by Anthony Kershaw
Time was wireless audio, Bluetooth specifically, was the kiss of audio death. Although it has developed in leaps and bounds, if truth be told, most audiophiles would run screaming from any connection that doesn’t include a good cable. For some, the more expensive, the better.
So, it came as a surprise to me that the great French speaker manufacturer, Focal, maker of what I know is the world’s greatest speaker — The Focal - JM Lab Utopia III ‘Grande Utopia EM’ Loudspeaker($150K) — has covered all its bases and is now manufacturing headphones, car audio and wireless computer solutions in addition to its mighty Utopia range and just about every speaker level in between. It was the one of its inexpensive products, the Focal XS Book Wireless that I had the pleasure of hearing during this past Labour Day Weekend.
What a treat it was. First, having a powered, Bluetooth system that works, and in high fidelity, is cause for celebration. Up ‘till now, Bluetooth connectivity has been iffy and condemned to the car environment, only good for chatting to the wife on the hands free. ‘I’ll be home…snap, crackle, pop…soo’…drop!
Focal utilizes the latest Bluetooth iteration called ‘aptX’ wireless transmission. They suggest it has ‘near-CD quality’. Well, that’s a wide spread as far as sound description is concerned, but I think I get Focal’s drift. Using my iPhone (within a thirty foot range), the ease of use and quick connection was indicative as to why the younguns love this lifestyle area of Audiophilia. I turned the speaker volume all the way up and controlled the volume from my iPhone. I went through repertoire like a crazy man. So fast.
The sound is certainly equal to any of the mainstream computer solutions I know, including B&W. The Focals can’t match the sophistication of the CEntrance Audiophile Desktop System (at 2K, with amp and DAC), but the excellent wireless connection will go a long way to ensuring the garden variety audiophile will forgive the last ounce of sophistication in the midrange and not much energy below 80Hz for a very musical desktop system.
That said, I listened at length in a medium sized room to a wide variety of styles and the sound was impressively consistent — detailed, not tizzy like many computer speakers, and with good balance. Many speakers at this price add a cheap subwoofer. Not Focal. As such, the opening of Mahler 8 will not ‘crack the universe’ as the composer wanted, but is that what you really want on your desktop? You’ll get Focal’s attention to detail (but with plastic/Chinese construction to keep the price down), great connectivity, and natural sounding music for the (very) nearfield. And, if you want to put them beside a panel, that will work, too, even in a larger room.
Ease of use, a breeze to setup, consistently good connection, inexpensive, balanced and dynamic sound with some sophistication. For this price point, and especially with Bluetooth that works, an easy and enthusiastic recommendation.
The Focal XS Book Wireless
Manufactured by Focal
BP 374 - 108 rue de l’avenir
42 353 La Talaudière Cedex
Tel. : (+33) 4 77 43 57 00
Source: dealer loan
Stereo system with Focal high quality technology
Compatible with all smartphones and tablet PCs equipped with Bluetooth technology
Range of approximately 10 meters without obstacles
aptX Wireless transmission with near-CD quality
Easy to install and use
RCA 1.5m interconnection cable and 1.5m extension cord supplied