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RMAF 2106: Focal, Naim Take Listeners on Aural Space Odyssey

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I was in the middle of the mezzanine at the Denver Marriot Tech Center, about to break for lunch Saturday at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, when I heard a familiar tune wafting from a room shared by Focal and Naim Audio.

The track, Lambchop’s “Is a Woman,” is a terrific slice of Americana produced by one of the most intriguing, low-key bands in the genre. I love to listen to this Nashville-based collective at home, but I’d never heard them played at a high-end audio show.

I ducked inside and grabbed the open center seat. Lead singer and band mastermind Kurt Wagner’s quiet rasp was floating in the middle of a deep soundstage, while a roomful of players were somehow creating a spare, ethereal backdrop.

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Rocky Mountain Audio Festival coverage brought to you by Noble Audio. Visit them at https://nobleaudio.com/.

Coming out of Focal’s Stella Utopia speakers ($97,500 a pair), the piano was immediate and beautiful, percussion sparkled and the bass was full and tuneful.

The rest of the system consisted of Naim’s Statement amp/preamp ($270,000), a huge, futuristic design that seemed to be based on the black obelisks from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” along with the company’s NDS streamer ($12,995) and Unity server ($4,395).

The massive 350-pound Statement unit looks like it could power a small city. It actually contains a preamplifier and two monoblock amps outputting a circuit-breaker-testing 740 watts per channel.

On the Stella Utopias, all of that translated into a very dynamic, while balanced and clean, sound. Pacing also was impressive, and there was a general sense of ease that the best high-power amps often possess.

I listened to several other tracks, including Mark Knopfler’s “Sailing to Philadelphia” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” Although each put different demands on the rig than Lampchop’s gentle stroll, the result in each case was superb sound.

For those with appropriate bank accounts, the Focal-Naim combo revealed what is possible for an almost cost-no-object system.

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About John Stancavage (164 Articles)
Contributing Editor for Part-Time Audiophile

2 Comments on RMAF 2106: Focal, Naim Take Listeners on Aural Space Odyssey

  1. I also enjoyed this room – I would have loved to hear some real full scale orchestral music but alas, they were only playing pop. The dynamism scale of this system was beyond anything else I heard.

    That said, these Utopia’s suffer that same Focal “house sound” of in-your-face-hot-as-a-potato hyped up tweeter as the rest of their line. I personally would not pay for it in the lower cost stuff, let alone a $100k speaker. Still, the rest of the sound really grabbed you…

    • John Stancavage // November 6, 2016 at 12:00 AM //

      If there was one speaker that did everything right and met everyone’s expectations, the high end would be pretty boring. Thanks for reading!

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