Focal XS 2.1 Speaker System with iPod Dock

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Focal is best known for their expensive audiophile speakers. Their Utopia line of speakers tops out in price at nearly $200,000 per pair. My very limited listening experiences with Focal had left me with a positive impression. When I heard that Focal had entered the crowded Multimedia/iPod dock speaker system arena, I was curious to see what they had produced.

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The Focal XS is an attractive, self-powered 2.1 system with an integrated iPod dock that retails for $599. The speakers have a clean, modern industrial design with a high-gloss black finish. The satellites are diminutive in size, each with a rectangular black base, an angled aluminum arm holding a softball-sized speaker cabinet with a flat face and a curved back. The right-side speaker has a universal iPod dock on the top of the base, an IR receiver on the front of the base and, on the back, USB and one-eighth-inch analog audio connections and a Sync/Audio button. Additionally, both speakers have captive cables connecting them to the subwoofer. The satellites are a shielded two-way sample with a three-inch paper cone midrange and a one-quarter-inch Mylar dome tweeter. The subwoofer is substantial for this system type. The subwoofer housing measures 10 inches high by nine inches wide and 14 inches deep, with a large, front-firing port and a single downward-firing six-and-a-half-inch driver. The subwoofer weighs a beefy 18.5 pounds and houses the amplifiers for all three channels, 70 watts for the .1 channel and 30 watts each for the satellites. Lastly, the XS system comes with a small, flat remote with membrane-style buttons to control volume and basic transport functions.

The XS speakers can be fed analog audio signals from the docked iPod, or the one-eighth-inch input. Digital signals are accepted via the USB port and are handled by a Burr-Brown DAC. I used the XS speakers with my Dell PC running Windows XP and had no problems using the speakers to play back all computer sounds and stream audio. The Sync/Audio button switches between playback and synchronization modes, which allows the iPod to be synchronized with iTunes.

Sound quality was better than I had heard from other similarly-sized systems. Most notably, there was a decent soundstage. Although smaller than a traditional stereo speaker set-up, it was coherent. Dynamic range was more than sufficient for a near-field setting, such as an office or dorm room desktop. Tonally, the lower midrange was on the light side when the subwoofer's bass level was adjusted for the best overall sound quality, which is common with smaller sub/sat systems. Midrange was clean and smooth. Bass was articulate and full, but ran out of steam with bass-heavy tracks.

Read about the high points and the low points of the XS 2.1 system on Page 2.

HTR Product Rating for Focal XS 2.1 Speaker System with iPod Dock

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High Points
• The Focal XS speaker system features attractive industrial styling and good build quality that would be at home in high-end contemporary settings.
• Sound quality is very good at low to moderate volumes.
• This is a clean and efficient way to add both powered speakers and an iPod dock to your computer system.

Low Points
• The captive cords, particularly the proprietary DIN cord from the dock to the subwoofer, limit placement options.
• High-gloss surface is attractive, but is also quick to show fingerprints and dust.

The Focal XS is a great compact multimedia speaker system. The fact that it is also an iPod dock is a bonus. Upon unpacking the XS system, it is apparent that it is a quality product. The sound matches the design and build quality by providing a well-balanced soundfield. The XS system is not without limitations. Its small size format imposes certain constraints on volume and bass extension. I would not choose this speaker system to listen to music at concert levels or for far-field listening, as it simply can't compete with physically larger systems. However, within its intended performance parameters, i.e., near-field listening, such as in a dorm room, small apartment or office desktop, at low and moderate volumes, the Focal XS really shines.

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