XTZ 99.26 MkII loudspeakers
First impressions: When offered the chance to take on the XTZ 99.26 MkII speakers for review, I jumped at it immediately. Not that I’d heard about it before, rather, it was the simple fact that it sported a ribbon tweeter. Not because I think they are better than dome tweeters – I wouldn’t mind a pair of Wilson Audios or Magicos, for example – but I do believe they offer bigger bang for the buck.
With the use of these drivers, the financial threshold to achieve high-end sound is lowered, taking into consideration accompanying electronics as well. But it wasn’t just the tweeter that elicited my interest. The piano black finish on the pair is gorgeous, as is its sloping cabinet, time-aligned baffle and rounded edges. Aesthetically, the 99.26 MkII is a winner, and even fresh out of the box, it did not sound the least bit shabby.
Anticipating an extended run-in time (for the ribbon tweeter in particular), I initially hooked it up to a budget, 15-year-vintage Marantz PM66 KI-Signature integrated amplifier fed by a portable audio player (playing MP3s), and left it playing in the background. Well, that was the intention, but on more than one occasion when I went into the listening room – mainly to ensure nothing had short-circuited – I ended up staying to listen.
Conditions were, obviously, not ideal. The amplifier did not have enough juice to go loud and clean, and a portable player source playing MP3s was definitely not hi-fi. Yet, there was a consistently fluid feel to the sound, a sense of immediacy that ribbon drivers and the like possess. Things would only get better when I hooked it up to the main resident system.
Specs: As far as I can tell, the 99.26 MkII is more or less identical to the MkI model it replaces. Information gleaned from XTZ’s website indicates that the difference is in the crossover.
Aside from the ribbon tweeter, another stand-out feature is the ability to adjust the output from the tweeter with the use of bridging plugs – four configurations at 0dB, +3dB, -2dB and -4dB settings are possible. Foam bungs are provided that turn the speaker from ported to a quasi closed-box design, which affects the nature of its bass output.
These settings are located just above two pairs of hefty speaker terminals on the back panel, which allows for bi-wiring/amping.
XTZ proudly proclaims that it uses a SEAS Excel 6.5-inch mid/bass driver on its website. This is apparently one of SEAS high-end models, sporting a magnesium cone, and is used in speakers with “6 figure price tags”. It is silent on the provenance of its ribbon tweeter, but Internet sources state it is from Chinese manufacturers Fountek.
The cabinet is incongruently-shaped, with the top of the speaker smaller than its bottom. Save for the top and bottom plates, there are no parallel walls, and the back slopes out considerably more than the front and sides. The slope on the front baffle also serves to time-align the drivers and the cabinet is internally braced.
It is a pretty heavy speaker at about 10kg per unit, and has quite a large footprint, so ensure you have sufficiently hefty stands to match.
Performance: After giving the 99.26 MkII a couple of days to settle, I partnered it with the television for about three weeks, with the satellite decoder and AV media player as sources. I didn’t play any high-octane movies through it, but with regular fare, I realised I wasn’t turning up the volume as much to be able to hear what the characters on screen were saying.
But once plugged into the main system with proper sources and driving power, the 99.26 flourished. Even with the worst of recordings, the 99.26 MkII did not sound “bad” per se. Although you could hear the source was compromised – such as brutally compressed TV broadcast audio – it did not jar the senses as much as expected.
I would pin it mostly on its ribbon tweeters. They are extremely revealing and have an inherently sweet nature to their sound, yet a considerably gentler edge than conventional dome tweeters. Treble detail is all there and very transparent, just without the grinding on the ears.
For lossy files and some strident recordings, I found setting the tweeter output at -4dB made things much more tolerable. Most of the listening was done at 0dB with the rare switch to -2dB. Vinyl sounded great at 0dB throughout but with some upbeat material on digital, the -2dB helped to smooth things out. I never once felt the need to go for the +3 dB option, and in fact I felt it threw the speaker’s sonic balance off.
Its bass was not just deep, but also fast with plenty on tap given the speakers’ size. As much as I like bass depth and volume, I value control and speed more – thus I preferred the speakers with foam bungs in place.
Other audiophile concerns such as soundstaging and imaging are spot on too. The 99.26 MkII easily throws a soundstage that is wide, deep and even does a good semblance of height. Voices and instruments do not appear constrained by sthe cabinets and emanate from distinct places in the sonic picture.
The good: They say there isn’t a speaker that can please everybody, but this is one that can be tweaked to do that. It may seem a little gimmicky at first, but the hands-on experience has informed me how useful it is – not to mention the hours of fun it will provide for the adventurous audiophile. Superbly built, a balanced sound, incredibly insightful and a cohesiveness from top to bottom registers – what more could you ask for?
The ungood: Quite frankly, I’m hard-pressed to find any negatives. The ability to customise the sound allows one to overcome any perceived shortcomings of the listener. Case in point – I felt that the bass could sound a tad wooly, but use of the foam bungs took care of that problem. Also, it requires an amplifier that has plenty of juice before it gets close to sounding its best.
Final verdict: The XTZ 99.26 MkII is a very good speaker. It is not exactly cheap, but considering the quality on offer, is reasonably priced. If your system is up to the mark, it will reveal the glories of the components down the chain. Recommended.
Sources: Dell Latitude D630 notebook, M2Tech Young DAC with Palmer power supply, Rega P5 turntable with Exact cartridge, Audio Image phono stage / Amplification: Marantz PM66 KI-Signature integrated amplifier, Euphonic Research ATT600 preamp, Odyssey Audio Stratos Stereo Extreme power amplifier / Speakers: Magnepan SMGb / Cabling: DH Labs SilverSonic USB cable, Rega SC42 speaker cables and an assortment of custom-made pure silver interconnects.
Malaysian price: RM6,500
Malaysian distributor: Excel Audio Marketing (+603 6273 2505 / +6019 571 0383) / Find your distributor.
J. Loh’s world is constantly in a spin. His regular day job and the task of keeping a watchful eye on his increasingly-inquisitive toddler son are enough to drive anyone around the bend, but he keeps his mind sane by doing more spinning – of the silver and black variety, of course.