and even a name, but of course I can't say more.
4. LISTENING SESSION
Back into the office part on the ground floor, I was lucky to be able to listen to a pair of 8c's. This wasn't easy to achieve, because like I said D&D are in the process of moving to the second location. I was very lucky that there was a pair of 8c's at the first location, so we could arrange a quick listening session. It didn't last very long, but I was on a tight schedule too.
Here's how things were looking from my side, comfortably sitting on a couch:
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... pretty nice, right ? Oh, plus free tea as a key selling point, lol.
The listening conditions weren't ideal though: as you can see there was no back wall anywhere near the speakers, plus there were a lot of glass surfaces in the room. That would have been bad for most other speakers... but the 8c are cardioid, remember? So their frequency response wasn't really affected by all that. As for the bass level, I never pushed the volume to a point where a close front wall would have been necessary.
So, we didn't have a lot of time, but still I could play some of my reference songs and get a grasp of the potential of those speakers. I'm not an expert by any means, but I'm a music enthusiast who has been listening to all kinds of systems for the last 25 years or so. I didn't prepare any music in advance (actually 48h before the tour we were still not sure it could happen), so I just improvised by picking some songs that I know well, merely to get a first impression. I remember three of them:
I won't get into details of the listening experience, because they would be subjective and under non-ideal conditions. I will only say what my ears and I know for sure now:
- Rebecca Pidgeon - Grandmother : a classic reference for audiophiles around the world
- Geoffrey Oryema - Makambo : I wanted a deep male voice and that one just popped inside my mind
- Marian Hill - Lovit : I wanted some heavy bass to check that it wouldn't interfere in any way with the high-pitched vocals
The 8c is truly a remarkable speaker!
Probably well worth its price and with an impressive music rendition. I wish I would have had the time to listen to them for much longer, run some test songs, etc. Not only my listening impressions were extremely positive: they were even haunting and stayed deep within me for the hours to come. While I was trying to focus on the rest of the visit, a part of me wanted to go back to that couch...
5. SECOND LOCATION - FACTORY
A 20 min car drive (thanks Rolf once again) took us straight to the factory/second location. Here's what it looks like:
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As you can see, there are lots of supplies stored in many categories. It must be noted that Dutch & Dutch's factory doesn't actually "make" anything except the speakers themselves. They don't make the electronic boards, nor the baffles or the wooden enclosures. Everything is outsourced to suppliers according to D&D specifications. The factory is the place where all these parts get assembled by hand, tested thoroughly, fine-tuned individually, boxed and prepped for shipping.
5.1. ELECTRONIC BOARDS
This is what the electronic board at the bottom of every 8c looks like. If you pay attention, you'll see that the back ports order has changed since the very first 8c's. In the beginning it was "in, thru, sub, network", and now it's "sub, in, thru, network":
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This whole electronic board is basically a computer in disguise, and at its heart there's indeed a mini-PC (think Raspberri Pi, Arduino, etc). The one currently used by D&D is the BeagleBone:
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The BeagleBone finds its place among other components, you can easily see it in the next picture:
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As you can see, there is even a Noctua NF-A6 PWM 60mm fan, which of course is completely inaudible under normal operation. Everything electronic-related happens in this card: power supply, DAC, parametric filtering, networking... Rolf told me that in future generations (of the 8c or of future speakers), parallel cables may be replaced by something else, as there may be occasional reliability issues with the connectors.
One of the specifics of the 8c is that we can apply parametric EQ filters and store them directly within the speaker. So we can put a pair of speakers inside a specific listening room, measure the room, discover the room modes for each speaker, and then apply the relevant parametric filters and store them within the speakers.
That is really a key technical point to the 8c's: many speakers are designed to sound good in "ideal rooms" such as anechoic chambers, but not in your particular home environment. The 8c's have been designed from the start to sound good in ANY listening room, once the proper filters have been applied of course (hence the term 'adaptive'). So once the 8c's have been properly configured for your own room, your frequency response will be "as good as it can be". Tune the system to the room, not the room to the system!
OK, so far I've shown you just one board, but since we're at the factory, there are of course many boards:
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These nice shelf-stored boards belong to the 8c's that are being assembled at any given moment.
5.2. WOOD CABINETS
Like I said, wood cabinets arrive straight from the supplier, well-protected and ready to be fitted with all the needed components:
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Next picture is a close-up of a wooden cabinet, raw without any paint or internal treatment. Please note that this is of course the back, not the front!
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As you can see, the outside of the enclosure is a beautiful single piece of oak. You can also see that both subwoofers share a single cavity. The midrange speaker has of course its own separate cavity. As for the tweeter, it doesn't need one (a tweeter has its own 'inside cavity' by design).
Here you can see the inside part of some baffles ready to be assembled:
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As some of you know, the 8c baffles are a piece of technology by themselves: they have precisely calculated tweeter waveguides, in order to ensure that the dispersion pattern of the tweeter matches that of the midrange driver (see picture below, which isn't mine):
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Here we can see an already painted 8c just about to be assembled : internal cabling + drivers.
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You can also see some 8c's on the shelves, partly assembled. They have some drivers installed already, but they still lack the electronic board and the baffle.
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5.5. TESTING AND FINE-TUNING
This is one of the test rooms, where I was told that a '5 Hz airtight test' was conducted:
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Then things get really serious, with the individual fine-tuning of every single speaker that has been assembled.
- Dutch & Dutch have a special room for this, with some acoustic panels, a microphone, and the REW software.
- They also have a 'reference' speaker, already fine-tuned, so it measures perfectly well in that room.
[This was the only picture I wasn't allowed to publish for confidentiality reasons - sorry guys ! ]
Fine-tuning procedure :
- They put the reference speaker in place, and measure its frequency response in that room, under that particular day's conditions (temperature, pressure, etc).
- They take a new speaker, put it in the same exact location (thus replacing the reference speaker), measure its frequency response, and compare it to the reference speaker's frequency response.
- Using REW software, they calculate the specific filters to be applied, so the new speaker measures exactly like the reference speaker.
- They store those filters inside the new speaker's electronic board.
- A backup of those particular filters is stored in D&D's servers with the corresponding speaker's serial number. So if any speaker requires an electronic board replacement in the future, the filters for that specific speaker can be remotely downloaded via Internet, so the new electronic board gets them and the speaker can resume normal (and perfect) operation.
Here are a dozen speakers in the vicinity of the measurement room, either already measured or waiting to be measured:
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5.6. BOXING AND SHIPPING
Once a speaker has been tested thoroughly and fine-tuned, it's ready for boxing and shipping. Here's two pictures of the boxes:
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Also, here's a picture of the accesories box that goes inside each speaker box. These accesories may include for example a power cord, which means they need to be customized depending on the geographical region they will be shipped to. So there are accesories boxes for the USA, for Europe, for the UK, etc. In the next picture you can see "EU" boxes on top and a "USA" box in the middle:
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6. FINAL WORDS
I can't thank enough Martijn, Rolf, Kevin and the rest of the Dutch & Dutch team, for allowing me to visit their facilities, talk about some of their projects and take pictures without disclosing any sensitive information. This has been a great experience, one that I'm happy to share with you all now.
After the listening session at the first location, we took a souvenir picture where you can see, from left to right: Rolf, Kevin, and yours truly:
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I can't emphasize enough how kind and welcoming these guys were. Rolf was a perfect guide in both locations, and was happy to answer all my questions about the company's history and future. As for Kevin, I loved chatting with him, and I just wish we had more time to get better acquainted. The person missing in that picture would be Martijn: sadly he couldn't be with us that day, he was on a well-deserved vacation! Well, maybe for my next gig in the Netherlands. Who knows?