VIVE LA DIFFÉRENCE!
If you like hi-fi kit with a twist at whatever price level you choose Focal is more than happy to oblige
It’s your classic fairytale success story. .an sets up small workshop in the back of his family business, makes some ama[ing stuff, turns small workshop into award-winning empire of international acclaim, carries on making ama[ing stuff.
When Jacques. ahul set up shop in his family-run precisionengineering concern in Saint - ti en ne ,' rance,hebui lt drive units. And since he started in 1979, his company has grown from two to 200 employees, its facilities now include an anechoic chamber and auditoriums for tuning, and there are over 40 hi-fi speakers currently in its catalogue – with one model costing a hair-raising c130,000.
But despite its success, 'ocal hasn’t flown the nest. It’s still based in its home city, and it doesn’t rely on outsourcing. 'rench heritage is its heart and soul. As well as being one of the few speaker brands to manufacture its own drive units, around three quarters of everything it makes is designed and developed in-house – so when you see ‘.ade in 'rance’ stamped on a 'ocal product, you know it’s legit.
'lick through the What Hi-fi? archive and there’s no sign of a 'ocal speaker until 200 – not because the company (or the maga[ine) was slow off the starting block ('ocal established itself internationally in the 1990s), but because they didn’t fall under the 'ocal umbrella.
While the loudspeaker and drive unit form 'ocal’s historic backbone, the two were different entities at birth. Indeed, .ahul set up the separate J.lab speaker brand in order to house his 'ocal drivers. J.lab’s debut was the small bookshelf DB 13, which featured a dual voice coil designed to reach the same volume levels as bigger boxes.
The dual voice coil triggered a series of innovations. In 1981, 'ocal created its signature inverted dome tweeter – a driver designed for precision and wide dispersion, which still appears in its speaker line-up.
In 198 , its ,2 cone – used in the J.lab Vega and Antea models – spawned a series of sandwich-structure cones, this one comprising layers of aramid fibres (the bread) either side of a hollow micro-ball structure (the filling), which aimed to improve the complex harmony between weight, rigidity and damping.
It was 1998 by the time a J.lab speaker first appeared in What Hi-fi?. The model in question was the five-star .icron Carat (c39 ), Ôthe smallest and most affordable of its huge rangeõ.
But the ambition had already shifted from modestly si[ed and priced models to premium high-end towards luxury à la Française. This, in turn, paved the way for some serious technology.
The ,2 cone’s pioneering sandwich structure led, in 199 , to the W cone system: a sheet of woven glass tissue applied to each side of an acrylic/plexiglass foam core, which was more rigid and lighter than synthetic fibres such as Aramid. The ‘W’ is derived from the cone’s glass/glass (‘verre/verre’ in 'rench) anatomy. It’s the Kewel in the crown of the Utopia range,
headed by the (rande Utopia floorstander (pictured, right). The (rande, now in its third generation, weighs 2 0kg, stands over ft tall, and will set you back about c130,000 (double in a gold finish).
Sitting amidst a Utopia’s W cone drivers is the Beryllium inverted dome tweeter. Beryllium is seven times more rigid than titanium or aluminium, but with the same mass – and the tweeter can reproduce frequencies spanning an incredible 1000)[ to 40k)[.
BEAUTIFUL INSIDE AND OUT
'ocal designed the ' cone in 2013 to feature in the more affordable Aria 900 range, from which What Hi-fi? praised the four-star 90 (c 00) and five-star 90 (c7 0) standmounters. Their chosen material, flax, ticks boxes for a sandwich structure thanks to its low density, high elasticity and excellent internal damping – and its distinctive look lends aesthetics a hand, too.
Striking aesthetics and sophistication are synonymous with 'ocal, as illustrated by Sopra. 'rom the four-star standmount No1 (c 00) to breathtaking flagship floorstander No3 (c1 ,7 0), you see close collaboration between designers and engineers. Sopra’s innovations include an I)- (Infinite )orn -oading) system that delicately absorbs the rear wave of the Beryllium tweeter to reduce distortion and push treble definition to the max.
BEYOND HOME HI-FI
Elsewhere, 'ocal hasn’t been afraid to spread its wings. Its first car audio products arrived in 1989, and since 2002, 'ocal Professional has offered a line of recording studio monitors.
Today, the company has moved into headphones. The Spirit range of on-ears, the five-star Sphear earbuds (c100), and now the Utopia – an audacious open-backed design with redesigned versions of the Beryllium tweeters found in the Utopia speaker range and a price tag of c32 0.
Additionally, 'ocal makes one of What Hi-fi?’s favourite soundbars, the Dimension (c890).
It’s an impressive diversity of products, every one staying true to 'ocal’s guiding principles: innovation, excellence, performance, pleasure and tradition. a spnne Cien.
Focal is still based in Saint-Etienne, and it doesnt't rely on outsourcing
"A sense of scale that we rarely, if ever, hear at this price" - What Hi-Fi? on the five-star Aria 906
Focal's Berylium inverted dme tweeter" two and a half times lighter than titanium... and seven times as grid È
T f ÉÊÈ U + É E8T Q R Ê µmnb bbb + ÉÇÊ È " + + $