I’d like to start this article with a very important piece of news: the monitors you use are essential to the quality of audio your studio produces. Yes, it’s true!
In all seriousness, it is true! There’s no way you can make decisions about sound quality, levels, or a million other things if your monitors aren’t providing you with an accurate representation of your audio signals. Now, before the hands start going up in the back of the room, I’m well aware that the room you put your monitors in has a huge effect of the sound as well. But, whether your room is stellar or not so stellar, the source of the sound that drives that room needs to be as accurate as possible for best results.
So, what is “accurate”? Doesn’t every speaker manufacturer claim that their products produce “flat” response? Don’t they all tout the accuracy of their monitors? Of course they do. And yet, each model of monitor somehow sounds different from the next one and the next one…and the next one. This leaves it up to us to find the monitors that work best in our rooms, that we’re most comfortable listening to for extended sessions, that reveal the flaws in our tracks, and that sound right to our ears. We don’t need hype; we need revelation! (Hmmm…makes me wish we could apply that statement to politics and other aspects of our lives…)
Given all that rhetoric (or maybe despite all that rhetoric), I’m always interested in checking out new speakers in my studio, and I’ve reviewed literally dozens over the years. I have my old standbys that I’ve relied on for several years and that I know intimately. But, each set of monitors tells you something different about your tracks and your mix. For this reason, I generally like to have three sets of speakers available to me when mixing and mastering: the aforementioned standbys, which are a larger, almost midfield, design; a small “consumer”-style set; and something that both complements and contrasts with the standbys. Recently, I had a chance to put up two sets of Focal monitors and give them a listen.
Focal (pronounced “foe-kal,” rhymes with “pal”) has been a leading manufacturer of speakers for years. Most likely, you’ve heard their drivers in some of the most popular studio monitors, even if those monitors didn’t have the Focal name on them. Under their own name, Focal makes a wide range of speakers, from very affordable models to mastering lab behemoths that will run you about as much as a house.
I had an opportunity to check out two mainstays in the lineup: the Twin6 Be and the Solo6 Be. The Twin6 has frequency response from 40Hz to 40kHz. It uses dual 6.5” woofers and a beryllium inverted-dome tweeter driven by two built-in 150-watt amplifiers. The Solo6 offers the same frequency response, with a single 6.5” woofer and a beryllium inverted-dome tweeter powered by a built-in 150-watt amp. In both cases, you can control the woofer and tweeter levels with potentiometers on the rear panel, plus there’s an input-sensitivity selector switch. Both are finished with beautiful dark red veneer side panels and a black body.
The two models are similar in that both sound spectacular! There’s a clarity that allows you to hear right into your mixes. The big difference between the models is the amount of low end; though both reach the same depths, the Twin6 Be can fill a larger room with solid bass and can almost serve as a midfield monitor. The Solo6 Be is equally solid on the bottom, but it’s better suited to a smaller room, in a nearfield application. Both offer plenty of power for clean reproduction at whatever volume level you might require.
These are easy monitors to listen to for long periods of time. There’s no harshness or hype. The top end is detailed but smooth. I used them for tracking drums, bass, and rhythm guitar, as well as for lead guitar and vocal overdubs, then for mixing and finally for mastering. I found them to be accurate and even; the work I did using both sets of Focals translated well to other systems and environments. I could find no fault in the sound quality or the response when listening to my trusty compilation disc of reference tracks. In the end, I decided the Solo6 Be was the proper size for my room, which, while acoustically well treated, is on the smallish side, with a low ceiling. This set is staying right here with me, and I’ve been thrilled having them as members of my monitor triumvirate!
Focal also makes a more affordable monitor, with the CMS series. While I didn’t review these, I did have an opportunity to hear them in a controlled environment, and I was very impressed. I also heard the Sub6 11” subwoofer as well as the XS 2.1 desktop multimedia monitoring system – and both were equally impressive. In fact, the XS may well blow you away for its size and price.
To summarize, every model of Focal monitor that I’ve heard has impressed me. But, I’m completely enamored with the Solo6 and Twin6 monitors. I’ve been aware of the Focal name for a few years now, but clearly, with stellar models like these, the brand is poised to become the big thing in studio monitors. Check them out, and you won’t be disappointed!