focal sopra n°3 - Enigma High Fidelity Audio

focal sopra n°3 - Enigma High Fidelity Audio
SEPTEMBER 2016
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ALICE COOPER
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771472 2 56 240
Floorstanding three-way loudspeaker
Manufactured by: Focal-JMlab, France
Supplied by: Focal-JMlab UK Ltd, Salisbury
Telephone: 0845 660 2680
Web: www.focal.com
Price: £1S,750
LOUDSPEAKER
oca __ o __ ra
0
Not much larger than the N°2 model, the new Sopra
employs bigger bass drivers and more interna l space
Review: Andrew Everard Lab: Keith Howard
hen Focal unveiled the third
model in its Sopra range - not
surprisingly called the N°3 - at
the Munich High End show a
few months back, I wondered whether the
company had put the wrong speakers in
the demonstration room. Despite selling
for over 60% more than the 2015-16 EISA
Award-winning Sopra N°2 speakers [HFN
Sep '15], the £1 5,750 N°3 doesn't exactly
dwarf the smaller speakers in the range.
Indeed, unless you see the two models
side by side - in any of the four vibrant
colours available or a mix of black and
veneer - it's hard to tell them apart, at
least until you notice that the bass drivers
are closer together in the N°3. At a glance,
that's the only giveaway and even in the
flesh, things are pretty close as the new
speaker is just 7.5cm taller than the N°2,
and about 5cm larger
in width and depth,
although it weighs 15kg
more at 70kg apiece.
The driver
complement here is
the same as in the N°2,
with a 27mm inverted
beryllium dome tweeter
sitting below the 16.5cm 'W-cone'
midrange unit in the upper section of the
speaker, but here we have a pair of 21 cm
bass drivers in the lower cabinet in place
of the N°2's 18cm woofers, plus a novel
design aimed at giving these two drivers
65% more space in which to work, despite
an overall increase in cabinet volume of
just 35%. So is the N°3 going to be a bass
monster, then, despite the £9599 N°2s not
being exactly wanting in this respect?
No. not really. Even Focal's claimed
±3d8 frequency response shows that, while
the N°2 is given as 34Hz-40kHz, the N°3
delivers a staggering improvement to.
well, 33 Hz-40kHz. There's also a claimed
2Hz extension in practical bass response
alongside a slight (0.5dB) increase in
sensitivity, to 91.5d8 for the bigger model
[but see Lab Report, p35]. Almost makes
you wonder why the people in Saint
Etienne bothered, doesn't it?
Surely something else is going on here?
Well, yes there is, for ti:he bigger bass
drive units may not offer that much more
extension, but they do of course give more
than 60% greater air-shifting area from
their ·w· cones, named after the 'double·V'
of g lass fibre layers sandwiching a foam
core. Developed and made in-house in
France, they also use Focal's NIC (Neutral
Inductance Circuit). designed to stabilise
the magnetic field in the driver's 'motor'.
This uses an optimised Faraday ring to
ensure the magnetic field isn't affected by
the position of the voice coil or the current
passing through it, giving a claimed 60%
reduction in distortion.
REWORKE:f> SPACES
The reflex loading of the bass section is
the same as in the N°2, with a downwardventing port exiting in
the gap between the
main enclosure and the
tempered glass plinth
on which it sits. this
platform being supplied
with floorspikes and
surface protectors.
However. what
is different here is the internal volume
available to the bass drivers, By reworking
the 'collar' in which the tweeter is located,
between the 'head' and 'body' of the
speaker, Focal has managed to use the
internal volume more efficiently. The
midrange driver still has a dedicated
enclosure, and the tweeter is still isolated,
but more of the 'head' space is utilised for
the bass unit.
The midrange driver uses Focal's TMD
(Tuned Mass Damper), or 'harmonic
damped surround' design, with two
circular beads in the rubber to damp
out resonances. while the t weeter is a
conventional Focal unit. That's if you can
'The musicians
are placed before
you in a superbly
3D manner'
32
I www.hifinews.co.uk I SEPTEMBER 2016
RIGHT: At first g lance, n ot m uch sets the Sopra
N"3 apart from t he smal1ler N°2: both have t he
same curvaceous 'two box' cabinet design.
However, the larger bass units are visibly more
closely spaced in t he N"3's front baffle
I<EEPING IT CLOSE
With the exception of some of its budget models, mainly in the
'lifestyle' arena, Focal not only assembles most of its speakers at
its plant in Saint-Etienne. the capital of France's Loire department,
but also designs, develops and builds its own drive units there. That
enables it to use and refine its unique technologies. from the 'W'
sandwich-cone drivers used for the bass and midrange of the Sopras
to the glass-fibre/ flax cones found in its Aria 900 range [HFN Aug '15],
and of course its use of super-light beryllium for tweeter domes. The
company cites this in-house driver production as one of the main
advantages it has in designing speakers, in that drivers, crossovers and
cabinets can be engineered together.
describe as conventional the
in-house cutting and pressing of
beryllium , in a clean-room and
with full protective suit conditions
due to the toxicity of the material
when worked ... That delivers
a dome both very stiff and very
light, at just 21 mg, but also
rather fragile, which is one of the
reasons it has a fixed protective
grille. Behind it is Focal's Infinite
Horn Loading, a widening and
progressively damped horn that
absorbs rearward radiation.
The cabinets here, for all their
curvaceous looks, are made from
various grades of MDF where the
face and core boards have differing
densities to offer a degree of selfdamping without losing either
stiffness or solidity when formed into
complex shapes. Focal strengthens
the front baffle via extra laminations
of MDF to a total thickness of just
under 7cm, uses strategic internal
bracing and the curved panels to add
rigidity to the enclosure, and calls this
entire assembly its 'Gamma Structure'.
In common with other Sopra
models, the N°3 is available in a twotone black and veneer finish. with
walnut cabinet sides and black front
baffle and top-plate, but to these eyes
the speaker looks altogether better
resolved in desig1n terms in one of the
four high-gloss colour finishes: black,
Carrara White, Imperial Red (seen here]
or Electric Orange [as reviewed].
@ ARICHER BASS
Focal chose to go for maximum
visual impact for the N°3 review
samples, which came in the
appropriately-named orange. Set
up in editor PM's listening room,
on the end of his familiar Meleo N 1A/
Devialet Expert 800 system, the new
speakers quickly reminded me of the
qualities I'd appreciated in the smaller
version, of speed, impact and resolution,
but tempered with a fuller, richer
presentation of the bass to give a sound
with greater substance and authority.
At least, they delivered these qualities
once I'd spent some time adjusting the
position of the speakers to tame the hefty
bass of which they're capable. and improve
the soundstage focus. You may recall
from HFN's N°2 review that Focal gives a
formula for room positioning, but you may
also remember that I finally settled on the
position in which the speakers sounded
best in the room!
The same pertained here as I ended up
with the speakers well clear of side and
rear walls. and with slightly exaggerated
toe-in to tighten up the imaging. I also
removed the grilles from the mid and
bass drivers, this giving a subtle, but
worthwhile, tightening of timbral focus,
while also bringing out better character in
bass instruments. The bass extension here
may not be much greater than that of the
smaller Sopra floorstanders, but there's
greater conviction down there. plus an
enhanced air-shifting ability which ensures
the N°3s are capable of hitting harder, and
giving a more visceral low end.
When the bass figure kicks in on Foy
Vance's 'She Burns', from his The Wild Swan
set (Gingerbread Man 0825646 161003],
the Focals are capable of both thumping
the chest and tracking the rhythm tightly,
while with the room-filling low frequencies
of Terje Winge's Organism album on 2L
(2L-123, DS064] the speakers deliver the
music at realistic-sounding air-pressure,
making for a thrilling listen.
So these are speakers comfortable in
their own skin that build on the merits of
the award-winning smaller model, but they
do need good control from the amplifier
driving them if they're not to sound a
little loose and slow - with, for example,
the whipcrack rhythms of Paul Simon's
'Wristband'. from Stranger To Stranger 0
SEPTEMBER 201 6
I www.hifinews.co.uk I 33
FOCAL SOPRA N°3
LEFT: The Sopra N°3 is only marginally
taller, broader and deeper than the N°2,
and uses the same combination of singlewire cable terminals and reflex port
venting downwards onto the glass plinth
cleanly recorded, such as the trio
jazz of the Espen Eriksen Trio's 'In
The Mountains', from Never Ending
January [Rune Grammofon RCD
217 3 ), and the musicians are placed
before the listener in a superbly
three-dimensional manner.
A SWEEPING EXPERIENCE
Andreas Bye's drums patter away
metronomically, cymbals sizzling
convincingly, Lars Tormod Jensen's
upright bass is thoughtful and
controlled and Eriksen's piano
is delivered with both scale and
precision. Having seen the trio
playing live not long before the
review, from a seat no further
away than the Focals were from my
listening position, I can vouch for
the authenticity of the presentation
these striking columns offer.
No such terms of reference for
[Concord 0888072398030]. As
already mentioned, positioning
plays a part in this, too, and too
much low-end bloom from the
room boundaries, while initially
making the speakers sound big and
impressive, can eventually make
them seem a tad lazy and soft.
Get it right, though, and the
Focals are capable of a powerful,
if characterful, performance. They
are some way from the crisp,
ultra-clean delivery of the pricecomparable Bowers & Wilkins 802
03 speakers [HFN Dec '15), but I
can imagine listeners who find the
British rivals just a little soulless will
be much more comfortable with
the generous sound of the French
speakers. Play something simple but
the new ABC set, Lexicon Of Love II
(Virgin EMI CDV3150), I'm afraid, but
the scale and impact of the stringladen Anne Dudley production job
makes for a lush, sweeping listening
experience, to which the Focals'
combination of weight and focus is
well-suited.
As indeed the speakers are to the
drama of Daniel Barenboim's recent
Elgar Symphony No. 1 with the
Staatskapelle Berlin [Decca Classics
478 9353], where the speed and
detail on offer is as impressive as the
sheer power of the whole orchestra
unleashed. <9
Just as with Its Sopra N°2 (HFN Sep '15). Focal claims 91 dB
sensitivity for the Sopra N°3 but our measured pink noise
figure falls significantly short of the specified figure, in this
case by 2.SdB. Also as with the N°2, low impedance is a
factor in achieving this sensitivity. Focal specifies a minimum
impedance modulus of 3. 1ohm (which is more compatible with
a 4ohm nominal rating rather than the specified Sohm) but
we measured a dip down to 2.7ohm at 102Hz. Combined with
high impedance phase angles at low frequencies this results
in a minimum EPDR (equivalent peak dissipation resistance) of
1. 1ohm at 75Hz - the same figure we obtained with the N°2,
so the N°3 is likewise challeng ing to its partnering amplifier.
The forward frequency response (Graph 1. below},
measured on the tweeter axis with the driver covers in place,
is mostly flat in trend with just a mild presence band dip.
Response errors are modest at ±3.4dB and ±3.3dB respectlvely
(300Hz to 20kHz), and pair matching error above 1kHz is a
fine ±0.7dB but increases to ±1.3dB below it. Above 16kHz the
output begins to rise towards a broad peak between 20kHz
and 30kHz. just as in the N°2 and disappointing for a tweeter
boasting a beryllium dome. At the other end of the frequency
range near-field bass measurement is made difficult by the
port venting through an angled slot between the underside
of the cabinet and the plinth, so we recorded a tentative bass
extension of <40Hz (- 6dB re. 200Hz). The CSO waterfall (Graph
2. below}, indicates that the response ripples between 1kHz
and 1OkHz - again mirroring a feature we saw in the N°2 - are
due to a series of resonances. KH
!dB j 100
iS
~
'
...
90
85
Iii
80
75
70
100
1~
10k
[Ifil
, reqlMl>CY >>
ABOVE: Forward response is generally flat but a cone
resonance is linked to ripples in presence/treble
200
IOOO
frequehcr In H, »
10000
Focal's Sopra N°3 has better
bass impact and warmth than
the smaller N°2, but needs even
greater care in partnering and
positioning to be heard at its
best. Get that right - and you' re
going to need a pretty large room
- and these speakers will really
shine, with a captivatingly visceral
sound. However, the marginally
more compact Focal floorstander
delivers almost as much - and
saves a useful amount of cash.
Sensitivity (SPL/ 1m/ 2.83Vrms - Mean/ IEC/Music)
88.9dB/ 88.SdB/88.0dB
Impedance modulus mln/max (20Hz-20kHZ)
[email protected] 102Hz
[email protected] 20Hz
Impedance phase min/max (20Hz-20kHz)
- 68° @ 56Hz
48° @ 768Hz
Pair Matching/Response error (300Hz-20kHz)
±1.3dB I ±3.4dB/±3.3d6
LF/HF extension (-6d8 ref 200Hz/10 kHz)
<40Hz / >40kHz/>40kHz
Sound Quality: 82°/o
THO 100Hz/1kHl/10kHz (lor 90dB SPL/ l m)
0.2% J o.1i J <0.1%
Dimensions (HWO)
1264x402x595mm
,0
.
,.
.
,. •
•
•
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•
" ---" -----'- -
• 100
ABOVE: Cumulative decay waterfall shows a damped
cabinet but also some cone resonances from 1-1OkHz
HI-FI NEWS SPECIFICATIONS
SEPTEMBER 20 16
I www.hifinews.co.uk I 35
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