In the past I have not been a big fan of Dynaudio loudspeakers, not that I doubt their quality, but somehow my rooms and the speakers never were a good match. But times change even at Dynaudio and as soon as I heard a demo of the Excite X18 on T+A electronics I asked for a pair to review, because with this model Dynaudio seems to have found a new sound signature.
Not all has changed in Denmark, a lot of the original Dynaudio DNA is onboard. Number one is quality, this shows in the white finish and grey fronts of the review pair. Other finishes are satin black, walnut and rosewood, all with black grilles that are magnetically held in place. Small details that make a difference include the bevelled edges on the rectangular enclosure, metal parts on the drivers are grey, nicely matching the satin white, and the tweeter is recessed in the baffle, the woofer is not, but that might be to do with phase correction. It’s not something you see very often in this price range anymore. On the back is a large reflex port above a single pair of terminals, single because Dynaudio does not believe that bi-wiring is a good idea. These speakers are not large at just over a foot high but they weigh a promising 7.5kg each. Foam plugs are supplied for the reflex port to alter the roll-off of the bass, making the Excite X18 an almost closed system, which could come in very handy for rooms where bass energy causes problems.
The Dynaudio Esotec+ woofer cone is formed from a single piece of MSP (magnesium silicate polymer), and the voice coil is wound from aluminium wire on an oversized kapton former and sits in a strong magnetic field. All this is typical Dynaudio DNA. The Esotec+ tweeter uses a coated soft dome with a diameter of 27mm. That is all Dynaudio tells you in the documents, even the crossover frequency is kept a secret. But they do reveal the nominal impedance is 4 Ohm and sensitivity 86dB, so on paper we need an amplifier that can deliver plenty of current, however Dynaudio made sure that the Excite is amplifier friendly. Keeping in mind that during the demo a T+A PA 2500R amplifier (140 Watts per channgel) was in use to convince the audience of the qualities of the speaker, I was happy to set a 60 Watt (into four Ohms) Pass Labs XA30.5 to work. This power amp has a direct connection to a NAD M51 DAC/preamp with Van den Hul D-102 Mk III Hybrid cables. My digital source is a Bluesound Node 2 to stream WAV, FLAC and ALAC files from a NAD M52 Vault. Ethernet and digital cables are made by AudioQuest, power cords are Supra and the loudspeaker cables are from Simply Audio. Speaker stands are 61cm high Custom Design FS104. After many years of using heavy, sand filled stands I must admit that often a light open stand makes a loudspeaker more dynamic and honest in performance. True, such a stand could lead to a hard top end, but such is not the case with this well balanced Dynaudio.
Sitting front row I look at two speakers about two metres apart. Between the back wall and the back of the Excite is an 80cm gap and the speakers are about 50cm from the side walls. A slight toe-in gives the best stereo image, side wall reflections and neutrality. I have to admit that the foam plugs were in my hand to stuff the reflex ports and reduce bass output, but they weren’t needed. The Excite X18 tuning might surprise or disappoint long time Dynaudio users, but I was never happier. The X18 does go low on the frequency scale with the help of the port, but the bass is not overdone and that is probably why I liked them during the demo and in my own room. No bass problems anyway playing the ‘Bach Concertos’, performed by Janine Jansen and some of her best friends. Sound splashes from the cones in a passionate, vivacious play, I am surrounded with cellos and a tinkling harpsichord in an oasis of baroque music, projected sharp and defined into the listening room with a loose stereo image stretching from wall to wall but lacking in height and depth. I soon found that height fully depends on the recording, the Excite only delivers what’s on the recording and does not add height where it did not exist. The stereo image seems very natural with this music. There is not much to say about the sound itself, consider this a compliment to its naturalness. Dynaudio DNA stands for neutrality, purity and low distortion. It is easy to follow the musicians and I never catch a false note or for instance a sharp edge in the high frequencies, too much bass or a coloured midrange. The lively and dynamic sound constantly attracts my attention and I find great pleasure in listening with my eyes peacefully closed. True, the amp and DAC are expensive in relation to the speaker, but I love the way they work together.
I have to restrain myself from playing more baroque and switch over to Melody Gardot’s second album My One And Only Thrill, from which ‘Who Will Comfort Me’ sounds impressive and natural. In the beginning it’s the drums that deliver, but later the brass section gives more pleasure. Turning up the volume the stereo image gets deeper and gains in height. The Excite X18 seems to love input power, but I never play too loud for the sake of the neighbours. Lively and fast are key words and when Melody laughs at the end of the song, I start laughing too. A more emotional song like ‘The Rain’ emphasizes the voice and although the X18 might not be the best in class, the results are fine overall. Gardot is impressive, she stands in front of the band with a grand piano behind her in all its glory. Imaging this good makes me wonder what ‘Over The Rainbow’ by Jane Monheit would offer, since a lot of loudspeakers and electronics struggle to put Jane in front of the piano. A bad system will put her in the piano, a better one against the piano, an improvement would have her in front of the piano and only the best systems put her two metres away from the instrument. The scale for the X18 is a few steps in front off the piano. Not bad at all, it shows that these loudspeakers can project an accurate stereo image. Another important aspect for loudspeakers is rhythm and I like to use the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s ‘Take Five’ to test this quality. The sound is pure but on the small side at the beginning. When piano plays starts things get better but I have to wait for the drum solo to really love the way the X18 behaves. Tight, dynamic and with a great sound, within the natural limitations of a monitor loudspeaker this is an impressive result. My closed box monitors cannot put the drums on display like this.
A real oldie is ‘Private Dancer’ sung by Tina Turner, it’s still impressive or maybe impressive because it is old. The recording was made when CD had gotten into the stores for the first time and it proves that even in those days (or “actually” in those days) recordings could be good, but CD players had a long way to go (and there we were blaming the studios… Ed). 30 Years later Tina still complains about her job as a stripper, in a way that always gives me goose bumps, and Mark Knopfler’s guitar underlines both the tragedy of existence and the power within the dancer to keep on going. All that information is coming from loudspeakers with a retail price under £1,200 a pair, how about that? To conclude I put on some strange music from Laurie Anderson, performing ‘My Right Eye’. This song shows what the Excite X18 is capable of in the low end, Laurie is surrounded by mystical noises appearing from nowhere, adding support to her voice, sometimes swelling in volume when background singers join her. Making her song a beautiful ending to the listening sessions I had with this speaker, a period where the Excite X18 showed more and more of the qualities I heard in the short demo at a show. Never doubt Dynaudio build quality and be assured that if you want to upgrade to a more expensive model in the future, the Excite X18 will rate high on second hand market. Cabinet finish is 100% in order, the looks may be conservative, but isn’t that preferable to high gloss polished rings surrounding the units? In my opinion Dynaudio has changed the usual tuning to a new concept in the Excite X18. This may come as a shock to long time Dynaudio users, for the new standard has more emphasis on the midrange and less on the amount of bass energy, but the higher notes are still detailed and never harsh. This should mean a Dynaudio might fit better into modern interiors, often with hard walls, transparent curtains, leather furniture and tiled floors, all fitted into rectangular rooms. Less bass is needed since it can no longer be absorbed by thick carpets and velvet curtains. Dynaudio has delivered a modern loudspeakers , ready for the future, with high build quality and as always a beautiful sound signature. For me the Excite X18 is a true winner.