You'd think that Xhifi's xDucer 2.1 Multimedia Loudspeaker System would be everything I hate. First of all, there's the dreaded term 'multimedia', which is a euphemism for 'total compromise'. Then, it bears a suspiciously low price tag. And it's just begging to flank some sub-20in LCD screen with its satellites. Clearly, this system is conceived for numerous roles, but amongst the most obvious are serving as the sound reproduction hardware for small, two-channel home cinemas or for playing back sounds from computers. Naturally, its constituent parts are magnetically shielded.
Computer addenda have never rocked my world, so I'm the last person who'd watch a DVD through his PC or listen to music via CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drives. (I keep a Musical Fidelity X-RAY CD player, a ca. 1972 Marantz 1060 integrated amplifier and a pair of LS3/5As on my desk for music-while-I-work.) Secondly, I don't understand why the industry is touting 14in-21in LCDs for use as anything other than computer monitors. All those ads with brainless life-style settings and sleek-but-stupid clothes horses watching movies on 20in LCDs? Utter nonsense. But maybe there is a need for something in-between full-scale TVs (say, 29in and above) and portable DVD players with screens smaller than most notebook PCs. As well as gaming consoles, personal hi-fis, ad nauseum. In which case, there's much justification for compact sub/satellite systems.
And this one is nothing less than fascinating.
Start with the 15in tall, genuine cherry hardwood XDSW1 subwoofer, with technology courtesy of JVC: it looks like a Sonus Faber Guarneri turned front to back, so the pointy area is what you see. A blue LED in the logo lights up to tell you it's activated. Firing from below is 6.6in long-throw, paper-coned woofer with an eight-layer edge-wound voice coil. The cabinet, which features 'elaborate bracing and damping design to minimise resonance', rests on four conical feet to raise it above its 10x13in base plate by a couple of inches. The 'tiptoes' are also said to improved both coupling AND isolation - bit of an oxymoron if you ask me, but what the hey.
Xhifi specifies the XDSW1 as covering 30-230Hz, the crossover fixed for the XD1 satellites. Its built-in amplification includes a pair of 50W Model 50 'Class D' Digital Amplifiers (said to operate at 90 percent efficiency) for the 6 ohm satellites and a Class B 50-watter for the subwoofer itself.
At the back of the subwoofer is a panel containing the on/off switch and a captive mains lead, a master volume control for the sub
Then you come to the novelty element of the system, the cherry wood 'sticks' that serve as the satellites. These may cause a twinge of recognition if you're familiar with the current JVC catalogue, as similar speakers feature in a couple of the company's mini-systems, only in high-tech metals rather than gorgeous woods. What Xhifi appears to have done is re-housed all the units in these handsome wooden cylinders, including the subwoofer; JVC's equivalent subs are cubist designs aimed at the Pepsi Max crowd. Make no mistake: the XD1s are eye-catching, which is why this review came about. I walked into the Xhifi room at the Stereophile show, took one look at the xDucer system and knew I had to have a go at it. Especially when I was told they were 'ribbons'.
Inside the 13in tall cylinder - its cross-section is roughly that of a medium-sized egg, and the plinth is but a 5in circle - is JVC's 'Aosis' Direct Drive Stick driver technology. It consists of a 'cutting-edge 360 degree track-type dome driver' with 'advanced' rare-earth neodymium magnet structure to provide continuous 'Direct Drive' current along the entire area of the diaphragm. The latter is only 10mm wide and 95mm long, an ultra-low mass, high-molecular polyamide diaphragm with voice coils impregnated along both sides. Dispersion is said to be 360 degrees, and the ultra-high frequency limit is stated as 'over 50kHz'.
Finished in matching cherry hardwood and chosen for its acoustic properties, the XD1's cylindrical cabinet and small size are said to minimise diffraction and room boundary effects. (Note that one of the first things to strike you is an absence of boxiness and wide, seamless dispersion almost enough to kid you into thinking 'dipole'.) The metal base plate is fitted with top-quality gold-plated multi-way binding posts - ironic, considering the tacky press-fit connectors on the subwoofer - and the company supplies two sets of dual-tiered feet for tilting the XD1s in certain installations. All you do is unscrew the Philips screws under the bases and replace them with the rubber feet and their longer screws. I used the XD1s on both 24in stands, like 'real' speakers, and on my desk, without feeling the need to tilt them.
Now the bad news: the system is only available (so far, that is) in 110V form, but Xhifi will have to consider a 220-240V model if word gets out about just how clever a system this is. I used a small 'travellers'' 240-110V adaptor before borrowing a proper one from Nic Poulsen at Isotek. Alas, by that time, I'd had a minor incident involving the crossover (I think), but not before I'd had plenty of time listening to the system as Xhifi intended. Because of the incident, I spent time running the satellites directly from an amplifier, with the subwoofer fed from pre/sub outputs.
Clearly, my wall-wart-type 240-110V adaptor wasn't adequate, but the incident did force me to assess each part on its own. What happened was a small pop followed by the subwoofer continuing to work as it should, but the satellites not working from the on-board amplifiers. None of the internal fuses were blown, so I'm at a loss to figure out quite what I did and why it wouldn't continue to feed the satellites. So I simply connected the subwoofer to the Marantz's tape outputs and drove the satellites from the Marantz's speaker terminals. Instantly apparent was a gain in sound quality over the on-board 'digital' amps.
Don't get me wrong: they're ideal for the sub/sat task, and their hyper-clean if slightly brittle sound is sharp, crisp and very detailed. What music I did feed to it from my PC was certainly tolerable, but the XD1s deserved better, so I mainly auditioned music off CDs. As expected, the clearer and less complex the music, the better they sounded. Heavy metal via Classic Rainbow (in the Universal Masters Collection) showed the limitation of the woofer if driven too hard. This provided a sensible caveat that will please some and drive away others: the system's limitations emerge when you play it too loudly. And loud it will go.
My accident provided a solution by highlighting something that a colleague had pointed out, one who'd recently heard the JVC-branded equivalents. Agreeing that the system is a honey for use with PCs, game playing and so on, he noted that there's a 'serious hole' in-between the subwoofer and the satellites. Either the subwoofer doesn't really go up to 230Hz, or the satellites don't go all the way down to 230Hz - doesn't matter which, because there's still an audible discontinuity. And on its own, if driven too robustly, the woofer is coarse and lumpy sounding, so it's really only there to add mass to the sound of the ribbons. So I tried the satellites on their own, A/B'd with LS3/5As.
No way would the satellites satisfy an audiophile as a true full range speaker, but I was still able to listen to a number of CDs through them in background-music mode without feeling short-changed. What am I saying? I smiled from ear to ear! They're simply terrific, almost like baby Apogees, with quite exceptional dispersion, sweet, extended highs and 3D imaging. I listened to them for three hours on the trot without suffering the absence of bass. Then again, I'm not a drums'n'bass kind of guy.
But back to the usage as a system. What compounds the problem is that the subwoofer is only adjustable in terms of playback level and polarity. A variable crossover of some sort would help to fine-tune them in varying conditions. I know, I know: they're designed to work with each other and the designers have every right to assume that their settings would suit all occasions. But it's not the case: all you have to do is move the satellites relative to the woofer, or reposition the woofer relative to the walls, or change sources - I was praying for variable crossover and slope.
But that is to carp needlessly because this is the coolest, best-looking, (potentially) best-sounding budget sub-sat mini-system around. Hook it up to Denon's magical D-M31 CD-receiver, run the sub off the subwoofer output and the ribbons off the Denon, and you have a killer system for under 750. Yes, that's right: the xDucer 2.1 Multimedia Loudspeaker System costs only US $795, or 500 in our money.
One day, I may tell you what happened when I played the XD1s with the MartinLogan Descent subwoofer...