Dynaudio Excite X12: Stereophile Budget Component of Year Award
Posted on 21 February 2011

Stereophile Stand Loudspeaker Reviews

Dynaudio Excite X12 loudspeaker

I miss the High End Shows. Not the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas—no thanks. I can do without the overpriced hotels, the 45-minute taxi lines, the frantic racing from venue to venue. No, it's the Stereophile shows I miss, with the centralized location, the rubbing shoulders with readers ("Hey, you're the cheap-speaker guy! Check out room 206!"), the listening to live music, and maybe even playing a little of it.

There was always a number of manufacturers who regularly displayed their wares at the Stereophile show and always achieved good sound, no matter what they demoed. One was the Danish loudspeaker maker Dynaudio. Over the years, I spent many hours listening to splendid sound in Dynaudio's rooms—the kinds of spaces where you just want to kick back, listen for an hour, and throw your notebook away.

There hasn't been a Stereophile show since 2007, and I haven't listened to Dynaudios for a while, save for the speakers in my friend's Volvo (footnote 1). Invariably, the Dynaudio speakers I heard at shows were their more expensive lines, but I began to wonder: Does Dynaudio make an affordable bookshelf model? The answer was a resounding yes, and soon a pair of Excite X12 loudspeakers ($1200/pair) were headed my way.

Dynaudio designs
The X12 is the entry-level speaker of Dynaudio's Excite series, which includes three other models ranging up to $3600/pair. The rear-ported, two-way X12 sports a 5.7" cone made of a proprietary magnesium-silicate–loaded polymer (MSP), with a voice-coil and die-cast basket both made of aluminum. The cone's material is designed to offer an optimum combination of stiffness, inner damping, and low mass. This drive-unit also features a longer voice-coil excursion than previous Dynaudio designs, to allow higher dynamics at high volume. The 1" silk-dome tweeter is made with a proprietary doping compound that benefits from a new precision coating process intended to achieve a more natural high-frequency response. The X12 also includes an impedance-correction circuit that is claimed to make the impedance completely linear above 100Hz. This presents the amplifier with very small inductive and capacitive loads; the X12 should be easy to drive for a wide range of amplifiers.

The X12 is available in real-wood veneers of Maple, Cherry, Rosewood, or Black Ash; high-gloss white or black are available for another $75/pair. My Cherry sample looked quite elegant and unassuming. I set the X12s on my Celestion Si stands, and though I felt the speakers' timbre was the same with or without their grilles in place, their resolution of detail and retrieval of ambience were dramatically better with the grilles off. Off they stayed.

Even as I began setting up the Excite X12s, I had some reservations. In the past five years I've reviewed many speakers at or near the X12's price, most of them bookshelf models. All have been excellent in different ways, and I was concerned that this review would be yet another repetition of "amazing bass and dynamic slam for an affordable bookshelf with no meaningful colorations." These days we're blessed with an embarrassment of riches, as creative manufacturers churn out more and more compact, affordable loudspeakers that can reproduce music with surprising realism. I hoped there'd be something special about the Dynaudio Excite X12 that would set it apart from all the other affordable bookshelf models I've heard recently.

That something special arrived during my very first listening session. The layers of detail revealed by the X12's rich, glorious, silky midrange made me want to listen to female singers. There was a quality in the lower end of the alto range that made particularly luscious Cassandra Wilson's rendering of Robbie Robertson's "The Weight," on Belly of the Sun (CD, Blue Note 35072). Further up the frequency range, there was a rightness to Madeline Peyroux's voice on Careless Love (CD, Rounder 11661-3192-2) that made her the perfect foil for Larry Golding's upper-register colorings on Hammond organ. I speak here of rightness of harmonic structure. From the mid-midrange to the lower highs, the X12 had such a "rightness" of timbral reproduction that I could almost see the drawbar settings on Golding's instrument.


Footnote 1: Dynaudio also supplies the speakers for the new Bugatti Veyron. Now there's a system I'd like to review (hint).

Woodwinds, too, shone with perfect purity and verisimilitude. As I listened to accordionist Richard Galliano perform "Aurore," from his Love Day (CD, Milan M2-36398), the Dynaudio reproduced that most underrated of polyphonic woodwind instruments with breathy, linear, low-level dynamics and flawless timbre. This speaker also loved piano recordings—Marilyn Crispell's rich but minimalist mid-register textures on her introspective Amaryllis (CD, ECM 1742) reminded me of a concert of hers I attended about the time this disc was recorded, in 2000.

The Excite X12's reproduction of the lower high frequencies let electric guitars shine, perfectly capturing Bill Frisell's distinctive solo tone, electronically slightly altered, on "Mandeville," from the Paul Motian Band's Psalm (CD, ECM 1222). Similarly, the metallic bite and rich warmth of Liam Sillery's trumpet on every track of his Minor Changes (CD, Oa2 Records 22020) inspired me to note: "Here there is a coherent realism, delicacy, and force."

But the most impressive strength of the X12 was how the combination of its extended, airy upper register and perfectly natural but lightning-sharp transients made the most difficult instruments sound startlingly lifelike. I'm thinking of Keith Jarrett's clavichord improvisations Nos. 2, 4, and 8, from Vol.2 of his Book of Ways: The Feeling of Strings (CD, ECM 1344/45), as well as the captivating solo marimba in Joseph Schwantner's Velocities, as performed by Evelyn Glennie (CD, RCA Victor Red Seal 68692-2).

At the opposite end of the frequency spectrum, the Dynaudio dared to dazzle. Tiny speakers—even ported ones—aren't expected to produce dramatically realistic bass in my large listening room. But with all the rock-'em, sock-'em Blu-ray discs I threw at the X12s (my home theater is integrated into my two-channel reference system), I kept looking around the room for the subwoofer that wasn't there. It didn't sound like that fake upper-bass bump that makes you think it's deeper than it is. Nor did it sound like that farty, discontinuous, "port-like" chuffing bass. No, it sounded like real bass even with the Schwantner disc, when Glennie plays the bass drum during the high-level intro to New World in the Morning. And on Crispell's Amaryllis, Gary Peacock's double bass was prominent, lifelike, woody, and linear throughout the instrument's range.

I was also taken enough with the X12's rhythmic coherence to mine my collection of classic rock recordings for challenging interactions of bass guitar and drums. During the head of "Out Bloody Rageous," from Soft Machine's Third (CD, Columbia CGK 30339), bassist Hugh Hopper and drummer Robert Wyatt churn through an uptempo shuffle that had me shaking my thighs. I was shocked at the transparent, master-tape–like quality of "Come Together," from the Beatles' recently remastered Abbey Road (CD, Apple 382468 2). Ringo's dramatic textural colors, spanning his entire kit, locked in perfectly with McCartney's melodic underpinning on bass, the latter seeming to have been cranked up a bit from the original mix.

And don't for a minute think puny bookshelf speakers can't do dramatic orchestral music. You can't get much more dramatic than Louis Andriessen's De Tijd, with Reinbert De Leeuw conducting the Netherlands Chamber Choir,†the Schoenberg Ensemble,†and The Hague Percussion Group (CD, Nonesuch 79291-2). The Dynaudio perfectly reproduced the wide, deep soundstage with a tremendous sense of hall sound, air, and orchestral ease—and with those shocking, sudden entrances of all sorts of high-level percussive "shatters," I felt more of a sense of an orchestra in the room than I have when I've listened to this recording through several floorstanding speakers.

I compared the Dynaudio Excite X12 ($1200) with the Amphion Helium2 ($1200), the Monitor Audio RS6 Silver ($1200), and the Epos M16i ($1995). (All prices per pair.)

The Amphion Helium2's midrange was very close to the Excite X12's, if a touch less silky. The highs were a little less detailed, delicate, and airy, but low-level dynamics were equally lifelike and linear. The bass was almost as clean as the Dynaudio's, but the X12 had much better high-level dynamics, despite the fact that the Amphion has the slightly larger cabinet.

The floorstanding Monitor Audio RS6 Silver's midrange was nearly identical to the Dynaudio X12's in timbre and detail, and its highs were more extended but not as delicate. However, the RS6 Silver's bass extension and high-level dynamic slam were far superior to the X12's.

The Epos M16i, another floorstander, had a gorgeous, silky midrange and the most detail and ambience retrieval of all four speakers. Its highs were as extended as the Dynaudio's, but the X12 sounded a bit silkier. The Epos's bass extension and high-level dynamics were also a little more deep and "bloomy" than the Dynaudio's.

Wrapping up
I frequently receive e-mails from readers who ask me to weigh the tradeoffs of the various speakers I've reviewed. With the Dynaudio Excite X12, there are no tradeoffs. It sets a high standard of excellence in every meaningful sonic parameter, whether in absolute terms or with respect to its price and size. Having heard so many excellent speakers in recent years, I thought it would be hard to find an affordable bookshelf model that would stand out from the pack. I was wrong. The Dynaudio Excite X12 has become my new benchmark for loudspeakers costing under $2000/pair.


Sidebar 1: Specifications

Description: Two-way, reflex-loaded, stand-mounted loudspeaker. Drive-units: 1" (26mm) silk-dome tweeter, 5.7" (145mm) magnesium-silicate polymer-cone woofer. Crossover frequency: 2kHz. Frequency response: 50Hz–23kHz, ±3dB. Nominal impedance: 4 ohms. Sensitivity: 86dB/2.83V/m. Power handling: 150W.
Dimensions: 11.2" (285mm) H by 6.7" (170mm) W by 10" (255mm) D. Weight: 14.3 lbs (6.5kg).

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