Dynaudio Focus 200 XD powered loudspeaker

The second I encountered Dynaudio's Focus 200 XD powered loudspeaker at the High End 2015 show in Munich, Germany, it called to me. I wasn't so much drawn to its unique functions—which I describe below—as by the fact that it could help fill the black hole left by the dismantling of my reference system for my move from big, badass Oakland, California to the small, magical town of Port Townsend, Washington.

Until the completion of renovations to our future music room, my reference system would have to be my desktop system, built around a pair of Dynaudio Focus 110A powered loudspeakers, now discontinued. The quality of that system is limited by the fact that my large, triangular desk sits in a corner, which necessitates placing both speakers fairly close to the walls behind them. The compromises in setup are many, their ramifications audible. The new Focus 200 XDs, which are larger than the Focus 110As and include an adjustment for placement close to walls and corners, proclaimed their promise with great force.

Three Ways to Play
Dynaudio's Focus 200 XD is the entry-level, compact model of a line that Dynaudio claims is optimized for high-resolution digital playback. At $6999/pair, including remote control and Connect wireless transmitter, the two-way, reflex-loaded Focus 200 XD is the smallest and least expensive of three Focus XD models, all of which are manufactured in Denmark.

Connected by means of a coaxial interconnect to an outboard DAC, CD player, etc., the Focus 200 XD can play signals of up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution. However, to take full advantage of its digital amplification, you can ditch the outboard DAC and directly feed it digital signals: according to Dynaudio, all signals are processed digitally in the amplifier without analog conversion, and remain in the digital domain until the latest possible and most ideal moment—right at the drivers. When I asked Dynaudio USA's Mike Manousselis and Mick Tillman for more information, they told me that the amp is based on Texas Instruments' True Digital Audio Amplifier (TDAA) and TAS5015 Digital Audio PWM Processor, based on Toccata's Equibit technology, which accept a PCM digital audio stream and convert it to a PWM audio stream to drive the speakers

To create a fully digital, 24/192 signal path, you need two digital coaxial interconnects, one from your source to one speaker, the other to link the two speakers. If your source has only USB out, as my computer does, you'll also need a USB-to-coax adapter capable of transmitting 24/192 data. Once connected to a digital source, the Focus 200 XD's PWM amplifiers do all the work. Dynaudio says that the all-digital signal path is far more direct and "puristic" because the signal remains in the digital realm, "absolutely unchanged, without conversion or manipulation, until it [is] converted into music directly at the woofer and tweeter, and the volume is adjusted digitally by remote."

The Focus 200 XD also offers high-resolution wireless playback via its powered Connect wireless transmitter (supplied). Music sent wirelessly to a single zone (one pair of speakers) can have a resolution up to 24/96; sending it to up to three pairs of speakers in multiple zones limits the resolution to 16/48. There's also an optional iPhone/iPad Control app to select inputs and adjust the volume from a distance, should you exceed the range of Dynaudio's remote control.

Appearance and Controls
The Focus 200 XD is available in walnut or rosewood veneers, or satin-finish lacquers in black or white. Its drive-units are proprietary to Dynaudio: a 1.1" (28mm) coated-silk soft-dome tweeter and a 6.7" (170mm) mid/woofer with a specially developed magnesium-silicate polymer (MSP) cone. The drivers have lightweight aluminum voice-coils, "extra-strong" Ferrit+ magnets, and low-resonance cast-aluminum frames. Dynaudio says that each driver is "perfectly optimized" to its own "perfect amplifier" via DSP. Volume is controlled digitally directly at the amplifiers—"perfectly," of course.

916dynaudio.bac.jpg

Things get really interesting on the back of the enclosure. Below the rear-mounted reflex port on each Focus 200 XD is a control panel that offers a choice of 24/192-capable, 75 ohm, digital coaxial inputs and outputs, or an analog coaxial input. Use the former when driving the Focus 200 XD digitally, direct from the source, and the latter in a conventional setup connected to preamp or a DAC with a volume control..

Four three-position switches adjust Input Sensitivity (+6, 0, –6dB), Treble (+1, flat, –1dB), Zone (Red, Green, Blue), and Channel Mode (Master, Slave, External). In addition to the Power On/Off switch, two-pronged IEC power receptacle, and a USB service port for software upgrades, the Focus 200 XD has a Speaker Position knob (Neutral, Wall, Corner) that adjusts its low-frequency response to suit the port's interaction with surfaces close to it.

The 14-button remote-control handset offers lots of choices for wired and wireless playback, as well as Mute.

Dynaudio's wireless Connect hub is a black box measuring 5.5" wide by 1.3" high by 4.1" deep and weighing just under half a pound. On its rear panel are five inputs: mini-plug, L and R coaxial line in, optical in, digital coax in, and computer soundcard/USB in. You can select Bluetooth or WiFi setup, and choose among three zones. On the bottom of the Connect is a tiny switch that toggles between two settings, one labeled High Resolution/1 Zone/24-bit/96kHz and the other labeled Multiroom/3 Zones/16-bit/48kHz. Power is via a supplied DC adapter.

Once I got the hang of it, playback was pretty easy. Use of an outboard DAC is straightforward, and requires setting both speakers' channel modes to External. For direct digital and wireless playback, you make the speaker that receives the initial signal the Master and the other the Slave. The terminology is odious, but it works. According to the manual, you then either connect the Master's digital output to the Slave's digital input with a cable, in which case the system will operate at 24/192, or use the wireless connection, in which case the system is limited to 24/96.

Hint 1: Make sure that when you change inputs, or switch from wired to wireless operation, you turn the speakers off and then on again. Otherwise, you may end up pressing buttons over and over in an endless circle dance.

Hint 2: As you've presumably already turned the speakers on via the switch on the rear, do not press the remote's On button. If you press this button when the speakers are already powered up, the system gets very confused. But I'm sure this button is there for a reason.

Hint 3: When you use the Connect hub to wirelessly send music to a single zone—which is all that's possible with a single set of Focus XDs—you need to use the remote to select which input you're using (mine was digital coax). Then, make sure you use the remote to select the hub ID you've arbitrarily chosen on the Connect (mine was B). After only a short lag, music will begin playing through the speakers. Once everything is synced, the lag time virtually vanishes.

Hint 4: If, no matter how many times you're sure you've pushed the right buttons, sound still comes from only one speaker, raise the volume level until both speakers are engaged. Once they are, you can lower the volume. If they still aren't engaged, scream.

Sound
Thought I'd never get to it? Yes, there's a lot to take in. But if you don't take it all in before listening, you may end up doing what I did, which was to ignore the digital processing the Focus 200 XD system did oh, so well, and simply connect it to an outboard DAC. In my case, I connected it to the analog outputs of my Benchmark DAC1 USB, fed by computer.

COMPANY INFO
Dynaudio A/S
US distributor: Dynaudio North America
1852 Elmdale Avenue
Glenview, IL 60026
(847) 730-3280
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
brenro's picture

$7000 computer speakers connected via $20,000 worth of digital cables. Abundant software glitches. Lacking in sound. Still "deserve an extended audition." In other words one of the brands that always gets a pass.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

They sounded fabulous in my class today, and worked without a hitch. In retrospect, I think some of the connection issues had to do with the M2Tech USB to coax adapter, which tends to lose its connection to my laptop when it isn't well-supported. Since I've taken my laptop off equipment supports, and simply rested it on a Symposium platform, the speakers have worked flawlessly every time I've used them.

A reminder that, as opposed to other publications, Stereophile reviewers always list the problems they have with gear. We cover nothing up, including our set-up frustratons and, as I review this post, our spelling errors. It's "frustrations."

There is no reason why anyone has to use $20,000 worth of digital cables to get these speakers to sing beautifully. But good Lord, if you've got the cabling on long-term loan, and it sounds far, far better that the stock stuff, why not enjoy it and use it in a review to hear everything a component can produce?

JoeinNC's picture

My, my. Looks like benro struck a nerve. Methinks thou dost protest too much.

untangle's picture

Could you give a bit more feel for the dynamics - more in terms of the excitement and force lent to transients than to max SPL? Thanks.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

This is a tough one, Bob, simply because the review was written months ago, and most of my listening of late has been confined to either Tidal streamed wirelessly (inherently compromised) or, in the vocal music class I taught today, to redbook quality transfers of very old recordings. The system is very revealing, but I would never pretend a small two-way can convey all the undertones and complexity of a full-range loudspeaker system. (Then again, this speaker is at the bottom of the Focus XD line. This leads me to expect that the others do a better job.) At the same time, we had no problem catching every nuance of shading and dynamics that tenor Tito Schipa recorded in 1932, nor differentiating his performance from one by Juan Diego Florez on DVD. It was easy to hear how beautifully Schipa caressed and spun his tone, how bright Florez's voice is, and, in the case of a 1907 recording by baritione Giuseppe de Luca, how much warmth he conveys in the center of his voice. Just wonderful.

Sometimes I think people put too much emphasis on discussions of transients and microdynamics, as though hearing them somehow earns them bonus points in the knowledgable audiophile department. Sure, I hear a range of different colors, as well as the undertones and overtones in a voice through these speakers. In fact, I noticed today, when listening to a transfer on Nimbus Prima Voce label, how much body the light and charming Amelita Galli-Curci had to her voice. This is on an acoustic recording (pre-1925), mind you. Having said that, the review includes the example of what was missing from the reproduction of a hi-rez file of Callas' voice.

Ultimately, I think I am most concerned with the emotional impact of the music - its ability to touch me - and a component's ability to leave me feeling satisfied. On that score, I was smiling at the end of the class, that's for sure, and all of my students left elated. When a speaker system can do that for me, I give it a major thumbs up.

tonykaz's picture

Sure thing, Active is the way to go!

You could've had Genelec , Focal or quite a few others but these DynAudio are fine.

I sold the Meridian Actives in the 1980s, they were superb and still are but not loved by "genuine" audiophiles who need infinite options and are afflicted with excessive Neurosis & Psychosis.

Actives are simple, clean solutions to very complex problems, I love em.

Recording Engineers love these things for their accuracy, the Mastering guys still prefer stuff like Revel.

Denmark make Superb Actives!!!

Nice choice in loudspeakers, I continue to discover more things to admire about you. Well done!

Tony in Michigan

tonykaz's picture

I just learned that L.Bernstein finally got around to doing an Operatic version of West Side Story, on Polygram, around 1985ish.

Can you offer an opinion on the recording?
It's rather hard to find a CD copy but some are on eBay for $5. I don't have one but will buy if you green light it.

Rather nice to get those Loooooooong Term loaners, I used to get Cars and I know our "Fav" Car reviewers all got em. Travel Reviewers get Free ( 1099'd ) Trips.

Do your Reviewers get Free Singing Lessons?

Tony in Michigan

John Atkinson's picture
tonykaz wrote:
I just learned that L.Bernstein finally got around to doing an Operatic version of West Side Story, on Polygram, around 1985ish. Can you offer an opinion on the recording?

I am sure Jason will offer his opinion, but I feel this is a dreadful recording, not the least because of the miscasting of Jose Carreras as the anglo lead Tony. Stick with the original cast recording (Broadway, not movie,in my opinion).

There is a notorious documentary available on the making of this recording. Well worth watching.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

The recording was a mistake. And to see Lenny yelling at poor José, berating him for his pronunciation when in fact it was Bernstein's mis-judgment that cast him in the first place, is quite the eye opener. Stick with the documentary.

georgehifi's picture

I'm a little worried why Jason (the reviewer) has termed the amps inside to be PWM, which is technically correct, but for those not informed, these are Class D amps and I believe should be worded as such, as there are many amongst us that give Class D a wide berth.

Cheers George

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Hello George. A technical whiz I am not. That I will leave to JA. But what I can tell you is that simplifying matters by calling these amplifiers Class D does not begin to explain what they are.

Portions of my review needed to be cut for space considerations. Here is more information on these speakers:

As stated in Dynaudio’s literature, the Focus 200 XD’s PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) amplification “negates the need for a separate DAC, as all signals are processed digitally in the amplifier without analogue conversion, and remain in the digital domain until the latest possible and most ideal moment – right at the output at the drivers.” When I questioned Dynaudio USA’s Michael “Mike” Manousselis and Mick Tillman about this technology, they sent me a 15-year old, 20-page white paper [http://www.ti.com/lit/ds/sles006a/sles006a.pdf] that describes Texas Instruments’ True Digital Audio Amplifier (TDAA) and TAS5015 Digital Audio PWM Processor.

In his accompanying email, Mike wrote, “Really, the first page is a good explanation of the technology platform.” Mick Tillman of Dynaudio USA even was more direct when he told me that the information is extremely technical, and most people stop after the first page because they aren't equipped to make sense of what follows. I was extremely grateful for this advice, because when I searched Google for “TDAA,” the first thing that came up was “Teacup Dogs Agility Association.” Our terrorers were not impressed.

The white paper’s first page states, “The true digital audio amplifier (TDAA) is a new paradigm in digital audio. One TDAA system consists of the TAS5015 PCM-PWM modulator device plus a discrete back-end TDAA power output. This system accepts a serial PCM digital audio stream and converts it to a 3.3-V PWM audio stream (TAS5015). The discrete back-end TDAA then provides a large-signal PWM output. This digital PWM signal is then demodulated, providing power output for driving loudspeakers. This patented technology provides low-cost, high-quality, high-efficiency digital audio applicable to many audio systems developed for the digital age. The TAS5015 is an innovative, cost-effective, high-performance 24-bit stereo PCM-PWM modulator based on Equibit technology. The TAS5015 has a wide variety of serial input options including right-justified (16, 20, or 24 bits), IIS (16, 20, or 24 bits), left-justified (16 bits), or DSP (16 bits) data formats. It is fully compatible with AES standard sampling rates (Fs) of 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, and 192 kHz. The TAS5015 also provides a de-emphasis function for 44.1-kHz and 48-kHz sampling rates.” It gets far more complex from there.

I will leave it to JA to comment further, if he feels called to do so.

Michael Manousselis's picture

The descriptor Class D amplifier is often misunderstood, and the review is basically communicating the 'exact' type of amplifier that is used in the Focus XD.

Anon2's picture

At least these speakers, with their built-in power supply answer a long vexing question to those of us who love the Dynaudio sound but harbor deeper concerns: will I have to buy a new amplifier to support these speakers?

I recently had an opportunity, in a dealer show, to sample the other spin-off of the Focus 160 (of which this model under review is the more luxurious). I was able to sample this other successor of the Focus 160 with the successor model of my own integrated amplifier.

In a rare treat, I was able to man, responsibly, the volume knob with the Dyanudio speaker connected to the equivalent of my home amplification. I loved the sound of the speakers. I was, as I feared with this brand, unnerved by how much more I had to turn up the volume knob to get an appreciable volume out of the speakers.

Yes, watts/channel -vs- current/stability, I've heard it all before, though I would not claim to be the world's expert on the subject. This brand of speaker requires watts per channel if you listen to music with low sound level passages (a'la Murray Perahia's/Radu Lupu's Schubert Impromptus, Kissin's Rachmaninov 3rd Concert, Emil Gilels' sampling of Grieg's Lyric Pieces).

Moreover, now that I'm trying to become a more diligent student of JA's measurements and bottom line assessments of integrated amps, I learn that ("see your dealer" exhortations aside) many models, even among the "recommended components," are probably in the "don't try this at home" category for this brand of speaker.

Perhaps, getting back to the main point, this self-powered unit puts to rest the question of how to match amplification with these speakers. If you buy some Wilsons, you know what you are signing up for in the amplification realm. With this brand--and it's sad since the products sound so good--it's a murkier proposition to knowing what you may need to buy to power this brand of speakers.

According to the manufacturer's site, newer models are more "amplifier friendly." With my hand on the knob test, the second greatest test after "trust your ears," I found little amplifier friendliness.

georgehifi's picture

They are either Linear amps or they're Class D amps inside. I think Class-D

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Class-D_amplifier

Cheers George

Anton's picture

I have heard some lovely class D amps at recent shows.

tonykaz's picture

Audiophiles are the only ones that worry about Class D.

The Focal Actives use Class AB, I think. A few others too.

However the World's leading Actives ( Genelec ) are Class D.

We are at the point where most of the Recording Studios use Class D Amplification.

Hi-End Audiophiles are the hold out, clinging to Class A ( even I still own and use a Class A Amp ) but we're willing to spend mega bucks to get it. I'm not certain it's worth the expense, the Class D stuff is brilliant.

Still, the Focal Be6 is Class AB with heat Fins along the back, about the same price, it's rather industrial looking, by comparison.

Performance should be the issue, not Amp Class.

Tony in Michigan

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Years ago, in my pre-Stereophile era, I had to review an early Class D amp. I hated the sound so much that I stalled on the review for months, not knowing what to do. Every time I put the thing in my system, the sound was so flat and lifeless that I couldn't wait to remove it. I certainly couldn't sit through an entire symphony.

But that was over a decade ago. The technology has improved. The analogy of baroque violin performance, which went from squeaky irritating to glorious, is appropriate here. Class D implementation may not have yet reached its Golden Age, but it need no longer serve as a warning to music lovers to stay away.

tonykaz's picture

I think we're heading into a new World and Age, Class D is part of it.
LED lighting is another part.

Head-Fi has a very popular thread covering the V10 Audiophile Phone. Headphone audiophiles are describing it's musical abilities in complimentary ways, comparing it to the Chord Mojo, for god's sake. Focal introduced the Utopia headphone that needs only a few milliwatts ( on Stereophile's Front Cover ).

The Big Amps & Preamps we see (today) at Audiophile Shows reminded me of my Ham Radio days ( 1950s ), full of tubes and making plenty of heat. Those were wonderful memories from 70 years ago.

Friday ( two days ago ) waiting for a Flight, I was watching & listening to Hilary Hahn playing "Live" at the Detroit Symphony O . I was enabled by a pocketable ( and highly portable ) Music System, I could've been nearly anywhere.

Your Tyll will be at RMAF ( next weekend ) doing Seminars on the Future of headphones!, I think he'll be describing the Future of Consumer level Music reproduction gear.

Things are moving quite fast now, there's a tremendous amount of intellegent energy being released to discover new solutions to age old problems, I'll be here reading your reporting of it.

Bon Voyage,

Tony in Michigan

JRT's picture
J.V.Serinus wrote:

"But that was over a decade ago. The technology has improved. The analogy of baroque violin performance, which went from squeaky irritating to glorious, is appropriate here. Class D implementation may not have yet reached its Golden Age, but it need no longer serve as a warning to music lovers to stay away."

In this case, TI's press release announcing their then-new TAS5015 was dated March 30, 2001, which was more than 15 years ago. There was and is nothing very wrong with the TAS5015 in consumer audio applications, if used in a well engineered design that accomodates its moderately low PSRR. TI has since come out with many newer chipsets. 15 years is rather old for a mixed signal processing chipset, and TI no longer recommends using this one in new designs, though they still do continue to provide support for it.

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