Road Trip!

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.

Focal, formerly JMlabs, was founded by Jacques Mahul in 1980. Mahul had been an engineer at Audax and an audio journalist at L'Audiophile. Mahul had chafed at Audax's concentration on low-end drivers, so he founded Focal and JMlabs to concentrate exclusively on high-end drivers and loudspeakers.

One advantage he had was his father's company, France Filiére, a tool and die company that would provide Mahul with the special tools and forms he would utilize in manufacturing his drivers. In fact, Mahul eventually bought France Filiére, incorporating it into Focal as Opus 42—where it still produces custom tools and castings for the company.

That sort of vertical integration is an essential part of Focal's business ethos. By owning its suppliers (other than raw materials), it assures quality. When it became apparent that Focal represented 95% of its cabinet maker's production, the company bought 49% of the company, not only assuring itself of a vital resource, but also removing it from the company's competitors.

Douglas Bowker's picture

Fantastic set of posts Wes! Thanks for the tour for us folks at home... Loved both the Focal tour and the great tourist shots.

Jared Gerlach's picture

Thoroughly enjoyed these posts, Wes! Focal apparently still produces 'Old World' craftsmanship. While the products (especially Utopia line!) aren't cheap, at least one is getting something honest for his money. I do, however, find it a bit sad that Focal has gone the same way as Dynaudio in pulling its excellent drivers off the OEM and DIY markets. Competition is is just too fierce to allow access to such 'advanced' technology, I suppose. BTW, keep the kitties in the viewfinder -- a view all of us cat people probably appreciate.