Onkyo D-TK10

Onkyo D-TK10Fascinating. This little box breaks all the rules about loudspeaker cabinet design, the ones that say that boxes should be seen and not heard. Put ten speaker designers in the same room and while they’ll disagree on everything from the merits of infinite baffles and ribbon tweeters to electrostatic panels and cone materials, not one would ever suggest that cabinets should deliberately be resonant. Rather, they all start from the other way round – they know that cabinets want to resonate but do everything that can to stop them.

Not the Onkyo D-TK10. It emphatically does not have a massively braced cabinet attempting to be as acoustically inert as a concrete block – and indeed that stores energy like one. Rather, the cab is designed to resonate (in a very controlled way, I might add) just like an acoustic guitar. No surprise then that it was conceived in conjunction with Japanese guitar specialist Takamine – a company that knows a thing or three about making nice noises from wobbly bits of wood.

The D-TK10 is a two-way bass reflex design that’s very small (133x276x220mm) and light (2.9kg), and is finished in beautiful rosewood which – contrary to all rules of hi-fi loudspeaker design – doesn’t produce a dull thud when you ‘rap’ it with your knuckles.The woodwork is beautiful, curved like a guitar, and the front baffle has a slight cant back from bottom to top. The so-called ‘Takamine Acoustic Voicing Technology’ results in very thin sidewalls but they’re well braced in strategic places. Curvatures in the wood were used to add strength without having to resort to thicker materials like MDF.

Takamine is a Japanese guitar maker of nearly fifty years’ standing, and great repute. The company was approached by Onkyo some ten years ago for advice on implementing their idea of making a speaker enclosure from the body of an instrument, and needless to say it became a collaboration that finally hit Japanese shops in December 2005, although the D-TK10 took a good year or two to reach the UK market.

It sports a 100mm ‘Onkyo Micro Fiber’ bass unit, comprising an outer polyethylene naphthalate (PEN) layer and an inner Aramid layer sandwiching a flexible cotton weave layer. This crosses over to a 25mm ‘Ring Drive’ tweeter at 3.5kHz, fashioned from aluminium. There’s a single front slotted bass port made of rosewood which is a long narrow duct that Onkyo calls an ‘Aero Acoustic Drive’ to underline the fact that it’s very different to a conventional circular port. Despite weighing little more than a matchbox, it’s a lovely thing to behold and feels truly exotic.

It sounds it too. Indeed, it’s one of the most obviously characterful loudspeakers I have ever reviewed. It is not especially accomplished in some ways, but possesses tremendous talents in others which make it stand out from the crowd. First and foremost, the D-TK10 does TARDIS-like tricks with size and space. I have never heard any small (almost tiny) loudspeaker drive my largish listening room with such ease. Sitting over a metre high then, a pair of the little Onkyos sang like a bird, and sounded as free as one too…

The next thing that strikes you is the tonaiity which is rich and mellow, but doesn’t get this from the simple expedient of bumping up the bass port’s contribution to the proceedings. Indeed, the D-TK10 is the first ‘fruity’ sounding loudspeaker I’ve heard in a long, long time. This colouration is like none other I’ve encountered though, because it is from those guitar-like sidewalls thrumming gently and benignly in the background. If you’re unclear about the effect those cabs have on things, then take an acoustic guitar, pluck the bottom strong and listen – then stuff a T-shirt inside the guitar’s aperture (to damp the body) and do the same. This clearly shows how, if done correctly, resonance can be a good thing!

The next most dramatic aspect of the D-TK10 is the timing; it’s like few loudspeakers at any price. This is a very important facet of any speaker’s performance for me. Once again though, the little Onkyo doesn’t sound like your average well-timing loudspeaker. Bring that supernatural spaciousness together with the wonderful tone and superlative timing, and the result is an immensely enjoyable loudspeaker. Indeed, it is one of the most exuberant, joyful sounding devices I have ever heard. It is a consummate party speaker – but not because it makes a loud booming sound, but rather because it injects power, passion and joie de vivre into everything it touches.

It’s tremendously tricky to assess Onkyo’s D-TK10 using conventional criteria. It is coloured and therefore not ideal for classical music fans seeking a translucent acoustic lens. But with every other type of programme material that slight rose tint worked a treat. Then there are the frequency extremes; speakers this small don’t have any real low bass, and the treble was less precise and atmospheric than some similarly priced rivals. It is not flawless, but having lived with a pair for a month, I found myself forgiving them their foibles. That’s because by any standards it is exceptionally musical and times beautifully; going back to a ‘normal’ speaker makes the music seem to slow down and falter.

This outstanding speaker has now become something of a cult design. There’s a good number of them on the second-hand market, but despite this you have to pay for the privilege of owning a pair. Nearly a decade ago I declared this, “a future classic in the making, and an instant cult loudspeaker” – and for once I was right!

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