Bookshelf Speakers

Dynaudio X16 Bookshelf Speakers

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Dynaudio X16 Book shelf speakers

Introduction

The Excite is Danish manufacturer Dynaudio's second least expensive speaker line, comprised of five different models: two towers, two bookshelves, and one center channel. The X16 is the larger of the two bookshelf speakers, with a 1" hand-coated silk dome tweeter and a single 6.5" mid/woofer configured in a classic two-way ported design.

Specifications

  • Design: Two-way Ported
  • Drivers: One 1" Silk Dome Tweeter, One 6.5" Mid/Woofer
  • MFR: 40 Hz - 23 kHz ± 3 dB
  • Nominal Impedance: 4 Ohms
  • Sensitivity: 87 dB
  • Dimensions: 13.8" H x 8.1" W x 11.4" D
  • Weight: 19.8 Pounds/Each
  • Price: $1,600/Pair USA
  • Dynaudio

Dynaudio is known throughout the world for delivering a very accurate, highly resolving sound with just a touch of sweetness, but has typically required relatively expensive amplification and source components to deliver the sonic goods. In a bit of a paradigm shift for Dynaudio, the Excite line was specifically developed for use with the modern A/V receiver, which typically offers far lower levels of quality amplification than that found in separate amps. As the X16s were designed for use with receivers, that's exactly how I tested my pair of X16s.


Design

Despite naming their new line "Excite," Dynaudio has stuck with a very classic 2-way rear ported box configuration for the X16. While it may not have the elegantly curved side panels that seem to be all the rage these days, the basic rectangular bookshelf design has proven itself time and time again. From a marketing perspective, I'm surprised that Dynaudio chose such an emotional name for what is really a rather traditional design, but I won't hold it against the X16s.

My pair of X16s arrived safe and sound, individually wrapped in protective thin foam sleeves and then encased in thick Styrofoam end caps. The X16s are available in four real wood veneer finishes; maple, cherry, rosewood, and black ash. I requested the black ash veneer for my review samples to best fit in with the décor of my home. While I personally like the black ash veneer, I have a feeling that choosing one of the other three wood veneers would have helped make the X16s look a little more, well . . . exciting (I swore I wouldn't fall into that trap. Oh well).

Dynaudio X16 Book shelf speakers
Dynaudio X16 Book shelf speakers

The overall quality of the wood veneer was excellent, as was the fit and finish of the loudspeaker. While $1600 for a pair of medium-sized bookshelf speakers is not exactly cheap, once you experience the overall quality of the X16s you won't have any doubts as to where your money went. Cabinet construction is first-rate, with a knuckle-rap against the side of the cabinet producing a non-resonant "thud." Chalk this up to the rigid internal bracing and low-resonance MDF used in the cabinet construction.

I would also like to point out that Dynaudio explicitly states that no endangered woods or toxic glues are used in the construction of the Excite cabinets, which is wonderful news for the environment. The single pair of 5-way binding posts (Dynaudio does not believe in bi-amping/bi-wiring) was of equally high quality and should have no problem accepting bare wire, banana plugs, or spade connectors. Moving towards the front baffle, all of the Excite line features a dark grey/pewter colored 25mm thick MDF baffle, which adds a nice contrast to the veneered cabinet. The speaker grilles are a very simple design, consisting of thin black fabric stretched around a black plastic frame. When installed, the grilles sit about a half inch from the face of the front baffle, which makes them very easy to remove. This is a very good thing, because removing the grilles proves paramount to getting the best performance from the X16s.

Personally, I also thought that the X16s looked far more "expensive" once their grilles were removed, which is never a bad thing. Just be careful with the grilles off, as the soft-dome tweeter is rather fragile and won't hold up well against poking fingers (not just of the toddler variety) or pet attack.

Dynaudio X16 Book shelf speakers
Dynaudio X16 Book shelf speakers

The X16s sport a 1" hand coated silk soft-dome tweeter that reproduces the 1800Hz to 23kHz range. The 6.5" mid-woofer handles all sound below the 1800Hz crossover point, and bottoms out around the 40Hz mark. The crossover is a phase-aligned first order (6dB per octave) design and operates at 1800Hz. Rated sensitivity is 87dB at 4Ohms, which seemed a bit low for a speaker designed for lesser powered receivers and amplifiers. My initial thought here was that while the Excite range was designed for receivers, "high-powered" receivers are probably the better choice. However, anyone spending $1600 on a pair of bookshelf speakers will typically have suitable driving components.


Setup

I hooked up the Excites in my basement media room, which is the larger of my two listening rooms at 16 x 22 feet. The X16s were set-up on top of a pair of Dynaudio's own 26" tall Stand4 speaker stands (MSRP $450, available in black or silver finish and pictured above). If you are looking for an extremely well constructed, heavy, and acoustically inert stand, the Stand4s certainly fit the bill. The two stand tubes can be filled with sand or lead shot if you so choose, but considering the overall heft of the Stand4s I decided to go lead-free. The 26" height of the Stand4s brought the tweeters right to my ear level while seated, which is ideal.

Dynaudio provides excellent set-up/positioning instructions with the X16s, which my testing revealed to be right on the mark. I started off with the X16s about 6 feet apart from each other, 2.5 feet from the back wall, and 4 feet from the side walls. My primary listening seat was then approximately 9.5 feet from each speaker. I started off with both speakers facing straight ahead, but as Dynaudio recommends, the Excites sound better with some toe-in. I eventually settled on about 10 degrees of toe-in, which seemed to strike the best balance between pinpoint imaging and an expansive soundstage. This also moved the focal point for the two speakers slightly behind my head.

The X16s are fairly responsive to positioning changes, so take some time experimenting with placement/toe-in options as each room will be different. Due to the rear-firing port on the X16s you really need to keep at least 1.5 feet from the back wall, otherwise the bass/mid-bass gets a bit bloated. If you must back the speakers up close to a wall, Dynaudio supplies a pair of foam plugs that you can use in the rear ports to tighten the bass back up, but at the cost of bass extension and decreased SPL levels.


In Use

Driving electronics started off with the Marantz SR6003 receiver (without any Audyssey correction) that I recently reviewed fed by my Pioneer Elite DV-47Ai universal player as well as my Samsung BD-P5000 Blu-ray/HD-DVD combo player. The kind folks at Dynaudio managed to put about 150 hours of "break-in" time on the X16s before I received them so they were pretty much ready to go straight out of the box. From my listening, I would say that 150 hours is an adequate amount of break-in time for these speakers, as I detected no additional changes in the X16s overall sound during the three months that I used them in my home.

Dynaudio X16 Book shelf speakers

I started off my listening tests with track 1, "Non-Allegro," from Rachmaninoff's "Symphonic Dances" (Reference Recordings, RR-96). Within a few minutes, I knew that I would be enjoying my time with the little Dynaudios. The X16s were able to capture the startling dynamic range of this track, which is always hard for a bookshelf speaker unless it employs some massive drivers or a large cabinet. Bass in particular was impressive and reproduced the tympani hits cleanly and accurately. The mid-range seemed accurate and uncolored, while the silk-dome tweeter presented a remarkable sense of air and space on the chimes that get brushed throughout the track. Imaging was very good and the soundstage was fairly wide.

However, I wasn't blown away by the sound so I decided to do a little more tweaking with the set-up. First, I moved the speakers back an inch or two at a time to increase the bass/mid-bass slightly. At about 2 feet from the back wall I seemed to find a sweet spot which created a slightly richer overall sound that I really liked without detracting from the accuracy and tightness of the bass response. I also moved the speakers slightly further apart (about 7 feet) from each other. This seemed to increase the size of the soundstage nicely without destroying the imaging.

Now that I was pretty satisfied with the overall sound, I decided to take off the grilles. I won't lie and say that the difference was night and day, but removing the grilles is definitely the way to go with the Excites. Imaging and sound staging opened up to that last little degree and the overall tonal balance of the mid-range and treble just seemed to smooth out perfectly. It was now much easier to pick out individual instruments from the mix, as well as exactly where in the concert hall they were placed. The X16s simply became a more "complete" speaker with the grilles off, so that's how I did the rest of my critical listening.

Dynaudio X16 Book shelf speakers

Dynaudio X16 Book shelf speakers

Dynaudio X16 Book shelf speakers

Now that I had the X16s sounding just right, I went through the rest of my demo discs. "Dusk," track 4 from "Azucar" (Avalon - B00000J6Z0) offered extremely accurate (there's that word again) sounding Spanish guitar and surprisingly hard hitting bass. I was really taken back by just how much force the X16s had in the lower regions. The speakers were reaching cleanly down into the lower 40Hz range with power and authority. There was no evidence of bloat or excess, just clean, crisp hits of the drum notes.

Next I cued up a few tracks off of Patricia Barber's "Modern Cool" (Koch – B00026WTVA). The X16s reproduced all the breathy nuance of Barber's voice as well as the incredibly well recorded natural bass notes that underlie most of the tracks. The X16s threw an incredibly wide sound stage and really helped me pinpoint individual notes and instruments. Continuing with the jazz theme, I then switched to the SACD of Norah Jones' "Come Away With Me" (Blue Note – B00008WT49) and selected my favorite song on the disc, "I've Got To See You Again." As good as the Patricia Barber CD sounded; there is no denying that a well-recorded SACD sounds better. Through the X16s, I was able to hear the subtle nuances of the how the background guitar strings are picked, as opposed to just hearing the individual notes.

Dynaudio X16 Book shelf speakers

Having decided that the Excites were excellent speakers for classical, jazz, and acoustic guitar, I moved on to the louder and harder stuff. I popped in Rob Zombie's "American Made Music to Strip By" (Interscope B00002DDPD), cued up the remix of "Dragula," and slowly inched up the volume until the X16s cried "uncle." The Excites surprised me by how well they sounded as the volume increased, retaining their clarity, hard-hitting bass, and overall smooth tonal qualities. At about 92dB, the amplifier in the Marantz gave up the fight, with some harshness finding its way into the sound as the X16s drove the amp towards its clipping point.

This is my only real quibble with the X16s. At 87dB efficient at 4ohms, the X16s aren't the most sensitive speaker and will require a lot of amp power to crest the 95dB+ point. If you like to play your music really loud (or have a large room) and only have a modest receiver, consider yourself warned. The good news is that the X16s can definitely handle higher powered amps, as a short session with them paired with my Wyred 4 Sound multichannel amp revealed. The front channels of this amp use the B+O 1000ASP ICEpower® modules, which are capable of delivering well over a kilowatt (that's 1000 watts!) at the X16's 4ohm load. While it is really unfair to compare the amp of a mid-range receiver to the separate ICEpower® modules, those using higher quality amplification will find that the X16s will reward that investment with overall better sound reproduction.

In my time with the Excites, I found that they are quite sensitive to amplifier and source component changes. The X16s are very revealing speakers that will allow you to easily hear differences in source components and amplifiers. Do you have a harsh sounding CD/DVD player (like my Samsung Blu-ray player)? The Dynaudios will let you know it. Is your amp a little bright in the treble? If so, you will definitely hear it. Equipment synergy is very important with the Excites. The X16s sounded fantastic with the Marantz SR6003. The Marantz's slightly musical nature and excellent resolution made for some very beautiful sounding music. However, pairing the X16s with an older Denon 3802 receiver gave me a rather lean sound that seemed to over-emphasize midrange and treble detail. A late 1980's vintage Pioneer two-channel receiver also proved to be a surprisingly nice match with the Excites.

Along these same lines, the Dynaudios will also clearly emphasize the decisions made in the recording studio. If an album was mastered with limited dynamic range and compression, you will be able to hear it. If the brass section on a jazz CD was mixed way too hot (i.e. older Frank Sinatra recordings), the horns will blare at you and send you scampering to turn down the volume. On the flipside, well-recorded material really comes to life on the X16s. I could also imagine the X16s as the front speakers in a 5.1/7.1 Excite surround set-up. With a good subwoofer and high powered receiver, you should be able to reach the appropriate SPL levels provided that your room is not too large.


Conclusions

The Dynaudio X16s really grew on me during the time I had them in my home. Their overall accuracy and revealing nature in the midrange and treble proved to be a blessing with well-recorded source material as well as a bit of a curse when playing back lesser quality sources. Fortunately, the X16s had just a touch of musical sweetness that kept all but the most poorly recorded tracks from sounding too harsh. Bass response, imaging, and sound staging were excellent as well.

The biggest compliment that I can give the X16s is that they give you a window into the decisions that were made in the mixing booth, both good and bad. The X16s are also revealing enough to expose any poor sounding equipment in your signal chain. As to Dynaudio's goal of making the Excite line compatible with lesser amplifiers such as the typical A/V receiver, I think that they have succeeded. With the X16's rather low 87dB efficiency rating, just make sure that your receiver's amplifier section is capable of providing solid power (I'd say 150+ watts) into 4Ohm loads and you should be fine at any sane listening level. If $1600 is within your budget for a pair of bookshelf speakers, I highly recommend that you give the Dynaudio X16s a thorough listen. You may even like them better than competing tower speakers in this price range!