13 Dynaudio Xeo 20 heroAlmost 2.5 million Australians, or about 10 per cent of the population, spent the night of August 9, 2016 in an apartment. That was when the last census was taken and one of its inescapable truths is that apartment dwelling is on the rise. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics there’s currently one occupied apartment for every five occupied separate houses and the fabled quarter-acre block has become just that, a fable.

Homes are much more compact than they were. If parents must choose between giving precious cupboard or bench space to a stereo amplifier or a baby bottle steriliser the steriliser wins every time. But they still want music. Mostly they get it by putting their music on their phones and playing it back through Bluetooth speakers.

No wonder there’s so little joy in their music. The bulk of Bluetooth speakers are suitably compact but decidedly lo-fi, and the ones that can be set up for stereo can have dodgy reliability. They run basic Bluetooth and don’t play terribly loud, but they’re cheap. And yet money is seldom the issue when it comes to good music; the issue is finding a place to put an amplifier and cables as well as proper speakers.

The Europeans have lived with this problem way longer than us. Almost half the people in Europe live in apartments, in some countries it’s two-thirds. Danish speaker manufacturer Dynaudio has grabbed this opportunity by the throat and is shaking hard. Its new Xeo 20 Bluetooth speakers pump out large volumes of AptX Bluetooth music that sounds as good as plenty of expensive conventional stereos, and yet they’re small, easy to set up, and occupy the same shelf width as about eight paperbacks. They don’t need an amplifier and the only cable goes to the wall plug.

13 Dynaudio Xeo 20 bI first listened to a pair of Xeos three years ago and they’ve been through a few incarnations since. They just keep getting better. The 20s have a strong bottom end, surprisingly strong for their size, but high range is more their thing. There’s a track on Nanci Griffith’s Dust Bowl Symphony (recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra) called It’s a Hard Life Wherever You Go that starts with deep, solid thumps and then rockets into the highs with what sounds like uilleann pipes, along with Griffith’s roughhewn vocals. The Xeos handle the entire exercise comfortably.

But what I enjoyed most was the first minute of Paul Simon’s Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes, where Simon is backed solely by singers of the Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The depth of their voices is captured beautifully but the stand out is the airiness of the piece.

13 Dynaudio Xeo 20 aHow Dynaudio has managed all this with just a 14 cm woofer and a 2.8 cm soft dome tweeter is beyond me, but one gets the impression that every cubic millimetre inside the 18 x 32 x 25 cm (WxHxD) cabinets is working hard. And get this; the higher you turn the volume (and the Xeos go high enough to get the folk in the next apartment banging on the wall) the better they sound.

As for high range, put on something by Vivaldi – maybe concerto alla rustica. Delicious, with a beautifully wide soundstage.

Minor criticism; the indicator lights for power and Bluetooth status are tiny and hard to see in daylight. Annoyingly so, but you must live with it. Otherwise the Xeo 20s are easy and flexible, and together with just your phone or computer give you a seriously good hi-fi system for $3399. They’re available in white or black.

First published by smh.com.au April 2018


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