Leema Acoustics Xone £2245

1st Dec 2006 | 00:00

Leema Acoustics Xone

This floorstander is the latest speaker in Leema's range

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Compact, cute floorstander has a dry and forward sound with good coherence but some coloration

Like:

<p>Pretty</p><p>Clean and open sound</p><p>Superb imaging</p>

Dislike:

<p>Expensive</p><p>Some speech coloration</p>

Named after its two principals, the respected and experienced ProAudio engineers Lee Taylor and Mallory Nicholls, Leema Acoustics was founded in 1998, with the initial intention of re-inventing the miniature loudspeaker in the form of a tiny metal-encased sub-miniature called the Xen.

Several other Leema speakers have appeared since then, as well as an attractive and unusual range of electronics, but in one key respect this Xone resembles that original Xen. Although it's a floorstander - only the second in the Leema line-up - the enclosure actually has the same footprint as the tiny Xen.

It also uses superficially similar drive units, but in this case there's an extra bass/mid unit immediately below the main one (the Xone is a two-and-a-half way design). This second driver is used to augment the bass end of things, along with the port located on the rear.

Both the little cone drivers have 100mm chassis, which explains why Leema has managed to come up with a floorstander that's just 14.2 centimetres wide. It's a little deeper than its width, though the depth is still very modest at 21cm, and the whole thing stands just 89cm tall (including its plinth), which places the drive unit array just a little below seated ear height.

Few floorstanders look more discreet and few are more prettily dressed, either. Our samples came in a quite deliciously figured pale birds eye maple, though darker rosewood and ebony alternatives are also on the options list.

Sharp edges all round give a very crisp impression, and a small grille is supplied to cover up the drivers, though its wooden frame looks a little thick for optimum acoustic performance so it was not used during the review. In any case, the drivers are properly and neatly flush mounted into the front panel.

Stable performer

Because the footprint is so small, stability is potentially a real issue, so a proper additional plinth is supplied, crafted from black painted MDF. This means the floor coupling spikes are located well outside the enclosure edge. Happily, spike accommodation is secure, with no tendency to strip the threads of the sockets.

Strangely, no lock-nuts were supplied with the 6mm spikes, which is inexplicable and inexcusable. High-quality ingredients are used throughout. The cabinet is damped internally with bitumastic panels, acoustic foam liners and natural wool. Internal wiring uses Nordost Micro-Mono-Filament cables, and the bi-wired crossover has Clarity Cap capacitors and air- and iron-dust-cored inductors.

Soldering is fully RoHS compliant, using lead-free, silver-loaded solder, and twin gold plated terminals are fitted conveniently low down at the back. The Seas-sourced bass and bass/mid drivers have large, magnetically screened magnets and open, unobstructive baskets. A fibreglass composite coil former drives the 80mm diameter cone.

The tweeter is a screened neodymium magnet device from Tymphany (formerly known as Vifa), as used in the rest of the Leema range; its fabric dome diaphragm is quoted as 25mm diameter, but looks more like 28mm on our ruler. By adding an extra bass-only driver and a larger enclosure to the Xen configuration, one would expect the Xone to resemble the Xen closely, while also offering extra bass weight and extension.

There's some truth in such a prediction, for sure, but our measurements show that the situation is actually rather more complex. Despite the undoubted similarity of Xone and Xen in both dimensions and drivers, the two designs show a number of important differences.

For starters, both speakers have quite similar port tuning frequencies - 53Hz for the Xen and 46Hz for the Xone - so any increase in the latter's bass extension won't be all that great. Where the Xone really scores, however, is in a significantly greater sensitivity, especially through the bass region.

That's partly achieved by drawing extra amplifier current through the region where both main drivers are operating in parallel (such as below 600Hz). The main implication is that, unlike the Xen, the Xone no longer needs wall proximity to boost its bass region to match the midband.

The impedance is still pretty easy to drive, staying above five ohms throughout, though a rather obvious 'bump' at 125Hz indicates a resonance that may be related to the columnar shape. In fact, the enthusiasm of its port output, and the latter's proximity to a major mode in our listening room, made finding the best position for the speakers quite tricky.

At our 'normal' free space sites, fronts 1.1m out from the wall, there was too much mid-bass output, and it wasn't until the speakers were a full 1.5m out that this mid-bass peak was largely avoided. While the bottom end still wasn't particularly smooth or even, decent extension to 30Hz in-room was now achieved.

The overall tonal balance is pretty well ordered through the bass and lower midband, but the smoothness from 600Hz up to 3kHz that so characterized the little Xen is unfortunately not repeated here. Rather, the Xone's output peaks up about 2-3dB around 900Hz-1.3kHz, and then shows an obvious notch at around 1.8kHz.

In conclusion

Sonically, and when optimally positioned, the Xone has a dry, cool bottom end, and a slightly forward overall character. Detail is notably clean, coherent and well projected, though this does mean that poor quality recordings and compressed material can sound rather unforgiving and sometimes even a little aggressive and fatiguing, especially if the volume is turned up high.

Although it could have more weight and drive, the speaker has good agility and an essential cleanness at the bottom end. It never 'grumbles along' with the music, but only makes itself heard when the material demands. It has a fine freedom from chestiness on male speech, though there is a slight thickening of textures nonetheless, and the sound could perhaps have a little more warmth.

Cellos, in particular, sound too dry and lacking in 'body'. Although the dynamic range is wide and any boxiness well controlled and suppressed, one sort of wishes for more basic oomph and drive, and a more muscular delivery overall. There's not much in the way of dynamic grip and tension here, though the music has good coherence and fine top-to-bottom timing.

Musically speaking, this is a very engaging little floorstander, well capable of distinguishing the innate quality of any given recording. Imaging is quite superb, with fine precision and focus in addition to the lack of boxiness and cabinet coloration.

However, speech proved rather less convincing, as nasal and 'cupped hands' colorations were quite obvious when compared to an established speech monitor like a BBC LS3/5a, and there was a degree of lower frequency thickening too. Although it wasn't possible to compare the Xone with the Xen, the fact that the former's measurements are much less even in the upper midband and presence would seem a likely reason for this speech coloration.

None of this stops the Xone delivering high entertainment value when playing music. Its lightness of touch and superior coherence certainly set it well ahead of the pack, as does the fine imaging and top quality veneered finish.

Home cinemaHi-Fi/audio
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