It all started with a message on January 8, 2021. I tried to watch a video on my Late 2014 iMac 5K, that I'd recorded with my iPhone 12 Pro, when the fateful message appeared. "Unsupported Video Format, The full-resolution video is unsupported." After some searching, I found that my iMac didn't have the hardware required to play HDR video with 10-bit high dynamic range or Dolby Vision. I had no need to shoot video in that format from my iPhone, but I took this as a good reason to look at new computers.
After using an iMac for many years, I was ready to ditch the platform because Apple stopped supporting Target Display Mode. This mode enabled iMacs to be used as a display when connected to another computer. I could upgrade with a new computer and still use the iMac display if target display mode was still possible. The iMac is now essentially a dead end that can never be upgraded or used any other way than the day it's purchased. For most people this is perfect, but I was ready for something different.
I purchased the latest Mac Mini (M1, 2020) because I read the reviews of the Apple Silicon performance and was amazed at what the company had accomplished. Plus, I didn't need an Intel based Mac for anything because my podcast recording rig runs on an Intel based MacBook Pro. If you've never fought with digital audio workstation software for professional recording, consider yourself lucky. My MacBook Pro is frozen in time because any updates are liable to cause major issues.
Anyway, the Mac Mini obviously requires an external display unlike the iMac. After using an iMac for so long I was used to the incredibly high quality of Apple displays. I just couldn't get myself to cut a corner and save money by purchasing something I hadn't looked myself. The real issue was selecting the far less expensive LG Ultra Fine display sold by Apple or going all-in with the Apple Pro Display XDR. Given my propensity for high quality, I just had to go with the Pro Display XDR.
The Pro Display XDR has amazing specs at 32 inches, 6K, 1600 nits of brightness, a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, 99% of the P3 wide color gamut, true 10-bit color depth, and an aesthetic design that's second to none. Here's the Pro Display XDR technical white paper for those interested (link). Don't get me started on the $1,000 stand that I also "had" to purchase.
Two features the Pro Display XDR doesn't have are a built-in camera/microphone and built-in speakers. Yes, I'm well aware that it's preposterous The Computer Audiophile would use built-in speakers, but that's what I did much of the time with my iMac 5K. When one has a full Constellation, Wilson, Berkeley, Aurender, and Transparent system on the other side of the room, the built-in speakers matter a little less. Solving the camera/microphone issue was easy, but in true Pro Display XDR fashion the cost was $200. If one gets the $5,000 display, and the $1,000 stand, it's a must to get the expensive magnetic camera built exclusively for this system. OK, not a "must" but I was all-in for $6,000, what's another $200?
Finding speakers for the Mac Mini / Pro Display XDR combo was actually much more enjoyable than cringing over the cost of the stand and camera. The most important factor I considered when looking for speakers was size. There's no getting around one's desktop space limitations, even if the sound quality of something gigantic is compelling. Size also includes any additional components needed to drive the speakers. In this case, active / self powered speakers would likely save me much needed space. Similar to size is the design of the speaker, in that certain designs require more space even if the physical speakers are small. For example, I really wanted to try the Mini Maggie System from Magnepan. However, I'd previously talked to Magnepan's Wendell Diller, when we were both participating in an event at Audio Advice in North Carolina, while he setup the Mini Maggie System and I knew these speakers needed more room to breathe behind them than my desk has to offer.
As a card-carrying, knuckle-dragging, audiophile it goes without saying that sound quality was absolutely critical in my search for speakers. Sure, I have my main system just to my left, but if I was required to connect speakers to my new computer, I might as well do it audiophile style.
In addition to sound quality I considered all the possible ways desktop systems connect to a source (computer, music server, mobile device, etc...). All the active desktop systems I considered use internal digital signal processing. This makes the analog inputs of such a system far less desirable in my book. It doesn't make sense to me, to use an external DAC like an AudioQuest DragonFly to feed a pair of active speakers. The speakers will convert the analog signal back into digital for processing, then back into analog for playback. Thus, I focussed on the digital inputs of these speakers.
The Mac Mini has very sparse audio output options. It's either Ethernet, USB, analog, or Bluetooth. Unfortunately, the analog output isn't a dual purpose port with optical S/PDIF inside like many MacBook Pros have been over the years. The most reasonable audiophile option here is USB. I love Ethernet audio, but for a desktop that must also use speakers to output sound from Zoom meetings, FaceTime calls, and Podcasts, Ethernet can be a bridge too far. I didn't feel like fighting with it to re-route Zoom calls over an Ethernet interface that wasn't mean to output Zoom calls. Oh it can be done, but that's not a hill I was willing to die on when I needed instant access to audio.
Last, the speakers had to look nice. I just can't put ugly, shiny plastic, transformer-looking speakers in front of my face all day long.
Astute readers will notice I didn't pay much attention to supported audio types such as high resolution PCM or DSD and frequency response specifications. This disregard is for two reasons, 1. The DSP inside active desktop speakers usually runs at 48 kHz or 96 kHz maximum, and 2. This just isn't that important to me for my desktop system. I like high resolution and chest pounding bass as much as the next guy, but I can also trim my requirements when needed.
I thought about speakers that could fit on my desk, but under the bottom edge of the display. That was a dead end. Then I searched for speakers from all the companies I respect, to see if they offered anything that fit my narrow requirements. I looked at Wilson of course and had the TuneTot near the top of my list. I've hear the TuneTot many times and love the sound of music coming through these speakers. My hesitations were twofold, the size of the TuneTot, at 25 inches tall, is probably larger than I want on my desk and they are passive speakers that require external amplification. Because I like them so much, and the sound of my Wilson Alexia Series 2 is so fantastic, I don't think I will ever rule out putting TuneTots on my desk. For this desktop speaker exercise I set the TuneTot aside as something to consider on another day.
I looked at Elac because I've experienced the work of Andrew Jones countless times, but I didn't see any speakers there that fit my requirements or looked so compelling that I would set a requirement aside. Based on recommendations from many Audiophile Style readers over the years I looked at ADAM Audio, but just couldn't get excited about any of its offerings. Plus, I hadn't heard ADAM speakers nearly as much as I'd heard other brands. There's likely a good speaker from ADAM that meets my requirements, but I decided to pass this time.
The two companies at which I looked hardest were KEF and Dynaudio. KEF's LS50 Wireless II and LSX are extremely solid products, loved by audiophiles all over the world. I've heard KEF speakers countless times and enjoyed them very much. The size of the LSX is perfect for my desktop and it looks very nice. The LS50 Wireless II is also within a reasonable size, even though it's deeper than it is tall at just over one foot. The issue with these KEF speakers is no USB input. I absolutely wouldn't care about this if the speakers were for listening to music, but I need a direct digital connection that's addressable by any app that will run on my Mac Mini.
Note: I could easily purchase a USB to Toslink (for the LSX or LS50) or use a USB to coaxial S/PDIF (for the LS50), but this is another piece of equipment to plugin near my desk. I wanted to avoid this if possible. The MiniDSP USBStreamer B is only $109 and enables USB to Toslink. It's a really powerful device with different firmware options etc..., but I just didn't want to go down this path for this system. Looking back on it, this device isn't much different from the Dynaudio Xeo Hub that enables me to connect wirelessly, but by the time I realized this I was already too far down the road to look back.
I've been a big fan of Dynaudio speakers for many years. I visited the factory in Denmark a few years ago and really loved the vibe, the story, the sound quality, and the incredible speaker measuring room where speakers are hoisted up on a crane-like device and rotated any number of ways for measurements. The legendary Dynaudio soft dome tweeter is another major plus for a speaker that will sit a few feet from my ears for eight to ten hours per day. I've also used the Dynaudio Xeo system quite a bit and this familiarity is always beneficial in case something goes awry when a call is coming in and I want to answer it on my computer. Stuff happens, it's a fact of life.
One additional intangible benefit is the people at Dynaudio North America. I've dealt with Dynaudio's Mike Manousselis many times over the years and he has always made sure even my dumbest questions are answered quickly. As you'll read in a bit, this high level of service was extremely nice when I ran into an issue that turned out to be unrelated to Dynaudio.
Anyway, I selected the Dynaudio Xeo 10 speakers because the size was perfect, they have optional stands, they look great, they have optional colored speakers grills, they have USB connectivity through the Dynaudio Xeo Hub, and I enjoy the sound of Dynaudio speakers. I've never heard a Dyn speaker that hurts my ears or fatigues me in any way. This is key, give the lengths of time I listen at my desk.
After receiving the Xeo 10 I mounted them on some IsoAcoustics speaker stands I'd already purchased years ago. The stands were a bit large, so I opted for the purpose built Xeo Desk Stands. This is a no-brainer. I should've used this from the start. They look great and fit like a glove, with channeling for the speaker's power cable.
I listened through the Xeo 10s immediately, preferring to break them in as I used them rather than connect them to another system running non-stop for a week or so. After the first day I noticed something strange. The left channel wasn't as loud as the right channel. I switched the connection to the analog output of my Mac Mini and the analog input of the Xeo, and the problem was resolved. This was OK for a couple days, but then the problem arose with this in/output as well. I contacted Dynaudio, which sent me a replacement pair without forcing me to jump through several hoops. Again, excellent service for what turned out to be unrelated to them.
When the new pair arrived, they worked for about a day before the left channel was lower than the right. I dug into it further and discovered that Roon was setting my left channel volume to -10dB in Audio Midi, upon reboot. I didn't see this previously because I had no reason to look at Audio Midi. I never used it for volume control because the Xeo has its own remote control. I uninstalled Roon and the issue disappeared.
There are a couple configuration options for Dynaudio Xeo speakers that aren't readily apparent, but are absolute requirements for me at my desktop. The first is called night mode. This enables one to turn off the two LEDs on each speaker unless the volume is being changed, input switched or they are turned off. At such time the LEDs only illuminate for a couple seconds. To enable night mode, press and hold the ‘OFF’ button on the remote for five seconds.
The feature that's even more imperative is disabling autosense. Autosense is enabled by default. It's job is to listen for a signal, then turn off the speakers or go to standby if an incoming signal isn't detected. The issue arises when waking up the speakers. I answered a few FaceTime calls and discovered the speakers don't wake up immediately. I couldn't hear the person to whom I was talking. Disabling autosense resolves this issue 100% by keeping the speakers awake and looking for a signal on the selected input. When disabled the speakers respond immediately to any audio coming form the computer. To disable or enable Autosense, press and hold the ‘OPT’ button for five seconds: the LEDs will blink once for enabled or twice for disabled. In this mode, the listener must remember to actively turn the Xeo 10 power off when not in use.
A third feature that I don't use, but can see why people like it, is the fixed volume mode. This enables listeners to lock the volume at a fixed level, likely near the top of the Xeo 10's range, and control attenuation via one's computer or app of choice. This removes the issue of dualing volume controls when both the speakers and computer's volume controls active.
Note: The Xeo 10 has a switch for three different settings on the back for Neutral, Wall, or corner positions of the speakers. I used the Neutral setting for this review.
The sound of the Dynaudio Xeo 10 speakers is really nice. As a jaded audiophile I have extreme expectations, making my sound quality scale likely different from many people who just want really good sound. The Xeo 10 will easily satisfy anyone "just looking for really good sound" and should please audiophiles alike. I don't hear the transparency with the Xeo 10 that I would hear if I had the Mini Maggie System, but I also don't hear any ear splitting tweeters common in other speakers. The soft dome tweeter in the Xeo 10 is terrific for all day listening and for critical audiophile listening.
The aspect that's most likely to hold back a speaker like the Xeo 10 is setup. I have a 32" display smack dab in the middle of the speakers. There's no getting around it. Without a display the speakers would image much better, but that's a conversation for another day. As it stands, the sound I get from this Dynaudio Xeo 10 / Apple Pro Display XDR system is a touch laid back or recessed but still very detailed.
Listening to the new Lake Street Dive album, titled Obviously, the Xeo 10s sound are terrific. On track one, Hypotheticals, Rachel Price's vocals are silky smooth and detailed, the baselines are stellar for a desktop system, and the guitar coming in and out of the left channel is crystal clear. Around the 3:25 mark of the track, the band supplies backing vocals that harmonize wonderfully and sound organically sweet.
One pleasant surprise I heard when listening through the Xeo 10s is something that would likely bug me if it was in my main system. Listening to Randi Tytingvag's Red or Dead title track can rip one's head clean off. It's a track with absolute clarity in the vocals and high frequencies, but it can be a bit much. On my main system I want this to be a bit much, if that's what's on the recording. No so on my desktop system when I listen for up to ten hours a day. Ear splitting isn't pleasant, even if it's accurate. Sure, the Xeo 10s may be toning down other areas of music that I enjoy, but I've yet to hear it in anything else. Overall, it's a big win because I enjoy the heck out of the music when listening through the Xeo 10s. I'm not analyzing everything, but rather accepting the realities of small powered speakers flanking a giant computer display. I'm not a mastering or mixing engineer. I'm an audiophile who loved music and has a job to do during the day. I'd like to enjoy my music during this time.
The Dynaudio Xeo 10s satisfied my requirements perfectly. Size, sound, appearance, usability, and great customer service were all a match for me. Extremely long listening sessions at varying sound levels were always enjoyable. Enabling / disabling some custom settings also made the Xeo 10s a perfect match for everyday computer use such as Zoom calls, FaceTime calls, and podcasts. I'll also never underestimate the ease of a physical remote control. When I have 25 windows open on my computer, it's very easy to grab the Xeo remote control and hit volume up/down or mute. Overall I highly recommend the Dynaudio Xeo 10.
P.S. As I typed up this review, I discovered the Dynaudio Xeo 10 was surprisingly discontinued. That's unfortunate because it's a great speaker. I'm unsure what the replacement will be from Dynaudio, but if the other Xeo products such as the Xeo 20 fit one's desktop, it would be a great option. The Xeo 10 is also still available from some dealers and online outlets until stock disappears.
- Dynaudio Xeo 10 ($1,499)
- Dynaudio Xeo 10 Product Page
- Dynaudio Xeo 10 Owner's Manual (online)
- Dynaudio Xeo 10 Owner's Manual (PDF)
- Dynaudio Xeo 10 Brochure (PDF)
- Dynaudio Xeo Desk Stand ($299)
- Dynaudio Xeo Desk Stand Product Page
- Source: QNAP TVS-872XT, Aurender W20SE, CAPS 20
- DAC: EMM Labs DV2, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC RS3, Schiit Audio Yggdrasil
- D-to-D Converter: Sonore Signature Rendu SE (optical), APL HiFi DNP-SR, CAPS 20.1, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB
- Amplifiers: Constellation Audio Mono 1.0 / Monoblock Power Amplifiers, Constellation Audio Inspiration Integrated, Parasound HINT 6
- Preamplifier: Constellation Audio PreAmp 1.0
- Loudspeakers: Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2
- Digital Signal Processing: Accurate Sound, HQPlayer
- Remote Control Software: Roon Remote, JRemote, Aurender Conductor
- Remote Control Hardware: iPad Pro
- Playback Software: Roon, JRiver,
- Network Attached Storage (NAS): QNAP TVS-872XT
- Audio Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Interconnects (XLR & RCA), Transparent Audio Reference 110-Ohm AES/EBU Digital Link, Transparent Audio Reference Speaker Cables, Gotham GAC-4/1 ultraPro Balanced XLR Audio Cable (40')
- USB Cables: Transparent Audio Premium USB Cable
- Power Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Power Cables
- Power Isolation: one 4kVA and one 5 kVA 512 Engineering Symmetrical Power Source
- Ethernet Cables: Transparent Audio High Performance Ethernet Cables
- Fiber optic Cables: Single Mode OS1-9/125um (LC to LC)
- Acoustic Room Treatments: Vicoustic Diffusion and Absorption, ATS Acoustics Bass Traps
- Network: Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 24, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 8-150W x2, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 16 XG, Ubiquiti UniFi Security Gateway Pro 4, Ubiquiti UniFi AP HD x2, UniFi FlexHD AP, Ubiquiti FC-SM-300 Fiber Optic Cable x2, UF-SM-1G-S Fiber Optic Modules x6, Commercial Grade Fiber Optic Patch Cables, Calix 716GE-I Optical Network Terminal, CenturyLink 1 Gbps download / upload
This graph shows the frequency response of my room before (top) and after (bottom) tuning by Mitch Barnett of Accurate Sound. The standard used for this curve is EBU 3276. This tuning can be used with Roon, JRiver, and other apps that accept convolution filters. When evaluating equipment I use my system with and without this tuning engaged. The signal processing takes place in the digital domain before the audio reaches the DAC, thus enabling me to evaluate the components under review without anything changing the signal further downstream.