With the rise of on-wall and in-wall speaker sales, traditional loudspeakers, mainly floor-standing models, had to do something to try and steal back a bit of market share in today's lifestyle-oriented world. While most notable manufacturers simply painted their speakers silver or offered an extra, more exotic wood finish, Bowers & Wilkins introduced a whole new speaker line, the XT series. Now, Bowers & Wilkins has never been criticized for making an ugly speaker, far from it. In fact, I would argue their speakers have been more lifestyle-friendly over the years than those of most other manufacturers. That being said, the XT series, specifically the XT4 reviewed here, represents a fresh look at an old tradition, Bowers & Wilkins style.
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The XT4 retails for $2,500 a pair and is a sleek, narrow, aluminum-encased three-way loudspeaker. Though made from ridged aluminum, the XT4 comes in either its natural silver finish or gloss black. The XT4 features Bowers & Wilkins' trademark Nautilus tube-loaded tweeter that rests above the mid/bass drivers and protrudes from the top of the speaker itself. The XT4 has a single five-inch woven Kevlar midrange driver mated to dual five-inch paper/Kevlar bass drivers. With four total drivers at its disposal, the XT4 has a reported frequency response of 40Hz to 22kHz, so you're going to want a sub for that last bit of bass oomph. The XT4 is not quite as efficient as some other speakers in its class, with a rating of 86dB into an eight-ohm load. While Bowers & Wilkins says the XT4s can work their magic with as little as 50 total watts, take my word for it, you're going to want to bring at least 75-100 to an XT party, so make sure your receiver and/or separates are up to task.
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• The XT4s are stunningly beautiful and would make me happy as an artistic statement in my listening room, but the fact that they play music makes 'em a one-two punch.
• The XT4s are incredibly musical, possessing much of the Bowers & Wilkins signature sound, although due to their smallish multiple driver array, they are very fast, agile and articulate, provided you have the right amount of power.
• The XT4's Nautilus tweeter is very smooth, open and natural, without being fatiguing or harsh at high volumes.
• Spatially, the XT4s image and disappear more like monitor loudspeakers than floor-standing ones, leaving a rich, full, well-defined musical or movie experience in their wake.
• While there is little to knock when it comes to the XT4s' sonic performance, you do need a bit of juice to make their dynamic capabilities come to life, which is essential for Blu-ray movie watching.
• In medium to large rooms, you're going to want to mate the XT4s to a quality subwoofer, which means the cost of ownership is going to increase a bit, but if you're not a bass-head, you can live with the XT4s and add a sub later when taste and/or budget allow.
• While I love the XT4s' look, the gloss finish is a pain to keep reflective and clean if you have pets or kids. Be willing to do a bit of spot cleaning every week to keep the XT4s looking their best.
It's not every day a speaker manufacturer already known for beautiful design goes and outdoes itself, which is exactly what Bowers & Wilkins has done with its new XT speaker series. The XT4 sits at the top of the XT family tree in size, appearance and performance, making it worth every penny of its $2,500 asking price. While not quite full-range and a bit power-hungry, the XT4 is still a remarkable loudspeaker, one that can be appreciated aurally as well as physically. While the world may be shifting towards on-wall/in-wall or smaller speakers, the XT4 proves the floor-standing speaker isn't dead.