Focal and Naim Bring the Power

On Thursday night, Chris Shaw, one of Focal’s setup men, was having a tough time. He’d almost finished dialing in the 584-lb Focal Grande Utopias EM Evo speakers, but their bass (–6dB at 14Hz) caused a ceiling light fixture in the large Focal/Naim room to rattle. Shaw pushed a printed show banner out of the way to make space for a ladder. A few minutes later, thanks to some sticky tape, the distracting noise was gone. But annoyingly, something else now sounded off. The music’s soundstage had partially collapsed.

Shaw took a deep breath and a 15-minute break. Surveying the room on his return, he noticed the banner that he’d moved. Small things—tiny things—matter when you work with super-refined gear at this level. Sure enough: Shaw put the banner back where it had been, reviving the soundstage achieved half an hour earlier.

Taking care of details to the point of obsessiveness is this company’s stock-in-trade. It’s probably one reason I’ve never heard a Focal speaker I didn’t like. Some, I love … and the Grande Utopias just jumped to the top of the list. Introduced at High End Munich in 2018, they aren’t new, but I was excited to hear them all the same, not having previously had the opportunity.

Driven by state-of-the-art Naim Statement components (two NAP S1 monoblocks and an NAC S1 preamp, all $99,999 each), the Grandes went beyond sounding grand. They were revelatory. Team Focal demoed them for about 15 minutes at the top of every hour—the system was one of multiple setups in the Utopia B ballroom—repeatedly drawing a standing-room-only crowd.

A recorded-live drum solo by Gojira’s Mario Duplantier was an object lesson in bottomless dynamics. During U.K. singer Lusaint’s version of Chris Isaac’s “Wicked Game,” the system painted a picture of the recording space that stretched in all directions behind the lead voice, seeming to blend music with advanced holography. Next, “Bungee Jump,” a deeply satisfying techno track by Captain Hook and Astrix, proved that the Grande Utopias can play without a hint of stress or strain at SPLs exceeding 105dB.

Parents were instructed to cover their young children’s ears. The rest of us reveled in the spectacle, quietly grooving to the luxurious, beastly beats. I shivered.

Would I get even a fraction of the same effect when listening to the new Focal Aria Evo X 3s ($5198/pr) being demoed in the same room? It was certainly a step down—okay, several steps down—but it was not a letdown. Connected to Musical Fidelity’s M2si integrated amplifier and MX-Stream digital player ($1149 for each component), the Arias played SOHN’s “The Wheel” and RY X’s “Howling” with all artistry intact. They looked good doing it, too, especially in the moss green finish that can pass for teal or blue, depending on the angle and temperature of the light.

Take a tour of Focal's exhibit in this video. Using decent headphones is recommended for optimal audio.