Each speaker comes in single thick cardboard box, and further protection is provided by expanded foam top an bottom caps, and finally a individual sock of foam lined polythene sheet. Taped to the sock, is a bag containing the instruction manual and the jumpers/links for tuning the crossover. The remaining items packaged with the 99.25s are jumper plates for the two sets of binding posts on each speaker and a foam bung for the reflex port all of which ship in place.
Nuts & Bolts.
As with the 99.36s there issues are that extends beyond simply choosing a colour although in the case of the 99.25s, it's simply one of shape. If you choose the gloss black option, it is in a rectangular cabinet hewn from 1" MDF with very smoothly rounded corners preceded by a gentle chamfer on all faces. In Walnut or Matt Black, the 99.25 has the truncated teardrop cross section in 3/4" MDF as per the 99.36s I have tested. The thinner MDF is possible due to the curved sides of the cabinet being a naturally more rigid shape. I like the density of the thicker cabinets which are very inert to the knuckle rap test. There's something satisfying about 'mass engineering, regardless of how clever the alternatives are.
Close inspection of these resolutely gloss black examples shows a very tight fit and finish. So tight in fact, the tweeter would defeat the proverbial fag paper and the interference fit is tight enough that the tweeter will stay in without screws. The single port is aligned behind the tweeter and has a totally seemless flair out onto the rear of the cabinet. This positioning is fortuitous as it allows you to ‘persuade' the tweeter out of the cabinet to change it's orientation.
Change it's orientation? Depending on whether you chose to lie the centre 99.25 flat beneath a screen, or stand it upright like the left and right speakers (as I do) the tweeter needs to be aligned vertically. Unlike a dome tweeter a ribbon has a very wide horizontal, but restricted vertical dispersion pattern, so it's orientation is important.
By the way, check out the depth of that gloss. What looks like texture on the side of the nearest one, is actually a dead flat reflection on the texture of the door next to it. It's deep, very smooth and extends seemlessly all the way into the port. With the slab of aluminium for the speaker terminals, absolutely flush driver mounting and complex radius to the cabinet edges, the overall impression is of something of a much higher price.
As with the 99.36s, the tweeter is a Fountek NeoCD3.0 ribbon tweeter with claimed output to 40kHz. Please refer to that review for greater detail on the unit, but suffice to say, this is the same unit as used in the Monitor Audio Platinum series so it's no slouch. The mid bass unit is again an XTZ specific version of the 18cm SEAS Excel W18E, the specific differences being in a black anodizing of the magnesium cone, a silver anodizing of the copper phase plug and chamfering of the driver basket to fit the narrow cabinet profile.
Turning to the rear, the four heavy binding posts can accept 4mm plugs, bare wire or 8mm spades and are soldily bolted onto a thick plate of aluminium, sealed by a gasket and clamped secured by six screws. These plates also house the 4mm terminals for the treble level adjustment. Levels of +4dB, -2dB and -4dB can be set relative to the nominal '0dB' flat position with no links inserted. Bass tuning is provided by a single port plug.
In my 16x13ft living room, I started with the 99.25s where the 99.36s had sat - about 60cm out from the nearest side wall and with the front baffle about 90cm out from the rear wall, but ended up with the port plugged and the speakers placed about 15cm further back. All three were orientated vertically and placed on identical stands that placed the tweeters at ear level. Plugging the rear ports resulted in the smoothest extension, removing a touch of chestiness from voice. It has to be said my PMC TB2 centre suffers from the same trait, but lacks the tuning option to compensate. As with the floor-standers, toe in only effected the width/depth of the soundstage with no noticeable change in treble levels. I eventually settled with them only slightly toed in – maybe 5 degrees or so.
At this point, you could probably turn to the 99.36 review and take heed of all the comments from the bass up. Unsurprising really, as the 99.25 is the 99.36 minus the bottom half of the cabinet and it's associated driver. This is also goes someway to explaining the consistent tonality across the floor-standers when combined with the stand-mount centre in multichannel mode, where a subwoofer is handling all of the deep stuff from 80Hz down.
Used as a stand alone speaker without a sub, the 99.25s don't offer anything like the extension of the 99.36s giving rise to the impression that they are a more forward sounding speaker and it's true to a point – the 99.36s are a much warmer sounding speaker when used in isolation, due to that serious bottom end they have. The flip side is that the 99.25s are far more suited to smaller rooms or mounting closer to a wall and if you add a sub, you can make them as sound warm as you like.
Particular strengths remained the very open midrange that slides smoothly up to a slightly elevated, but very civilized treble. The precise placement and size of individual musicians/instruments within a soundstage was, if anything, even more impressive from the smaller cabinets. This remarkably open presentation is underpinned by a bottom end that is swift and solid and as well extended as most speakers of it's size. There are those that go deeper, but its not by much and normally at the expense of sensitivity, or just at the expense of expense! It's a personal preference, but I found the earlier, but more gradual, bass roll off resulting from plugging the port didn't give quite the kick of the open port, but it just seemed better timed with a better sense of rhythm. In the end, bass levels were subjectively similar as I ended up with the speakers slightly closer to the wall to compensate. Either way, the choice is yours and the speakers offer one.
However, I don't generally listen to speakers by themselves. I like to use a sub and I like to use one that has been EQ'd to suit the room, whilst taking advantage of my processors bass management to save the speakers being troubled by the bottom two octaves of bass. In my room at least, this was by far the preferred musical listening experience of any of the speaker/sub/no sub combinations I've had at my disposal. If the 99.36s bordered on just a bit too much power (mainly due to the rooms contribution), then this combination added an additional grip, delivered to even greater depths, whilst allowing the midrange to shine even further. It was like lifting the proverbial veil or some other such hackneyed expression and was not something I'd turn my back on in a hurry.
I've already expounded upon my dislike of some of the weird concoctions foisted upon us as 'dedicated' and 'matching' centre speakers and finally using all three 99.25s across the front was the moment I'd been looking forward to. It was the reason I had got interested in the XTZs in the first place. I'm somewhat pleased and more than a bit relieved, to say that they have proven to be right up my street.
The coherence of the three 99.25s is exactly as you would expect, with absolutely seamless panning of sounds/effects across the front three. The tonal match is obviously perfect and if you can use the centre upright, its an effect that is maintained over a very wide sweet-spot. The comparative lack of treble roll off as you move off axis in the horizontal plane, means you can be a lot further from the farthest speaker before it's contribution is overshadowed by the nearer ones with comparatively higher treble output. I hadn't thought of that possibility, but then again I don't think much at all. Further experimentation showed this to result in a stereo music soundstage that didn't immediately collapse into the nearest speaker when moving around either, so that's double nice.
I even dug out some music DVDs again and let them play out in multichannel and rather enjoyed them. With two positive multichannel music experiences in recent weeks, I even picked up an SACD/DVD-A capable player this week. Okay, I needed something for spinning R1 disks and I don't think I'll be rushing out to replace my CDs, but I'm turned back on to the idea that they can be fun again, rather than just a demo novelty.
As with the 99.36s, I found the ability to turn the treble up specifically for movies to be a resounding success. In the case of the 99.25s, the extra is preset at +4dB against the +3dB of the 99.36s, but the effect was much the same - An extra bite to the edges of effects that whilst not strictly accurate (after all, the disk wasn't mastered with elevated treble) lends an added impact to the leading edge of dynamics. The refinement of the tweeter prevents a nasty sibilant edge spoiling the effect with over emphasized sibilance, so again, I find I can have my cake and eat it.
Whilst on the subject of dynamics, it was slightly noticeable that there wasn't quite the kick, the near double cone area, that the floor-standers could stump up. Fair enough, there's always a bigger speaker that can do more of something and they do cost 50% more, so you'd expect a little something extra.
Either way, they were comfortable at reference levels, without getting at all 'shouty' and fatiguing and as an additional point they were much easier to drive. Whereas the floor-standers were really hamstrung by driving all five speakers from just the Rotel power-amp, the stand-mounts were an altogether less fussy proposition. The difference the Audiolab power-amp made was still quite obvious in terms of transparency and detail, but its absence didn't cause everything to fall apart as dramatically as before. This would lead me to suggest that slightly more down to earth receiver owners won't find themselves struggling.
As I said in the 99.36 write up, I've had a few speakers through the room lately, but in the context of my room/system/preferences, these really are the star turn.
With the clarity of the big boys, dovetailed into the depth and power of EQ'd sub-bass, these are a speaker that won't pull apart more moderate amplification*, but are more than capable of revealing the differences made by upgrades further up the chain when you come to afford them. The performance available for the price means anybody considering a speaker+amp package could maintain their speaker quality AND squeeze a better amp into the budget too - Worth a thought.
*Having spent a day listening to the 99.25s on the end of an Onkyo 875, I can confirm that both the amp and speakers (and my ears!) were very comfortable at Dolby reference levels.
The more room tolerant positioning offered by the stand-mount/subwoofer setup may well be a more interesting proposition in the average size of UK front room too. Done carefully, you won't give up much in some areas (dynamics) whilst gaining on the bass quality front by compensation. For those dedicated to pure stereo and with large rooms, then the 99.36s may well be right up your street and offer a similarly favourable cost v performance ratio that makes it's own compelling argument.
That us music lovers have a couple of such choices and can further combine this with some added movie 'zing' has proven to be enough for me. I've had more expensive options to play with, hell, I even own a set, but the XTZ 99.25s will be the ones that are staying.
If anyone can explain how I'm going to make Mrs russ.will understand that this must be so, I'm all ears.
Edit 16/11/08 - Pictures added.