Focal was pushing teasers weeks before the show, letting just a few hints “escape” about a new line of speakers that will officially hit stores early this summer.
During the first day of the High End show the company held a press only event, hosted by Focal’s managing director, Gerard Chretien who introduced us to all the innovations and design principles that make the new Sopra line of speakers special.
Chretien talked to the fully packed room of journalists about the drivers with their newly introduced features such as the mid-range’s suspension which lowers resonances and the stabilized magnetic field achieved with the use of a newly designed Faraday ring for lower distortion. The beryllium tweeter on the two Sopra models is also quite interesting as Focal engineers, in order to lower interference from air compression in the back chamber, loaded the diaphragm in an infinite horn geometry which also helped guarantee higher internal volume for the woofer while keeping the speaker size in moderate dimensions. As I do understand that explaining this with words is tricky, check the picture below and you will see a small horn growing from behind the tweeter and opening in the air through a silver grill placed at the back of the speaker.
These innovations apply for both models, the Sopra No 1 which is an €8.000 2-way standmount and the Sopra No 2 at €12.000, the bigger a 3-way bass reflex with two 7” woofers.
Chretien went on and projected a Power Point slide were he showed us that his Sopra speakers were “better than everything else on the market”; the crowd of journalists laughed out loud with his conviction. At this point expectations were pretty high, so many innovations had to pay back dividends in terms of natural and low distortion sound.
Paired with a complete line of Naim’s latest electronics, the two speakers unfortunately sounded harsh, edgy and unpleasant right from the start. The only trait I would give thumbs up was low-end extension; for the size, both speakers seemed to go deeper than one would expect. The demo program had an interesting musical selection ranging from female vocals to classic music but it was all so wrong. There had to be an explanation, rumor was that the speakers had zero hours of break-in time, having been flown in directly from Focal’s factory only hours before the show.
I must say that for a company the size of Focal bringing brand new speakers to the most important show is a surprising mistake, but I managed to find some time on Saturday to give them another try. This time the room was empty, just me and a couple of guys from the staff, and the speakers sounded way, way better. More coherent, less edgy and involving; definitely closer to our expectations for a speaker line that is placed right under the flagship Utopia line.
[Scot adds:] What is the deal with the gold Utopia? Yikes.