Of Focal's 200 employees, only 15 are "allowed" to build the Utopia line of loudspeakers. "Utopia, to Jacques Mahul's way of thinking, represents the finest expression of Focal—so only the most experienced employees can build Utopia products. They are also the most critical employees and we do not push them to produce mass numbers—we push them to produce perfect products," said Gérard Chrétien, Focal's managing director (and former editor of L'Audiophile>.
Focal allowed me to visit the Be facility in which it manufactures its beryllium tweeters in a HazMat room. They would not, however, allow me to take photographs within it—saying that some of the machines were secret. So they gave me this factory authorized image of their technician examining a completed tweeter.
One of Focal's core technologies is its use of "multi-ferrites," Mahul having realized that it was more precise to use multiple magnets in big drivers than it was to rely upon finding enough truly huge, uniform magnets.
Another hand process is stretching and fitting various layers of adhesive-impregnated glass-fiber material to the front and back of the foam center. Again, depending on the driver's purpose, different amounts of glass fiber layers are employed. Since Focal controls the flare, drive system, and crossover, the company has massive amounts of control over elements like mass and Q.
Stiff, extremely light "aircraft" foam is stretched over a mold by hand and gently heated to maintain "dimensional stability," according to Dominic Baker, Focal's export sales director. The molds have different flares, depending on the driver's purpose—and they are produced in-house by Opus 42.
Focal combines high-tech work stations with a phenomenal amount of hand labor. Metal drivers and inexpensive dome tweeters are heavily automated, but many drivers are assembled by hand, especially Focal's "W" composite cones.
Back in April, Daniel Jacques of Audio Plus, Focal's North American distributor, invited me to visit Focal's factory in St. Etienne. Since I'd never reviewed any Focal loudspeakers, I didn't know a lot about the company, but I have spent many happy hours in Jonathan Scull's ribbon chair, listening to his Grand Utopias, so I was eager to go—and to learn more.
You know how life is: It's just one damn thing after another. I spent some time attempting to re-imagine this blog and I dealt with a health issue. clickfor sound effect Well, I'm better now and I have some fun things (I think) in store.
Matthew Guerrieri (aka Soho the Dog) has a new installation of his ongoing series Strauss and Mahler Re-Enact Your Favorite Movie Moments. Today's episode is The Ten Commandments. Read 'em all—they're hilarious.
Visitors to the 2008 International Auto Show, currently taking place at NYC's Jacob Javits Convention Center, might discover something different at the Bentley display: a high-end audio listening room. Bentley Motors and Naim have teamed up for the "Naim For Bentley" program, which will be offered as a sound package upgrade for all Bentley models by year's end.
Blender has just posted its nominations for greatest record industry screw-ups. I have a few quibbles, but as a whole, Blender tells a tale of monumental stupidity,from Decca passing on the Beatles because Dick Rowe was irritated that too many frantic teens were attempting to get into the Cavern Club to shutting down Napster without having a legitimate channel to replace it.