Floor Loudspeaker Reviews

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Robert Schryer  |  May 14, 2021  |  15 comments
The first image that pops into my mind when I think of Focal is of the iconic Grande Utopias and how at one Montreal audio show I couldn't believe that the gentlest, sweetest music I'd heard all day was coming out of those massive speakers. I saw it as a paradox of sorts.

Founded in the City of Lights, Focal has been around since 1979, the year Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now received the Palme d'Or at Cannes and when the average annual income in America was $17,500. Focal started as a twinkle in the eye of engineer and technology journalist Jacques Mahul, who believed he'd built a speaker that would appeal to hi-fi enthusiasts: the DB13. Fast-forward half a century, and Focal, designated "entreprise du patrimoine vivant" (living heritage company) by the French government, employs some 230 people at its large, stylish, multilevel digs.

Robert Deutsch  |  Nov 15, 2010  |  0 comments

Does spending more money on audio equipment get you better sound? Some audiophiles assume that anything that costs more must be better—and that if it's relatively inexpensive, then it can't be any good. Others hold the opposite view: expensive components can't possibly be worth their prices, and those who manufacture them—and audio journalists who report on them—must be charlatans.

Michael Fremer  |  Jul 15, 2007  |  1 comments
With the introduction of the 1000 Be series in 2005, Focal slipped its exclusive, high-performance beryllium tweeter out of the stuffy-looking Utopia series and into a sleeker, more stylish, more modern form.
Robert Deutsch  |  Oct 25, 2018  |  5 comments
"Any color, so long as it's black." That was the choice famously offered by Henry Ford to buyers of his Model T. Some makers of loudspeakers, notably GoldenEar Technology, follow the same dictum.

Not Focal. The Kanta No.2 ($9999/pair) is available with a cabinet finished in High Black Lacquer or Walnut veneer, with baffles finished in a variety of colors, including High Glass Carrara White and Gauloise Blue. The review samples had black cabinets and white baffles, which made me think of the two-tone cars that were the rage in the 1950s and '60s—and which may be coming back.

John Atkinson  |  Jul 19, 2010  |  0 comments
Considering that the crates they're shipped in are each as large as a Manhattan studio apartment, once they'd been set up in my listening room, Focal's Maestro Utopia III speakers weren't as visually overpowering as I'd anticipated. The elegant dark-gloss front baffles, the gloss-gray side panels, and the fact that the speaker's three subenclosures are vertically arrayed so that the top, midrange section is angled down, significantly reduced their apparent size.
Kalman Rubinson  |  Mar 24, 2017  |  11 comments
When it comes to Focal loudspeakers, I've been a lurker. For decades now, their demonstrations at audio shows have been memorable—a highlight was when, several years ago, I got Focal to play a powerful percussion track through a pair of their Grande Utopias at very high volume on a show's last day. Just to hear and feel how this mammoth system could deliver clarity and impact was awe-inspiring, and it was underscored by seeing folks from all the neighboring rooms quickly entering to enjoy it with me. It has also been a continuing pleasure to relax and listen to music with Stereophile's former Senior Editor, Jonathan Scull through his Focal Utopias, which he purchased in 1998. Alas, the years have turned, speakers have come and gone, and I had not yet had any Focal speakers in my own system. (Bob Deutsch seemed always to get the jump on me!)
Jack English  |  Mar 29, 2012  |  First Published: May 01, 1996  |  0 comments
When you wish upon a star,
Makes no difference who you are;
Anything your heart desires,
Will come to you
.—Jiminy Cricket

12-21-92-17-52-46. Big deal, another $100,000 lottery winner. Where's Jean-Phillipe? Probably off getting us something to drink. Who can blame him? I can't believe people sit around dreaming and waiting to hear all these winning numbers. J-P, you out there?

Young, good-looking, bright—J-P had a lot going for him. He certainly didn't need to sit here listening to winning lottery numbers. Ah, there you are. What are you mumbling about?

"12-21-92-17-52-46. I've won! I've won! I've won!" He shouted over and over, almost crushing me in a bear hug.

My oh my, J-P had really won a big one. And what was it he'd been dreaming about while buying all those tickets every payday for the last three years? Speakers! He'd wanted to own the best loudspeakers in the world, and now he could.

Paul Messenger  |  Sep 14, 2003  |  0 comments
I reviewed JMlab's Mezzo Utopia loudspeaker in the July 1999 Stereophile (Vol.22 No.7). By chance, the Mezzos had followed a pair of B&W Nautilus 801s into my listening room, and the substitution had proved rather interesting. For all their many fine qualities, the 801, with its 15" bass driver, was distinctly bass-heavy in my room, whereas the 11" drivers of the Mezzos seemed just right in this regard.
Paul Bolin  |  Jun 13, 2004  |  First Published: Jun 01, 2004  |  0 comments
Symphony orchestras once had definable national characters. When high-end audio came along, those characters became the national sounds of the gear. While most audio manufacturers, like most symphony orchestras, have tended in recent decades to homogenize into an "international" sound, most French audio gear has remained distinct.
John Atkinson, Wes Phillips  |  Jun 03, 1997  |  0 comments
A science-fiction parable I read too many years ago to remember who wrote it used the image of a glass jar stuffed with colored plastic spheres. The story's protagonist was asked whether the glass was full. "Of course," was his reply, whereupon a hidden faucet was turned, the jar filled up with water, and fish swam in the spaces between the balls.
Dick Olsher  |  Dec 22, 2009  |  First Published: Nov 22, 1986  |  0 comments
Irving M. "Bud" Fried, an early contributor to Stereophile, hails from the city of brotherly love, and I must confess to finding it difficult avoiding a few brotherly jabs at Mr. Fried's name: something like "this Bud's for you" would surely not escape deletion by our conscientious Editor. And what if I should happen to complain of a dried-up or "Fried" quality in the upper mids—JA is bound to object to this breach of good taste. Well, having gotten that off my chest, you'd be interested to know that I consider it quite appropriate that someone from Phil-a-del-phia should be in love with transmission-line enclosures; the name is almost as convoluted as a trip down a folded line.
Thomas J. Norton  |  Aug 06, 2015  |  First Published: Jun 01, 1992  |  0 comments
If anyone can be said to be the guru of the transmission line, that would have to be Irving M. "Bud" Fried. He has been promoting the design for years now, first with the made-in-England IMF designs, later with the designs of Fried Products, made right here in the US of A. He has long been convinced of the basic superiority of the design, and still uses it in his top-of-the-line systems. But true transmission lines are invariably big, heavy, hard to build, and, for all of those reasons, expensive. Essentially, they involve a long, convoluted, heavily damped tunnel behind the bass driver which channels the back wave to the outside world. The length and cross-sectional area of the tunnel are of some importance, although the technical basis for the transmission line, as applied to a loudspeaker enclosure, has never been firmly nailed down. Certainly there is no mathematical model for the transmission line as complete as that developed over the past two decades for the sealed or ported box (footnote 1).

But Bud Fried has clung to the transmission line, for all of its complexities. In order to bring at least some of its touted advantages to a lower price point, he had to come up with a variation which would work in a smaller enclosure. That variation was the "line tunnel," which, according to Fried, originated in an early-1970s Ferrograph (a British company specializing in tape recorders) monitor which was later adapted by IMF. Basically it consists of a short (compared with a transmission line) duct from the inside to the outside of the heavily damped enclosure. The duct is designed with approximately the same cross-sectional area as the loudspeaker cone.

J. Gordon Holt  |  Jun 11, 2006  |  First Published: Sep 11, 1976  |  2 comments
In the last issue we published a rather enthusiastic "Quickie" report on a small, $190/pair speaker system from a new company—the FMI Model 80. It was virtually devoid of low end, even as a stereo pair (pairing effectively doubles bass output), and slightly rough as well as a shade soft at the high end, but it had a quality of "aliveness" to it that almost defied belief. Was it a breakthrough in design? A new transducing principle? No, it was neither. In fact, the Model 80 looks like any one of those hundreds of little bookshelf systems that clutter, the pages of Stereo Review's "Hi-Fi Directory" in tedious profusion.
John Atkinson  |  Sep 17, 2020  |  22 comments
Although it was founded by ex-Siemens loudspeaker engineer Oliver Göbel in 2003, I am embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of Göbel High End until I visited the room hosted by Florida retailer Bending Wave at the 2019 AXPONA. There, I listened to the German manufacturer's ginormous $220,000/pair Divin Noblesse loudspeakers, which were making their US debut. I was impressed by what I heard. I was interested, therefore, to learn that Göbel was introducing a smaller Divin model, the Marquis, which would not be too large for my listening room and would be priced at $80,000/pair.
John Atkinson  |  Aug 27, 2015  |  2 comments
Danish manufacturer GamuT Audio's patchy history in the US includes a succession of distributors that failed to establish the brand here. But in 2014 GamuT tapped Michael Vamos to spearhead their own US-based distribution company, which is now energetically promoting the company's products. That change coincided with my auditioning, at the 2014 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, of GamuT's two-and-a-half-way RS5 tower loudspeaker ($31,900/pair). I was sufficiently impressed that I asked to review it—but then, at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, I experienced the RS7. This was the GamuT speaker I wanted to spend some time with, and at the end of March, GamuT's R&D manager, Benno Meldgaard, joined Michael Vamos in setting up a pair of RS7s in my listening room.

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