Review: Focal XS Book

Our score: 4/5
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January 31, 2012 2:36 PM
Published: January 31, 2012 1:20 PM
By Tristan François
Translated by: Catherine Barraclough
The Focal XS was a pretty nice piece of kit, so let's see if the French manufacturer can pull off a double whammy with this compact stereo speaker set for multimedia audio.

Design & Hardware: Not Enough Connections

Like Focal's XS speakers, the XS Book have a two-tone black and silver finish. This makes for an understated but attractive look that stands out from all those 100% black speaker kits we're so used to seeing. From the front, the speakers look pretty compact, but look at them from the side or pick them up and you'll soon see how bulky these satellites are for multimedia speakers. That said, they're still smaller than most bookcase speakers. Plus, their size seems all the more reasonable when you consider that Focal hasn't sacrificed audio quality to cut size.

The choice of connections isn't particularly impressive. The speakers are supplied with a good range of cables (mini-jack, twin-RCA, an RCA cable for the left speaker and an extender for setting the speakers further apart), all of which are excellent quality—they're nice and thick and even braided. However, there are only two entries—a mini-jack for connection to a computer, a smartphone or and MP3 player, and twin RCA ports for connection to pre-amplified sources like a TV, a mini hi-fi, etc. There's no USB connection, as seen in Focal's XS speakers, no S/P DIF connection and not even a headphones output port!!

focal xs book


The same can be said of the controls too—there's no remote and the on/off and volume controls have been merged into one, which isn't all that practical (see inset). All in all, the design is a far cry from high-end PC speaker kits!

Audio Quality: No Complaints

Although there's room for improvement in the product's design and handling, thankfully, Focal has does a very good job on the audio front. In fact, it's difficult to find fault with sound output from the XS Book speakers.
Focal XS Book speakers review
The only real problem we picked up on was the mediums, which are sometimes too strong in certain acoustic recordings. This means that in very clean recordings, voices can sound too heavily present, with a slight resonance and a full, nasal sound, which can be annoying at higher volumes. That description may sound pretty off-putting but, in context, it's really a very minor annoyance. It'll only be bothersome on a few rare occasions.

Otherwise, we've got no complaints about these speakers. For a stereo kit, bass is present and well reproduced, even if it's clearly no match for a subwoofer. High frequencies are pretty soft but they're still present. Spatialisation is good, the output is precise and the soundstage is wide. Anyone who's used to a more boomy sound however, may find the Focal XS Book speakers take a while to get used to.

On the whole, audio performances are excellent, which makes the Focal XS worth the investment so long as you can put up with the often frustrating design and controls. It'd be nice to see some more established audio brands do as good a job as Focal has with sound quality in these speakers, especially in the age of connected audio.
4/5 Focal XS Book DigitalVersus 2012-01-31 14:20:00

Pros

  • Excellent audio quality
  • Good finish
  • Compact design
  • Good bass for a stereo kit

Cons

  • Limited choice of connections
  • No remote
  • Mediums can be too strong at times

Conclusion

The Focal XS Book is a very nice stereo speaker kit that delivers high-end audio. There is, however, room for improvement in the product's design. That's a shame, as these speakers were serious five-star contenders!

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