Portable Audio

Focal XS 2.1 iPod Amplified Speaker Dock

ARTICLE INDEX

The Sound

While the primary input on the XS is intended to be a digital USB signal, the presence of the dock lends itself to standalone operation as well. I spent time listening to both the iPod input and USB input on the XS. The mp3s I used for playback were encoded at a minimum bitrate of 192 kbps with a variable bitrate. With my encoding settings, the average bitrate for most of my files exceeds 220 kbps. I tested the system with both CDs, and mp3s to see if the XS could reveal slight differences between the two.

Right out of the box, the XS was quite bright and actually bordered on being a bit harsh in the highs. Burning in the speakers for a couple days made drastic improvements to the overall presentation from the speakers. The speakers maintained a sharp image, while presenting a very smooth sound.

Norah Jones Come AwayNorah Jones - Come Away With Me

The soundstage was dramatically broader than I had initially anticipated. While there are certainly claims on the market of room filling sound from a tiny box, the XS does it with aplomb. As might be expected with satellites, the imaging is exceptionally clear, with the vocals and instruments clearly placed on the stage. Most notably, the sub/sats were remarkably well integrated. Norah came across very consistently throughout her range, which present a challenge for undersized sats and mismatched woofers. The bass was also well presented by the woofer, with minimal localization. Comparing playback from the CD and the mp3, I would say the bass might be a bit tighter off the CD, but it was pretty close. As I mentioned earlier, comparing mp3 playback off the iPod and through Burr-Brown DAC was a draw for my ears. I would wager some of the more recent iPod models might not fair quite as well, as the DACs were an early casualty to cost reductions.

Eric Clapton UnpluggedEric Clapton - Unplugged

Again, the XS did a remarkable job in recreating the soundstage. It was always clear what parts were being played by whom, which isn't an easy task. On Signe and Tears in Heaven, in particular, the guitars are reproduced exceptionally well. Clapton's vocals are also well serviced by the XS. A few tracks with some piano accompaniment seemed a little bright, but not distractingly so.