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Focal Aria 948

Focal Aria 948

After the initial break-in period of about 20 hours or so—and a swap to fancy-pants amps (CH Precision solid-state)—the speakers really woke up and took off to extraordinary places. I was glad to be along for the ride. And I decided to make that ride a bit wild, spinning the dark alt-folk-punk trio Violent Femmes’ 1984 Hallowed Ground LP (which happens to be a pretty damned decent recording). Gordon Gano’s raw, slightly nasal vocals were uncannily true to life (I’d seen the band a few times back in the day). The acoustic rhythm section and guitar, especially on “I Hear the Rain” and the politically incorrect spoof “Black Girls” (with alto sax and clarinet), were the very definition of attack. With a capital “a.” Even at a moderate volume, I thought I was going to jump out of my seat. I couldn’t believe the stunning realism of this album driven by such speed and energy.

Speaking of spooky realism, at times it almost felt as if the Holly Cole Trio had dropped from the hi-res digital realm right into the listening room. On the well-recorded Girl Talk, “Talk to Me,” Cole’s articulation on ending syllables and fricatives was incredibly detailed and lifelike. The title track and “Cruisin’” delivered hi-def resolution with spaciousness galore and astounding attack and decay.

On another note, take Cole’s beautifully bass-laden rendition of “(Looking for) The Heart of Saturday Night” from Temptation, her album of Tom Waits covers. Though the low-end was deep and well defined on the whole, it had a touch of roll-off and loss of pitch differentiation in the lower 50s without the subs (though the Aria still has substantial measured output down to about 30Hz). However, the latter could also have been due to some room-resonance effects.

As described, the 948s really strut their stuff when it comes to vocals.

A final example: Nina Simone’s live performance of “Don’t Smoke in Bed” from her In Concert by Nina Simone album on hi-res download. You really get the smoky subtlety and husky vibrato of her delivery—and you can even hear audience members coughing in the distance. Vive la transparency!

Ultimately I found the Aria 948 to be a loudspeaker with few downsides, particularly for its cost-to-quality ratio. However, as I’ve indicated, it’s probably better suited for audiophiles who really like to tinker with setup, system detailing, and such than for those who would prefer to uncrate, toe-in a bit, and go.

Depending on your tastes, you might want a touch more low-end support—though the Arias do offer impressive bass for their size and type—but when it comes to pristine detail, accuracy, and neutrality they are quite exceptional in their category. With painstaking placement and the right electronics, they’d likely leave the competition (and even some loftier category contenders) in the dust. (Vast differences in how they sound with various electronics also suggest this transducer’s transparency to sources.) When everything comes together, the Arias become transcendent, bringing so many musical layers to life they create a truly immersive soundscape. Indeed, the devil—and perhaps an angel or two—is in the details.


Type: Three-way, four-driver, floorstanding loudspeaker
Drivers: Two 8″ flax woofers, one 6 1/2″ flax midrange, one 1″ aluminum/magnesium TNF inverted dome tweeter
Frequency response: 37Hz–28kHz +/-3dB
Sensitivity: 92.5dB
Nominal impedance: 8 ohms
Power: 280Hz/2.6kHz
Dimensions: 14 5/8″ x 45 1/4″ x 16 9/16″
Weight: 77 lbs. (each)
Price: $4995

Audio Plus Services (U.S. Distributor)
156 Laurence Paquette Industrial Drive
Champlain, NY 12929
(800) 663-9352

108 rue de l’avenir
42353 La Talaudière
(+33) 4 77 43 57 00

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