Thoughts on Focal Speakers Demo Event
Wanted to share some thoughts on a Focal speakers event I attended in North Scottsdale a couple weeks ago. A local high-end audio store was having a grand opening for their new Focal/Naim showroom. I've had my Ascend Sierra system (towers + Horizon center all with RAAL tweeter; Emotiva 3 channel amp) for around 6 years now and was starting to get curious about potential upgrades. Coincidentally, Focal was one of the companies I was looking at.
At the showroom they had a range of Focal speakers and headphones (all running from their Arche amps). I did try the Focal Utopia headphones, but the combination of open back and being too near some of the speaker set-ups made for a tough listening environment.
They had a dedicated listening room for some of their in-wall speakers, but I spent most of my time in the dedicated (quite large) listening room for the Grand Utopia EM Evo speakers. These were running off the Naim Statement amplifier, so all told around $500k in equipment! They were running through a variety of audio tracks and the speakers were (as you'd expect) amazing. Each tower has a 16" woofer so the bass packs a lot of impact. Overall imaging and resolution/detail also stand out. These towers are massive - around 6' tall and something like 600lbs each; finish is gorgeous as well. The listening room was large, but this setup was able to fill it with sound with ease.
Probably unwise to have spent most of my time listening to a set-up I would not be able to afford, but it was a rare opportunity to spend some time with such and ultra-high end setup. If/when upgrading my Ascends I'd be considering the Sopra No2 system.
When I went home I decided to replay some of the tracks they were playing at the event on my Sierras. I have the Eagles Hell Freezes Over so I revisited Hotel California. I started in the "pure direct" mode, so just the towers, no subwoofer. I rarely listen to my Sierra's this way, but the absence of bass was very obvious. I think it's well known that the Ascends need to be paired with a subwoofer and I agree. Not at all surprising as each Focal has the 16" woofer, but each Sierra has 2x 6" woofers (4x less area for the Sierras). For reference I have a PSA 3601 (dual 18" woofers), but my living room is very large as it is open to the kitchen/dining rooms as well as an upstairs loft.
Then I adjusted the reciever to "stereo" mode so the towers with the subwoofer. Here, the sound came alive with the sub able to fill in the low end for the Sierras. Now the impactful bass from the Focals was being more closely captured with my system.
My conclusion was that with the subwoofer, the experience of the Ascends was excellent. I would love to experience my gear in a dedicated (smaller) listening room. Interesting to compare them against a setup that costs more than 100x. If anything it showed me that while I may be itching for an upgrade, my current system is probably more than enough for my current needs.