Wireless active speakers have a good case for being the neatest solution in hi-fi, and potentially AV too — send your music to them wirelessly, plug in your TV, no amp required — you could potentially have no equipment on display except your speakers.
You might think such simplicity would limit this idea more to the mass market than to those seeking the best in hi-fi reproduction. But Dynaudio clearly thinks differently. It has been working for some years on active speakers that are able to work not only in a wireless environment but in multiroom modes as well. One of its latest and surely most attractive solutions is the Focus 20 XD. To these you can attach inputs directly, or you can add an additional unit which will then deliver multiple inputs to them wirelessly.
Now then, if the only thing you’ll be having on display is your loudspeakers, they might as well look as good as possible, eh? The Focus 20 XD standmounters look so very very good that we were in danger of having our listening notes biased by their sheer loveliness. It’s quite a long time since we’ve seen such a glorious finish on a loudspeaker. Does it sound good? Hell, you imagine it just has to when it looks that good.
It was the finish, you see. There was a deep lustre to the gorgeous wood grain of the cabinets as we pulled them from their cloth bags — piano gloss. Yet these speakers, so their label claims, were built in Denmark itself, from where the brand hails, not from some low labour-cost nation. Such work goes some way towards explaining their cost.
They came in two separate cartons, so that we wondered if they might be quite independent speakers, paired as you wish. But no — one was labelled ‘Right’, the other ‘Left’. And they connect with each other wirelessly when powered up, using some wireless system of Dynaudio’s devising.
They employ Dynaudio’s own drivers as well, with a 25mm soft-dome tweeter in each, and a 170mm woofer in each cabinet. And each driver — not each speaker, but each tweeter and each woofer — gets its own 150W amplifier. That allows for active crossovers, of course, and gives Dynaudio tremendous ability to control performance. There are controls on the back to slightly trim the tweeter level and adjust the bass output for different room placements.
If you have two equally capable loudspeakers, each with its own amplifier, how does one split an analogue or digital signal between the two? With these speakers, if you choose to use the digital connection (coaxial only; for optical you’ll need the additional unit), the master speakers will split off the second channel and communicate it wirelessly to the other speaker. That only works with signals of up to 96kHz. If you want to go even higher in resolution — to 192kHz — you will need to connect the two speakers together by a cable to carry the digital audio signal.Either speaker can be set to master or slave, so you can use either left or right for your source connection.
The tweeter face-plate is wide, and the screw heads securing both of the drivers are exposed. We think the result is pretty enough to be left exposed, without the magnetically-secured black cloth grilles.
If you’re feeding an analogue signal, you’ll have to use a split cable and plug the relevant channel cable into the matching speakers separately. Things are made far more versatile, and wireless, and potentially multiroom by using the optional Dynaudio Connect box (see right). The remote control with the Focus speakers uses about half its keys to operate the speakers and the rest for the extension devices, such as the Connect box.
DYNAUDIO CONNECT - wireless & multiroom
If you’re happy with a simple system of one or two sources connected directly to the Focus 20 XDs, all well and good. But things are made much more versatile by adding one of Dynaudio’s ‘hub’ units, such as the Connect pictured here.
This adds (see back panel below) one minijack and one RCA pair of analogue inputs, plus three digital inputs — optical, coaxial and USB from a computer. This last uses a micro-USB socket; an adapter is supplied with the Connect.
But there’s more. The Connect is a networking device, able to connect to your home Wi-Fi network and thereby to the internet, bringing Spotify Connect and DLNA streaming. There’s also Bluetooth — Dynaudio has a Xeo range of active speakers which have Bluetooth built in, but it’s a useful addition to the Focus XD range, since any app source on a smart device can then be played through the Connect and on to the Focus XDs.
Bluetooth includes the near-CD quality aptX codec for Android phones which support it; Apple devices will stream at 256k AAC; non-aptX Android will default to the SBC codec. The optical and coaxial digital inputs accept up to 24-bit/192kHz signals, but the connection to the speakers is made at 24-bit/96kHz, also the maximum available from the USB input.
But that’s if you’re using only one pair of speakers. Underneath the Connect is a little DIP switch to select multiroom operation, and doing so limits transmission to CD quality. So in multiroom mode, high-res playback is currently supported only from local inputs to the speakers themselves. The Dynaudio Connect sells for $799.
Connecting up really was super simple, although you only get a quick start guide in the box and you simply must download the full guide to understand the meaning of the indicator lights and such.
We used the coax digital input signal on the speakers. It turns out even without the link between them, the Focus 20 XDs work with 24-bit/192kHz PCM inputs. Presumably it just downsamples it on the fly before wirelessly transmitting it from one to the other speaker.
With a system with such as this, one of the main worries is synchronisation, and timing between the speakers. And the best way to assess that is to check out the stereo imaging, which will collapse if there’s anything less than near-perfect synch-ronisation. Playing (digitally, of course) the 2006 album ‘Mercury’ by the Alister Spence Trio (wonderfully realised jazz that is original, yet accessible), it was instantly obvious that not all the price of admission went into the spectacular finish on the speakers. These are truly first-class high-fidelity loudspeakers — even with their wireless interconnection. The imaging was spacious yet precise, three dimensional and lifelike.So, so, very good.
As was tonal balance and dynamic liveliness. Dynaudio speakers always stand out in their reproduction of percussion. With the jazz it was just as expected, but turning to something more primal, Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled album, they delivered a real punch, a viscerally hard feel of honest-to-goodness unconstrained kick-drum work. We turned it up, and up, and up, to seeming rock concert levels (it wasn’t really, but it seemed like it). Yet the sound was absolutely undistorted. Damn it, very nearly absolutely perfect.
While we didn’t use the Connect box in this review, we have done so with these speakers’ predecessors, the Focus 200 XDs, and our panel (right) is based on that experience.
For all but the simplest system, we do recommend adding the Connect box to the Focus 20 XD pairing. That way you’ll have plenty of inputs, wireless neatness, Bluetooth convenience — and a gorgeous pair of active speakers on the end of it, delivering superb sound quality.
Dynaudio Focus 20 XD active stereo speakers
Price: $7999 in high gloss walnut/black or stain white; $8499 in high gloss rosewood/grey oak
+ High-end sound quality
+ Excellent bass
+ Absolutely gorgeous finish
- Just pricing
Drivers: 1 x 28mm soft-dome tweeter, 1 x 170mm woofer
Power output: 150 watts per channel (4)
Frequency response: 39-24,000Hz ±3dB
Inputs: 1 x stereo (3.5mm), 1 x optical digital audio (3.5mm)
Output: 1 x coaxial digital audio
Cabinet: Bass reflex, rear ports
Dimensions (hwd): 360 x 198 x 322mm
Warranty: Two years
These speakers were part of a group test for which measurements can be seen here.