Review: XtremeMac Tango X2 2.1 Speaker System + AM/FM Radio
Pros: A smaller, cosmetically updated version of the 2006 Tango audio system, preserving the prior model’s audio hardware, Infrared remote control, and shape while dropping its price and adding both AM and FM radio tuners. Cool black, silver, and blue LED design is consistent with other XtremeMac products and look of the iPhone, all features work pretty well.
Cons: Radio and iPod audio performance is only a bit above acceptable for the price; system’s appeal is more in its versatility and value for the dollar than its exceptional sound. Bass and treble tweaks are required to make music sound more than fair; bass and treble performance aren’t what we’d expect from a five-driver array.
When XtremeMac introduced the original version of Tango two years ago, we weren’t exactly sure what to make of it: the $200 2.1-channel white and black audio system was undeniably sleek and modern, but its minimalist design seemed like it was designed to blend in at a time when other iPod speakers were standing out. Then Apple released iPod Hi-Fi, at $349 a considerably more expensive but aesthetically very similar speaker, which validated Tango’s design choices and made it look like a bargain. When it shipped months later, Tango’s only major flaw was a wonky down-firing subwoofer, which rendered its audio unpleasant, despite all of the system’s other positive design traits.
Now XtremeMac has released Tango X2 ($150), a cosmetically and functionally enhanced sequel that—unlike late 2007’s even lower-priced Tango Studio—fully replaces its predecessor. With the exception of its casing, if there was a feature you liked in Tango, such as its pairing of two tweeters and two full-range front-firing drivers with a dedicated subwoofer driver, or its top-mounted iPod dock, its straightforward remote control with bass and treble controls, or its simple design, Tango X2 still has it. Plus, XtremeMac has added both FM and AM radio tuners, a front-mounted volume control dial, and preset buttons to the package.
Cosmetically, Tango X2 has undergone a substantial, iPhone-inspired makeover. Though the enclosure still resembles an upside-down U, XtremeMac has streamlined the old white shell by removing its legs and placing its bottom surface directly on your table or desk. An Apple-like rubber pad provides stabilization and keeps the bottom plastic from scuffing. Tango X2 is also smaller than its predecessor, measuring roughly 11.5” by 7.5” by 4” versus the roughly 14.4” by 10” by 5” of Tango. Finally, the color has shifted entirely away from the while plastic of old full-sized iPods to an almost entirely black cabinet with chrome-like silver piping. But for the fact that it’s not an iPhone-shielded speaker, we’d call it a perfect match for the iPhone; it looks very good with iPods, as well.
We were also enthusiastic about XtremeMac’s use of a peek-through blue LED tuner, which can be seen above the volume dial for brief periods when you change the input source, tune in radio stations, or adjust bass or treble levels. The blue look works for Tango X2 at least as well as it did in the earlier Tango Studio and the separate XtremeMac InCharge FM transmitter—it’s a subtle but great addition to the system’s design, which is impressively visually consistent with other recent XtremeMac products.
As with the original Tango and Tango Studio, however, our praise for XtremeMac’s feature list and design work is tempered by the unit’s real-world performance as an audio system. On a positive note, both of the company’s radio tuners and the speaker array work generally as promised. We didn’t have any issue tuning in FM or AM stations, using the preset buttons for either one, or listening to music through the integrated iPod dock or auxiliary audio input on the system’s rear. Though XtremeMac doesn’t include Dock Adapters of any sort—unfortunate, as Apple still doesn’t sell black ones, leaving you to insert color-mismatched white ones or use none at all—they’re not strictly needed for iPods, and the system sounds the same with or without them. Power is supplied solely by an included wall adapter, and both of the radio antennas are external rather than internal.
We’d call the default sound a little better than okay, rather than affirmatively good or great. The radios tune in stations with ease, but there’s a fairly audible base level of noise in the AM stations and static in FM stations that couldn’t be eliminated in our test environment. When an iPod’s in the dock, and the system’s on its default settings, audio sounds flat and lifeless by $150 audio system standards, seriously lacking for bass, treble, or mid-treble, and seriously in need of some sort of dynamic equalization processor that doesn’t appear to have been included.
Tango X2’s remote control provides some relief. While not as cosmetically attractive as the original Tango’s, it provides all of the same functionality in the same straightforward layout, missing only the “R” button that used to reset the bass and treble levels to their factory defaults. Here, you’ll find that use of those bass and treble buttons is virtually mandatory, bringing the bass level up to around 3 of 5 to actually create low-end presence, and treble up to around 4 to restore some of the system’s missing highs. With these tweaks in place, X2 sounds good, but not very good or great; music still has a somewhat shallow, empty quality that leaves you wanting more. Turning the bass up further introduces unpleasant distortion, and additional treble doesn’t add much, either. Tango X2 isn’t as bad in the bass department as was the original Tango, but it’s still not quite where it needs to be.
Ultimately, Tango X2’s appeal—and its general-level recommendation—come from the fact that for the $150 asking price, it looks sharp and does a number of things just well enough to be worthwhile for certain types of users, namely non-critical listeners looking for a combination of radio, iPod docking, and nice visual style. That said, extra audio tuning and some greater form of dynamic equalization adjustment could have really put the system’s speaker drivers to better use, while cleaner FM and AM tuning would have improved the radio performance, as well. This is a fine all-in-one speaker for budget-conscious users, but like many other offerings at this price point, it will likely leave people anxious for something bigger and better.