• Focal XS Multimedia Sound System Review

    Many audiophiles are very familiar with the Focal brand and its legendary Utopia series loudspeakers. Now it's time to introduce everyone to the new Focal XS Multimedia Sound System. Don't be fooled by the iPod integration that has permeated everything from running shoes to bathroom accessories. This is not your father's desktop audio solution. Focal designed a very nice looking 2.1 desktop system with great features and sound quality to match. iPod sync and playback, internal USB DAC, and an analog input are all part of the new Focal XS Multimedia Sound System.
     

     


    The Focal name is not placed on just any product. The XS system is 100% Focal and not a run-of-the-mill desktop audio system from a big box retailer. From the moment I removed the speakers from the box I knew this was a high-end audio solution. The speakers are 2.2 lbs. and the subwoofer is a substantial 18.5 lbs. The design is reminiscent of something out of Cupertino with its jet black and anodized aluminum finish coupled to solid metal speaker stands. Continuing with the stylish looks Focal includes a magnetic remote control with the XS system. This allows the remote to stick on to the metal speaker stands keeping your desktop very clean. Focal did not leave any compatibility issues to chance. It has supplied eight adapters with the XS system for several generations of iPods. The new iPhone 3G works perfectly and it's completely controllable via the included magnetic remote. Not only can the XS system playback and control an iPod, it allows the iPod to sync with iTunes while charging the battery as well. Simply touch the Sync / Audio button on the back of the speaker base and toggle between playback and synchronizing the iPod. The convenience of this feature should not be overlooked. Any product that enables us to remove a sync cable from our desktop is a winner in my opinion. Control, charge, playback, sync ... sweet.

     

     




    Focal XS
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    The rest of the 2.1 XS system is equally impressive. A built-in Burr-Brown USB DAC allows a simple plug n' play driverless connection. I wold have said driverless install, but there is nothing to install with this system. It's really as simple as it gets. Opposite the USB input is a 3.5mm mini-jack analog input. You never know when you'll need an analog input. A turntable, cassette deck or the old eight-track player from your parent's attic may need the full Focal experience. The XS system contains three amplifiers integrated into the subwoofer enclosure. Two thirty watt amps for the desktop speakers and a seventy watt amp for the subwoofer itself. The subwoofer has a nice level adjustment knob on the rear so you can make the sub work in almost any environment. The main system volume can of course be adjusted with the remote or directly at the base of a speaker. The desktop speakers contain two drivers. One 3" paper cone midbass driver and a 3/4" mylar dome tweeter. The subwoofer contains a 6" paper cone woofer firing down toward the floor and ported through the front of the sub cabinet.




    The Focal XS system is exactly what Focal says it is. A high-end multimedia solution with unique features and fabulous sound. This is not an ultra-micro Utopia desktop system priced in the stratosphere. However the sound from the $599 Focal XS is more than pleasing. I've never heard a 2.1 desktop audio system that sounds better than the XS. I did have a little trouble integrating the subwoofer with the satellite speakers, but after few tracks of vastly different music I got the sub level right-on and the sound was great. If I were pressed to find an area that Focal could improve with the XS system I would say the speakers are a tad bright. A high-end audio desktop solution for less than $600 could be expected to have a few more flaws. Sure $599 is not inexpensive, but in high-end audio circles $599 usually doesn't go very far. Many Computer Audiophile readers don't own a single piece of gear that retails for less then $600. In fact $600 probably wouldn't cover the sales tax on many of their components. No judgments, just putting the price of the XS system into perspective. The imaging is unreal with these speakers. I've had Branford Marsalis' album Trio Jeepy on repeat while writing this review. The imaging during The Nearness of You still sucks me in every time. Even though the XS system is small and made for desktops I did not let it off easy. My favorite album of the moment (still) is The Raconteurs' Consolers of the Lonely. I double-clicked on the title track and held down the Volume Up button until I thought something bad might happen. Not recommended under most circumstances, but hey someone has to put this system through the wringer. Anyway, the heavy double-tracked guitar and kick from the drums was awesome and unexpected from a desktop system. I didn't damage the speakers at all, but I felt like something should have rattled loose in my listening room.




    Over all the Focal XS Multimedia Sound System provides a solid and entertaining listening experience. Don't expect Grand Utopia performance from the XS system, but you can expect it to out-perform everything else in its class. It's time to hand your Klipsch / Altec Lansing / Harmon Kardon 2.1 system down to your daughter and step up to the major leagues with the Focal XS Multimedia Sound System.


     

     




    Focal XS
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    Focal XS
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    Focal XS
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    Focal XS
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    Comments 12 Comments
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Jeff - The subwoofer is really nice and built like a brick. Sounds just as nice.<br />
      <br />
      At moderate levels the system sounds just as good. One comment on the bright sound I heard, this may be remedied by a longer break-in period.
    1. elistuy's Avatar
      elistuy -
      so i was just wondering how these hold up to the amazing A2 and A5 from audioengine...<br />
      <br />
    1. grimm2420's Avatar
      grimm2420 -
      I was wondering the same thing. Can anyone chime in on this?
    1. john.parera1234's Avatar
      john.parera1234 -
      THE Focal XS joins the growing list of speaker systems with an iPod dock built-in.This excellent sound system - Focal is French audio equipment maker - is a quantum leap from the typical 2.1 computer speaker systems.Useful info.<br />
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    1. Scotsman's Avatar
      Scotsman -
      What is the quality of the dac and what are its rates-ie 192/24 etc please. This is not stated in their literature, or your piece. Ian.
    1. Scotsman's Avatar
      Scotsman -
      Is there anything that you recommend around the same price point and quality without ipod unit as I do not use iPods-shame on me, but iPod and quality sound are not synonymous really, are they, even with a re-clocker, extra dac etc. This is for my office desk top unit through a Mac Pro. Ian.
    1. starbux48's Avatar
      starbux48 -
      It appears to equal or exceed this quality level one must spend minimum of $950 to $1000 if not more. I am looking also at a Peachtree Audio Decco ($500 refurb) plus speakers starting at $300 and up to $500. Depending on the quality of the XS 2.1 system, at $600 is is several hundred less while apparently providing decent sound.
    1. bikemig's Avatar
      bikemig -
      I considered buying the focal xs multimedia system while I was putting together a desktop system and instead opted for the Audioengine N-22 amplifier, P-4 speakers, and HRT musicstreamer II. This is the same price as the focal ($600) and the sound is excellent. This is the first good quality system I put together and I heard things in my music I had not heard before; in fact I've gotten rid of a few CDs where the music quality was simply not good enough. The amp has 2 analog inputs, a line out, and a headphone amp. The build quality is excellent. I cannot recommend this highly enough for a desktop.
    1. starbux48's Avatar
      starbux48 -
      I am looking into your configuration and have found of course the Audioengine pieces. Just need to find the HRT Musicstreamer II. Do you know where I could find one online? I will also be playing back almost entirely from a MacBook Pro 17" mid-2009 system and all this in my bedroom.
    1. starbux48's Avatar
      starbux48 -
      I know the Audioengine amp & spkrs come with cables, but where does the HRT Musicstreamer II plug into all this and do I need any cables to incorporate it?
    1. confitesprit's Avatar
      confitesprit -
      I went for the Focal XS system over 2 years ago, and have been very pleased ever since. To my ears and in my office setup, I think they sound really great, look terrific, and have given me nothing but uncounted hours of listening pleasure. I'm listening to them right now, and continue to be very pleased with my choice. It seems to me you probably couldn't go wrong either way. Good luck.
    1. bikemig's Avatar
      bikemig -
      I have no doubt that the focal xs is a fine unit and that there are plenty of great desktop systems that one could set up around this price point. The reason I opted for the audioengine set-up was that everything else being equal, I want the money going to sound reproduction. The audio engine set up has fewer bells and whistles than the focal xs, which, in my mind, is a plus. Plus I like having an external dac that I can switch out down the road. This is an area where techology is changing more quickly than say with speakers or an amp.