If you are serious about audio production, you have quite likely heard of, heard or used Focal studio monitors. The French company is legendary for producing matchless hi-fi loudspeakers, studio monitors and drivers for various other reputable manufacturers. Meanwhile, Focal never stops tweaking their designs and raising the bar for everyone else.
In 2013 or so, I bought a pair of Focal CMS 50 monitors and knew they were different right away. They were as coherent from top to bottom as anything I have heard before, without an exaggerated and fatiguing top end. As a result, some listeners regard them as too dark because they are used to that ubiquitous treble distortion. I knew better.
After doing a lot of work in evaluating mixes and making a lot of decisions based on my CMS 50s, I heard about the new Shape series from Focal and was intrigued. I thought it might be time for a little upgrade. I identified the Shape 50s as the most appropriate size for my environment and ordered them.
I was advised to burn them in for up to 100 hours before doing any critical listening but I would have done that anyway. I set them up and had to marvel at their appearance because they look nothing like the CMS series. Once I did some further reading, I understood why the Shape series monitors look so unique but I won’t delve into all of those details here.
Once properly set up and burned in, I did notice that their input sensitivity is a bit higher than I was used to which required me to stay in a lower range of the volume on my Dangerous Music monitor control. I used a touch of the built in EQ to compensate slightly for that and my room before reworking all of my room treatments in the following few weeks.
The sound of the Focal Shape 50 monitors is nothing short of stunning if you feed them good food and set them up properly, which is not terribly difficult to do. Their newly shaped tweeters and new woofer material are all that Focal claims and more. In fact, for the first time in my life, I am listening to cone drivers and not hearing them. The Shape woofers are so fast and so effortlessly dynamic that it’s almost jarring at times. The tweeter dispersion is very wide too. All of this causes me to feel like I am listening to full-range ribbon speakers. The realism and transparency is breathtaking. I continue to hear new things in music I have been studying for 20 or more years.
The passive radiators on the sides of each monitor are also worth highlighting. They are an alternative to conventional porting which is problematic for various reasons. Passive radiators are like speakers with no voice coils in them. They simply respond to what is happening with air pressure inside the cabinet, keeping everything more stable than ports do. To me, they also open up the sound.
My only criticism beyond the very high input sensitivity is that the included metal feet are a nice thought but transfer too much mechanical energy into the monitor stands. I took two pieces of MDF that were cut to the right size, sanded and painted them, then put them under the monitors, with a few blobs of Blu-Tac above and below the MDF. Problem solved and they are more securely in place now which also helps the drivers work better.
My advice is that if you are very serious about hearing what’s going on with your music or with that of your clients, you have a nice D/A converter and can afford them, pick up a pair of Focal Shape series monitors and get ready to hear music on a whole new level.
Thanks to the team at Focal USA for their assistance.