An active loudspeaker’s simplicity is often fundamental to its attractiveness. With everything required to play back music loaded into the speaker cabinet, we needn’t fret over “Which interconnect?” or “Which speaker cable?” or how to keep the associated kabelsalat from spoiling the view.
With digital input handling added to the feature set mix, our system box count drops as low as possible: two loudspeakers, just add source.
The Xeo 2 is the Danish manufacturer’s take on a more affordable active mini monitor. It’s also their first Bluetooth speaker. Pretty much ANY smartphone, tablet or laptop can connect to the Xeo 2 in moments via Bluetooth. Power cables are all we need plug in to get up and running with music. It’s so simple even your Mum could do it.
On overall implementation, the Xeo 2 are closer to KEF’s X300A (US$799) / Wireless (US$999) than Audioengine’s HD6 (US$749) in that each loudspeaker houses a wireless streaming and amplifier module and each loudspeaker demands wall socket proximity.
For those who care to split hairs on SQ – i.e. all audiophiles – Bluetooth transmission is a poor man’s AirPlay. At least, that’s how I hear it when streaming lossless sources from the Tidal phone app to the Xeo 2 over Bluetooth and then comparing that same feed sent via AirPlay to a hardwired Apple TV intermediary. Spotify and Apple Music narrow this delta some but not completely.
The convenience of Bluetooth is unassailable and here it comes with proper stereo separation in tow. I’d take a pair Xeo 2 over a single Devialet Phantom any day but doubling the Phantom count offers a significantly better result, more than twice the Xeo 2 if one were to apply mathematics to such subjective calls.
At US$1599/pair, the Xeo 2 actives are more expensive than Audioengine’s HD6 (which also do Bluetooth) and KEF’s X300A Wireless (which do not). However, on versatilty of application and sonics, the Xeo 2, when considered as a complete package, ace both rivals.
Like all the best audio gear, you get what you pay for and with the Xeo 2 you get quite a bit. Let’s peel back the layers to uncover the what and the why…
The drivers fitted to each Dynaudio speaker aren’t coaxially mounted like KEF’s signature Uni-Q array. The Xeo 2 are closer to Audioengine’s more traditional one-up-one-down configuration: a tweeter above a mid/bass driver, here in an extruded aluminium front baffle. The remainder of the cabinet is fashioned from moulded composite (aka reinforced plastic) for additional rigidity; perhaps that’s why I hear less box colouration with the Xeo 2 than with the HD6.
And if plastic conjures a mental image of cheapness, that’s not how the Xeo 2 appear in the flesh. When looking at these speakers I see echoes of Dieter Rams and Philippe Starck. Satin white and satin black are available right now but Dynaudio are reportedly road-testing colours. The red, the yellow and blue are what caught my eye at Dynaudio’s CES demo where this review assignment saw its first spark.
Reprising thoughts from a 2012 article (Into The White) – the title borrowed from a Pixies song – sound is NOT all that matters. Our relationship with audio hardware is a matter of physical attraction and ergonomics as much as it music’s emotional/cerebral nourishment and – lest we forget – enjoyment.
This thinking is more relevant to loudspeakers than any other piece of gear. DACs and amplifiers can be side-benched or tucked away out of sight. Loudspeakers move air and therefore must enjoy line of site triangulation with the listening position. We see our loudspeakers more than any other component. Even a turntable.
Getting hands on with Dynaudio actives we find the touch sensitive controls to be fuss free. They don’t demand you touch ‘em ‘just the right way’. They just work.
Like KEF, Dynaudio design and make their own drivers in-house but the Danes one-up the Brits’ X300A by manufacturing the entire Xeo 2 at their Skanderborg headquarters. The tweeter is a 24mm coated soft dome number but the woofer is a little more involved: it comprises a single piece of Magnesium Silicate Polymer (MSP to you and me) and a 38mm pure aluminium wire voice coil, all secured to a 140mm moulded composite basket, which, like the cabinet, is included for extra rigidity.
The electronics that handle inputs and amplification sit inside each loudspeaker – that’s why they’re called ‘actives’. Another benefit: we’re not doubling – or tripling – up on the extra casework and power transformers called for by separates.
Here again Dynaudio do it different. The Xeo 2 eschew the more traditional amp-follows-DAC signal path and hold the signal in the digital domain from input to driver. Dynaudio refer to this as Pure Path Amplification.
It works like this: an analogue signal enters the Xeo 2 either via a pair of RCAs or the 3.5mm socket. It is then digitised to PCM, converted to PWM, digitally amplified and then used to drive the speaker driver output stage directly. A signal arriving via the Xeo 2’s solitary digital input – Toslink – starts life as PCM (up to 24bit/192kHz) and so skips out on the initial A to D conversion.
Digital signal processing (DSP) handles the crossover at 3.1kHz, divvying up the music signal between the mid/bass driver and tweeter; 65 watts of power is applied to each.
In the passive loudspeaker world, amplifiers are (over?) engineered in order to accommodate a vast array of loudspeakers. It’s an off-the-peg, one-size-fits-all approach. The Xeo 2 reminds us of yet another advantage of actives: each amplifier is tuned to match its partnering driver’s impedance movements (which vary with frequency). In other words, the amplifier’s output is tailored to the driver for a bespoke fit.
Each Xeo 2 weighs a mere 4kg, almost half that of the KEF’s X300A. Get the ruler out: 173mm x 255mm x 154mm. Wider than they are deep, traditional speaker stands should be turned side on for best fit. VESA bracket compatibility means wall mounting is also an option.
This PWM amplification method presumably is what allowed Dynaudio to make a smaller monitor. Internal real estate requirements for amps and associated cooling requirements are likely lower than traditional Class A/B designs. Internal cabinet volume is specified by the manufacturer at 3 litres with the bass reflex port flared and firing downwards (not rearwards) behind a two-thirds complete rear panel. Wall proximity is less of a consideration than with the rear-firing KEFs.
Digital domain signal routing also allows the Danes to add several quite useful features. Are your source components closest to the left or the right? It matters not here. Either speaker can be assigned as the master.
Do you intend to spread the loudspeakers wide on a sideboard? No problem. Communication between the left and right (master and slave) doesn’t come via the physical tethering of speaker cable (as per the Audioengine HD6) or USB umbilical (as per the KEF X300A). Instead, the master, left or right, hands off the opposing channel’s signal digitally and wirelessly.
This ad hoc A-B ‘network’ utilises Dynaudio’s own wireless transmission protocol, one that talks PCM in either 16bit/48kHz or 24bit/96kHz. Would be buyers fussing over bit-perfect playback probably won’t be looking at the Xeo 2 – their loss.
Said protocol allows the Xeo 2 to operate on one of three user-selectable channels, in turn permitting synchronisation of up to three pairs – optional Hub required – and probably why we catch ‘Multi-Channel Wireless’ none too far from the product name in the promotional material.
Getting hands on shows us just how much Dynaudio have worked on the Xeo 2 user experience.
From the unboxing – a single pull on the seal strip…
…to each speaker’s tweeter guard…
…to the touch sensitive controls found on both speakers, either of which adjusts volume, wakes them from slumber before music does or invokes Bluetooth pairing mode…to the mid-sized remote that goes beyond the bare minimum of Audioengine’s offering and which doesn’t feature at all in the KEF package…
…to the optional desk stands which improve bass tightness and image focus over and above direct placement on a credenza or sideboard. My IsoAcoustics stands bring similar improvements but are slightly too large for the Xeo 2’s footprint and don’t look anywhere near as stylish…
…to the USB port that installs firmware updates. It’s not an audio input.
With their X300A/W, KEF invited us to hifi our computer over USB wire. In connecting the Xeo 2 to a MacBook Air I reached for Wyred4Sound’s uLink (review here), one of the few USB-S/PDIF converters that outputs over coaxial AND Toslink.
The other USB workaround is Dynaudio’s Hub (untested here) which wirelessly streams a PC or Mac’s USB-induced digital audio stream to the Xeo 2 directly, again using the Danish company’s in-house transmission protocol.
Positioned atop a work desk we meet yet another neat feature: the Xeo 2 can EQ out unwelcome low-frequency reinforcement of nearby boundaries, especially handy if your desk is located in a nook. A three position switch found on the back of each speaker sees three DSP options, to be applied in accordance with each loudspeaker’s proximity to a wall or corner. And/or to taste.
When listening to Marcell Detmann’s Connected mix the ‘wall’ EQ option proved invaluable, not least because it reduced desk surface vibrations. That’s expected for techno. But it’s also useful for indie rockers Luna’s whose debut album Lunapark packs quite the low end punch thanks to Fred Maher’s quite marvellous production job.
Don’t mistake the Xeo 2’s more agreeable size for weakness – these speakers can play loud without obvious signs of cone break up. The manufacturer rates them down to 40Hz which my listening sessions failed to contradict. Putting this to the test in the nerdiest way possible, I noted audible output all the way down to 35Hz with this YouTube hosted frequency sweep. It’s hardly scientific but take from that what you will.
Back with Pixies’ Doolittle, bass notes are warmer, wetter than KEF or Audioengine. That said, the KEF remain the superior imagers, especially in the nearfield, but don’t forget the X300A/W’s digital inputs are restricted to USB and AirPlay.
A turntable or TV hook up – think Schiit Mani phono stage with Pro-Ject Debut Carbon or Rega RP1 – brings the Xeo 2 off the desk and into the lounge room proper where the non-coaxially aligned drivers’ output have more time to coalesce than when working office desk scenarios.
For my listening sessions I went with a third generation Apple TV serving as Roon Endpoint.
No doubt about it, the Dynaudios are better suited to tighter living quarters than the bigger, heavier KEFs. The latter’s weightier presentation is a better match for this commentator’s 5m x 8m lounge room than the 3m x 4m bedroom.
This is where the mini Dynaudios really come into their own, especially when fed from a TV’s optical output. Voices really pop! That’s especially useful for the often mumbled dialogue of the Netflix hosted The Tunnel, the BBC’s Anglo-French adaptation of Scandinavia’s The Bridge; but also when spinning something like Prince’s nursery rhyming “Starfish and Coffee”. It’s this midrange jump factor that forms the core of the Xeo 2’s sonic personality.
On offer too is an abundance of top end ebullience that fails to put nerves on edge. The layer cake is iced with a good dollop of ambient ‘air’. Neither quality is as overt with the X300A in play. A far greater sense of refinement with cymbal attack and decay is what the Xeo 2 hold over the more affordable Audioengine HD6.
Additional thoughts? The Xeo 2 come on with more spring in their step than the KEF’s less spritely, weightier communication. In communicating the micro dynamic pizzazz and clean production of Prince’s Batman soundtrack, the Dynaudio’s have a clear – and clean – edge.
The KEF X300A also offer switchable EQ according to desk or speaker stand (free space) placement but in practice I find they require a) a bigger desk or b) a bigger room for proper breathing room. The Xeo 2 are for smaller spaces across the board.
This makes the Dynaudio’s the more obvious choice for anyone relocating to Tokyo or Seoul’s lower square footage and where checked-baggage transportation is required.
Recalling CEntrance’s system-in-a-box has me wondering if California’s Pelican case company make something suitable for the Xeo 2? In case you’re wondering, the mini Dyns offer more bass, greater dynamics and a cleaner, more informative treble than Michael Goodman’s smaller MasterClass 2504 coaxials.
Dynaudio’s Xeo 2 is a complete audio system (in a cardboard box) that makes zero concession to the wood veneer traditionalism of (the company’s) past. Here we have one tidy package that, whilst far from cheap, offers oodles of bang for buck. Hats off to Dynaudio for bringing consumer niceties as well as good looks to a downright fantastic sounding pair of active loudspeakers.
It’s high time audiophiles cottoned on to – and settled down with – loudspeakers that put an end to itchy feet, cable spaghetti and a hifi rack. If your budget stretches beyond the rival offerings from KEF and Audioengine, you’ll be rewarded with a vibrant and colourful presentation with better than average (anecdotal) off-axis treble dispersion.
The Xeo 2 can bring better sound quality to a wide range of devices: a TV, a Sonos streamer, an XBox, a Playstation – anything with a Toslink output. You could even hook in the MM-only, ADC-loaded Pro-Ject Essential 2 digital turntable for an ultra minimal vinyl rig.
That’s especially useful when living space is in increasingly short supply and where a hifi system must be matched to the space in which it sits (and not the other way around). With the Xeo 2, Dynaudio at last offer aural compensation for the pop crimes wrought by the eurodancing Aqua. I’d call that a win, wouldn’t you?
Further information: Dynaudio