A Day at Focal
Focal made its entry into the world of pro audio in 2009 but has been producing speakers for the past 40 years sharing their experience manufacturing Hi-Fi and audiophile speakers to their professional range. Their Focal Solo 6 and Twin 6 were immediate successes here in the UK.
We were recently invited to Focal HQ for a factory tour and jumped at the opportunity to find out more about the manufacturing process but also the people behind this French company.
After an early flight from Heathrow to Lyon, we are greeted by Focal's Pro Audio Sales Manager, Xavier, for the hour-long journey separating Lyon Airport from Focal Headquarters in Saint Etienne.
Located in an industrial estate surrounded by mountains and trees, Focal's headquarters are larger than what I initially thought. It comprises five buildings including a rather large main HQ, two buildings for manufacturing and two buildings for storage.
After quick welcome coffees and teas, we are lead to the listening rooms to hear the range of Focal headphones and speakers. We meet Olivier Hébert, the Pro Product Manager, who supervises the demonstrations and explains to us the difference between each product.
First are the headphones, with five audio stations providing each with a pair of headphones ranging from their flagship Utopia to the more affordable Elegia headphones.
After an hour of listening to the different headphones, I feel two really stand out, their flagship Utopia and their Stellia. Interestingly, the Stellia is a closed-back design based on the Utopia. It uses the same Beryllium drivers, resulting in a detailed top end and tight bass, as well as a wide and precise sound stage.
Next up in the listening room is the Utopia Grande, Focal's ultimate speaker design.
A passive speaker powered by no less than six amps, The Utopia Grande boasts an 18" woofer. Three drivers using Focal's W sandwich cones cater for the midrange while Focal's Beryllium is used for the tweeter. These are the same as those found on their professional range of speakers such as the Solo, Twins, Trio6 Be and Trio11 Be.
Experiencing music on such a system is a very different affair with a level of realism and a soundstage that I had not experienced before. After Focal has played songs that they know will put their speakers in the best of light, it is our turn to choose. Ranging from Drum & Bass, Pop, Folk to David Bowie's Lazarus, the speakers are put through their paces and deliver a stunning performance effortlessly.
After an hour of listening, it's time for lunch and Focal are treating us to a local restaurant with great food (even for vegetarians like me) and delicious wine! It's time we get to know the people behind Focal, chatting with Olivier and Xavier who are both great people and very passionate about Focal and their products.
Magical Factory Tour
We are then treated to a tour of their factory. Focal is keen to stress that everything is made by hand with people scrupulously checking each stage several times during the process. Many of their innovations require specific machinery; thus, Focal is also designing and making the machines which make their speakers.
It all starts with the raw materials used to make their woofers. Xavier begins by showing the raw Rohacell that makes their flagship W sandwich cone. Each sheet is heated and pressed into shape before being paint-sputtered to give a speckled finish and then covered with thin films of fibreglass for additional rigidity.
The heating process is a crucial part of building these cones, and a lot of attention to detail is ensured to make sure the cones are just right.
Flax cones are made somewhat differently, with linen sheets sourced locally and covered by a fibreglass sheeting for rigidity. These flax cones are surprisingly lightweight and are used in the Shape studio monitors.
The cones are then pressed and laser-cut to shape before being sent to the next stage. At this point, each cone is inspected to make sure the look and shape remain within Focal's tight tolerances before being sent to the assembly line.
Here the voice coils and spiders are glued to the frame with militaristic precision one at a time. These are two different steps taken by two different persons, offering another layer of inspection before each stage.
Once the cones mounted onto the frame, the drivers are attached to the frame, all unmagnetised of course. The driver is then magnetised, and its performance is measured and tested first, electronically and, second, by ear in an isolation booth. The newly built driver is then sent to be mounted into the cabinets.
We are then lead to the Beryllium tweeter room, which requires extra care and attention due to the nature of Beryllium.
Beryllium is a rare element which is extremely light and rigid and capable of withstanding super high temperatures. It offers superior acoustic properties to Aluminium which means more detailed high frequencies. The drawback of using Beryllium is that working with high temperatures to mould them into shape produces toxic fumes.
It is worth mentioning that only when they are exposed to extremely high temperatures do they produce these toxic fumes and that when they reach the customer, these tweeters are absolutely safe.
The team working on the Beryllium tweeters works in a separate room with not a single speck of dust in sight and have to wear a Hazmat suit to avoid breathing fumes. It seems like a lot of trouble for manufacture tweeters, but from our listening tests in the morning, it is all worth it.
What transpired from this visit was the attention to detail flowing throughout and the sense of pride shared by everyone. A perfect example of this attention to detail is that every speaker is manufactured to such a tight standard that speakers produced months apart will offer excellent stereo imaging and sonic performance.
Beyond that, it makes us appreciate all the work that goes into the construction, design and research in creating these tools that we can sometimes take for granted. It was also fascinating to learn briefly about Focal's history, and for a day, share their passion for sound. Thank you!
For more info on the NEW Focal TRIO 11 Be or everything Focal at KMR please click the image below :