I think that first impressions are meaningful. Whether meeting someone for the first time, or letting rip on a pair of imported loudspeakers, those first seconds can reveal as much as, and potentially more than, the minutes, days, and months that follow. I admit that, in many instances, my ultimate opinions may, over time, evolve into something more nuanced, but I can’t recall the last time I committed an about-face, raised my hands in guilt, and admitted that my first impression was wrong. That may well say more about me than the quality of my judgment, but I like to think it’s because I’m reasonably perceptive.
My interest in Dynaudio’s Xeo 2 ($1599 USD per pair) was piqued when a couple of SoundStage! Network writers spoke highly of the little powered speaker following its introduction last January, at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas, Nevada. In mid-February, a pair of review samples arrived on my doorstep. Within minutes, I’d set them up on my massive (60”W x 30”H x 30”D) wooden desk and begun playing tunes from Tidal’s music-streaming service. Thirty seconds later, I leaned back and muttered, “Man, these things are good.”
My first true hi-fi purchase was in 2002: a pair of Dynaudio Contour 1.8 MK II speakers. I’d worked hard to afford them, and they stayed with me until just before I joined SoundStage!, in 2011. The floorstanding Contour 1.8s had a gorgeous rosewood finish -- between them and the diminutive Xeo 2s I could see only the faintest familial resemblance.
The Xeo 2, made in Denmark, is the smallest of a line of three wireless speakers that also includes the Xeo 4, a full-size bookshelf model ($2348/pair with Hub wireless transmitter), and the Xeo 6, a 2.5-way floorstander ($4048/pair with Hub). The Xeo 2 weighs just 8.8 pounds, but more striking are its proportions: at only 10”H x 6.8”W x 6”D, it’s wider than it is deep, which makes it look more like an on-wall than a bookshelf speaker. Its front panel is made of a single piece of brushed aluminum, the rest of the speaker of thin plastic. The Xeo 2 doesn’t look or feel like $1599/pair worth of speakers. That aluminum baffle is nice, but the drivers’ mounting bolts are visible (most big manufacturers hide these away). Rapping the side and back of the cabinet produced a pretty hollow sound, and bolted with Torx screws to the rear panel of each speaker is a thin plastic shroud. While it certainly looks the part when viewed head on, otherwise the Xeo 2 looks unremarkable. It’s available in white or black.
The Xeos come with magnetically attached grilles, which I promptly ditched, and a simple, plastic remote control with the usual buttons for input selection, volume level, and playback. Dynaudio also offers a small desk stand, a bracket for wall mounting, and VESA 100 bracket compatibility, making the little guys truly desk, wall, and shelf friendly. Also included are a handy quick-start guide, and 5’ lengths of RCA cable, 3.5mm minijack cable, and optical cable.
Diving under the surface of the Xeo 2’s unassuming appearance, it became easier to justify its price. The 1.1” silk-dome tweeter is classic Dynaudio and, its plastic frame aside, is similar to the tweeter used in the pricier Xeos 4 and 6 (though the tweeter frames in those models are of aluminum). So, too, with the 5.5” midrange-woofer with a cone of thermoformed magnesium silicate polymer (MSP), the same material of which all Dynaudio midrange and bass drivers are made. Each driver is powered by a 65W monaural, pure-digital amplifier, for totals of two amps per speaker and four per pair. These amps are modulated by the incoming PCM signal into a pulse-width modulation (PWM) signal, which is then digitally amplified to drive the speaker’s output stage. In this sense, it’s not a traditional class-D circuit, but functions more as a power-DAC, while obviating the need for a discrete digital-to-analog converter. The Xeo 2’s frequency response is 40Hz-24kHz, ±3dB.
The 3.1kHz crossover is also digital, using a fourth-order alignment, while the Xeo 2 makes copious use of 24-bit digital signal processing (DSP) to tailor the response of each amplifier to its driver. The Xeo 2’s DSP actually has more in common with that of Dynaudio’s upscale Focus XD line of active speakers than with either of its larger Xeo siblings. Then there’s Dynaudio’s Adaptive Bass Technology, which ties the speaker’s bass response to its volume. At lower listening levels, the little Xeo 2 can reach surprisingly low, since it doesn’t have to contend with the excursion limits of its 5.5” midrange-woofer, or with overloading the minimal cabinet volume. As the volume rises and each of these considerations comes into play, the Xeo 2 dials back its bass response so as not to overload the midrange-woofer driver or the composite cabinet. Clever. The Xeo 2 is actually a bass-reflex design; the sculpted, tapered port is hidden behind the speaker’s rear plastic shroud, and fires down toward a cutout in the rear panel, where the Xeo’s various connections are found.
The Xeo 2 can be used in a number of different ways. Each pair consists of one “master” and one “slave” unit. The master offers one pair of RCA inputs, and a 3.5mm miniplug input, along with a single optical connection (which accepts signals up to 24-bit/192kHz), all facing down, slightly forward of the reflex port. Each speaker has a figure-8 power cord, which is included; a switch to select whether it is to be used as the Left or Right speaker (i.e., the master speaker is not fixed, and can be used for either channel); Speaker Position switches (Neutral, Wall, Corner); a Type-B USB port for firmware updates; and a Speaker ID switch, with which a pair of Xeos can be assigned to a specific “zone” for spaces outfitted with multiple Xeo systems. On that last point, the Xeo 2 is fully compatible with Dynaudio’s Hub and Connect hardwares, which allow for connection of additional sources, and easy integration in a multi-room/zone system. Perhaps most important is the Xeo 2’s Bluetooth connectivity -- Dynaudio’s first use of Bluetooth. Compatible with aptX and AAC, it accepts signals up to 16/48.
Other interesting points about the Xeo 2 include three capacitive buttons embedded into the top of each speaker -- from left to right, these are volume down, power on/off, and volume up -- as well as a pair of soft LEDs embedded in the top left corner of each Xeo’s top baffle. The LEDs light up in 16 different arrangements, both flashing and solid; blue indicates a 44.1 or 48kHz incoming signal, purple an 88.2 or 96kHz signal. The two LEDs also may glow red or white, depending on the speaker’s status. While the lights are subtle, in terms of both size and intensity, and do provide relevant information, they make the Xeo 2s’ front panels busy places. Flashing blue or red lights in a dark room isn’t ideal, and the grilles don’t cover them.
As mentioned earlier, I at first placed the Xeos on my work desk, for use as desktop monitors, where they took the place of my usual NuForce DDA-100 amplifier-DAC and Amphion Ion+ passive speakers. Since my desk is in a recessed corner of my office, I set the rear-panel switch on each Xeo 2 to Corner and arranged them at the rear corners of my 60”-wide desk. I didn’t need Dynaudio’s optional stands, having, as a child, taken my mother’s advice very much to heart -- I tend to slouch way down in my office chair when I work, which left me roughly ear-level with the Xeos’ tweeters. In this setup, I connected to the Xeos exclusively via Bluetooth.
Playing music was generally a non-issue. The Dynaudios would readily link to my laptop whenever I woke it from sleep, and begin playing within a few seconds of being prompted to. On two occasions I had to restart the pairing process, as one speaker stopped playing music. Dynaudio has since released a USB firmware update that I easily handled using a USB stick, and which took a couple of minutes to install in each Xeo 2. The update promised to fix this issue, and I haven’t encountered it since. I should also note that I used the Xeo 2s to watch Netflix and HBO Go content over its Bluetooth connection, and found that when I paused content and started it up again, there was a noticeable lag between the audio and video signal that I couldn’t shake until I manually disconnected from the speakers on my laptop, and reconnected. While a bit annoying, I didn’t have this problem when connecting via the Xeo 2’s optical connection, so I doubt this will be a major concern for most users.
I then shifted the Xeo 2s into my main system, perching them on generic 20” stands as well as, when I got lazy, atop my Monitor Audio Silver 10 towers. In this setup they were roughly 18” from my front wall, 8’ apart, and 8’ from my listening position. I used them via Bluetooth with my iPhone 6, iPad Air 2, and MacBook Pro, and via optical with my TV and its connected devices, including an Apple TV and an Xbox One. I verified that the analog connections on the “master” speaker worked, but otherwise didn’t use them. The Xeo split my listening time with Audioengine’s HD6 ($749/pair), and my reference system: Hegel Music Systems H360 integrated amplifier-DAC, KEF LS50 minimonitors, and Monitor Audio Silver 10 floorstanding loudspeakers.
It’s what’s inside that counts
Whatever misgivings I had about the Xeo 2’s humble size and plastic cabinet all but vanished when I began feeding it lossless CD-resolution content from Tidal. While Dynaudios are well known for their neutrality, I recall my old Contours being a bit polite in the treble, reserved in the midrange, and dignified in their relaxed overall sound. The Xeo 2s, by contrast, sounded more immediate, visceral, and exciting. Their extended treble response allowed the Xeos to cast a broad stereo image that belied their small cabinets. They also sounded abundantly clean through the midrange, voices popping into life with surprising presence. Most impressive was the bass, for two reasons. Not only could the Xeo 2 go uncommonly low -- the specified 40Hz lower limit is believable at low to medium volumes -- the tautness and precision of its delivery was remarkable. Despite being set up in corners in my office system, where their ports would butt right up against the wall -- something that usually excites room gain and, in turn, fat, dull upper bass -- the Dynaudios proved exceptional below 100Hz.
The bass line of Röyksopp’s “Bounty Hunters,” from the Star Wars Headspace compilation by famed producer Rick Rubin (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Hollywood), enters at the 18-second mark. I was shocked by how tight, composed, and impactful the Xeo 2s were at handling it. On my desk, with the Xeos set in Corner mode, their lower-frequency output seemed attenuated in an effort to minimize the problematic bloat associated with shoving rear-ported speakers right up against a wall, and my, did it work. There was little to no overhang in the Xeos’ delivery of the tight upper-bass drive and -- the effect was almost concussive, even listening in the nearfield in a desktop setup. Playing the same line with the ’2s perched on stands in my main system and set to Neutral mode, the Dynaudios had greater midbass energy, and decidedly more weight and heft in the synthesizer’s delivery. The Dynaudios’ bass didn’t sound merely good for such little speakers, or for $1599/pair: it just sounded flat-out good.
When I pivoted to “Glas / Green,” from Solomon Grey’s Dathanna: Sounds of the Wild Atlantic Way (16/44.1 FLAC, Solomon Grey), the good news continued. The London-based duo’s anthem is a medley of musical styles: the track opens with the powerful crashing of ocean waves, followed by a contemplative electronic melody, some ethereal male voices, even some bagpipes. It’s a big, wide-open sound, and the Xeo 2s obliged by sounding far larger than I ever would have suspected they could. The tenuous, wavering male voices were perfectly centered in a highly convincing central image. Soundstaging was excellent, with a clean, clear, uniform soundscape that extended between the two speakers and beyond my front wall. Don’t let their size fool you: the Xeo 2s sounded much bigger than their size might suggest.
What surprised me most of all with this track was the Xeo 2’s delicacy. There was plenty of treble energy on tap, but it didn’t veer into tetchy or brittle territory, instead remaining commendably smooth. I also heard a touch of emphasis in the midrange that allowed the Xeo to lean slightly toward the vibrant, exciting end of the spectrum, though I suspect it wouldn’t be enough to turn off those who favor a more relaxed overall sound. Dynaudio’s voicing of the Xeo 2 is nothing if not skillful.
“Black & White,” from Sarah McLachlan’s Surfacing (16/44.1 FLAC, Arista), is one of my favorites of her songs. The simple, closely miked drums serve as a foundation for McLachlan’s rich, soulful voice to shine through. This 1997 recording hasn’t aged particularly well, but I was struck by how accomplished the Dynaudios were at reproducing her voice with impressive transparency and resolution. McLachlan sounded palpably three-dimensional, and while her voice’s finer contours were slightly obscured -- imaging was strong, though not exactly laser-guided in its accuracy -- I reveled in what I was hearing. There were loads of texture and nuance on offer. Drum thwacks were cast with admirable pace, with little in the way of leading or trailing edge overhang. And, again, the recording space sounded far more spacious than I would have suspected the Xeos would be able to muster.
Finally, while the little Xeo 2s were able to play quite loudly, it wasn’t hard to find their upper limit when challenging them with bass-heavy music at party volume levels. The Dynaudios were most at home in rooms of small to medium size; they worked superbly as dedicated 2.0-channel TV speakers, and perhaps even better on my desktop.
I recently received Audioengine’s HD6 powered speakers ($749/pair). With its good-looking cabinet of real wood, tasteful aluminum remote control, and bulletproof Bluetooth reliability, the HD6 is a consumer-friendly speaker, and the easiest to recommend to non-audiophiles. While it offers an identical driver arrangement to the Xeo 2 -- a 1” soft-dome tweeter and a 5.5” midrange-woofer -- the HD6 has conventional class-AB amps, and lacks DSP. Its sound is also a bit more contoured, with a warm midrange, a polite top end, and looser, more fulsome bass response. The Audioengine will appeal to a different type of listener and a different set of wallets.
I was also curious to hear how my passive KEF LS50s ($1499.99/pair) would fare against the Xeo 2s. The LS50’s sculpted cabinet allows it to “disappear” from a room more completely than the Dynaudio, provide more finely delineated imaging, and sound even more spacious. The LS50’s midrange and treble, while ultimately more detailed than the Xeo 2’s, has a slightly relaxed, laid-back quality that contrasts with the Xeo’s slightly forward sound. At low to medium volumes, the KEF’s bass was actually outshone by the Dynaudio’s. The Xeo 2 dug lower and maintained its composure while doing so; the KEF turns a bit loose and lush. As the volume rose, however, and the Xeo 2’s DSP-driven midrange-woofer began to buckle and flap, the LS50 went unflappably on. For all of the Xeo 2’s strengths, the LS50 is superior -- it’s as good a two-way speaker as you can buy for $2000 or even $3000/pair. But how close to it the fully active Xeo 2 came for only $100/pair more -- which, remember, includes the power amps -- was remarkable.
Dynaudio’s Xeo 2 is a little powerhouse, with spacious sound, bell-like midrange clarity, and genuinely taut, powerful bass. Also praiseworthy are its boundary-related tuning, clever adaptive bass technology, and tiny proportions. But what I find most commendable is that all of this can be had for $1599/pair, with no need for additional hardware or wiring. While I encountered a few functional gremlins along the way, they were far overshadowed by the Xeo 2’s sensational sound. What a speaker.
. . . Hans Wetzel
- Speakers -- Audioengine HD6, KEF LS50, Monitor Audio Silver 10
- Earphones and headphones -- NAD Viso HP50, Pryma 0|1, PSB M4U 4
- Integrated amplifier -- Hegel Music Systems H360
- Digital-to-analog converter -- Arcam irDAC
- Sources -- Apple MacBook Pro running iTunes
- Speaker cables -- DH Labs Q-10 Signature, Dynamique Audio Caparo
- Analog interconnects -- Dynamique Audio Shadow RCA, Nordost Blue Heaven LS XLR
- USB cables -- DH Labs Silversonic, Nordost Blue Heaven
Dynaudio Xeo 2 Powered Loudspeakers
Price: $1599 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years, passive speaker elements; two years, active electronic elements.
Dynaudio International GmbH
Phone: +49 (0) 4108-4180-0
Fax: +49 (0) 4108-4180-10
Dynaudio North America
1852 Elmdale Avenue
Glenview, IL 60026
Phone: (847) 730-3280
Fax: (847) 730-3207