A Finnish brand that has been around for about a decade, Amphion is more successful than most at distinguishing its speakers from the market stereotypes, through a variety of interesting techniques. This Xenon is the second Amphion to come our way in recent months and is an altogether more substantial package than the Prio 520.

Indeed, at £2,599 or £2,899 per pair (in painted or real wood veneer finish respectively), the Xenon was the top model in the Amphion line-up until recently. (That is until a Mk2 version of the still larger Krypton was introduced at the German High End Show in April.)

Attractive speakers

Our birch finished example must be one of the prettiest speakers on the market, in part because of the classy way the veneer is laid, in a series of five narrow vertical stripes across the front and three broad stripes on the sides.

Add in the clever way the front veneerwork follows the contours of the large waveguide surrounding the tweeter and the deep triangular vents let into the sides next to the midrange driver and the net result is both elegant and contemporary.

This is a substantial three-way design, turning the scales to a hefty 30kg. It looks attractively slim from the front, yet is quite deep, allowing a good size (200mm) bass driver to be mounted in the side.

To maintain symmetry, the speakers are built as a mirror-image pair, so they can be used with the bass units directed inwards (the normal way), or outwards - an option worth exploring in situ.

Two hefty steel bars are mounted laterally onto the base for spike accommodation and the combination of good depth and extended width ensures excellent footprint stability.

Driver configuration

The 200mm bass driver has a 155mm metal cone diaphragm and is port-loaded at the rear. The 165mm midrange driver has a 115mm metal cone diaphragm and is mounted at the top of the front panel, above the large sculpted waveguide that surrounds and recesses the 25mm metal dome tweeter.

The midrange occupies its own sub-enclosure at the top, but this is neither sealed nor reflex-ported. The triangular grilles on each side back from the midrange driver provide resistive leakage of the out-of-phase sound radiation from the back of the cone.

This is a modified form of dipole (open-back) radiation, which according to Amphion results in a hypercardioid sound radiation pattern. The claim is that this distribution characteristic allows the speaker to be sited close to a wall without generating the reflections that cause midrange coloration.

Adjusting the bass

A solitary pair of high-quality WBT socket/binders supply a crossover network that operates at 150Hz and 1.2kHz, the relatively low mid-to-treble crossover point facilitated by the influence of the tweeter waveguide, which also serves to increase the effective diameter of the tweeter and match its dispersion to the midrange unit in the crossover zone.

Next to the terminals is a little rocker switch that Amphion calls its bass Adjustment System (BAS), which subtracts some 3dB from the bass region.

Although the steel bars at the base provide fine lateral stability and threaded holes that can totally secure the spikes, regrettably the spikes themselves have rather short shafts and lock-wheels that cannot be properly tightened.

Lower sensitivity

One of the disadvantages of metal - even aluminium - diaphragms is that they're heavier than other commonly used materials and one consequence of this tends to be a lower than average sensitivity. That's true enough in this case, as Amphion quotes a modest 87dB.

Whereas our tests suggest that 86dB is a more realistic figure, at least as far as the midband is concerned. Impedance is quoted as 8ohms, which is fair enough through the midband and treble, but there are two 4-5ohm minima in the bass region, at 90Hz and the port tuning frequency at 25Hz. Pair matching was good at low and mid frequencies, but showed some discrepancy in the treble.

Placed in the positions normally used in our listening room, the far-field in-room averaged power response showed an impressively smooth and even balance through the midband and treble (above 250Hz), but some bass alignment difficulties below 250Hz, due to room interaction effects.

Frequencies below 80Hz were about 5dB too strong, while the zone from 80Hz up to 230Hz was a 4dB too light.

Important placement

Moving the speakers further out into the room helped to even out the bottom end somewhat, indicating that the Xenon is likely to be best suited to free space siting in large and very large rooms.

That, of course, somewhat contradicts the alleged benefit of the hypercardioid midrange radiation - the bass alignment simply makes close-to-wall siting impractical, under our room conditions at least. The BAS bass adjustment also turned out to offer little practical benefit, as its main area of activity seems to be in the region 70-150Hz, where output already tends to be rather weak.

The Xenon clearly wasn't too well suited to our 4.3x2.6x5.5m listening room, but even with that handicap it was still capable of very respectable results.

Bringing the speakers right out into the room might have helped even out the bottom end, but the effect seemed rather cold and clinical and results were preferred overall when the speakers were positioned more normally, with their front panels about 1.1m away from the wall.

Smooth sound

The sound as a whole is crisp, clean and clear, underpinned by a plentiful low bass that brings a fine sense of scale to the proceedings. That said, it can sound a little ponderous on some material and the lack of some punch and drive in the upper bass does result in a slight loss of agility and lightness of touch.

Although there's some lack of dynamic tension and grip, it goes loud with good consistency and without complaint, and sounds quite sweet in a slightly clinical way. It has very good control, with quite effective 'bite', yet no unwelcome 'splash' or 'edge' on sibilants or hard-edged consonants.

The impressively coherent mid and treble is undoubtedly partly responsible for the very precise stereo imaging, which has fine focus and good depth perspectives.

Although the overall impression is of a smooth and clean sound, there did seem to be some lack subtle inflexion and expression - a mild lack of delicacy on human voices, for example.

Solid performance

Ultimately it has to be said that the Xenon is something of a mixed bag and one that reveals very clearly the strengths and the weaknesses of an all-metal diaphragm approach.

Although the overall sound is impressively solid and weighty, it also lacks some delicacy and lightness of touch. Probably best suited to quite large rooms, care is needed to ensure good bass alignment compatibility with the characteristics of the particular listening room