French manufacturer Focal’s upcoming XS Book Music System ($400) is the follow-up to its impressive XS computer-ready speaker system from a few years ago. This time around, the company has ditched the subwoofer and iPod dock; what you have instead are two thesaurus-sized silver and black speakers that fit right in place alongside the current Mac lineup. They’re made from plastic and fabric, and match the iMac and Apple’s 27” LED Cinema Display / Thunderbolt Display designs really well. Updated August 11, 2011: We’ve added some additional impressions to our prior coverage below.
After two weeks of testing, we’d describe the XS Book Music System as a step up in power and two steps up in size from Bowers & Wilkins’ MM-1 Computer Speakers—arguably a better value for some users, albeit with compromises. Whereas MM-1 combined 1” tweeters with 3” woofers, Focal pairs 1” tweeters with 4” woofers, using enclosures that have twice the depth of B&W’s and around 60% greater height, as well; there are huge front-facing bass ports below the 4” speakers. As a result, though both systems force their woofers to do double-duty in handling both midrange and bass, XS Book’s larger drivers reach lower for deeper bass notes, and also do better with mids and lows at higher volumes. But Focal made compromises to achieve its lower price: unlike MM-1, XS Book has no remote control, and its body has none of the actual metal found in B&W’s more compact design. As a result, the only way to control XS Book is through the right side speaker, which has a combined volume dial and power button on top, plus a front-facing white power light. You can also hook XS Book up to a standard audio receiver if you choose with the included RCA cable, which like the rest of the unit’s cables is handsomely clad in fabric. Our overall take on this system is positive: it offers very good sonic performance for the asking price, superior to less expensive 2.0-channel desktop speaker systems, and looks enough like Apple’s iMacs and monitors to go nicely together on a desk. But the extra oomph it offers, even in the bass department, will be particularly useful for Mac users who expect to enjoy their music or other audio from several feet away from a desk, where a remote control of some sort would be useful; many users will be just as well served with smaller and less powerful speakers.