Introduction

The Crown XLS DriveCore Series (XLS Series) of amplifiers represents Crown’s entry into the pro audio amplifier marketplace. Aimed more or less at the independent musician, whether they be an upstart DJ, band or other live act, the Crown XLS Series is but a gateway drug for future Crown purchases down the road. That being said Crown hasn’t pulled any punches with the XLS Series, in fact they’ve done quite the opposite -after all, just because the XLS amps may be entry level doesn’t mean they can’t rock. For example the entire XLS Series features Harman’s (Crown’s parent company) own DriveCore Technology.

While the XLS Series is in fact Class-D amplifier, DriveCore, a proprietary hybrid analog-digital integrated circuit co-developed with Texas Instruments, is used to drive the Class-D output stage and optimize the relationship between the modulation stage and the power output stage providing the efficiency of Class-D circuitry with the lower distortion and residual noise typical of older Class AB designs. Other advantages to DriveCore include a more streamlined topology, which Crown claims removes up to 500 parts from the signal path resulting in a cleaner, purer sound. DriveCore also improves low-level linearity, power density (more power in a smaller chassis), thermal and electrical efficiency and finally it possesses high AC tolerances. The latter being extremely important for most users will be employing XLS amplifiers while on the road where one can never be too sure as to the quality of the power the amps will have to rely on. On the consumer side if you live in an older house or say in an apartment complex where “dirty” power tends to be more common place, the XLS Series amps should still perform at a more optimal level. As for the XLS’ efficiency claims, Class D amplification is generally pretty efficient so don’t think that you can only achieve these results using DriveCore equipped amplifiers. But are DriveCore amps more efficient than traditional Class D amplifier designs? Crown would like you to think so however I didn’t have any other Class D amplifiers on hand with which to test this so we’ll just have to take it at face value. Regardless, DriveCore is an important innovation for not only Crown but Harman as whole, because it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for Crown and its customers; for no longer do we have to be slaves to large, heavy and cumbersome amplifiers. DriveCore is already seeing use in other Harman brands, specifically the Lexicon DD-8 amplifier.

The power supply isn’t your usual bulky transformer, instead it’s a Switch-Mode power supply, which like Class D amplification itself, is hugely efficient and extremely lightweight. In comparison to many consumer amplifiers with power ratings similar to the Crown you can expect to have to lug around 100 pounds or more whereby the XLS Series of amplifiers all come in at around or under 10 pounds. Again, a huge benefit to those wanting to take their act on the road.

The XLS Series also use what is known as a PureBand Crossover System. The PureBand Crossover System is a variable digital crossover  ranging from 50Hz to 3kHz in 1/12 octave centers that can be applied to any of the amplifier’s outputs. The amplifiers employ the use of 4th order Linkwitz-Riley filters for seamless transitions between high and low frequencies and/or drivers. This internal flexibility is made even more user friendly thanks impart to its ability to be adjusted from the amplifiers’ front panels. Having built-in crossovers as well as low and high pass filters means that the end user can effectively drive their loudspeakers in the most efficient manner possible without wasting power on aspects of the frequency range that might otherwise be sent elsewhere, say for instance to a subwoofer. No sense asking your amplifier to power your speakers below say 70Hz if you know you’re subwoofer is crossed over at the THX customary 80Hz -you’d just be throwing usable power away at that point.

With great power comes even greater responsibility, Spider-Man taught me that and the engineers at Crown seem to have picked up a similar mantra along the way, which is no doubt why all XLS Series amps are equipped with Peak x Limiters. A Peak x Limiter, according to Crown, “is an advanced algorithm specifically developed and tuned to work with the amplifier and the power supply to achieve higher SPL with less audible artifacts.” What this means in a nutshell, is the amplifier is designed to take your speakers right to the very limit without damaging them and to ensure no such damage occurs Crown has put a limiter inside the amp itself. Unlike say the limiter in most high performance sports cars the Peak x Limiter inside the Crown XLS Series amplifiers can be defeated -though it’s most likely not recommended.

Specifications

The XLS Series of amplifiers consists of four distinct models; the XLS 1000, 1500, 2000 and 2500. Retail prices start at a manageable $499 for the XLS 1000 and top out at $1,099 for the 2500 model -though online and even in store retail prices are often much, much less. All of the XLS Series amps feature the same industrial design; clad in light grey aluminum with black mesh accents that also double as the amplifiers’ cooling vents. The left side of the amplifiers’ facade is where its controls are housed with a small, but legible, display is flanked by two channel output controls followed by two input level meters. Below the display are three hard controls that are used for setting up the amps’ final configuration. The units themselves are only two rack spaces high and come with rack ears as part of their front fascia, a money saving feature. The XLS Series amps measure 19-inches across by 3.5 inches tall and depending on the model can range in depth from 7.7 inches to 10.35 inches. Weight, again depending on the model, varies from 8.6 pounds to 10.75 pounds.

Crown XLS Amplifier Front and Back (Model 2500 shown)

Input/output options include a full complement of XLR, RCA and 1/4 inch inputs for each of the amplifier’s two channels. As for outputs you have your choice of two, 4-Pole Speakon output connectors or a pair of five-way binding posts that can accept banana adaptors or bare speaker wire, sorry no spade lugs here. A detachable power cord is also present along the back panel as is a vent for the amplifier’s internal fan, which all XLS Series amplifiers have but only come on when internal temperatures reach critical levels.

The XLS Series amplifiers themselves are two channel or stereo designs though they can be configured for bridged mono operation via the front panel controls. Load impedance is rated between 2 and 8 Ohms when wired in stereo and 4 to 8 Ohms in mono. The amplifiers’ signal to noise ratio varies a little depending on which XLS Series amplifier you choose with the XLS 1000 offering up a 97dB rating where as the other three amplifiers dish out 103dB -this is critical to note for those contemplating using an XLS Series amplifier in their home cinema or private screening room which I’ll get to in a minute. As for power (finally, right) the XLS Series are rated as follows:

XLS 1000 XLS 1500 XLS 2000 XLS 2500
Stereo (2 Ohms) 550 Watts 775 Watts 1050 Watts 1200 Watts
Stereo (4 Ohms) 350 Watts 525 Watts 650 Watts 775 Watts
Stereo (8 Ohms) 215 Watts 300 Watts 375 Watts 440 Watts
Bridge Mono (8 Ohms) 700Watts 1050 Watts 1300 Watts 1550 Watts
Bridge Mono (4 Ohms) 1100 Watts 1550 Watts 2100 Watts 2400 Watts

The above chart is meant to showcase Crown minimum guaranteed power specifications for each model and in each configuration.

Finally, all Crown products, include the entire XLS Series of amplifiers come with a full, three-year, no-fault, transferable warranty.

Application(s)

I was turned on to Crown amps, or should I say professional amplifiers on a whole, by a friend of mine Ray Coronado of SoCalHT. Ray is a professional systems calibrator holding certifications from both ISF and THX as well as Denon and Audyssey. He and I were chatting one day about amplifiers, he knew I was in the market and looking for something for my new studio, and asked if I’d considered pro amplifiers. I had not, so I quickly ventured to my local Guitar Center for a listen, where, I was completely bowled over. I was so impressed that I bought a pair of XLS 1000s on the spot.

Now, my home studio serves multiple functions, on one hand it is my primary personal listening space and where I conduct most, if not all, of my review tests. On the other hand it’s being modified to also be my personal post production workspace where it will serve as not only my mixing stage but also my color correction suite and final mastering facility. Obviously, there is bound to be some overlap between the pro and consumer realms, which up until my experience with the XLS Series of amplifiers scared me just a bit.

Just because the XLS Series of amplifiers are aimed at pro and semi-pro consumers doesn’t mean they don’t have consumer applications -after all power is power and an amplifier is an amplifier. Yes there are different types of amplifiers and no right or wrong way with which to build one, which is why consumers have a lot of selection from which to choose. Most audiophiles and even home theater enthusiasts won’t consider using pro gear and I should know because until recently I hadn’t either. Pro gear has a sort of stigma associated with it, which is rather sad and closed minded if I’m honest, for if enthusiasts truly cared about recreating the musical or cinematic experience in the home wouldn’t they naturally want to use what the pros use? But I digress. Again, I do not wish to take anything away from consumer amplifier manufactures for there are pros and cons to each and every design, the XLS Series included.

For me the XLS Series of amplifiers were practical on multiple fronts; first they could be easily rack mounted in my Sanus rack, second, they’re affordable and readily available both online and at local retail stores and third, they possessed enough power to jump start a Saturn 5 rocket, which is good for mastering yet possessed the requisite connection options needed to enjoy them in the consumer realm as well. I also especially liked their internal crossover capabilities as well as their ability to be configured for both stereo as well as mono applications -those with passive subwoofers should definitely take note.

What didn’t work for me was the XLS 1000′s heightened noise floor, which in my hybrid style setup consisting of consumer loudspeakers (albeit with pro drivers) and consumer grade source components, was simply too loud and noticeable for my tastes. Had I been using the XLS 1000s to power say a subwoofer or two the heightened noise floor would most likely have been less of an issue. However when mated to highly sensitive speakers like my Tekton Design Pendragons and in a space where the ambient room volume isn’t able to be registered on my SPL meter the noise floor was too noticeable. Thankfully, Guitar Center has a 30-day return policy.

I then got in contact with Crown and ordered three of their XLS 2000 amplifiers to see if the final results would be any different than with my findings with the 1000s -they were.

Personal Impressions

Integrating the XLS 2000s into my system was not hugely difficult despite their professional DNA, thanks in part to their XLR/RCA style inputs as well as five-way binding posts. I got my hands on three XLS 2000s in order to test both their stereo and monaural capabilities. For monaural use I used the manual controls to set two of the amps into “Bridged Mono” mode and set the third to “Stereo”. In both instances I set the internal crossovers to “Bypass” though for one brief test I did bi-amp my pair of Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Diamonds; setting the XLS 2000′s internal crossover near the speakers’ internal crossover point. All adjustments were easy to make and after consulting the manual the first time I was able to carry out adjustments solo for the duration of my tests. I was even able to make adjustments in the dark thanks to the display’s cool blue backlighting.

Crown XLS 2000 DriveCore Amplifiers Installed in my Sanus Component Rack.

It didn’t take much for me to fall in love with the Crown XLS 2000 amplifier for I found it to be extremely neutral in that I had a difficult time describing its actual sound. The sonic signature, to my ears, is neither here nor there, it just is, which is the highest praise I can heap upon any product for when you’re mastering the only sound you wish to impart upon the signal and thus the audience is your own. The XLS 2000s are extremely fast, articulate and refined -again, something I wasn’t expecting from such a low cost product. Because of their herculean power output the control they possess over every driver in a loudspeaker’s cabinet is quite remarkable resulting in the retrieval of textures and details that may otherwise go unnoticed. Another bi-product of the 2000′s power is its dynamic prowess, which borders on explosive. The spaciousness, both horizontally and front to back, of the 2000′s soundstage is equally impressive and among its greatest attributes. There is a naturalness of not only tone but also the way in which sound just emanates that is also quite surprising. Vocal and dialog tracks sound completely natural and lifelike in their presentation where as sound effects and elements of score can span the range of emotion from positively pristine and delicate to bombastic and even violent (which is okay). I’m also quite pleased with their ability to accurately portray scale for all too often amplifiers that excel at getting timbres and perhaps spacing right often miss physical scale.

These of course are just my personal impressions using my test material in my personal listening space and studio. Your impressions may differ though I would not discourage you from auditioning a XLS Series amplifier for yourself even if you have no professional or semi-professional audio aspirations. In my humble opinion, the Crown XLS DriveCore Series amplifiers are solid all-round performers and worthy of your consideration.

What I’d Change

I had only a few issues with the XLS Series amplifiers, the biggest being that I wish you could defeat the back lighting on the display. I understand its usefulness in a live venue setting but I’ve seen XLS amps setup in more commercial applications where such light output isn’t necessary -or if it is, it’s only for brief periods of time.

Also, I wish the internal fan was defeatable too, not because it switched on constantly – it never turned on at all -but because in some indoor applications I could see its volume level being a nuisance. Then again it’s there to protect you and your investment so it’s probably best to let it be.

Lastly, if you’re contemplating using any of the XLS Series of amplifiers in your home or consumer oriented system be sure to pay close attention to which model you’re choosing if for no other reason than to ensure you purchase the one with the lowest noise floor. I’m not sure why the noise floor varies model to model suffice to say that those looking for “audiophile grade” sonics will most likely be served best by either the XLS 2000 or 2500 models. Those looking for a subwoofer amplifier should be fine with any of the XLS Series amplifiers.

Conclusion

As this is my first personal foray into professional amplifiers I have nothing with which to compare it to, so I must compare the XLS Series amps from Crown against what I do know and that is consumer grade amplifiers -which may or may not be fair to either side. That being said I found the XLS Series, specifically the XLS 2000, to be every bit as good as their consumer counterparts and in some respects better. I found its neutral tone, control, dynamics and spaciousness incredibly appealing. As an amp used to help master what will eventually be my next full-length feature film, the XLS 2000′s options and sonic attributes have few rivals -especially at its price point. While the XLS Series is clearly a product aimed at the professional markets it is possible to incorporate them into a consumer rig and for that reason, along with their setup flexibility, I find them to be more well rounded than some of even the most versatile of consumer amps. Are they better than consumer amps? That’s an individual question that can only be decided by one’s own tastes and needs. For me they check all the requisite boxes, which is why I’ll be hanging onto them for the long haul, not only as tools to be used in the creation future content but as benchmarks for which to judge future suitors.

  • Rene

    Hi, you have commented on the ‘noise floor’ of these amps. On HTE.com you indicated that the XLS 1000 was the one with the higher level, where as the XLS 1500/2000/2500 should have a lower level. Here you seem to indicate that the 2000/2500 have the lower level and the others (1000/1500?) the higher level (“those looking for “audiophile grade” sonics will most likely be served best by either the XLS 2000 or 2500 models”) so what is the noise level of the 1500? Thanks.

  • http://twitter.com/ARobinsonOnline Andrew Robinson

    The 1500 is 103dB just like the 2000 and 2500 models so it too would be good for “audiophile” applications whereas the 1000, in my humble opinion, should only be used as a subwoofer amplifier if choosing to employ an XLS amp in a consumer fashion. Thanks for reading!