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Focal Kanta No. 2 Loudspeaker

Focal Kanta No. 2 Loudspeaker

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.

Focal Kanta No. 2 Loudspeaker

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).


The Kantas had been broken-in prior to delivery. For the first two weeks, I drove the speakers with the superb Berning amplifiers. The Quadrature Zs are a hybrid design, with a tube input stage and a transformerless switching amplifier for the output side. They are rated at 220 watts into a typical 8-ohm load, despite weighing all of 32 pounds and not running especially hot. It was a difficult two weeks. Piecemeal, there was plenty to admire—good speed, decent detail, transparency—but listening to the Kanta N°2s with the Quadrature Zs was best described as fatiguing. The problem seemed to arise with the bass. Although the low end was articulate and controlled, it failed to provide much visceral satisfaction: orchestral music was missing weight and pop/rock lacked the proverbial low-end “slam.” Throughout the frequency spectrum, it wasn’t possible to achieve adequate dynamic impact without a gain setting that was overly aggressive. I was briefly tempted to try adding subwoofer augmentation, but the issue really wasn’t bass extension, or the spatial cues that the bottom octave can provide. Besides, someone paying ten grand for a loudspeaker billed as full-range has the right to expect good bass without a sub.

The possibility of an impedance mismatch between amp and speaker occurred to me, of course, but I was slow to accept it: I’m very fond of the Bernings and have used them successfully with a wide variety of loudspeakers over the past two years. But as I wasn’t getting anywhere, I substituted the Pass XA 60.8s—60 watts of Class A power—and the situation was utterly transformed. In the final movement of the Saint-Saëns “Organ” Symphony—the Eschenbach/Philadelphia Orchestra live recording ripped from an Ondine SACD—the featured instrument was potently majestic, and the brass section, playing full out, matched the acoustic power of the organ without the sound disintegrating into an undifferentiated mess. Well-recorded electric bass and kickdrum possessed soul-satisfying impact. My go-to recording for bass/drum heft has been vocalist Kevyn Lettau’s Songs of the Police, recorded in 2000 by Bill Schnee and remastered as a Japanese XRCD in 2013. On “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” the bass player for most of the album, Jerry Watts, Jr., clearly uses a five-string instrument with the extra string tuned, as is usually the case, to low B. The song is performed in the key of B minor and Watts savors every chance he gets to land on that open B string for maximum dramatic effect. It gives the song an obsessively creepy quality, and the Kantas deliver on the effectiveness of the inspired arrangement.

What’s going on? The XA 60.8 has a published damping factor of 150, which actually isn’t all that high for a solid-state amplifier. The Quadrature Z has no such number reported but one can infer that it’s substantially lower than the Pass from the output impedance values—plural, as the amp has a switch to adjust negative feedback—provided for that component. It’s conceivable that this was an idiosyncratic incompatibility unique to these two pieces of gear, but I doubt it. While Focal reports the Kanta N°2 as having an 8-ohm input impedance and claims a 91dB sensitivity, the speaker may be a tougher load than those published specifications indicate. The bottom line is that it would be prudent—mandatory, really—for a tube amplifier owner to get an extended audition of the Kanta N°2s in his own system.

The new IAL3 tweeter acquits itself magnificently by any measure. Listen to a closely recorded female singer that you admire—the HDtracks 96/24 download of Cécile McLorin Salvant’s album For One to Love did the trick for me—and appreciate how effectively subtle inflections of color and vocal texture, and the attack/release of notes are rendered. Likewise, the unraveling of complex high-frequency sonorities is first-rate. The ethereal divisi violins at the beginning of Lohengrin’s Act 1 Prelude [Solti/Vienna] are heard as a group of individual players, rather than a synthetic violin-ish high-pitched harmonized melody. Sibilant sounds with choral music are believably connected to the tone they begin or end, and lightly struck cymbals decay naturally.

The tonal balance is on the bright side of neutral but not to the point of egregiously altering instrumental or vocal signatures. My now-standard exercise of assuring that a loudspeaker can distinguish between Stradivarius and Guarneri del Gesù violins showed the Kanta N°2 in a good light, and famous male voices—both operatic baritones and rock ’n’ roll front men—were always readily identifiable. But aggressive recordings sounded…aggressive. These are not loudspeakers that are going to tame a phono cartridge with a rising top end or a pop record engineered for incisive “crispness.”

Imaging was very good, if not holographic. 2L recordings generally come with photographs and/or diagrams to illustrate how the performers were arranged for the sessions. With this label, one can usually visualize the deployment of the musicians and the photo or diagram provides confirmation. On a pair of Engegård Quartet SACDs recorded in two different churches, I thought I could hear the unconventional seating of the chamber group—the two violinists sitting inside of the viola (on the outside left) and the cello (on the outside right). But without 2L’s liner note documentation, I’m not sure I would have known the “truth.” Front-to-back layering of orchestral sections on the RCO Live recording of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15, conducted by Bernard Haitink, is especially good. Through the Kantas, this wasn’t as vividly real as with other high-performing loudspeakers I’ve assessed. Of course, there are some listeners, many with lots of experience with live symphonic music in good halls, who feel that many highly regarded audio components (and recordings) often exaggerate spatial specificity beyond the point of realism. If that’s you, the Kantas could be your ticket to one version of the absolute sound.

The introduction of a new product line by an established manufacturer can seem like a cynical attempt to capture new customers at a specific price point—or simply an attempt to shake things up if a company feels it isn’t getting adequate attention. In the case of the Kanta—soon to be Kantas—we’re seeing a product that truly is something different: the first marriage of midrange and bass transducers incorporating a new diaphragm material with a tried-and-true beryllium tweeter, within an enclosure that’s easy on the eyes. It’s a new rung on the ladder of Focal loudspeaker offerings that begins with the affordable-to-most-anyone Chorus models and ascends to the pie-in-the-sky Utopias. The Kantas make sense from a marketing perspective but also represent a genuine opportunity for a critical listener who understands that technical innovation and compromise can provide access to the most elite high-end sound. While the Kantas are not Sopras or Utopias, Focal has finessed the challenge of providing a significant slice of the performance of their top speakers at a more accessible cost. If you have a loudspeaker budget of $10k—and the right amplifier—the Kanta N°2 ought to be on your list of products to hear.

Specs & Pricing

Type: Three-way, four-driver bass-reflex floorstanding loudspeaker
Driver complement: One 1.0625″ inverted-dome tweeter, one 6.5″ flax midrange, two 6.5″ flax woofers
Frequency response: 35Hz–40kHz (+/-3dB)
Nominal impedance: 8 ohms
Sensitivity: 91dB
Dimensions: 12.65” x 44.01″ x 18.78″
Weight: 77.2 lbs.
Price: $9999 per pair

156 Lawrence Paquette Industrial Drive
Champlain, NY 12919
(800) 663-9352


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