Wi-Fi is in the air, so to speak, and for years wireless loudspeakers have been a holy grail of home audio. Most of us seem to have accepted the truth that our TVs must be plugged in in order to work, as well as the idea that our TVs need to be fed signals by a physical cable. But there’s something about speaker cables that sets interior decorators on edge. In the past, cableless speaker systems have been of notoriously low quality. Small, lacking in good sound, usually poorly made, and subject to interference and/or inadequate transfer of signals, wireless speaker systems have come and gone, never quite measuring up to the performance standard set by an amplifier and some lamp cord.
But now that we’re all walking around with the Internet streaming to our smartphones, the concept of wirelessness has never been so pervasive, so natural, so . . . expected.
Danish speaker maker Dynaudio calls its Xeo 3 a "wireless and remote controlled high-end loudspeaker system." It comprises four parts and retails for $2300 USD per pair including transmitter and remote. The transmitter is a bit smaller than a thick paperback book; on its rear panel are a 3.5mm jack for a stereo patch cord, the familiar red and white RCA jacks, a digital input for a TosLink cable, a USB input, a smaller input that powers the transmitter via a wall wart, and a switch for selecting the speaker zone. On the front panel are the Dynaudio logo in relief, and a small light above and to the left of the "o" that glows red when the transmitter is turned off, blue when it’s ready or transmitting. The remote control is light as a feather and made of the same matte-black plastic as the transmitter case. It has controls for volume up/down, mute, on/off, and the selection of input and zone.
Measuring 11.1"H x 6.7"W x 9.7"D, each Xeo 3 speaker has a rear-ported cabinet that houses an amplifier that sends an astounding 50W to each of the two drivers: a 1" soft-dome tweeter and a 5.5" midrange-woofer. Still, the Xeo 3 isn’t particularly heavy -- only 12 pounds -- and it’s sturdy, stable, and feels substantial. A black cloth grille attaches with four corner posts, and between tweeter and midrange-woofer, off to one side, is a sensor that responds to the remote, lights up red on standby, and shines blue when ready or receiving a signal. The Xeo 3 is available in gloss black or white, and satin black or white. There’s also a floorstanding model, the Xeo 5 ($4500/pr.). I listened to the Xeo 3s in my listening room (and other spots around the apartment, ah-ha!).
Cosmetically, the Xeo 3 is true to Dynaudio’s usual level of styling: as handsome as they come. And around back . . . no binding posts! Instead, there are two sets of switches: one to select the zone the speaker has been assigned to, another to operate the speaker in mono as a singleton, or as one of a stereo pair. The power socket accepts a normal household two-prong electrical cord; above it is the power switch. Some naysayers will likely complain about trading two sets of speaker cables for an additional power cord, but speakers have to get their juice from somewhere -- ultimate wirelessness continues to defy the laws of human invention, if not of physics. I was skeptical myself as to the benefit of having to plug the speakers into the wall. The benefits of wirelessness, however, were soon revealed.
My first move was to disconnect my disc player, a Denon DVD-1730, from my NAD C 325BEE integrated amplifier, then plug it into the RCA jacks of the Xeo 3 transmitter using a 1m set of Monster Cable Interlink 200s. For the next three months or so the NAD remained dormant. I never missed it.
Connections I was anxious to make were to run the TosLink from the Denon DVD player to the digital input on the Xeo transmitter, as well as from my computer to the transmitter via USB. Since the vast majority of my listening is technically analog, a digital setup seemed appropriate to the spirit of Xeo’s wireless technology.
Next, anticipating that I’d most often be jacking my iPod Classic 160G by means of a mini stereo interconnect, I hooked up one of those cables at the same time and let it sit there. Then I set the Xeo 3 speakers on my 28"-high Target stands, roughly in the same spots my Axiom M22 speakers usually occupy: about 2’ from the wall and 8’ from each other, equidistant to my listening position. My apartment lacks an abundance of electrical outlets, but I was able to attach the speakers’ power cords to a strip under the audio rack. Not optimal, perhaps, but certainly less conspicuous than coils of speaker wire laid across the carpet.
How long does it usually take you to hook up an amp, a disc player, and associated interconnects, position the speakers, and match red to black at either end of the speaker cables -- half an hour? I set up the Xeo 3 system in ten minutes, tops. Dynaudio promotes the Xeo 3’s simplicity and convenience; sure enough, getting started couldn’t have been easier. It was almost as if there wasn’t enough to do -- until I tried to play a disc.
I pride myself on speed and efficiency of setup. I’ve done it dozens of times, and whenever I’ve finished a setup, I’m ready to get right down to the listening. But when there’s nothing to hear -- oh boy. You know how it is. With the Xeo 3 system, however, there’s not much to check -- not even a volume-level indicator. (This would become an issue later on, when I switched from the relatively low output of the iPod to the fixed level of the DVD player.) In the end, after a few moments of mild panic, I discovered that the RCA jacks were being overridden by the mini-jacked cord I’d plugged in for my iPod Classic. With so few options at the rear of the transmitter, it seems the least one could ask is that the two analog inputs be able to operate simultaneously. Dynaudio says they’ve corrected this inconvenience with a software update; meanwhile, I got into the habit of disconnecting whatever I wasn’t using at the time.
The Dynaudio Xeo 3 sounded remarkably well balanced, offering clearly articulated highs and an inviting midrange. It was truly exceptional in the bass. Older tracks recorded with 1950s warmth, such as "Come Back Baby," from Ray Charles’s The Birth of Soul (CD, Atlantic 823102), came through spaciously, Ray’s voice up in front of the instruments, but with the drum beat solid and insistent below.
More contemporary recordings, such as "Pass Me Over," from Anthony Hamilton’s Ain’t Nobody Worryin’, from 2005 (CD, Arista 74278), rolled in lushly on a wave of sound and music, the whoosh and swirl of instruments caught up in a whirling pool of compression, the singer’s voice conveying hard-earned emotional truth as the beat spread out across the room like paint spilling from a can. Conversely, raw stayed raw, as in AC/DC’s live version of their "Sin City" on Bonfire (CD, Epic 80218) -- with Malcolm and Angus Young’s guitars buzzing, Phil Rudd’s kick drum thudding, and singer Bon Scott snarling at the crowd, the sound of this recording was properly lean and menacing through the Xeo 3s.
Bass-centric music -- e.g., rap and reggae -- thrived through the Xeo 3s. "Dub Along," from Lee Perry’s Super Ape (CD, Mango 260858), oozed to its conclusion, the bass’s crisp initial attack giving way to a seemingly continuous decay before the next note. "Shadowboxing," from GZA’s Liquid Swords (CD, Geffen 24813), features a repeating bass line that resonates and reverberates, with the alternating vocals of Method Man (blunt and raspy) and GZA (flat and cold) centered between the beat, RZA’s chipmunk-sound accents, and snippets of dialogue from kung-fu movies. Even something stylistically different -- such as "Up in the Air," a Bob Mould track from Hüsker Dü’s Warehouse: Songs and Stories (CD, Warner Bros. 25544-2) -- bore up exceedingly well, emerging intact from the Xeo 3s as a forest of sound without obscuring individual trees: Mould’s guitar cut with a jagged, serrated edge, Grant Hart’s locked-in drums cracked, and the bounce of Gil Norton’s bass linked it all together. The Xeo 3 didn’t discriminate. It ignored categories and just made music.
The Xeo 3 system’s bass response, particularly while playing CDs via TosLink, was impressive. These speakers sounded much larger than they are, playing much more loudly than I cared to hear in my relatively close quarters. They cohered from the upper end of the audioband (always free from digital hardness) all the way down -- and with tracks like "Future Shock," from The Very Best of Curtis Mayfield (CD, Rhino R2 72584) it was as if the bassist had plugged directly into the speaker itself.
Fed a crystalline acoustic track -- take "Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold," a duet with Steve and Justin Townes Earle, on Townes (CD, New West 6164) -- from my computer to the Xeo with a USB cable, it was as if the pair had plugged their acoustic guitars straight into the Xeos’ amps. In this respect, the Xeo 3 approximated the intimacy of the live experience, inasmuch as "live" means an audience listening to music electronically reproduced through a club’s monitors.
Sometimes setting the levels on the Xeo 3s is tricky. The problem begins when switching from one source to another, each with its own output level. Then, each recording -- or each track, if listening in Shuffle mode -- has its own level. Since much of my listening was from my iPod’s headphone output, I boosted the iPod’s level a little higher than I would when listening to headphones, and used the Xeo’s remote to vary the volume: pointing the remote at one speaker adjusts the volume for both. Once set, it rarely seemed that the sound level had to be adjusted: I’m not sure if the Xeo has the technology to adjust in real time, so let’s call it a happy accident. That’s to the Xeo’s credit.
Unfortunately, without music playing, there’s no way to know where the Xeo 3s’ volume level is set. No numbers are displayed anywhere. You just press Play and hope that, last time, you didn’t shut the system off before turning the speakers down from crankin’ levels (which I did more than once). Another quirky quality concerns the automatic turn-on/off function. You don’t have to think much about it, and it’s a good energy saver, but you also can’t pause a song or a video for very long before the system shuts down -- and as it takes a couple of seconds to power back on, you always miss a few words or notes.
But the Xeo 3 system’s reason for being is versatility. Once I got over the idea of symmetrical speaker placement, I was able to place the speakers much farther apart in my room than I can with my usual system, in which the speakers are tethered to an amp. I played around with separation, toe-in, setting one speaker farther back than the other, and listening with one Xeo 3 in one room and the other Xeo 3 turned off. None of these minor experiments resulted in bad sound, and all were fun. They also pointed toward the idea that Xeo is meant to have company: a set of Xeo 5 floorstanders in a massive home theater, or another pair of Xeo 3s in a different zone of the house, all speakers controlled by one centrally located transmitter and its remote.
Dynaudio’s Xeo 3 is a system I could happily live with. The liveliness of its sound, its impressive bass, the cleanness of voices, and the Xeo 3’s "rightness," song after song, genre after musical genre, makes them easily the best speakers I’ve had in my listening room. The Xeo 3 system pulled off the most elusive trick in audio: It presented recordings at their best, sounding like what I had to believe was how the various musicians, producers, and engineers intended them to sound. Picking no favorites among musical genres, it could be a speaker for everybody, regardless of how narrowly focused or broadly eclectic their tastes. I wonder, however, if its price of $2300 warrants the advantages of wirelessness. Our own Doug Schneider waxed poetic on the SoundStage! Network about Dynaudio’s Excite X12 minimonitor ($1200/pair); I’d like to hear those driven by my NAD integrated.
In the end, the Xeo 3 system is about functionality. It’s also an impressive technology whose time seems to have come. Dynaudio has combined excellent sound quality, good build quality, good looks, and versatility with the technical demands of the day. Listeners now have a viable option for ridding themselves of all those components and tangles of cable cluttering their entertainment centers. The Xeo 3 is a standard-setting system.
. . . Jeff Stockton
- Speakers -- Axiom M22
- Disc player -- Denon DVD-1730
- MP3 player -- Apple iPod Classic 160G (fifth generation)
- Analog interconnects -- Monster Cable Interlink 200, Monster iCable 800
- Digital interconnects -- Dynaudio TosLink and USB cable (supplied with Xeo system)
- Speaker cables -- Element Cable Double Run
Dynaudio Xeo 3 Wireless Powered Loudspeakers
Price: $2300 USD per pair with transmitter; $1950 without transmitter.
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
1140 Tower Lane
Bensenville, IL 60106
Phone: (630) 238-4200