Focal Spectral 40th Loudspeaker

Jump Factor, Big Time

Equipment report
Focal Spectral 40th Loudspeaker

With a completely different stripe of music—believe it or not, concert harp repertoire—I encountered more evidence of the Focal’s jump-factor capabilities. The stereotypical view of the modern pedal harp is that it exists to contribute musical color and texture to set a mood—ethereal, mysterious or, with its signature glissando, ecstatic. In fact, the harp is supremely qualified as a solo instrument, having the widest range of any orchestral instrument (58Hz to 6.6kHz is typical), and, recorded by itself, low notes that are full and resonant and high ones that will test the transient speed of the best tweeters. I listened to The Healing Harp—one of the first CDs I reviewed for TAS, back in 1996—with Naoko Yoshino as the soloist on a Philips release, as well as recordings from Yolanda Kondonassis (Telarc) and Lavinia Meijer (Channel Classics), and was completely enchanted by the way the Focals put their instruments in my room. The hollow body of the harp, the sense of a vibrating string and, mostly, the crispness of the initial attack were reproduced with the kind of truthfulness that characterizes perfectionist audio at its best. I even succumbed to the new-agey meditations of the world’s most celebrated electric harpist, Andreas Vollenweider.

From the standpoint of tonality, the Spectrals were consistently accurate. It was always possible to tell a Stradivarius violin from a Guarneri del Gesù, and even to distinguish among individual instruments produced by each of these two Cremonese workshops. Yet the reproduction lacked the complete essence of real musical sound; I wasn’t fooled into believing I was hearing an actual violin when I closed my eyes. Imaging was quite good, but not top of the heap. On a PentaTone recording of the Storioni Trio playing Brahms, the three musicians were correctly situated and scaled; yet, they didn’t seem to be breathing the same air. Likewise, with Bernard Haitink’s reading of the first movement of the Shostakovich Symphony No. 15 (RCO Live), soft instruments—flute, glockenspiel—didn’t define the space of the Concertgebouw quite as impressively as they did with other transducers.

The Spectral 40th speakers revealed plenty of detail, even when there was a lot going on. With “Backrow Politics,” a trumpet feature on Act Your Age from Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, it was quite easy to make out rhythm guitar “chops,” soft secco interpolated trombone chords, and bongo fills in the background behind the exuberant trumpet. The Spectrals also maintained their poise with the most powerful specimens of power music—the heaven-storming conclusion of Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony or the finale of the Saint-Säens Third, for examples.

While the Focal Spectral 40th is a thoughtfully designed and meticulously built product that delivers world-class sound, there are plenty of other floorstanding loudspeakers I’m familiar with around this price point that ought to be in the running, if this is your budget. These include PSB Speakers’ Imagine T3 ($7500), the GoldenEar  Technology Triton Reference ($8500), the JWM Alyson AML II ($8500), Salk Sound’s SS 9.5 ($9995) and Magico’s A3 ($12,300). All are good values; all sound very different from one another. 

My sense is that Focal’s Kevlar drivers are not on a par with the W-sandwich cones and IAL (Infinite Acoustic Loading) beryllium tweeters found in the Sopra and Utopia lines, or even the machine-made flax cones with a beryllium driver in the Kantas. 

This should surprise no one: By having different product ranges, Focal is implicitly acknowledging that considered compromises have been made in its lower-priced models. Especially when one is making comparisons within a brand, you really have no reason to expect the $10,000 product to sound as “good” as the $15k or $40k one. But smart audio designers are forever devising ways to bring in a significant part of the performance of their premium products at a lower cost. John Bevier, Focal Naim America’s Director of Business Development, noted to me: “It’s an exciting time at Focal. Engineering has never been better, having been challenged by senior leadership to push the bounds of physics even deeper in future projects. I can’t wait to see what we invent next!”

Me neither. They say life begins at 40.

Specs & Pricing

Type: Floor-standing, three-way bass reflex
Driver complement: One 11132" K2 dome tweeter, one 6½" K2 midrange, two 7116" K2 woofers
Frequency response: 34Hz –30kHz (+/-3dB)
Low frequency point: 28Hz (-6dB)
Nominal impedance: 8 ohms
Recommended amplifier power: 40–300Wpc
Sensitivity: 91dB
Dimensions: 111516" x 45316" x 161116"
Weight: 101.4 lbs.
Price: $9999

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