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Positive Feedback ISSUE 40
november/december 2008



XS 2.1 Multi-media loudspeakers

as reviewed by Victor Chavira






Marten Design Miles II (primary system) and B&W DM 302 (secondary system).

Magnum Dynalab MD-208 receiver (primary system) and Troll integrated (secondary system).

Phillips DVD-963SA player (primary system) and Apple Mini-Mac (secondary system) and a LINN Axiss turntable with the Adikt cartridge.

Nordost Quattro-Fil interconnects, Analysis Plus Oval 9 speaker cables, and El Dorado power cords (primary system). JPS Ultraconductor speaker cable, Nordost Blue Heaven interconnect (secondary system).

Audio Magic Stealth Power Purifier, Vibrapods, Townshend 3D sink Table), and Echo Busters (primary system). Monster Cable HTS1000 power center (secondary system).

Apple's iTunes and iPod have transformed the way a new generation of music lovers listens to recordings. After some time, audiophiles began to appreciate the convenience of play lists and downloading. Now the high end audio industry is responding to the market influence of iPods by producing a growing number of music systems with a dock station. The Focal XS 2.1 is one such system.

The Focal XS 2.1 is a desktop system that features a powered subwoofer and amplified satellites. The 6.5 inch down firing subwoofer and internal amplifiers are encased in a black cabinet approximately the size of a two-way stand mount speaker laid on its side. The face of the box is finished in glossy black and aluminum trim along with flared port opening. The rear contains connections and a control for the woofer level. Amplification is rated at 70-watts for the woofer and 30-watts for each satellite. The satellites are attached to an integrated stand and base that elevated the speakers to ear level when placed on top of a desk or entertainment center. A three-inch paper cone midrange and 3/4 inch Mylar tweeter resides within each sealed satellite. The black mesh grills are non-removable. The right base features controls for volume and input selection. The left base contains a dock for iPods. Several adaptors are included in the packaging for the different types of iPod docks. The system is assembled over seas and retails for $600.

The Focal system was set up in my living room. The left and right speakers flanked my flat screen TV on the entertainment center and the bass module was placed on the carpet. Each speaker is mated to a six-foot length of cable that makes setting up the XS an easy task. One late afternoon I placed the system on top of the kitchen countertop and connected a portable DVD player. I enjoyed a concert DVD while preparing dinner for my family. Then I quickly returned the system to the living room to watch a movie after eating. Finding the best bass response and integration with the satellites is a matter of personal taste. As a general rule, I kept the bass module centered on the floor between the left/right speakers and on the same front plane.

Speaking of movies, I watched the Iron Man DVD with explosive results! The Focal XS is petite, but produces substantial sound. Dialogue and sound effects sounded clear and well focused on the screen. The XS recreated Iron Man's metal mayhem with impressive dynamic crunch. Another DVD that showcased the Focal's dynamic strength was Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. In one scene towards the end of the movie, Indiana approaches a vast waterfall. The XS filled my 13 by 20 foot room with the intense sound of deep rushing water. Similar results were observed with The Hulk DVD. The Hulk's foot stomps didn't exactly shake the floorboards of my living room but the single 6.5 inch woofer did convincingly transmit quick pulses of low frequency energy that enhanced the viewing and listening experience.

For music only listening, I connected the XS to one of several iPod Shuffles that my family uses. Unfortunately, I was not able to experiment with the Focal's docking capabilities due to the fact that the Shuffle's only interface is a one eighth mini jack. At one point in the listening session I also plugged in my cell phone, which also has iTunes. In order to listen to an analogue source via the supplied mini plug, the user must first depress a switch on the back of the right base, which disengages the iPod dock. This function is not clearly described in the owner's manual. At first I thought the unit was at fault until I discovered the switch through trail and error.

In all cases, the Focal XS made music in a proficient and uncolored manner. From rock to classical, the Focal XS gets music right without any distracting colorations. Unapologetically however, the XS didn't layer the sections of an orchestra the way my primary system can. Nevertheless, most of what I listen for in a system, such as tonal accuracy, PRAT, and dynamics, was accounted for in the XS to a very large degree. I particularly enjoyed listening to solo guitar where the Focal's small size advantage and focused sound matched the image shaped by the strings and soundboard of an acoustic guitar.

For the ultimate test of fidelity, I connected the XS to my Linn Axis turntable and E.A.R. 834 phono preamp with an RCA to mini interconnect. I listened to the Pat Metheny Group's 1987 LP Still Life Talking on Geffen Records. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the LP raised the XS to another level. The Focal's internal amplifiers and crossover network were delightfully transparent and allowed all the analogue goodness of the vinyl to flow freely. Only when the music push midrange dynamic limits did the satellites sound slightly congested owing, I believe, to the mildly resonant satellite enclosures.

Overall, I set out to answer the question of whether six hundred dollars was too much to ask for a desktop system. At first I thought definitely, especially given the fact that the five-year old Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 system in my garage makes good music for one-third the price. However, I would never consider placing the ProMedia in my critical listening room, too much boom and sizzle. Twenty years ago when I began my audio journey, Adcom separates and a Marantz CD 63 were the building blocks of a good sounding system. If I were starting over today with a laptop and iPod as my primary musical sources, I would seriously consider the Focal XS 2.1. The Focal XS 2.1 offers a level of design, versatility, and refinement that more than justify its retail price. Soundly recommended. Victor Chavira

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