They were really big, really red, and I couldn’t tip them over no matter how hard I tried. They were the Focal Stella Utopia loudspeakers, and they weigh 365lbs a piece, so that explains why they wouldn’t budge. Also, if you had been checking out the Vancouver Audio Festival, and thinking it wasn’t going to be showing any big boys in high-end high fidelity, you were wrong. One look around this room, and between the Utopias, and the Naim Statement pre/dual-mono power amplifier (NAC S1 preamplifier and NAP S1 mono power amplifiers combined into one chassis, 746 watts) this set-up was designed to impress.
The Statement, and the small (by comparison) Naim stack that was feeding digital to the system (NDS Streamer, multiple power supplies – XPS, HiCap) looked great, with their matching Naim Fraim rack, but I’m pretty sure it was the sound in this room that kept it full every time I stuck my head in. I’ll be the first to admit the space was not large enough to fully do the set-up justice, but that didn’t change the fact that the system still managed to put my hair straight back, and is a testament to the skills of the people at HiFi Centre in helping the Naim/Focal reps dial-in the layout.
This was an incredibly powerful sound, with deep resonant bass that highlighted the best of the frequency spectrum on the bottom end. Having heard Focal loudspeakers with mixed amplification on a number of occasions, I expected the midrange to be more forward, but here the Statement shined through with that traditional British effect of pulling you into the music, and I found the mids, and top-end to be more laid back, without stridency or fragility to the treble. Spatial imaging was true to recordings, and changed with pretty much every album being played; a sign of accurate amplification in my experience.
There was no sameness to the sound, and classical pieces – whether smaller trios or quintets, or large massed strings from symphonies – never felt congested, rock, pop, and indie all had grit, and flavour with nuance to every artist that never lost air around vocals, or piano notes. Songs that featured stringed instruments were uncannily transparent to source to my ears, with real skin-on-fret, and string plucking texture that was most human in it’s presentation.
While obviously not a system for everyone due to its price tag, there was no denying that the level of sonic fidelity in this room was world class.