Focal Utopia Be Component Speakers
Few speaker systems have ever caused a stir upon release as Focal Audio’s Utopia Be series. Designed from the outset with unlimited resources from which to create the ultimate speaker sets (and costing between $2,199 for the 2-way 5.25-inch Kit No.5 and $4,899 for 3-way 6.5-inch the Kit No.7!), we simply had to audition a set when they arrived in the country.
- Monday 1st March, 2010
Majestic sound quality – you’ll never need to buy another component set. Comprehensive fitting kit provided
At this price few people will ever get to appreciate them.
The Utopia Be line consists of no less than six distinct variations including passive or active 5.25-inch and 6.5-inch 2-way sets, plus active or passive 6.5-inch 3-way sets adding a 3-inch midrange driver. For this review we were sent the ‘Kit No.6 Passive’ 6.5-inch 2-way component set complete with the very impressive ‘Crossblock’ passive filtering network, but I decided instead to review it as an active system using an electronic crossover and dedicated amplifier channels for the tweeters and midrange drivers.
This allowed us to take advantage of the time alignment housed in the Pioneer DEH-P80RS source that was used, as we think that this route is a more common arrangement for those looking for absolute sonic purity and sound stage accuracy. Also, and taking into account that most of you would use the 6.5-inch based kit, this is the most likely and most affordable way to get into a ‘Be’ set given that the Crossblock adds a hefty $1,600 to the price tag. After all, that $1,600 comfortably covers the cost of the DEH-P80RS with its 3-way crossover and T/A, plus the 4-channel amplifier we used for that matter.
The amplifier we used for this audition was a high quality Audison SRx4 4-channel model rated at 60WRMS x 4 at 4ohms, and was teamed with a Digital Designs SS-1 mono amplifier powering a single Alpine Type R SWR-1242D 12-inch subwoofer in a sealed enclosure. This was all installed into my EVO VII Lancer using the stock 6.5-inch speaker locations in the front doors and A-pillar tweeter positions high on the dashboard.
At $2,399RRP the No.6 passive system is certainly not for those who lack financial commitment, but when you see the steel flight case these puppies are supplied in you begin to appreciate their worth. The components themselves are exquisite to behold.
The TBe tweeters are the heart of the new Utopia Be sets, giving name the ‘Be’ by using inverted domes made from ultra exotic and expensive pure Beryllium alloy. This material is superior in weight and stiffness to virtually anything else in existence next to unobtainium, and is therefore ideal to use for this purpose. The tweeter housings are cast zinc alloy, with a choice of cast flush kits or large cast alloy pods that allow a myriad of mounting angles. While the TBe tweeters are 8ohms it should be noted that they are highly efficient at 94.1dB/1w/1m, so even modestly powered amplifier will suffice, while power handling stretches to 100WRMS with an appropriate HP filter.
The midrange drivers are called the 6W2, and use unique cast alloy baskets with a 74mm mounting depth. The magnets are neodymium so are kept very compact, so installation is no major feat. Focal have used their W-cone technology with the unusual twist of using inverted dome aluminium phase plugs at each cone’s centre.
I was fortunate in that the EVO has quite large tweeter mounting positions in the A-pillar and I was able to mount the flush mount-only TBe tweeters without to much fuss. Gorgeous insert terminals connect the speaker inputs to each tweeter, while the cast alloy mounting cup does make installation pretty simple once the custom pod is fashioned. I also dug the clip on fabric grilles that neaten up the looks immensely.
The midrange drivers posed no hurdles short of a slight widening of the MDF spacer rings that were already part of the EVO’s prior set up, as their cast frames are a little wider than regular pressed steel ones. Again gold-plated insert terminals are provided, and you also get gaskets and cast alloy front mounting rings to hold the mesh grilles in place if you need them.
With all four drivers in place I referred to the owner’s manual for crossover settings and begun with Focal’s recommendations. The high pass filter for the tweeter is recommended at a very low 2.5kHz at a 12dB per octave filter slope – almost exactly one octave above their Fs of 1,294Hz. The low pass filter for the midrange drivers was set at 4kHz at 12dB per octave, while their high pass was fixed to 70Hz with a steeper 24dB per octave slope to match the low pass for the Alpine subwoofer. I quick sonic check confirmed that all was well and power handling was ample, though I toyed with a higher HP filter for the tweeters and settled on a 3.15Hz cut off, while the midrange drivers were happy to play down to 50Hz given the steeper slope I’d chosen. Time to hit the road.
Just prior to this review I’d recently returned from a trip to Singapore where I had judged a sound quality competition in which a number of the top cars were equipped with Utopia Be series components, so I knew what I was in for.
Now, everything in this world is a comparison, and therefore my thoughts on the Focal Utopia Be 2-way are in direct reference to the most recent high end speakers I have heard or had installed into my own car, as well as against the aforementioned SQ cars I judged in Singapore. I’ll begin by stating that the ‘Kit No.7 3-Way Active’ set with 3-inch midrange drivers was probably the best – as in most impressively natural, accurate and articulate – sounding speaker set I’ve come across. So this 2-way set had to compete against this as my reference so far.
For a start as a 2-way component set the ‘No.6 Active’ is exceptionally linear and musical. Focal’s tweeters have always had a ceramic glassy sound to them that made them transparent and airy but a little thin with anything but reference music. The TBe tweeters are markedly different to my ears, sounding still vaguely ‘Focal’ in character but showing virtually none of the harshness normally associated with titanium based domes. Conversely, they didn’t exhibit that liquid warmth of sound characteristic you get from soft or textile dome tweeters that are commonly used by the likes of DLS, Dynaudio, Morel and others on their top end speaker sets. The TBe tweeters are simply ultra honest and supremely revealing, while remaining dynamic and vibrant. They are said to offer extension up to 40kHz, and this adds to their over ability to open up the sound stage and given stunning presence.
Similarly, the 6W2 midrange drivers were nearly impossible to fault, and it was only after direct mental memory-based comparison to the handful of 3-way ‘Be’ equipped cars I heard in Singapore that I could draw conclusions. The fluency of the midrange was divine and blended seamlessly with the treble, remaining uncoloured and natural at all times. Likewise, midbass was defined, taught and clean while happily able to plumb down to some very low notes that pulled bass image forward nicely. Indeed, until you’ve heard how the 3-way set improves upon this you’d swear it was near impossible to improve upon, and where the 3-way set does exceed this type of performance is in stage height and placement of instruments thanks to the 3-inch midrange drivers being located high up near the tweeters. I also felt that liberating the midrange duties from the 6W2 sets improves their mid bass linearity somewhat, but in 2-way guise this set is still very impressive.
When the financial outlay gets this high you simply can’t escape the obvious question “how much better are these $2,399 speakers over Focal’s next most expensive set the $1099RRP 165KRX2?” Are they twice as good considering they are twice the price? Well, no. But that’s the game of diminishing returns for you. And heck, they are certainly significantly less coloured and more articulate. Their realism is simply astounding, leaving you wondering – “could they possibly sound any better?”
In reality most of you may never be able to justify the expense of a $2,000+ pair of speakers, let alone the added high end source and amplifiers required to do them justice. Importantly, it just matters that companies like Focal actually build products like the Utopia Be to show us where the boundaries are, and to make us appreciate how good good gets. Yes, spending around a quarter of this much money probably buys you lesser speakers that still offer you 80% of their performance. But they’ll never be this good. How much is unrivalled sonic performance really worth? That’s up to you, but at least you now know how much true greatness costs.
Focal is distributed in Australia by:
Eastcoast Distributors Pty Ltd
282 Fairfield St
Fairfield NSW 2165
|Phone||02 9724 6070|
|Fax||02 9728 4491|