It was raining at our hotel in the desert, but none of us had any interest in going outside, anyway.
What brought us all to Mesa, AZ was the desire to become better acquainted with a kind of sumptuous technology that makes just leaving the sofa a struggle: devices capable of replicating the experience of the world in such accurate detail to render any venture outside of the living room all but unnecessary.
While video technology has improved in leaps in bounds in recent years, it is still far away from the transformative immersion that today’s sound systems can provide. Close your eyes, and suddenly you’re in the front row at the symphony orchestra, or caught in the middle of a pounding rainstorm. And when it comes to creating the physical devices to convert electric signals into these auditory experiences, arguably one of the best in the world is French speaker maker, Focal.
I, along with some three-dozen dealers and representatives, recently headed to the desert to attend a series of product training classes and to get a closer look at what these aural virtuosos had been up to lately.
Focal's IC 706V ST in-ceiling speaker
While long renowned for its hi-fi speakers and audiophile headphones, Focal is now making a foray into the mainstream home entertainment market with its Dimension soundbar and subwoofer base. Positioned at a price point directly in line with other industry-leading specialty audio manufacturers’ all-in-one offerings, most notably Bowers & Wilkins’ Panorama 2.
Dimension’s high power—rated at a brawny 450W, compared with B&W’s 175—in conjunction with its aluminum unibody construction, make for almost no distortion, even at uncomfortably high volume levels. But what really sets this soundbar apart is the way the surround channels have been engineered. All five of the bar’s drivers are identical; but with phase and delay adjustments on the rear-channel drivers, the soundbar is able to produce accurate surround sound that is 70 percent independent of a room’s reflections, according to the company.
The result is a bona fide 5.1 surround experience for customers with space limitations. The Dimension is designed to have a vastly wider sound stage, with notably smooth, even performance from almost all listening positions in my demo.
The next training I sat in on was for the company’s newest offerings to the custom install channel. Here too, the company has clearly been hard at work thinking outside of the box (or speaker enclosure, in this case). Focal offers a range of in-wall and in-ceiling speakers that allow consumers to put hi-fi-quality sound throughout their entire homes—even outside, with weatherproof models as well. To make things as easy as possible on the integrator, these speakers can be installed by one person, without tools, thanks to the company’s clip-on mounting bracket.
This presentation also gave an in-depth look at the company’s dedication to innovation at the most essential level: the speakers themselves. We learned about the different materials used and the physics behind their selection. In its high-end tweeters, for example, Focal uses beryllium, while other top-notch speaker brands use diamond for its rigidity. Beryllium—which costs 50 times more than gold—is multiple times lighter than diamond, with only slightly less rigidity. Since high-frequency performance is reliant on the acceleration of the tweeter, this formula allows for a much clearer, silkier high-end than any other material.
Attendees gather around to listen to a Focal demo.
The final training focused on the company’s new Sib&Co and Dôme home theater surround sound systems. These systems, including the latter line’s ability to expand up to a 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos setup, are priced squarely in the wheelhouse of a typical consumer’s budget—with the most expensive arrangement checking in at $1,999—but sound far more expensive, with thick, powerful bass, crystal-clear highs and potent mids. Listening to the Dolby Amos demo disc through the Dôme system, I couldn’t fight my facial muscles from forming a smile as the illusion of rainfall enveloped me; I would be hard-pressed to recall another time when my senses were so thoroughly tricked.
Also demonstrated in this training was the Easya wireless hi-fi stereo system, another big step in the company’s efforts to adapt to the ever-growing desire for practicality without sacrificing quality. The pair of 2.5-way speakers fulfills this demand handedly, with each of the cabinets’ 85-watt CD-quality receivers pumping out nuanced highs and mids above very formidable bass. Indeed, had I been blindfolded, I might have mistook its performance for that of a genuine hi-fi system. So much for the convenience compromise!
For a company that has for so long catered almost exclusively to a very narrow group of discerning audiophiles, its nascent thrust into the broader consumer spectrum is certainly a welcome undertaking for audio aficionados worldwide. Expect to hear a lot more from this company in the coming months as it brings its “Spirit of Sound” to CEDIA and beyond.