XTZ is a Swedish manufacturer and seller of audio gear that is manufactured as affordably as possible, at the highest quality possible with top of the line components from vendors such as SEAS and Peerless, then sent to the consumer at internet direct prices. Due to the unique quality, value and styling of XTZ products, they are extremely popular in Europe, enjoying a cult following and an excellent reputation. XTZ has only recently broken into the US market, but is looking forward to showing US consumers why they are so popular in Europe.
Not your typical audio manufacturer, XTZ is well known for producing software products too. Their excellent Room Analyzer package is among the best plug and play acoustic analysis solutions on the market, and I've used it myself for several years to help optimize the sound in my home theater.
When we first learned that XTZ was now selling their products here in the US, we were thrilled. Given the HTF membership’s love of value – we couldn't resist asking for a review sample. XTZ was happy to send over their 99.26 MKII bookshelf monitor, perhaps the sexiest bookshelves I've laid eyes upon in a very long time.
Breaking it Down
The 99.26 MKII is not your ordinary monitor by any stretch, featuring an avant-garde cabinet design, a gorgeous piano black finish, and components often seen in much higher end offerings (see the Salk HT2-TL review I posted earlier this year). Retailing for $1300/pair the 99.26 MKII features the same SEAS Excel woofer that was installed in the Salk speakers mentioned above. The SEAS woofer is equipped with a 6.5” magnesium cone, high flow molded metal basket, and exceptionally powerful motor/magnet structure and gold plated terminals. Considered one of the best transducers on the market, I was extremely impressed to see this in these speakers.
The surprises don’t stop there. The 99.26 also features a ribbon tweeter often seen in high end designs that can reproduce frequencies up to 40 kHz. Going beyond the transducers, the 99.26 MKII is equipped with a high end crossover with MOX resistors, air wound coils and mil-spec capacitors. Thanks to the design requirements, the speaker can be tuned to several different sonic profiles based on port plugs and an ingenious panel on the rear that allows up to four different tweeter profiles. Taken together, the port plugs in combination with the tweeter adjustment allow fully 8 different sonic profiles for the 99.26 MKII.
Fit & Finish
It should be noted that these particular XTZ speakers are manufactured in China, however simply based upon first impressions I have a hard time seeing any evidence of this. My review pair arrived from XTZ packaged in a very solid cardboard box with high density foam and a separate foam bag protecting the speakers individually. The finish on these speakers is in a word, flawless. The piano black coating is mirror shiny and had no visible imperfections, which really makes this aggressive cabinet design stand out.
The only (albeit minor) complaint I found with these speakers was that one tweeter was about 3 degrees off a perfect vertical axis, which was easily rectified with a screwdriver.
Setup & Calibration
I installed these speakers in my office where I typically listen to 2 channel music. The setup consisted of a KingRex T20U USB DAC/amplifier, which features a 2x20WPC class-T amplifier in the same chassis as a Burr-Brown PCM2702 DAC. The speakers were wired up using my favorite speaker wire from our sponsor Blue Jeans Cable, and placed on top of Iso-Acoustics IS0-L8R speaker stands, which I have come to love for their ability to decouple speakers from a desk or solid surface.
I toed the speakers in about 2 inches each, and proceeded to demo my favorite test tracks using the various configurations of the port plug and crossover selector. I ultimately chose to leave the ports un-plugged, and set the treble to 0dB (flat) which gave the most neutral sound signature to my ears.
I ran the 99.26 MKII’s through their paces with a plethora of music, starting with the excellent album “In The Moonlight” by Sophie Milman. My personal muse among modern female jazz singers, Sophie Milman has an incredibly textured, soulful voice that really sounds special when properly reproduced. Listening to the 99.26 MKII’s, it became immediately apparent that these speakers were something special.
The midrange immediately stole the show, reproducing vocals and accompaniment alike with finesse, speed and a truly natural timbre, while the highs were clear and extended, devoid of the sibilance sometimes encountered with ribbon tweeters. The 99.26 MKII’s throw an incredibly wide sound stage and image equally well, placing you only a few feet back from the stage as the performance begins, which is an incredible engaging acoustic profile for this type of music.
Moving on from Jazz, I decided to give Jo Blankenburg’s “Elysium” a spin. An album full of epic music of the sort most often heard in film trailers, Elysium is a real treat and features the dynamic range and subtle sonic detail to truly show the faults or strengths of any speaker. One of my favorite tracks, Terra Mirus features soaring strings, punchy brass, delicate piano themes and subtle use of triangle as well as full ensemble choir performance with incredibly complex percussion elements. Through the 99.26 MKII’s, the highs sparkled, featuring the same “dead-on” sweetness I’ve come to associated with ribbon tweeters, while the mids and mid-bass enveloped me in a massive sound stage with no shortage of heft in the lower octaves. These speakers are simply capable, in every sense of the word of reproducing music the way it is meant to be heard.
In comparison to my Onix Reference 1 daily drivers, it was clear that the 99.26 MKII’s were the superior speaker, however I began to suspect that the amplifier I was driving them with wasn’t up to the task of driving this 88dB sensitive speaker to its full potential. At this point, I decided to listen to the 99.26 MKII’s in my theater, placing them on stands and connecting them up to my main system, which consists of a Marantz AV8801 processor and Wyred4Sound MMC-7 amplifier. In the theater, I did all my listening in Pure Direct mode.
With the better gear backing them up, the 99.26 MKII’s opened up and reached the next level, immediately demonstrating that they could image even better in a larger room with proper acoustic treatment. I proceeded to play some of my favorite music with my Dune HD player (FLAC – bitstream) over the network, noting that the 99.26 MKII’s really demonstrated a significant improvement in bass response with the higher power of my Wyred4Sound amp. The superior acoustics in my theater (fully treated) also allowed the 99.26 MKII’s to demonstrate their imaging capabilities to a much greater extent, placing sonic elements far more precisely than in the previous room. Playing through a variety of material from Classical to Metal and EDM, I repeatedly found myself loving what I was hearing from these speakers. There can be no question that for the price, these are the finest sounding and looking bookshelves I’ve had the pleasure to review.
Thanks to this review, I’m no longer a newbie when it comes to XTZ products. In fact, given what I’ve heard with the 99.26 MKII, I am eager to hear their full-range offerings. XTZ seems to have the unique blend of price, performance and aesthetics that makes an internet direct manufacturer stand out. In fact, they remind me of a little company known as AV123 that was once the darling of the internet for their products. In this reviewer’s humble opinion, XTZ is eminently qualified to fill this role in the North American market and their products deserve a serious listen if you’re in the market for audio equipment. The 99.26 MKII is the finest bookshelf I’ve heard at anythign near this price point, features stunning good looks and is very reasonably priced given the components used. Provided you have a solid amplifier to drive them, these speakers are more than capable of forming the anchor of any audiophile 2-channel system, or mid-range home theater. Highly Recommended.
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