Similarly, the XS Book has some unevenness in its midrange frequency response, but this mostly consists of a few frequencies that are de-emphasized. Again, the missing information isn’t pushed into your consciousness. Finally, we would say that the XS Book is a trifle soft in the treble region, but again this characteristic lends a warmth and subtlety to the proceedings rather than shouting “error, error.”
With these comments in mind, the gratifying overall result is that the XS Book is consistently enjoyable and listenable. Music detail is well presented, but without sounding exaggerated. The soundstage is nicely presented between the speakers, although the image is down near desktop level (a common occurrence with short speakers). Note, however, that Focal does offer optional “booster stands” for the XS Book, which may help with perceived image height. On dynamic recordings the XS Book never sounds harsh or aggressive, though it can sound a little restrained and certainly isn’t ideal for a steady diet of power music if you most value the impact and drive this kind of material is meant to provide. But with that said, we’d nevertheless prefer the listenability of the XS Book for enjoying power pop music as compared to some of the splashier but less subtle desktop speaker systems we’ve heard.
On “The Bad In Each Other” from Feist’s Metals [Cherrytree/Interscope], the track opens with a pounding kick drum. This shows several interesting aspects of the XS Book. First, the drum is clear and the skin sound is very well defined. At the same time, the drum appears clearly positioned in space between the speakers in an almost spooky fashion. But, the deep frequency wave off the drum is mostly missing here, so this track doesn’t have the foundational power that it ordinarily does when played, say, through a full-sized floorstanding speaker. Still, if you haven’t heard this on a full-range system, you wouldn’t necessarily miss the lowest-frequency aspects of the drum sound that much, because the loss is a purely subtractive one.
This track also shows excellent detail in the guitars and vocals. Nonetheless, neither the guitar nor Feist’s voice sound quite as rich as they would live—there is a bit of a pinched or processed element to the midrange, though without any hints of harshness or stridency.
On “Stay” from Forget About It [Rounder/UMGD] by Alison Krauss, the opening track can have a lovely delicacy to the guitar and vocals, which the XS Book handles rather nicely. The cymbals are also smooth and clear, if slightly rounded. But when the bass and drums kick in after the intro, the bottom octave is simply missing and some punch is lost. Some of the body of the Dobro also seems thinned out—but, again, you might only sense this by comparison with live sound or a much bigger wide-range speaker system.
On “The Hazards of Love 2 (Wager All)” from the disc The Hazards of Love [Capitol] by The Decembrists, the voice is very clear, and the instrumental separation in the rather thick mix is excellent—guitars, voice and keyboards can be followed easily. At the same time the dynamics are somewhat compressed because the low frequency instruments lack the depth and drive one can hear on some other systems with deeper bass.
The Focal XS Book delivers clear midrange and smooth treble with freedom from stridency—a quality that is all too rare in desktop speakers systems. Upper bass from the XS Book is similarly clear, though deep bass restrictions typical of small speakers limit its dynamic reach in an absolute sense.
Focal XS Book active loudspeaker system
Drivers: 1 x 4-inch polyglass mid/bass driver, 1 x 0.8-inch aluminum dome tweeter
Frequency response: 50 Hz – 22 kHz
Crossover frequency: 3000 Hz
Onboard Amplifier Power: 2 x 20 Wpc
Amplifier Inputs: 2 x Stereo Analog Audio (one via 3.5mm mini-jack, one via stereo RCA jacks),
Dimensions (H x W x D): 11” x 4.5” x 7.9”
Weight: 11 lb. (system of two speakers with internal amplifiers).
Warranty: 2 years
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