Remember the Dynaudio X14 speakers? Let us jog your memory: small, smartly dressed bookshelf speakers with a rock-solid, snappy and agile sound.
They debuted as part of the Danish company’s revamped five-strong Excite speaker range in 2013, and we liked them.
The X14a speakers are active versions of those four-star bookshelvers – hence the ‘a’ in the model name – and if the X14’s sonic talents and Dynaudio’s past success with amplified speakers (just look at its powered wireless Xeo 4s) are anything to go by, these should be good.
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Two 50-watt amplifiers have been crammed into each compact box, one driving the soft dome tweeter and the other the company’s favoured magnesium silicate polymer mid/bass driver.
As active speakers take care of the amplification stage, they only need pairing with a source with a volume control – an integrated CD player, an Apple iPod, a TV – or a pre-amp/DAC connected to a source. Either one will simply plug into the speakers’ RCA and XLR inputs, so there’s no need for speaker cables either.
Both boxes need plugging into the wall so remember to consider the location of power sockets in your home. Whether the Excites are out in the open or shoved up to a rear wall, three equalisation switches on their back panel can optimise bass, midrange and treble levels according to room placement.
Another switch lets you filter bass frequencies below 60Hz or 80Hz to an external subwoofer, while the final one activates a power-saving standby mode so the speakers only power-up upon sensing a music signal.
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The Excite family wear rosewood and walnut veneers or satin white or satin black finishes, and the X14as are almost dead ringers for their passive X14 relatives.
Aesthetically traditional, the solid compact boxes are silky smooth to the touch. Shifting the £1200 speakers for appearance alone would be a hard sell, but there’s no denying that much of their value is hidden within the cabinet walls.
Small speakers and bags of bass don’t often go hand-in-hand, but the Dynaudios don’t discriminate.
Whether it’s the thumping bassline in Bruce Springsteen’s Magic or the fierce drumbeat in The Cure’s Just Like Heaven, the tight and agile bass notes make their presence known.
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They aren’t particularly big-sounding, yet their soundstage is open and authoritative for their size. Play Hans Zimmer’s Cornfield Chase (from the Interstellar: Original Motion Picture soundtrack) and they bring enough bass weight to the party to carry the track’s emotional heft.
They knuckle down on the imposing galactic-sounding organs, which sound textured and solid, and the poignant ringing sounds that pepper the instrumental chime with a likeable sweetness that bleeds into the midrange.
Invest in the Excites and, like their passive pedigrees, one thing’s guaranteed: vocals will sound lovely. Expressed with confidence and transparency, Harry Nilsson’s vocals in his Everybody’s Talkin’ cover sound as potent and solid as they should, oozing emotion and with every last quiver intact.
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We find they’re just as skilled communicating PJ Harvey’s eclectic delayed-come-distorted vocals and Ella Fitzgerald’s smooth, silvery delivery. All-round refined and polished, they sound as clean as a whistle and wonderfully transparent across the board.
They’re snappy and swift too – fleeting through songs with rhythmic precision and explicit timing – but they exercise control at every turn. End with Macklemore and Lewis’ Thrift Shop and every sound in the quirky composition stops and starts in the right places, tying together in the soundstage like a perfectly formed tie knot.
But the Dynaudios aren’t the last word in attack. They don’t tear along to the track’s upbeat tempo with as much energy and drive as we’d like and there’s more life and soul in the saxophone melody than they let on. This lack of fun factor was a bugbear of the X14s too.
It’s worth experimenting with the equalisation modes during set-up, but in our test room the best tonal balance was achieved with them all set to ‘0’.
The Dynaudio X14a active speakers may lack the outright attack and energy they need to be the finished article, but there’s no doubting they do a lot of things very well.
If you’re looking for clean, precise and transparent active speakers, give these a whirl.
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