Legacy Audio Focus 20/20 loudspeaker Page 2
The ribbon tweeter offered the special speed and extension of its kind, but, even after extensive break-in, and while certainly not reticent, it was a touch softer at the top of its range than some others I have heard. It's not an openly euphonic coloration so much as, I suspect, a deliberate design choice to avoid overly etched and fatiguing highs (a sensible choice, given the nature of many modern recordings). Given killer source material, such as the exquisitely recorded celeste on The Nutcracker Suite, from Ernest Ansermet and Royal Opera House Orchestra's The Royal Ballet (LP, RCA/Classic LDS-6065), the highs were beautifully grainless and tactile. The character of individual recording spaces was very slightly diminished, but the perfumed atmospherics of Soriano and Frühbeck de Burgos' unmatched performance of de Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain (LP, Alto/EMI ASD 545) was spellbinding.
I shamelessly adore the Beecham/Royal Philharmonic Scheherazade, preferring that interpretation to the more famous Reiner/Chicago recording [me too—Ed.]. My older-than-dirt red-label LP (Angel S35505) is still in surprisingly good shape, and the Legacys (with the VTL TL-7.5 and Lamm ML1.1 amps) showed Sir Tommy's seductress in rich, lustrous light. This performance combines drama, sweetness, and sheer sex appeal in a never-equaled way. The Legacys let me hear individual violinists—and lots of them—playing together with discipline and purpose. Everyone had enough elbow room, and the ensemble sound had excellent weight and density.
Dynamics were what one would reasonably expect from a large, well-executed large system—very impressive—and were consistent from the low bass through the penultimate octave. The same slight timbral softening was echoed in a minor diminution of dynamics in the same top half-octave. The Focus was a tremendous performer with large-scale power music, whether rock or classical. It also proved highly adept at resolving low-level detail, and did not excel merely at the kaboom moments.
The Focus 20/20 showed a decided preference for two quite different-sounding speaker cables. The Cardas Golden Reference biwires brought a delicious palpability and sensuality to their presentation, and the Nordost Valhalla (used with Stereovox jumpers from mid/tweeter to bass) opened up the lateral aspect of the soundstage a bit more and resolved more low-level information, particularly at the back of the stage.
Bill Dudleston wasn't kidding when he said that the Focus is a speaker designed for music lovers, but to deduce from this that they won't be satisfying to audiophiles would be inaccurate. While the speaker's emphasis is not on the virtues of audio per se, it does nearly everything that the fussiest audiophile might want. I found the Focus 20/20 to be a generous, big-hearted speaker that gave enormous pleasure, and brought life and joy to the music that I put through it. A bit forgiving sometimes, yes, but it's a lot easier to love the wonderful girl who acknowledges but tolerates your shortcomings and quirks than the one who consistently picks at your every little imperfection.
As always, I trusted my own judgments in evaluating the Focus, but perhaps the most eloquent testimonials to its essence came from friends. The singer in the band I occasionally play bass guitar with doesn't give a hoot in hell about audio—her inexpensive receiver, and the Bose modular speakers strewn haphazardly around her living room, are ample evidence of that. Though Tina loves music, she had never offered much comment on the exotica she'd heard in my listening room on various occasions. But when I played "Wicked Game," from Chris Isaak's Heart Shaped World (LP, Reprise 25837-1), for her through the Legacys, the expression on her face at its conclusion was priceless. She looked at me in completely stunned joy. "I never knew music could sound like that." (I must admit that the Legacys were in exceptionally suave company that evening, driven by the Manley Steelhead, the VTL TL-7.5, and the Hovland Radia, which I will be reviewing in the near future.)
On the other side of the audiophile spectrum, a very good pal of mine is a longtime audio-industry professional; after a lengthy Saturday night bull-and-listening session, his only comment was, "It's so enjoyable to listen to these speakers—you never notice them, only the music." Higher praise there is not.
Yes, you can get a bit more pure resolution from other speakers, as well as a soupçon of extra timbral refinement and image specificity. I do not minimize one bit the importance of that extra performance, but you'd better be prepared to shell out new-car kind of money to get it. Any speaker that equals or surpasses the Focus 20/20's combination of unforced musicality and broadband excellence will come very dear indeed. Even more impressive is that Bill Dudleston has done this the hard way. Integrating a seven-driver, five-way system to this degree of excellence is one difficult job. To do it this well, and for such a comparatively reasonable price, is an extraordinary achievement.
When JA introduced me at a "Meet the Editors" forum at the Home Entertainment 2003 show, he accurately described my beat as "the cost-no-object stuff." And yes, I am terribly spoiled, but not so dogmatic that I can't have some preconceptions shattered when the facts demand it. Many in the world of audio—including, at times, yours truly—have long held fast to the mistaken belief that only a certain amount of performance is available at any given price point, and that the higher the price, the higher the performance. This is often true, but not always—and the Focus 20/20 is conclusive proof. The speaker gave me a sort of reverse sticker shock.
There's no denying that all reviewers approach any product they review with some set of expectations, however vague. I expected the Legacys to be competent—the company's excellent reputation and longevity virtually guaranteed that. This business weeds out the incompetent and the mediocre with ruthless vengeance, and few speaker manufacturers survive for long, much less for 20 years, without consistently delivering the goods. What I was not prepared for was the breadth and depth of the Focus' performance envelope at such a reasonable price.
I know that, in "real-world" terms, $6500 is a pile of money to spend on a pair of speakers. But the world of high-end audio is nothing if not a fantasyland. In this world there are speakers that cost twenty times as much as the Legacy, and these days there are more $20-$30k speakers than you can shake a stick at. In the audio world, value is therefore a far more flexible concept, and I know of no speaker close to the Focus' price that can offer as much of everything as it does. In the completeness of its ability to connect emotionally with a listener on the deepest levels, the Focus is, if not singular, mightily exceptional.
The Legacy Focus 20/20 is a genuinely full-range speaker in every sense; its frequency response, dynamic capabilities, resolution, and sense of musical communication can fairly be compared to cone speakers costing far, far more, and a select few panel speakers that are, inevitably, more difficult to drive than is the Focus. Combine the 20/20's outstanding overall performance with its efficiency, easiness to drive, and quality of handcraftsmanship, and the results is the finest value that I have ever encountered in high-end audio. Quite an accomplishment, Mr. Dudleston. Take a bow—you've more than earned it.