The impressive aspect of the XS Book is how well it conveys the detail and energy of a recording while at the same time managing to avoid a harsh or edgy sound. Many small speakers, especially speakers designed for both desktop and in-room use, have a sharpness on transients that is somewhere between distracting and painful. But the XS Book exhibits admirable smoothness through the upper midrange region, which allows the music to flow naturally. We don’t know if this is due to superior drivers (Focal is one of the largest manufacturers of high-performance drivers in the world) or more careful crossover design, or attention to the details of desktop usage. But whatever the reason, the XS Book neatly avoids a problem we’ve experienced with a high percentage of small, desktop speakers we’ve heard in the past.
While we might seem to be focusing on a relatively small aspect of performance, we emphasize this quality of smoothness because it is more important to naturalness and musical enjoyment, in our view, than one might think. We also mention it because, while the XS Book does have some readily observable performance shortcomings (as one would expect of a product at this price point), its overarching smoothness and sonic subtlety enable it to provide a great deal of musical satisfaction in spite of any deficiencies.