REVIEW: Dynaudio Xeo 2 active loudspeakers
They may be small, but the new Dynaudio Xeo 2 loudspeakers sure pack a punch, writes Stephen Dawson.
I confess: I am confused. As I embark on this review, I am listening to a pair of loudspeakers that are obviously quite large, given their dynamic capabilities and bass extension. At least, that’s how they sound. Physically, the Dynaudio Xeo 2 active loudspeakers are very, very small.
What is it?
What we have are two small, active, two-way loudspeakers. By small, I mean only 255mm tall, 173mm wide and 154mm deep. These are sub-bookshelf by any reasonable standard. Each is fitted with a 27mm soft dome tweeter and a 140mm bass/midrange.
So, small speakers. Yet Dynaudio says that they are good for bass down to 40Hz.
I should pause and note that Dynaudio is a high reputation Danish company with a big footprint not only in home audio but also in studio loudspeakers. So it’s not typically given to fibbing. So we’ll see how it all goes below under ‘Performance’.
Since they are active loudspeakers, amplifiers are built in. Two 65W models, with the tweeter and woofer individually powered. The 3,100Hz, 24dB/Octave crossover is active and presumably implemented by the built-in digital signal processor. Dynaudio says that it is the DSP which allows the extended bass performance, although there is more to it than merely a boosting bass.
At its base each speaker has a stand mounting point. Each also has a switch to set for ‘Left’ or ‘Right’ operation and a three position EQ switch which you set according to placement: ‘Corner’, ‘Wall’ or ‘Neutral’. The first two soften the bass to take account of room boundary effects. Because they are powered, both speakers need to be plugged into a wall outlet. Only one of the speakers has inputs. It sends the relevant half of the signal to the other speaker wirelessly.
This is the third of Dynaudio’s Xeo range of active speakers. The Xeo 6 and Xeo 4 have been around for a little while, and both of these are firmly wireless: they have no inputs so you also require one of Dynaudio’s wireless transmitters, the Hub or the Connect (which is like the Hub but not). The Xeo 2 of course supports these, but it doesn’t need them, because it has its own independent inputs: RCA and 3.5mm analogue audio, optical digital audio and Bluetooth. These are all in an inset at the rear of one of the speakers.
Since neither Hub nor Connect were supplied, I reviewed the speakers only on the basis of the physical inputs (primarily optical) and Bluetooth. It wasn’t clear from Dynaudio’s website, but I’m assured by the company that the Bluetooth connectivity supports the aptX codec (for higher quality audio from some non-Apple devices) and the AAC codec (for higher quality audio from Apple devices), in addition to the standard SBC codec.
The unit is supplied with an optical digital audio cable, plus both 3.5mm and RCA analogue ones. A stylish remote control allows for input selection, volume control and power, plus play pause and forwards and reverse track skipping when using Bluetooth.
I did my listening with the units fed optical digital audio from my Denon DNP-730AE digital audio streamer (using tracks in FLAC format at up to 192kHz sampling). The speakers were on stands, positioned where I normally place stereo speakers, well forward of room boundaries. I had the EQ switch to both set to ‘Neutral’.
When it comes to sound quality, I guess I gave the game away somewhat in the introduction. Before getting to specifics, I must remark that every set of Dynaudio loudspeakers I’ve reviewed over the years has shared a certain marquee sound, with one particular characteristic rarely heard in quite the same way in other brands of loudspeakers. That is its dynamism, an ability to preserve the coherence of percussion in particular while avoiding any sense of dynamic compression, so that drum kits pierce through the mix in a way that really is extremely lifelike.
As I’m writing at this moment, the track Momentum from the 2006 jazz album Mercury by the Alister Spence Trio is playing, and the snare, even though the playing is restrained and not pushed especially forward in the mix, is brilliantly realised, every strike easily identifiable and every subtle level change perfectly conveyed. Five minutes in there’s a drum solo, with the power lifting and the tom toms joining the snare with perfect timing and superb control. All the time the cymbals snapping out with excellent positioning on the sound stage.
The bass line is fully realised, almost viscerally, yet cleanly and without obvious distortion, making it easy to follow and immensely satisfying. The kick drum is present as well, but unlike the upright bass is somewhat recessed. It’s providing a contribution, but isn’t quite at the level to really pound in a somewhat realistic manner.
The next track is an avante garde, yet still bearable, introduction with musical chimes, which continue into the next track, accompanying and enhancing the piano. This is delivered so smoothly and beautifully that the result is delightful, while the double bass occasionally strays into a contrastingly rough rattling of the strings.
And as I raise the volume, I’m expecting the DSP to hold the bass back a little in the mix to avoid overdriving the woofers, but it doesn’t. Nor do the woofers seem to mind. All that happens is that the music gets a lot louder, very slightly less smooth, yet it remains clean and the bass pounds out while retaining control and surprisingly depth.
These speakers sound large. They fill a room with quality sound, yet they are considerably smaller than what they’d have to be to be considered ‘bookshelf-sized’.
But, hey, that’s jazz. How about some Black Sabbath? The opening strains of the self-named title track of the band’s debut album was – played loud – very slightly brighter than I’m used to, and while the bass was full and fulfilling, there was not quite the full bodied, lower strains that my normal system delivers (thank you, 380mm subwoofer!). Still the result was astonishing. Again the tom toms were full bore, fully realised. Ozzie’s voice came through with clean intensity. Tony Iommi’s guitar soared as required.
If you’re a fan of high resolution music, the speakers worked perfectly with a variety of 192kHz and 176.4kHz music delivered via optical digital. Not DSD. You should use an analogue connection from a DSD-capability player or DAC for that.
The Bluetooth connection worked well, but I found I needed good lighting to make it work. Why? Because you have to use the on-speaker volume buttons (on either speaker) to put it into pairing mode. And these are extremely hard to see, just being a slightly different shade of black marking on the black speaker surface. Style’s nice, but some concessions should be made to practicality.
The speakers switch on automatically when they detect a signal. They always start up at a factory set modest level so you might find yourself needing adjust the volume on the remote. The remote works reliably and the volume level setting was fast and certain, thanks to a change of what seemed like two decibels with each poke of the plus or minus key.
When I hear something which seems to fly in the face of my experience, such as solid, deep bass from itty-bitty speakers, I think it’s a good idea to seek corroboration lest I lead readers astray. So I measured the speakers.
First, I measured at one metre to get an overall sense of the speakers. They delivered an excellent tonal balance from 40Hz through to 20kHz, subject only to the usual wobbles imposed by room effects. That supported my sense of what I heard. To nail down the bass a little more precisely, I measured up close to the front of the woofer, and then again at the mouth of the bass reflex port at the rear. The bass output from the front began diminishing gently around 100Hz, to be down by 6dB at 57Hz, below which it plummeted by 10dB, to a new low plateau. At the port the output was even from 44Hz to 63Hz, with the output falling away below 44Hz to be 6dB down at 39Hz.
All of which is to say that Dynaudio is telling the truth, and that my ears didn’t deceive me.
I have no idea how those Danes pulled off this trick. But if you’re after a tiny package that delivers powerful sound, solid bass down to almost 40Hz, and a supple, subtle high fidelity performance, you really ought to listen to the Dynaudio Xeo 2 speakers.
Expensive, yes, but remember that they’re powered, and whatever magic Dynaudio employed must depend in large part on them being powered.