The LYD 5 heritage is clear from the moment you first install these loudspeakers, as they are crisp and studio-clean in performance. The Xeo 20’s absolute honesty shines through quickly, with excellent soundstaging properties and fast, precise detail from treble on down. The loudspeaker holds to an accurate rather than overly full and rich sounding bass; DSP helps dig out slightly deeper bass notes than you might expect from a two-way like this, but ultimately it’s about clean and dry bass in good order, rather than a bloomy, flubby noise that is ill-controlled and acts like a boat anchor for the sound. This is clean, light, and upbeat instead.
Curiously, what clinched the Xeo 20 performance for me wasn’t music (although it scored several aces in musical terms)... it was listening to the Today Programmeon BBC Radio 4 one morning. This drive-time news and current affairs broadcast is not a good example of the BBC at its best, as it often has heavy compression to be listenable while commuting. But regular listeners are so used to the voices of the presenters and journalists, nuance is surprisingly easy to pick up. And John Humphrys’ voice had plenty of ‘in the room with you’ intelligibility and detail.
Staying with Radio 4 and bookending the day, I tuned in late one night to hear ‘Sailing By’ and the Shipping Forecast, and the same thing happened. As a night owl, I must have heard that damn slow waltz (written by Ronald Binge the year I was born) hundreds of times, it’s an old recording, and can put even the most red-eyed insomniac into REM sleep in seconds. And yet, through the Xeo 20, you could hear into the recording. Binge was Mantovani’s arranger, and the track has the same cascading strings sound that everyone remembers from the ‘Medication Time!’ scene from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. That and the gentle shuffle on brushes shine through.
Of course, the Xeo 20 is actually capable of so much more. The music is almost secondary to the interface and array of options, but the musical performance is so good you never quite think that. I tried streaming music through aptX, with everything from Skrillex (ah, dubstep... remember those heady times of five years ago?), through Bach Cello Suites [Casals, Archiv], right through to hardcore P-Funk ‘Rumpofsteelskin’ from Parliament’s Motor-Booty Affair[Casablanca]. In each case, the Xeo 20 played whatever it was fed without prejudice, and with accuracy, detail, and a great deal of precision.
Dynaudio has been knocking them out of the park of late, and the Xeo 20 is no exception... and yet, that’s perhaps the only blot on the Xeo 20’s copybook. And it’s an unfair blot if you look at it for any length of time. You see, the Xeo 20 is not the Special Forty. Of course, it isn’t; the Special Forty costs more than the Xeo 20 and doesn’t even have built-in amplification. To get the Special Forty to live up to its name requires first-class electronics, none of which are either built into the loudspeaker or provided in the box. A reasonable minimum electronic outlay to get the Special Forty sounding like a honey is at least about the same as a Special Forty. In other words; five grand is not two grand, so stop with the comparison. But you just can’t. The Special Forty is sospecial that it’s been something of an ‘oh bugger!’ moment in the design studios of many of Dynaudio’s rivals big and small. The Xeo 20 is cut from the same cloth as the Special Forty, but the Special Forty wears it better. If you make the comparison, you don’t hear a more expensive separates audio system culminating in a pair of similarly-sized passive Dynaudios in a nicer finish, you hear the sound of your own resolve crumbling. But, I’m pretty sure Dynaudio won’t be too upset in losing a few sales to itself.