At Rocky Mountain Audio Fest last fall, the oh-so-French manufacturer Focal introduced its new three-way, four-driver Kanta N°2 loudspeaker with considerable…éclat. At an early morning press conference, after a few Gallic-inflected words of introduction and a slick aspirational video, a trio of impeccably dressed company reps grasped the black shrouds covering, as I remember it, six Kantas in several of the eight available finishes. On a well-rehearsed signal, the speakers were revealed with a flourish not unlike the presentation of your boeuf bourguignon at an elite French restaurant. Opportunities to hear the new product were abundant throughout the show, and I resolved to audition the Kanta N°2 under familiar circumstances if the chance arose. It did.
The Kanta N°2 is the first of three models that will ultimately comprise a new product line in Focal’s extensive range of home loudspeakers. (The bookshelf Kanta N°1 and the Kanta N°3, a larger floorstander, are promised by the end of 2018.) Cost-wise, the Kantas will hold forth in the middle of Focal’s product hierarchy, above the Chorus and Aria models and below the Sopra and Utopia lines.
It’s well known that Focal develops and manufactures its own drivers. Early on in his career, Jacques Mahul worked on the first dome tweeter at Audax, and his own company—JMLab, which became Focal—introduced beryllium to tweeter design as well as the inverted-dome topology. The Kanta N°2 employs the latest version of Focal’s IAL (Infinite Acoustic Loading) beryllium tweeter. It differs from its predecessor in the manner in which the back wave is dispersed; there’s a cavity behind the tweeter that’s judiciously treated with damping material.
For its midrange and low-frequency drivers, Focal’s approach has long been to combine more than one material into a diaphragm’s construction. Focal’s least expensive speakers, the Chorus models, have glass microspheres applied to a paper cone diaphragm while the Electra, Sopra, and Utopia lines feature the W-sandwich construction, which has multiple thin skins of fiberglass surrounding a Rohacell foam core, providing the specific combinations of low mass, rigidity, and self-damping the company’s after. Focal also makes K2-sandwich drivers—the “K” is for Kevlar—used strictly in its automotive loudspeakers. The requirement that W-sandwich drivers be fabricated by hand definitely contributes to the expense of the products they go into. Focal set out to find an alternative material for the sandwich core that would allow for automated production, and they didn’t have to look terribly far. France is the largest cultivator of flax in Europe and flax fiber, it turns out, is an ideal material to use for transducers. Each fiber is a lengthy elongated biologic entity, 6 to 10cm in length and composed mostly of cellulose. Because the fiber is hollow, it’s quite light—half the weight of fiberglass—and has both a natural rigidity and very desirable damping characteristics. The F-sandwich, a diaphragm with a flax core surrounded on both sides by glass fiber, made its first appearance in Focal’s Aria loudspeakers and now its second with the Kanta N°2. The new speaker sports a 6.5" midrange flax driver and two 6.5" flax woofers. These drivers also incorporate a number of previous Focal innovations: TMD (Tuned Mass Damping) suspensions that serve to neutralize the resonance frequency of the surround and NIC (Neutral Inductive Circuit) motors that are said to stabilize the driver’s magnetic field for better definition and bass control. The crossover frequencies are 260Hz and 2.7kHz. Note that Focal reports the actual acoustic crossover slope, meaning the electronic slope plus the natural acoustic slope of the drive units. Using this definition, the low-to-mid handoff is a second-order Linkwitz-Riley filter and the mid-to-high crossover is a fourth-order design.
Compared to other full-range Focal floorstanders, the Kanta N°2, at 44" tall, is less likely to overwhelm a room, especially when viewed head-on. Although the speaker’s footprint is about 13" x 19" (thanks to the sturdy Zamac base, with its four adjustable floor spikes) the front baffle is just 10"across, gently angling forward at the top and bottom to assure time alignment of the drivers. The Kanta’s rear cabinet enclosure is fabricated from a single sheet of steam-formed marine plywood for rigidity, and the baffle is a single molded piece of a high-density polymer, with rounded edges to minimize diffraction. Inside, the midrange driver at the top of the cabinet gets its own compartment, while the two woofers, positioned below the tweeter, share a sub-enclosure that’s ported front and back. On the rear panel is a single pair of five-way binding posts, the two terminals adequately separated to easily accommodate even the bulkiest speaker cables.
Eight identically priced standard finishes are offered. For the front baffle, there are four high-gloss options, all associated with a black high-gloss finish for the rest of the cabinet and four matte finish alternatives, these with a walnut wood veneer applied to the sides and back of the speaker. A glass top surface with a discreet “FOCAL” etched toward the front edge is a nice touch. Two magnetically attached grilles are supplied for each speaker, one to cover the midrange driver and one for the two woofers. These are as acoustically transparent as any grilles I’ve encountered—but not completely so. Besides, with the grilles off, the flax drivers have a warmly organic texture that sets off the otherwise high-tech look of the Kanta quite nicely.
I initially positioned the Kanta N°2s where other speakers of this size and general design had worked well in my 225 square-foot room. (The ceiling height ranges from 10 to 12 feet.) Some minimal adjustment of toe-in was helpful but the Focals didn’t travel far from where they started. When all was said and done, the speakers were about 21" from the front wall and 8' apart, center-to-center. The front baffles were 9' from the listening position. I tried out the Kanta N°2s with two pairs of monoblock amplifiers, David Berning Quadrature Zs and Pass Labs XA60.8s. All of my listening for this review employed digital sources: an Oppo 103 read discs and a Baetis Reference 2 music computer handled NAS-archived files and tunes from Tidal. Both sent data to a T+A DAC 8 DSD connected directly to the power amplifiers. Analog cabling was Transparent Audio Gen V; digital wires were Apogee (coaxial) and Revelation Audio Labs (AES/EBU).