Dynaudio Excite Surround System (X38, X14, and X24) Review Highlights
The new Dynaudio Excite speaker lineup is a comprehensive update to the original Excite family introduced in 2008. Not just a minor update, Dynaudio has improved upon just about every aspect of performance. Combined with excellent build quality, the new Excite line offers a very neutral, yet musical sound that will leave you itching to hear your favorite music and movie soundtracks all over again.
Dynaudio Excite Surround System (X38, X14, and X24) Highlights Summary
Introduction to the Dynaudio Excite Surround System Review
A few years ago I had the pleasure of reviewing the Danish-designed Dynaudio Excite X16 bookshelf loudspeaker. I found it to be an incredibly versatile and beautifully neutral design, and I recall many fond evenings listening to that speaker making beautiful music. Dynaudio has now updated the entire Excite line and I have almost the entire model range on hand: the X14 bookshelf, the X24 center-channel, and the top-of-the-line X38 tower. Was the update to the model line simply marketing gimmick or has Dynaudio managed to improve upon an already excellent series of loudspeakers?
Dynaudio Excite X38 (Mains)
Dynaudio Excite X14 (Surrounds)
Dynaudio Excite X24 (Center Channel)
Design of the Dynaudio Excite Surround System
The entire Excite line is pretty conventional in regards to acoustic suspension speakers. Each of the speakers follows a fairly traditional “rectangular box” approach, with cabinets of extensively-braced 18mm thick MDF. Updates from the original Excite line start with the cabinet, beginning with the removal of the composite grey front baffle, which has now been replaced with MDF. The front baffle is fully veneered on wood-finished versions. The speaker grille holes have been replaced with sub-surface concealed magnets, which allow for a perfectly seamless front baffle. Torx screws that match the color of the driver baskets have also been used in an effort to keep the overall look as clean as possible.
The cabinets are available in walnut or rosewood real-wood veneers as well as black or white satin-painted finishes. My samples were of the walnut wood, and I found them to be very nice indeed. The veneer quality was excellent, with the seams being about as invisible as possible. I’d also like to commend Dynaudio on using a satin finish, even with the wood models. This helps prevent distracting reflections in a darkened media room and also lends a touch of elegance to the overall design.
I’ve seen the black and white satin versions of these speakers, and I think I like them even more than the traditional wood finishes. They exude an air of sophistication that would mate well with many different types of room décor. Regardless of finish, the overall look of each speaker certainly justifies their price point.
Dynaudio has also added die-cast aluminum outrigger feet with built-in damping rings to the floor-standing models. Not only do these feet improve stability of the tower speakers, they also house built-in spikes that allow for easy leveling or rake adjustment on carpeted surfaces. If you have wood floors, just retract the spikes into the feet and the rubber damping rings will keep your floors scratch free.
While the cabinet construction is first-rate, most of the cost of these speakers is generated through the drivers and internal components. Dynaudio has made a lot of changes to the new Excite line. The soft-dome tweeter is now using a further evolution of Dynaudio’s “Precision Coating.” While we aren’t allowed to know exactly what has changed, Dynaudio cites a more consistent application of the coating to the silk dome as one of the key benefits. This improves dispersion and detail in the upper ranges.
Building upon developments made in other Dynaudio product lines, the mid-range, mid/woofer, and woofer drivers all benefit from improvements in the spider suspension and voice-coil. This leads to more accurate movement of the driver cones in relation to the source signal as well as improved headroom. Dynaudio has also gone to great lengths to tweak the sound radiation pattern on the new Excite line. The speakers now radiate slightly upwards towards a listener’s ear, which minimizes floor reflections, particularly for the floor-standing models. This in turn leads to better imaging, a more open sound, and increased dimensionality.
Another key goal for the engineering team was to make the new Excite line more compatible with a wider variety of amplifiers. While the first generation Excite models were all 4-ohm designs, the new line are all true 8-ohm models with the exception of the X38. This was done by changing the crossover components to ensure that the speakers would require less current from a partnering amplifier. As most budget amps (i.e. those found in A/V receivers) are typically current limited, keeping resistance around the 8-ohm load ensures that these amplifiers will not be overdriven.
The trade-off of raising resistance is a drop in speaker sensitivity and efficiency but this can be overcome by raising the volume level on your receiver/pre-amp a few notches. This only requires more voltage – which most low-powered amps are more than capable of delivering. At $4,500 per pair, the X38 was kept as a 4-ohm design since most customers purchasing speakers at this price point will typically have an amplifier capable of delivering more current. All of the speakers sport a single pair of binding posts as “Dynaudio views single wiring as a more straightforward design in many ways, and there is a lot of misunderstanding about bi-wiring or bi-amping. Especially considering the value proposition. But as Dynaudio designs, develops and builds its own drivers to such a high level of system optimization, bi-wiring or bi-amping do not offer any significant improvements and there is much less correction needed in the crossover domain as well.” As someone who has experimented with bi-wiring and bi-amping in the past (with varying results), I can’t argue with this statement.
Setup of the Dynaudio Excite Surround System
I started my setup of the Excite package with the main left/right speakers. My room and seating location can lead to some fairly big peaks in bass output if I don’t place the mains correctly. The X38s weren’t overly sensitive to small changes in placement, but certainly benefit from proper setup. A microphone/software package like XTZ Room Analyzer II Pro or REW can help out immensely in this regard. I wound up getting the most balanced overall output from X38s by keeping the rear baffle about 3 feet from the front wall of my media room, with about 4 feet from the front baffle to the side walls.
The two towers wound up about 7 feet apart from each other and roughly 11 feet from my listening position. Toe-in made a noticeable difference in the presentation of higher level detail as well as imaging capability. I wound up with the X38s aimed almost directly at my primary listening position. The built-in spikes anchored the X38s to my carpeted floor and I raised the front spikes just a bit to add a few degrees of rearward rake to the speakers. This seemed to improve the coherence of the treble and midrange slightly.
The height of the X38s was perfect for me, with the tweeters sitting just below ear-level and allowing me to take full advantage of the Excite line’s new “upward radiating” dispersion. While the speaker grilles didn’t make a profound effect upon the overall sound, I did feel that there was slightly more detail without them, so I left them off for the entire review period.
If you take a look at the real-time-analysis (RTA) graph of the right front X38, you can see that I was able to achieve a +/- 3db in-room response across most of the audio band, with only a small suck out between 160 and 250 Hz (room induced) and two nodes centered around 50 and 100Hz. These are typical of my room and seating position. The only other wrinkle is with a bit of roll-off in the treble from 8 kHz on up. Moving the speakers around didn’t seem to improve this much, but in actual listening I never noticed a lack of detail or air in the treble.
However, take a look at the response from about 300Hz through 8 kHz. This is exceptionally smooth, especially considering that this is a real-time response (not anechoic measurement) at my primary listening spot. This range encompasses the key range where the majority of sound lies and set my expectations for the X38s very high indeed.
The X38s (and X14s and the X24) come with a foam plug that can be inserted into the bass port for attenuating the bass response generated by near-wall placement or to account for room-induced issues. As you can see in the XTZ generated frequency response chart of the left X38 below (the yellow line denotes the response with the port “plugged”): the plug really does work. However, I found that the overall reduction in bass was not worth the taming of my two room-induced bass peaks. Bass response is strong until about 35Hz where it starts to roll off, but it is only down about 6dB at 25Hz. Considering the smaller drivers, I was pleasantly surprised to see this kind of bass response.
The X24 center-channel was mounted to the included metal stand which allows for the speaker to be tilted up or down by about 30 degrees. I would have liked to see a stand that allowed for more than one set degree of tilt though. In my scenario, the amount of upwards tilt was about 10 degrees too high, so the speaker was aimed slightly over my head at the primary listening position.
Removing the stand and using some self-stick rubber feet got the angle just right. The X14s were setup as side surrounds and mounted on Dynaudio Stand4 speaker stands filled with sand. This setup put the speakers’ tweeters slightly below ear level. Associated equipment was my Marantz AV8801 pre/pre, Wyred 4 Sound 7-channel amp (3 x 550w @ 8ohm for the fronts and center, 4 x 250w @ 8ohm for the surrounds), and Oppo BDP-83SE NuForce Edition Blu-ray player. My Hsu VTF-3 MkII handled bass duty.
Cabling was a mix of Kimber and BlueJeansCable.com. I ran a full Audyssey Pro setup routine on the AV8801 to get the speaker levels, distances, and crossovers set but unless specified all equalization was turned off for the entire review process. My speakers were delivered fully broken-in and ready to go, though Dynaudio recommends at least 150 hours of use before the speakers sound their best.
The Dynaudio Excite Surround System In Use
The Excite System for Music
“Little Wing” from Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble’s “The Sky is Crying” (SACD: Mobile Fidelity B0041IU1GA) is one of my favorite SRV tracks, and played through the X38s it was a total pleasure for me. The tone of Stevie’s Strat was perfect (I’ve got a similar Strat myself), with that perfect combination of sweetness in the midrange and twang on the high end. That “twang” wasn’t a painful twang either, as it never veered towards that “tinny” or harsh sound that I have often heard on lesser speakers. As many times as I’ve heard this track what intrigued me the most was how easily I was able to hear the details of SRV’s soft tapping (about 4:40 into the song). I could clearly hear exactly how he played each note, something I have not been able to distinguish on many other speakers. The bass was very clean and surprisingly deep, with no bloat or overhang. While my Wyred 4 Sound amp provides excellent bass control, the X38s still impressed me with how fast and tight they reproduced a kick drum.
Recalling the excellent midrange on the Excite X16s I reviewed years ago, I anxiously moved onto some female vocals. Melody Gardot’s “My Heart Is As Black As Ice” from “My One and Only Thrill” (CD: Verve B001NESPHC) sounded simply beautiful through the X38s. The speakers produced what I would call an exceptionally clean sound, neutral and totally transparent to the source. The midrange and treble purity of the X38s did an excellent job of showing just how talented of a singer Ms. Gardot is. Her voice seemed to float in the space right between the two towers while the instrumentation was spread out across the soundstage. The midrange was just so perfect, I found myself listening to the rest of the CD. The overall sound was simply seductive and some of the best I’ve ever heard in my room.
Next I loaded up my favorite classical CD, Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances” (CD: Reference Recordings, RR96CD) and put on the first track. The X38s did a fantastic job showing off the impressive dynamic range of this disc. The kettle drums packed an intense punch yet I could still hear the reverberation of the drum skins. The drums didn’t hit as deeply as the Polk LSiM 707s I had a few months back, but sounded tighter and more controlled to my ears. Considering the relatively small size of the X38s, I was very impressed. Once again the incredible midrange and treble shined. Massed strings sounded excellent and each note seemed to hang in space for just the right amount of time, replicating the natural reverb of the concert hall. On many lesser speakers these notes seem to be cut short, and don’t expand out into your listening space. Woodwinds had perhaps just a touch of additional warmth to them, but it was a deviation from pure neutrality that I personally prefer. Chimes and bells tinkled brilliantly, but remained smooth and seemed to ring from a few feet above the speakers.
With a good sense of the capabilities of the X38 towers, I moved onto multi-channel with the SACD of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” (SACD: B006GHCA3G). This is a very active 5-channel mix, with distinct sounds hitting your ears from all of the speakers – no mere “ambiance effects” for the surrounds here. What struck me first was the excellent blend between the X38s, X24, and X14s as the sound moved from speaker to speaker. Considering their much larger size and bigger drivers, I thought that the X38s would stick out like a sore thumb, but that did not prove to be the case. The X24 and X14 kept up admirably, with only the X24 occasionally sounding a touch (and I mean a touch) “thinner” in body compared to the X38s and X14s. The acoustic guitar intro on the title track “Wish You Were Here” sounded so perfectly crisp and clear. The midrange and treble showed excellent retrieval of detail without fatiguing my ears in the least. In the past, I had thought this disc was actually in bit bright sounding on certain setups, but not with the new Excites.
Moving on to Nine Inch Nails “Downward Spiral” on DVD-Audio (DVD-A: Nothing B0006FFRW0) the Excites continued to impress. “Piggy” sounded spectacular. Again, the overall clarity was impressive, allowing Trent Reznor’s voice to shine. I don’t think I ever noticed how he subtly varied the impact of his voice during this song, with the Excites clearly reproducing the softer attack on some of his phrases versus the more pronounced bite to others. The filtered bass was fantastic, reproduced with plenty of slam yet remaining crisp and clean. Again, bass didn’t reach down as low as some larger-coned speakers I’ve heard, but it was certainly adequate. I’d still pair a good, tight subwoofer with this system. Some of the harsher tracks on this disc like “March of the Pigs” maintained their slightly brittle edge but the Excites dulled that ever-so-slightly, keeping me from having to drop the volume level. This disc was a prime example of just how transparent these speakers were to the source: well recorded music sounded perfect while tracks recorded poorly or with too much emphasis in any one region were easy to spot. While neutrality and transparency like this can be a double-edged sword, I’ll take it any day of the week. As far as sheer power, I didn’t hear any negative traits emerge until truly excessive volume levels that were well beyond my comfort level. Considering how much power my amplifier has (over 1000 watts for the X38s), this was very impressive.
I’d also like to briefly mention that the Excite X14s are incredibly strong performers on their own right. I spent a few nights listening to them as the mains in my 2-channel den system and came away thoroughly impressed. While they lacked the bass response of the much larger X38s, everything else they did was beyond reproach. In fact, I think they may have been even more cohesive than the X38s, as 2-way bookshelves typically are. Even the bass response was deeper than I expected for such a small cabinet. While not able to reach as deep as my (much larger) Paradigm Studio 20 V3s that are usually in the room, the difference in midrange/treble accuracy and retrieval of detail was clearly superior. Imaging and sound staging were audibly better as well. With a fast, tight subwoofer the X14s would make for an excellent system on their own in either a 2-channel or multi-channel setup. In fact, these are probably the best bookshelf speakers I have heard for less than $2,000 per pair.
The Excite System for Movies-
Having already proven with music that the Excite system was one heck of a performer, I figured some uncompressed Blu-ray soundtracks would be a piece of cake for these speakers. Well, the lovely Dynaudios did not let me down. I finally got around to watching my copy of “Pacific Rim.” As expected, the battle scenes between the robot “Jaegers” and monster “Kaijus” were just awesome. Dynamics were huge, with each explosion and impact ringing through my room. Smaller sounds were reproduced to great effect, like the cockpit sound effects of the Jaeger pilots controlling their giant machines. The X24 carried dialogue very well, and never called undue attention to itself. The very slight difference in weight I occasionally heard with surround music never materialized with movie sources.
Looking to see what all the recent fuss was about, I borrowed a friend’s copy of Frozen. After watching this film I’m scratching my head on this one. The story wasn’t all that entertaining (Tangled was far better in my opinion), and the songs sounded incredibly generic and “poppy” to me. I guess that’s what the kids like nowadays. What struck me the most was how flat and dull the uncompressed soundtrack was. Dynamic range seemed to be very limited and the sound just wasn’t up to typically excellent Disney standards – I’d say it just sounded flat and compressed. Once again, the neutrality of good speakers like the Excites will enable you to hear the bad as well as the good.
It seems that I always manage to grab yet another Metallica disc when I have speakers in for review. Metallica’s latest project “Through the Never” is their first attempt at a feature film. While I didn’t really get the point of the plotline, it sure sounded great. I’ve been impressed with the increasing production values of each of Metallica’s live discs. This is their best DTS 5.1 Master Audio track yet. “Ride the Lightning” sounded amazing. The balance between Kirk’s and James’ guitars was perfect, with their combo play really showing just how great of a duo these two are. The production team left James Hetfield’s voice alone for the most part (much less post-production pitch correction than usual) and the mix was far better for it. Lar’s drum kit sounded deep yet nuanced. While he takes a lot of flack, he’s still one heck of a drummer. When they drop the electric chair and Tesla coils and start zapping everything, the electricity effects buzzing through all of speakers had me ducking. As icing on the cake, they actually performed “And Justice for All . . .” during this show as well – something they don’t do all that often. Overall, this is one of the best live show discs I’ve seen.
As great as the Excite system was for more powerful soundtracks, I think it was even better at producing more subtle, nuanced scores. The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson’s most recent (and incredibly entertaining) film fit that description to a tee. Vocals were front and center on this soundtrack, with Ralph Fiennes’ voice taking center stage. I was able to hear just how perfect his speech is, with absolutely perfect pronunciation and diction. If only my English were so precise. Again, the X24 seemed to allay my earlier criticism surrounding overall weight and blended perfectly with the mains and surrounds. I was most amazed at the scene within the church where they take solace from the hired-gun played by Willem Dafoe. The incredible sense of ambiance and space was amazing and made me recall many a Sunday morning sitting through mass. This was a perfect example of using the whole surround field to envelop a listener in space and might have been my favorite sonic moment during my whole review period with the Excites.
Conclusions about the Dynaudio Excite Surround System
While it had been some time since I had the first generation Excite X16s in my home, I truly believe that Dynaudio has stepped up their game with the new line. The original Excites were great speakers but the revised models are audibly superior in terms of neutrality, resolution of detail, imaging, soundstaging, and dynamics. They are even more transparent to the source and reproduce music with a greater sense of realism and life without crossing over to that harsh or “clinical” sound that makes lesser quality recordings fatiguing. The Excite X38s, X14s, and X24 made for an absolutely fantastic system and were blessed with the ability to portray all types of music and film soundtracks brilliantly. The Dynaudio Excites have the chops to handle increasing levels of source equipment and will reward component upgrades with even better sound. While certainly not inexpensive, this is a system that will be able to handle anything you throw at it for many years to come. More importantly, the Excite system emotionally stirred me. These are speakers that I wouldn’t mind living with for a very long time. Very highly recommended.