A classy-look­ing speaker with a re­fined sound

FOR Re­fined bal­ance; ex­cel­lent res­o­lu­tion; su­perb tre­ble; build AGAINST Could do with a bit more punch and at­tack

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Contents -

When two large, trunk-sized boxes ar­rived at What Hi-fi? head­quar­ters, we won­dered how we could have mis­judged the size of the Fo­cal So­pra No.1s so badly. Ex­pect­ing to re­view con­ven­tional medium-sized stand­moun­ters, the pack­ag­ing sug­gested some­thing the size of a stout pig.

Open­ing the boxes re­veals that ded­i­cated stands are in­cluded, one per box. Mys­tery solved. They’re nice stands too, with thick glass bases, wooden col­umns and metal top plates. They’re easy to as­sem­ble, sta­ble and have given some thought to cable man­age­ment. The speak­ers bolt onto the stands, which makes things pleas­antly se­cure.

Fa­mil­iar traits

Any­one fa­mil­iar with Fo­cal’s high-end Utopia and Elec­tra ranges will note the sim­i­lar­i­ties. There’s the com­pany’s trade­mark 25mm in­verted beryl­lium dome – one of the sweet­est and most ca­pa­ble tweet­ers we’ve heard – along­side a 16.5cm ‘W’ mid/bass driver.

The mid/bass cone uses a sand­wich con­struc­tion with a core of spe­cially de­signed foam be­tween two sheets of glass fi­bre. This struc­ture is de­signed to de­liver the speaker-cone Holy Grail of light weight, rigid­ity and good damp­ing.

Fo­cal makes the drive units in-house, so has a great deal of flex­i­bil­ity when it comes to fine-tuning the cone’s per­for­mance to match the in­tended use. This is, po­ten­tially at least, a mas­sive ad­van­tage over its com­peti­tors.

The cab­i­net is one of the com­pany’s usual hefty af­fairs. Great care has been taken in get­ting the time-align­ment right be­tween the driv­ers, which bodes well for the fo­cus and in­te­gra­tion of the sound. So far, so very Fo­cal.

Look be­yond the rather predictable head­line tech de­tails and you’ll find there are also plenty of new things to consider. That in­verted dome may look fa­mil­iar, but Fo­cal’s en­gi­neers have had a de­ter­mined go at im­prov­ing per­for­mance by deal­ing with the com­pres­sion ef­fects of the air be­hind it.

Round the back

The rear-fir­ing sound is now fed into a damped cham­ber be­fore ex­it­ing to the out­side world through a flared horn. This is what the grille at the back of the No.1s cov­ers. Such a de­sign not only re­duces dy­namic com­pres­sion, but also im­proves tre­ble pu­rity.

The mid/bass driver hasn’t been left alone ei­ther. Its mo­tor sys­tem has been re­designed to re­duce dis­tor­tion, and plenty of work has been done to the sur­round to help the driver de­liver more ac­cu­rate re­sults.

The 1’s cab­i­net does a pass­able im­pres­sion of a gran­ite boul­der. At 19kg, it’s heavy – and that fig­ure pretty much dou­bles when you add the stands. The gen­eral level of fin­ish is as good as you’d ex­pect at this price, though we no­tice some mi­nor paint flaws around the bolt holes in the speaker’s base on our re­view sam­ple. There’s a choice of five fin­ishes: one wood op­tion – wal­nut – and four lac­quered paint fin­ishes (white, black, red and or­ange).

These Fo­cals de­serve top-class part­ner­ing kit, so we use Naim’s NDS/555PS streamer and the Clea­r­au­dio In­no­va­tion Wood turntable as sources. The Gamut D3i/d200i pre/power com­bi­na­tion de­liv­ers the grunt, with Naim’s NAC N272/250DR pro­vid­ing back-up. Our phono stage is Cyrus’s Phono Sig­na­ture pow­ered by the PSX R2 out­board sup­ply. Chord Com­pany and Naim pro­vide all the ca­bles.

These stand­moun­ters aren’t un­duly fussy about positioning. We end up with them out into the room with a slight an­gle to­wards the lis­ten­ing po­si­tion. Tonal­ity is nicely bal­anced in this po­si­tion. No speaker that stands 43cm high is ever go­ing to de­liver oo­dles of deep bass, but the So­pras com­pen­sate with an im­pres­sive level of agility and pre­ci­sion at low fre­quen­cies.

A sweeter tweeter

We’re big fans of the sound of Fo­cal’s beryl­lium dome, and here it per­forms bet­ter than ever thanks to the work done on han­dling the backward ra­di­a­tion. Highs sound open and re­fined, but still have enough bite to con­vince.

There’s an as­ton­ish­ing amount of de­tail on of­fer, and we’re im­pressed with the way these speak­ers ren­der har­mon­i­cally rich in­stru­ments such as

”We’re big fans of the sound of Fo­cal’s beryl­lium dome tweeter, and here it per­forms bet­ter than ever thanks to the work done on han­dling the backward ra­di­a­tion”

cym­bals. The sound is de­liv­ered with be­liev­able pres­ence and crisp edges with­out sound­ing the least bit harsh.

Lis­ten to Here’s The Ten­der Com­ing from The Un­thanks and ev­ery­thing clicks into place – the speaker’s midrange is spell­bind­ing. It’s sub­tle, ar­tic­u­late and mas­sively in­for­ma­tive. The group’s vo­cals are han­dled su­perbly, the nu­ances de­liv­ered with con­sid­er­able skill. We’re im­pressed by the nat­u­ral pre­sen­ta­tion and the way the 1’s keep the in­stru­men­tal back­drop or­gan­ised and co­he­sive.

Ex­pan­sive New World

Mov­ing on to Dvořák’s New World

Sym­phony shows off the Fo­cals’ ex­pan­sive stereo imag­ing and abil­ity to layer a sound­stage with pre­ci­sion. It’s a fluid pre­sen­ta­tion, in­for­ma­tive and en­ter­tain­ing in equal pro­por­tions. Dy­nam­ics are good, the So­pras de­liv­er­ing low-level shifts with con­vic­tion.

Like ev­ery speaker of this size, larger-scale crescen­dos lack a bit of author­ity and reach, but you’ll need to move onto big­ger, floor­stand­ing mod­els to get a no­table im­prove­ment here.

Po­lite com­pany

Play some­thing such as The Roots’

Thought Is Like and the Fo­cals don’t sound quite so com­fort­able. They’re a lit­tle too po­lite, lack­ing the punch and at­tack to draw us into the mu­sic. Rhyth­mi­cally things are de­cent, but not quite able to latch onto this hard­charg­ing tune with the grip it de­serves.

There’s no ques­tion­ing the So­pras’ re­fine­ment though – they refuse to over­state the record­ing’s coarse na­ture – nor their abil­ity to un­ravel the com­plex pro­duc­tion with­out sound­ing too clin­i­cal.

The So­pra No.1s are im­pres­sively so­phis­ti­cated speak­ers. They’re re­fined, foren­sic and pleas­ing in their abil­ity to or­gan­ise all that in­for­ma­tion ef­fec­tively. Lis­ten to clas­si­cal or smaller-scale vo­cal-based mu­sic and the 1s are elo­quent and charm­ing and right up there with the finest speak­ers at this price. But if you like your mu­sic to have edge, and want some speak­ers that will get your toes tap­ping rather than just your brain en­gaged, oth­ers do bet­ter.

The So­pra No.1s’ let­ter-box re­flex port is sited un­derneath the cable ter­mi­nals

Rear-fir­ing tweeter sound ex­its through a flared horn via a damp­ing cham­ber

The idio­syn­cratic styling strikes you first, then you no­tice the solid build

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.