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Dell XPS 27 will resonate with audiophiles at CES 2017

I got a chance to spend a day hands-and-ears-on with Dell's aural juggernaut and trust me, you've never heard an all-in-one get this loud or sound this good.

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I don't really need words to express my opinion about the audiophile update to Dell's XPS 27 all-in-one for 2017. A picture will suffice.

Steve Steigman/Maxell

But I must use my words.

The XPS 27 is mostly about your ears, boasting the most sophisticated audio system built into a PC, at least that I know of. It has 10 speakers. You can see six of them, lined up prominently under the screen, but there are also two down-firing and two passive radiators (the latter for better bass).

The goal of the audio design seems to be bleeding-ear, furniture-vibrating loudness with minimal distortion, a broad frequency-response range and good surround sound directionality. Achieving just one of those is difficult for an all-in-one, much less all of them simultaneously. The closest competitors in this respect are the recent HP Envy all-in-one models, which incorporate four front-firing Bang & Olufsen speakers.

And Dell achieves those goals. When cranked up all the way, it's loud enough that I couldn't hear myself singing at the top of my lungs. (Thankfully, the office was deserted.) Music ranging from soft to loud, high frequencies to low and instruments and voices with complex overtones all sounded great cranked to the max.

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The speaker grills are based on the Fibonacci sequence, chemically etched in stainless steel and have a mesh with 48 percent open area. Shiny!

Sarah Tew/CNET

I could feel "Smells Like Teen Spirit," even in the middle of the volume range, and it produced rich sound at the lower volumes, even in an environment with horrible acoustics. The surround-sound rendition in movies and music seemed quite accurate during my brief check. I do find the highs a little too bright for my taste, but that's personal preference, and the rest of the frequency range sounds a bit warmer.

To incorporate PC-shaking audio, Dell had to create a rigid cabinet for the system. It remains to be seen whether the bass vibrations will affect the system in any way over time.

The audio is what makes the XPS 27 stand out. Otherwise, it's a pretty typical Windows all-in-one. Our unit was reasonably fast, but not a monster.

Prices start at $1,499 (directly converted, about £1,460 and AU$2,500), with the initial processor choices being 6th Generation Core i5 and i7 processors (Skylake). You can also get it with integrated graphics or discrete AMD R9 M470 or M485X GPUs and up to 64GB RAM. It's got three drive bays that you can configure with a single m.2 PCIe SSD (up to 1TB), 2 SATA drives up to 2TB each and/or a 2TB SATA drive bolstered by 32GB M.2 SSD. In total, the system has 4 USB 3.0 ports -- one on the side and the other three inset behind the display, though you lose one to the Bluetooth mouse dongle-- and 2 Thunderbolt 3.

The touch display on the unit I looked at has a really bright 27-inch display. Your display choices are are a UHD 4K (3,840 x 2,160) touch panel or a nontouch panel of the same resolution but 50 nits brighter and using Dell's thin-bezel Infinity Edge. Similar to the Microsoft Surface Studio, the stand for the touch version lets it fold flat, while both the touch and nontouch versions can tilt back by 30 degrees. However, the touch version doesn't support a stylus.

Out of the box, the colors looked aggressively saturated, but after calibration they were accurate enough for photo editing and covered 100 percent of the Adobe RGB color gamut. (I couldn't find a way to manually set the color temperature.)

Unfortunately, I found the display far too reflective, even when tilted to try to reduce the light incidence. The guts of the computer reside in the display section, like an iMac, but I prefer them in a base, like the HP Envy or Surface Studio. The cables run out the back through an opening in the stand -- only a single USB port, SD card slot and headphone jack grace the sides of the display. That's fine if you're a set-it-and-forget-it hardware user, but it's a pain if you need to get into the back USB ports on a regular basis.

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