I listen to a lot of music and I'll admit I'm a snob when it comes to audio equipment. I want speakers that sound great and look fantastic. The Focal XS 2.1 speaker system is a high-end ($600) entry into the iPod and Apple computer market that does both.
These speakers look superb. The cabinets are solid and the cables are cloth wrapped. They were obviously designed with the current crop of iMacs in mind. Each unit has just the right combination of silver bezel and black body to make you think it was designed in a hidden lab in Cupertino. Additionally, one of the satellites includes a standard iPod dock. Using this dock, you can either sync your iPod to your computer or play directly into the speakers. This is controlled by a toggle switch behind the right satellite speaker. Keeping them next to my desktop machine it was no trouble for me to depress the button. It also includes a simple remote that magnetically attaches to the satellite post. Neat.
There are two satellite speakers and a 6.5 inch subwoofer all driven by 130 Watts. In addition to providing excellent sound while you're sitting at your computer, the speakers have more than enough power to fill a room (or several rooms) when you walk away. The highs were sharp and clean and the lows (after tuning the subwoofer on the included rear dial) were solid without being too spongy.
There is no doubt in my mind that this is an outstanding speaker system. In terms of design aesthetic and shockingly good sound quality, you will be unlikely to find anything to match it next to your Mac. The real question is whether you can justify spending $600 on a set of computer speakers. While at first this price seemed outrageous, upon reflection it is not. A lot of people, myself included, spend more time in front of our computers than our televisions. When comparing this system to my existing JBLs, for which I paid $200, the improvement was immediately apparent. Every one who listened, including my seven-year-old, could tell the difference.
For a more fair comparison, I also spent some time with another $600 iPod speaker, the Bowers & Wilkins' Zeppelin. The Zeppelin looks, well, like a Zeppelin. The sound on these two systems was superb. At low volume the bass in the Zeppelin was slightly better but but the Focal’s bass sounded tighter at higher volumes. The higher trebles sounded universally better on the Focals. If I a had to choose, I would pick the Focals. These are both outstanding systems but I would give the edge to the Focals for sound. Furthermore, the Focals win big in terms of design. They are made to be next to a computer and compliment it where the Zeppelin is really just for playing an iPod.
In this age where we use our computers for lot more than word processing, using a quality speaker system makes sense. Frankly, the Focal system is better than my television audio rig and I now find myself looking for excuses to watch video on my iMac. Whether you want to spend $600 on speakers is entirely up to you. If you do, however, I don’t think you will go wrong with the Focal XS system. Fortunately, the Focal XS is now featured at your local Apple store. So if you are interested, head down and listen for yourself to the difference.
You can listen to this review on the MacReviewCast episode 206.