I don’t know about you, but the only redeeming thing I got from HBO’s otherwise disappointing season two of “True Detective” was the creepy theme song, “Nevermind,” by Leonard Cohen. The halting ballad, which features Cohen sounding like he’s whispering the words with his last breaths, set a mood the series failed to carry after its excellent first season.
An equally dark, atmospheric Cohen track, “Tower of Song,” was playing when I visited the Focal/Naim room on the ground floor of the Marriott Denver Tech Center for Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2015. I’d already heard good music being made by several of Focal’s larger speakers in the upstairs mezzanine. This rig, in a much smaller room, featured the Focal Sopra No.1 mini-monitors ($9,000) with stands) pulled out into an almost nearfield arrangement.
The speakers were driven by a NAIM N272 pre/streamer ($5,999) into a Naim 250 amp ($6,999). Crystal Cable tied it all together.
While far from cheap, it was among the least expensive systems I’d heard at the show. Despite the price discrepancy, though, the modest outfit was doing a great job with the Cohen song, creating a soundstage that was not only deep and wide, but so palpable you could envision the cigarette smoke coming out of the singer’s mouth.
What’s more, pacing and transients were superb, mated with a bass that may not have plumbed the ultimate depths, but was tight and tuneful.
The next track featured another fine male vocalist, Chris Isaak, crooning “Blue Spanish Sky” from his 1989 album Heart Shaped World. Again, the Naim-Focal combination was the master of atmosphere, presenting Isaak’s yearning voice with plenty of air around it, while the rhythm section sparkled.
It made me want to stay around and hear a few late-period Johnny Cash murder ballads, but I had another floor of rooms to go. Overall, though, I’d say the Focal-Naim system would be a no-brainer for the audiophile of average means who is looking for a sound that mates electrostatic-style midrange immediacy with quick, firm solid-state control. Nothing creepy about that.