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Focal designs and manufactures headphones and loudspeakers with breathtaking form as well as sound. Focal Utopia is regarded by many as the top tier of over-ear headphones, and the Sopra speaker line is similarly popular.
For more than 40 years, Focal has been designing and manufacturing high-end home audio loudspeakers, car audio speaker drivers and amplifiers, monitoring loudspeakers for recording studios. Armed with all of that knowledge, Focal then set out to develop headphones from the perspective of creating a miniature ported speaker for the head. Beginning with the Focal Utopia in 2016, Focal headphones are known as some of the best in the world. Focal places a heavy value on acoustic expertise and developing exclusive technologies, investing great time and resources on research and development. Focal's ultimate goal is exquisitely simple: to make every moment of listening to music a privilege for music lovers and audiophiles alike.
In late 1979, a young engineer and tech journalist named Jacques Mahul began producing speaker drivers at his father's precision mechanics company in Saint-Etienne, France. Soon, Mahul founded both Focal and JMlab. Focal commercialized speaker drivers for loudspeaker manufacturers, while JMlab specialized in high-fidelity loudspeakers. In 2003, Focal and JMlab were incorporated under the name Focal-JMlab for home products, before being rebranded as just Focal in 2005 for all product sectors.
Focal is one of the only companies in the world to continually invest in research, with research into speaker driver acoustics being its core activity. In fact, Focal is one of the only loudspeaker brands to manufacture its own drivers. Focal also holds dear to a "made in France" mentality, with the vast majority of product design and manufacturing happening in-house. Most work happens in Focal's main facility in Saint-Etienne. A couple of hours away, a team of dedicated cabinet-makers make the loudspeakers enclosures for Focal's high-fi and professional loudspeakers. Everyone at Focal shares the same philosophy: French craftsmanship and industrialization, innovation and tradition all come together to give audiophiles and music lovers access to the ultimate sound.
While Focal has introduced numerous innovations in its 40-plus-year history, perhaps the most well-known is its inverted dome tweeter, designed and developed in 1981. With several updates over the years, the majority of Focal tweeters continue to feature this technology. The main advantage of the inverted dome tweeter, apart from its very low directivity, lies in its use of a coil of small diameter (very light with better acceleration) directly fixed to a rigid dome. The inverted dome’s spatial characteristics and very low directivity make it greatly superior to conventional domes. In 2016, Focal introduced the M-shaped inverted dome tweeter. This shape allows extension of the frequency response, a smoother diffusion, and more detailed treble.
In 2012, Focal commercialized its first headphone, the Spirit One. These were designed and engineered in France, with production happening in China. This debut headphone was followed by the Spirit One S model, the Spirit Classic, and the Spirit Professional. But outsourcing production turned out not to be the direction Focal wanted to go. They knew that to attain the level of precision they desired, they needed to bring the work in-house and do everything themselves, especially the drivers.
In 2016, that effort bore fruit with the release of their statement reference piece, the Focal Utopia open-back headphone, featuring the world's first pure beryllium headphone driver. The Focal featured a unique new driver design, ported on the backside with a unique M-sandwich design. The Utopia was made totally by hand by a small group in a clean room at the Focal facility. It didn't take long for the audiophile world to discover Utopia. It was clear that Focal has made the right move in bringing its headphone manufacturing in house, where it could have total control over every inch of the process. Read our Focal Utopia review.
Focal released the Elear open-back headphones, featuring an aluminum-magnesium driver, at the same time as the Utopia. Soon after came the Listen, a portable, closed-back, entry-level model. The Focal Clear open-back headphones, featuring an improved version of the Elear driver, came out in 2017. In 2018, Focal released the closed-back Elegia, which was discontinued in 2019. Released in 2020, the limited-edition Focal Radiance closed-back headphone uses a re-turned version of the Elegia driver that sounds even better. Focal's other beryllium headphone, the closed-back Stellia, came out in 2019. These Focal headphones have taken their place among the best headphones in the world.
In 1995, Focal released the luxury Grande Utopia floortstanding loudspeaker to international acclaim. The Grande Utopia is considered one of the best hi-fi loudspeakers in the world, with an open, clear sound, incredibly precise imaging, and huge soundstage. The goal at the time was to push the limits of acoustics and to serve as a reference for future generations of loudspeakers. What was only intended to be a technological challenge turned out to become a highly celebrated commercial product. Grande Utopia became a global reference in the world of acoustics. The Grande Utopia showcased a major Focal innovation: the W composite sandwich cone, which consists of two sheets of glass fibers applied to a structural foam core. This cone optimizes the frequency response curve by maximizing mass, rigidity, and damping. In 2002, Focal introduced the Grande Utopia Be, which featured Focal's first pure Beryllium inverted dome tweeter. The third generation of this speaker, introduced in 2008, was remarkable for its extraordinary dimensions, weighing over 570 lbs and standing over 6 feet high. In 2018, Focal unveiled the Grande Utopia EM Evo, an exceptional high-fidelity loudspeaker boasting the latest exclusive innovations from Focal.
Moon Audio sells the Chora, Kanta, and Sopra lines of high-fidelity and home theater loudspeakers as well as the Shape monitoring loudspeakers. Focal designed the entry-level Chora line with a goal of making high fidelity accessible to as many people as possible. Chora is first and foremost a home theater line, but these speakers work equally well in a two-channel setup. Chora speakers are known for silky treble; powerful yet controlled and perfectly articulated bass; and a balanced and precise midrange. The Kanta and Sopra lines were originally designed for two-channel listening, and then Focal added a center channel and a subwoofer. They're not as ergonomically designed for home theater, but you can certainly use them there. The audiophile who goes for the Kanta or Sopra doesn't care so much about ergonomics, however; they just want the best of the best. Designed to meet the needs of nearfield monitoring, the versatile Shape speakers are great for professional or home use, with remarkable acoustic transparency. Shape monitors combine an ingenuous design and numerous settings optimized for the acoustics of small listening rooms.
The Slatefiber cone, introduced in Chora loudspeakers, is a composite cone that uses recycled non-woven carbon fibers. Focal is the first audio brand to use recycled carbon fibers in its speaker drivers -- and thermoplastic polymer. The combination of these two materials results in excellent acoustic performance, in terms of sound velocity as well as rigidity and damping. This cone is characterized by its dynamic, rich and ultra-balanced sound, particularly in the midrange. With its acoustic qualities and unique “slate effect,” it has become a benchmark for high fidelity in its price category. Focal also uses flax sandwich cones, featuring French flax fiber, which is considered the best in the world. F cones are made of a high-quality flax fiber core enclosed by two thin layers of glass fiber. F cones are characterized by their natural sound, with low coloration, richness of reproduction in the midrange register, and tight bass. They satisfy the key criteria of a high-performance diaphragm: high internal damping, high velocity of sound, and high flexural rigidity. F cones can be found in Kanta and Shape loudspeakers.
Focal is known for innovative collaborations with companies both inside and outside of the audio world. For example, Focal and Naim Audio have collaborated since 2008 on car audio systems. In 2020, after several years of partnership, the two companies paired up with Bentley Motors on the limited-edition Focal Radiance headphone. The Radiance contains some of the best of Focal technology while boasting several Bentley design features. Read our Focal Radiance review. In 2019, Focal teamed up with Studio DMI to open a state-of-the-art production studio in Las Vegas. Dedicated to musical creation, Studio DMI Powered by Focal includes three studios, a recording booth, and an artists lounge. Previously, Focal partnered with French jeweler Tournaire to design a limited-edition pair of Utopia headphones styled with gold and diamonds. A dedicated sculpture-like stand in yellow bronze was also available. In 2013, Focal and Fender, two leaders in the pro audio world, combined their skills to launch Passport Studio, a portable monitoring loudspeaker equipped with specialized Focal components. Focal brought its expertise and its technology to the table, and Fender, the musical instrument specialist, brought its know-how and worldwide reputation in serving musicians. Once the two compact loudspeakers have been clipped together, they can be easily carried like a suitcase, making Passport Studio an original and efficient solution which meets the needs of musicians while on tour.