What do you picture in your head when you try to conjure-up an image of a “high-end hifi system”? The place your mind probably first goes to involves a pretty serious rack’s-worth of exotic electronic equipment. First-up will no doubt be a preamplifier + power amplifier, and naturally some kind of exotic DAC. Next, throw-in a piece of source equipment or two like a CD-player, turntable or perhaps a streamer if you’re a little more digitally-inclined. And of course, you simply must have a proper pair of stereo speakers splayed out in front of you to complete the picture from your mental “sweet spot”.
If you’re anything like me, building a complete home audio setup can take years of trial-and-error, upgrades, and the endless search for system synergy. There’s something tangibly satisfying about the “Voltron”-like arrangement of audio equipment laid-out in your hifi system, because it’s the evidence of one’s dedication to the pursuit of perfect sound (if there even is such a thing). You can chew the ears off your mates when they come around to proudly explain the latest addition to your system and how it’s improved the soundstage in your living room by a percentage point or two (my soundbar-owning mates tune-out rather quickly). Or you can sit back and revel in your cable-management skills after spending a large portion of your weekend navigating the viper’s nest of cords that lurk behind your A/V rack.
And now, imagine that most of the “stuff” in that high-end system is suddenly gone. Strip away all those black and silver boxes and their companion remotes, all those cords and cables, and all you’re left with is just a pair of speakers with a single power cord plugged into the powerpoint. Suddenly, things look a little bare - it might seem jarring, but also a little…refreshing. Marie Kondo would be proud. Yes, I’m an audio enthusiast, but I’m also a human that happens to share an abode with my better half who doesn’t share my love of collecting and proudly displaying hifi equipment.
Active (or “powered”, depending on whether the crossover point is before or after the amplification stage) speakers have certainly become more prevalent in audiophile circles, but the majority of us are old-school “separatists” who are still a little sceptical about the idea of giving up the rest of all that “necessary” gear that’s marks us as members of a strange tribe. Aside from the obvious benefit of removing a few other pieces of gear and all the flotsam and jetsam required to link it all together, there’s one other very compelling case for active speakers: having perfectly-matched amplification right there inside the box. Why spend time gambling with amplifier matching when the engineers that built the speakers put the perfect pairing for the transducers inside the cabinet?
“But wait!” you say, “...what about a DAC? How will I switch between sources properly?” Well, being 2022 and all, wireless technology is very much par for the course, and given that *most* music tends to come from the cloud these days, some clever software, some excellent hardware, and a brilliant user experience can definitely make you think twice about stubbornly sticking to passive speakers and separate components. So when a manufacturer with the speaker-tuning pedigree of Denmark’s Dynaudio has managed to do all of this - and then some) packaged-up in their new Focus line of active wireless speakers, it ought to put even the most obstinate hifi traditionalists on notice.
The new Dynaudio Focus series
Dynaudio has taken a rather large bet that the future direction of hifi is firmly wireless with the release of the all the “Focus” range which they are calling “Your complete wireless sound system”. Their new wireless series consists of the Focus 30 three-way floor-standing speakers, the top-of-the-range Focus 50 floor-standers (which packs-in an additional bass driver), and the $6999 Focus 10 Stand-mount speakers - the bookshelf-sized entry-point into the Focus family. which we’ll be taking a close look at today. The three new Foci (which is apparently the correct plural) look eerily familiar to their numerically-suffixed counterparts in Dynaudio’s “Evoke” range of passive speakers, sharing nigh-identical dimensions and driver-count. However, once you spin them around and take a look at the rear of each speaker, it’s clear that there’s something very different baked into their handsome cabinets.
Dynaudio has designed the Focus series to be able to tango with basically any type of wireless streaming format that tickles your fancy: Bluetooth, Spotify and Tidal Connect, Google Chromecast, Apple Airplay, UPnP, WiSA, Roon Ready…you name it. And with a dedicated companion app that can be used to configure a host of customisable settings as well as firmware updates, the new Focus-line is designed to be firmly “future-proofed” to keep-up with advancements in software and streaming technology to give you years of enjoyment. Oh, and they’re also Dirac Live capable, meaning you can choose to tailor their sound to factor-in and correct the nuances of the very room that you’ll be listening to them in.
And lastly, but most importantly, the Focus line is cut from the same high-end cloth as their passive Dynaudio counterparts when it comes to delivering high-end sound. The Focus 10, 30, and 50 each use Dynaudio’s legendary soft-dome “Cerotar” tweeter featuring the “Hexis” inner (which refines the airflow and helps to smooth treble response), as well as their proprietary Magnesium Silicate Polymer (MSP) technology.
With “legacy” physical connections for digital and analogue sources, you can still continue to use your CD-player or even a turntable to your heart’s content with the new Dynaudio Focus range - not that you might even want to with such an array of high definition streaming connectivity options available at your fingertips. But when each individual tweeter and woofer is powered by its own individual Class-D amplifier sourced from neighbouring Pascal (also hailing from Denmark), you certainly won’t miss having to lug a lumbering power amplifier into place to get them singing.
Dynaudio Focus 10 - overview
The Focus 10 may look a little unassuming at a first glance, sharing the same footprint and cabinet design as the compact Evoke 10 Bookshelf Speakers, but these little stand-mounters are a veritable hifi-system in a box. In fact, having spent some proper time with them the past few weeks I can hand-on-heart say that they’ve flipped my perceptions on their head with regards to how minimalistic and utterly capable a well-designed and brilliantly-executed pair of active speakers can deliver sheer musical enjoyment, more often - they’re the Real Deal.
Measuring 180 x 315 x 261mm and weighing in at 7.5kg, the Focus 10 is about the size of two phone books (which, on reflection, is a terribly outdated way to describe such a thoroughly modern pair of wireless speakers). The smallest member of the Focus family is a two-way active loudspeaker featuring a 28mm soft-dome tweeter (featuring the aforementioned “Hexis” dome) and a 14cm MSP woofer, which are crossed over at 2.2kHz. Powering these are individual Pascal amplifiers, with 110 Watts and 280 Watts available on-tap for the tweeter and woofer respectively. Hang on, 390 Watts a channel?! Just think about the size of integrated or power amplifier that would require in old-school Class-AB money to get that kind of Wattage - it’s actually mind-boggling to wrap your head around if you’re using your usual frame of reference, but Class-D amplification has made tremendous advancements in recent years, and the benefits in terms of low distortion and power consumption that come part and parcel with this technology can’t be ignored.
The cross-over between the woofer and tweeter is handled via Dynaudio’s specially-developed digital signal processing (DSP), which is able to use sophisticated software "tweakery" to manipulate the Focus 10’s voicing for optimal performance based on a number of customisable parameters. Using the Dynaudio app, you can choose to manually select whether they’re placed in a corner, near a wall, or further out in the room on stands and the frequency response will adjust accordingly to factor-in the added bass presence that proximity to walls and corners will add. The app also allows you to choose between “bright”, “neutral” or “dark” frequency response tunings to tailor things to your mood, your room, or whatever it is that you’re listening to. And because the Focus 10 is Dirac Live compatible, with a programmed measurement of your room’s individual properties the DSP will help to compensate accordingly to present the most faithful playback experience possible (I didn’t get the chance to use the Dirac feature during my time with the Focus 10, but I’ll be sure to update things down the track when I do).
I noted in my recent review of the Evoke 20, the Focus 10’s slightly larger and passive stablemate, that I think that Dynaudio’s cabinet design and aesthetic finishes on their speakers are absolutely on point. The Focus 10 is no different in that regard, sharing the same minimal yet purposeful outer design, with a tapered trapezoidal cabinet, with no visible seals nor screws evident to blemish their tidy exterior. Four different finishes are available - Gloss Black, Gloss White, Walnut Wood and Blonde Wood - meaning there’s most definitely a finish that’ll pair with your choice of furniture (Danish, I hope).
Spinning the Focus 10 around I was surprised to see that there was no bass port on the rear - they’re a completely sealed design, which makes them a little more adaptable and lifestyle friendly when it comes to placement. The only cords required to get the Focus 10 ready for wireless operation is a standard IEC power cable into each speaker to power the onboard amplifiers. One speaker is designated as the “primary” speaker, and is identifiable by the more comprehensive suite of inputs on the rear: optical and coaxial digital inputs, an Ethernet network connection, a 12V trigger, and RCA analogue inputs.
In terms of outputs, the primary speaker has a single subwoofer connection as well as a coaxial output which can be used for a physical connection to the other speaker, which Dynaudio designates as the “client” speaker. There’s no “left” and “right” speaker per se, you can configure which is which via the app depending on what’s going to be most convenient with your home setup when it comes to connecting to other devices. The primary speaker also has three “pairing” buttons, for configuring connections between the two speakers as well as wifi and bluetooth connections. Both speakers have a USB input which is for service and firmware updates only - the Focus 10 cannot accept USB audio into the onboard DAC.
The Focus 10 comes with a pair of black fabric grilles that can be easily snapped on and off magnetically if you want to keep the tweeter and woofer away from annoying things like dust, kids or pets. And if you do have them on, the Focus 10 will sense that they’re in place and will adjust the frequency response slightly to compensate for the subtle effect that their mechanical impedance imparts on the sound flowing through them.
The only outward sign that these are anything but handsome passive speakers is the backlight Dynaudio “Y” logo on the front of each speaker, which illuminates and “breathes” in different colours depending on whether the Focus 10 is playing music, pairing, updating its firmware and so on. These can be turned off altogether by engaging “night mode” from within the Dynaudio app.
Setting up and using the Dynaudio Focus 10
Unlike a “traditional” hifi system, it’s possible to kick-back and start enjoying music in mere minutes after opening up the (modestly-sized) box containing your new pair of Focus 10s. They come with a yellow rubber cover installed to protect those Cerotar tweeters, and after removing them I decided to first have them placed either side of my cabinet in my listening room at home. After plugging them into the wall and switching them on, the lights on the front of each speaker flashed white to indicate that the speakers were “talking” to one another.
Next, I opened up the Dynaudio app which recognised them and prompted me to get them connected to my home wifi network. Being a Chromecast device, I used the Google Home app to get them instantly hooked-up to my home network and I was (almost) ready to go - but first I saw that they needed a quick firmware update. A couple of minutes later, they were good to go and ready for action - a total of ten minutes (tops!) from go to whoa. I opened up Tidal on my Pixel 6, selected the Focus 10 as the Tidal Connect output, and boom - sweet, sweet music started emanating into my listening room.
The Dynaudio app provides complete control over every aspect of the Focus 10, including:
1) Finding music - the app has links to “bounce” to the Spotify and Tidal apps (which are better ways to use each of these services rather than a clunky in-app interface) plus access to dozens of global internet radio stations for more casual listening.
2) Controlling playback - the home screen of the app displays the cover art of what’s currently streaming, and allows you to change the volume, advance/rewind through tracks in an album or playlist and so forth.
3) Changing inputs - you can manually select which of the Focus 10’s six input options you’d like to use: WiFi, Optical (which I had my TV hooked into), Line-in (which I had a turntable connected to), Coaxial (it seemed somewhat redundant, but I did hook up my CD-player!), WiSA - a very modern addition for streaming wireless HD audio from compatible sources like TVs, and good old Bluetooth.
4) Navigating settings - including in-room configuration in terms of placement and Dirac Live, Frequency balance adjustment, power + energy saving, Bluetooth/WiFi/WiSA settings, firmware updates. If you’re more of a tinkerer, you can delve into “advanced settings” which allows you to adjust the analogue input sensitivity, enable a high-pass filter for the subwoofer output (which cuts the Focus 10’s woofer output below 80Hz), and more.
The Focus 10 also ships with a simple and streamlined black Bluetooth remote which controls basic music playback functions (when streaming), input selection, and volume control. It’s simple, and works well - no complaints here.
At the time of writing, the Focus 10 is recognised as a “Roon Ready” device, but yet to undergo final Roon certification. Roon, for the uninitiated, is the ultimate digital music playback conduit, seamlessly blending your local digital library with all the important streaming services into one powerful and intuitive interface. Roon readiness will turn an already great connected device in the Focus 10 into a streaming powerhouse. For now, I was able to seamlessly stream and enjoy high definition music using Tidal Connect and via Qobuz, which recognises the Focus 10 as a Chromecast device. Qobuz/Chromecast users should note that gapless playback does not work using Google’s streaming protocol (for now, anyway), but Tidal connect won’t leave you high and dry when moving between chapters in a long “concept album” like The Decemberists’ The Hazards of Love. Ditto using Airplay and my Mac, which did allow me to use my Roon interface to pipe music to the Focus 10 wirelessly and seamlessly.
If an “all-in-one” hifi system is going to be accepted by audiophiles, then it simply needs to be able to manage vinyl playback - even if streaming is its forte. Thanks to its RCA line-level inputs the Focus 10 will happily play nicely with a turntable, but just note that you’ll need to add a phono preamp if your turntable doesn’t have one built-in. The Thorens TD 102 A Automatic Turntable does happen to have one built-in, and it also happens to sound excellent - having one flanked by a pair of Gloss White Focus 10s was a wonderfully minimalist vinyl setup, and sounded superb. The Focus 10’s DSP trickery also means that you can make use of its inbuilt frequency-fiddling options, and optimise your vinyl playback for room position, EQ preferences and so forth - which is pretty awesome.
Overall, the software and hardware experience with the Focus 10 is absolutely first-rate. It simply allows you to “jump in” and enjoy music at the drop of a hat from any number of streaming options with instant responsiveness, and strong and seamless connectivity - not once did I experience stutters, drop-outs, or anything that took me out of the musical bubble that they placed me in. For many people, their hifi system also doubles as their audio-visual system, and being as compact and unobtrusive as they are, it’s easy to connect a smart TV to the Focus 10 via an optical cable for a massive audio upgrade over a soundbar (not to mention the “speakers” built into your TV). I didn’t have any WiSA-compatible products or adapters on-hand to try out that functionality, but it seems like an interesting new streaming protocol and promises to give the Focus 10 plenty of future-ready adaptability.
Listening to the Dynaudio Focus 10
My first proper listening session with the Focus 10 was in the showroom at the Addicted To Audio Sydney store, which is fully treated with Vicoustic absorption and diffusion products and sounds great (if you’re a local you should definitely pop in for a listen). The Focus 10s were set up on stands - the Dynaudio Stand 20 Speaker Stands are the recommended pairing for them - with plenty of room from the rear wall (Dynaudio recommends at least a 50cm gap for best sonic performance) with them slightly toed back in towards the listening session. Being flanked by several larger, far more expensive speakers in the show-room I thought I might have accidentally hooked up the wrong speakers at first when I played Sigur Rós’ grandiose Svefn-g-englar, because it simply sounded far bigger and richer than a little pair of standmounters with a 5.5-inch woofer had any right to. I’ve had experience with a few other manufacturer’s small active bookshelf-sized speakers, including the KEF LS50 Wireless II, and so I did expect a more neutral “monitor”-like presentation from the Dynaudios, but that was most definitely not the case - the Focus 10 very much has a proper, audiophile “hifi” tuning and one that’s enormously enjoyable. For starters, their sound is built on a solid foundation of warm, visceral bass that suggests that DSP is very much lending a helping hand to extract the best possible performance from the Cerotar tweeter/MSP woofer combo. While there is some roll-off below 50Hz, the Focus 10 did an admirable job of providing chest-filling resonance with the lowest organ notes in this track, and I’ll say with confidence that a subwoofer isn’t a mandatory inclusion if you’ll be placing them in a small to medium-sized room.
Tonally, the Focus 10 leans towards the richer and more organic end of the spectrum, exhibiting a lovely silky texture with just enough mid-bass warmth to make you want to lean back and grin when the kick-drum kicks-in in LCD Soundsystem’s Oh Baby. They’re innately “listenable” in the sense that they offer a more lush lens through to your music as opposed to the lean, bright and stethoscopic presentation of competitors. I’ve become a big fan of Dynaudio’s soft dome tweeters which convey gobs of upper-end detail in an eminently even-handed way - there’s plenty of air and shimmer in the reverb in James Murphy’s soaring synths with a wonderfully organic feel to the decay.
The customisable EQ settings are subtle and yet effective - take a hectic, swirling progressive jazz track like Krokofant’s Watcher Of The Fries, for instance. Switch it onto “bright”, and the alto sax and electric guitar parts take on a more urgent, incisive character. And the inverse is true - switching it onto “dark” cuts the upper treble for a less strident take on proceedings. “Neutral” is the Focus 10’s default, un-equalised response, and I think the Dynaudio engineers have pretty much struck the Goldilocks-zone here - no surprise I was happy to take their suggestion for 95% of my listening with the Focus 10.
Heading back home, I set up the Focus 10s on either side of my A/V cabinet to understand how they’d perform in a more traditional “bookshelf” sense - where I feel that many owners will have them placed (probably with a TV in between them, as well). There was a noticeable lift in bass resonance in The National’s I Need My Girl, but not markedly so - their sealed design does help them play more happily in a multitude of placements. With their volume set to “50” there was some visible excursion on the Focus 10’s woofers, but even when pushed hard there was no breakup nor distortion in their handling of bass. Their mid-range performance - particularly with vocals - is layered, expressive and natural. Matt Berninger’s voice shone through vividly with equal parts clarity and texture.
The Focus 10 didn’t so much as break a sweat when it came to handling complex tracks with busy transients such as Tame Impala’s Breathe Deeper. When pushed harder, the lower bass doesn’t quite keep up with the alacrity of their mid-range and treble performance, but is still able to present a tight, snappy performance top-to-bottom with detail retrieval capabilities that would put many other high-end systems to shame. They present a rock-solid centre image, but have a more smoothed-out soundstage with individual tracks gently mixed across a nicely wide soundstage rather than having laser-focused placements for each part (in my listening room, anyway).
Given their compact footprint and sealed design, I had a suspicion that the Focus 10 might make for a great pair of nearfield speakers in a desk setup. I’m a big fan of nearfield speaker listening - when set up correctly it can reward you with an incredible experience in terms of dynamics and imaging that even the best headphones can’t hope of getting close to. And while it might seem a little exorbitant having a pair of wireless speakers with the talents of the Focus 10 “relegated” to desktop duties, man are they good when used in this setting. Stationed on angled blocks, even at modest levels the visceral bass and layered percussive and vocals in the brilliantly-produced I Am A Very Rude Person from Thom Yorke’s “Anima” was nothing short of decadent.
Active speaker systems have become increasingly capable in recent years, but the new Focus 10 is the first such pair of speakers that I’ve experienced that has truly convinced me that they’re truly capable of consigning the separate preamplifier, amplifier, DAC, and streamer to the hifi classifieds listing. When you have this much capability and power built inside the (very handsome) cabinets that are expertly tuned for the capabilities of the driver technology, it does make an absolutely compelling value case for itself - consider what it would take to test, purchase, and re-purchase that amount of separate gear to find the perfect match for your speaker system.
The Dynaudio Focus 10 isn’t merely a convenient lifestyle-oriented product - far from it. It’s a bona fide, grown-up audiophile solution for those who have wholeheartedly embraced streaming as the preeminent way to enjoy glorious high-definition music. And if you haven’t quite yet, the Focus 10 will also happily play with your existing sources as well. The kicker for me is the fact that all these talents and absolutely terrific sound have been wrapped-up in one impossibly compact package. I can’t stress enough how much the Focus 10s bat above their 7.5kg weight. But I can promise you that it will feel amazing to “let go” of all your other equipment, and replace all that space with stupidly good-sounding music - the Focus 10 is very easy to fall in love with on many levels.