2-WAY HIGH-END BOOKSHELF LOUDSPEAKER
Compact and powerful, Sopra N°1 is a concentration of technological innovation. It features 'NIC' magnetic circuit, 'TMD' surrounds for the midrange woofer and Infinite Horn Loading (IHL) of the tweeter. It is a true 'demonstrator', corroborating the contribution of the new technologies implemented on Sopra. First, the very low distortion gives it incredible clarity and very high definitioncombined with the spectacular spatialisation typical of bookshelf loudspeakers...
Beyond this attractive first impression, what's astonishing is the texture and smoothness of its sound. It provides a solid, 'fleshy' sound with full and articulated bass. Precious is by no means artificial, nor is the limited to the treble. The overall coherence and harmonic richness gives the listener a surprising understanding of the music.
Sopra clearly inaugurates a new era for the 'Premium High-End' by taking into account new performance criteria. Compact, modern, a pure design, character... all these are essential factors to ensure perfect integration into your interior.
Stabilising the magnetic field
NEUTRAL INDUCTANCE CIRCUIT
Since the beginning, we have always had a great interest in the magnetic circuit, an essential aspect of a speaker drive unit. The precision and detail of audio reproduction depends on the stability of the magnetic field. NIC technology (Neutral Inductance Circuit) permits to control the magnetic field and finally enables to master it in order to limit distortion. It decreases the effects of distortion and give the sound a very high-definition and an unprecedented dynamic.
The obsession with the midrange
TUNED MASS DAMPER
Our teams have revealed resonances which alter definition in the suspension which connects the cone to the basket. The solutions already known for increasing the damping properties of the suspension all result in an increase of the mass which consequently alters definition. The answer came from a technology used in earthquake-resistant skyscrapers and which is also used for the suspension on racing cars. "TMD" technology consists of optimising the suspension profile which controls the resonance in order to drastically reduce distortion and increase the definition of bass and midrange.
INFINITE HORN LOADING
Our Beryllium tweeter features an incredibly light and extremely rigid dome, that deliver a transparent and dynamic sound. Its main limitation comes from the compression of air in the cavity behind it. But the requirement for Sopra to be compact meant that as much of the cabinet as possible had to be used for the bass. We had to explore other options for loading the tweeter, which led us to come up with the IHL system. The "IHL" system enables to load the Beryllium tweeter respecting the compactness demand of the speaker. The rear wave of the tweeter is delicately and gradually absorbed to avoid any distortion. The treble definition is pushed to the maximum
MASTERING THE CABINET AND CHOICE OF MATERIALS
Made in France Sopra’s cabinet was designed in our cabinet-making facility in Bourbon-Lancy (Burgundy, France) using the same manufacturing process as for Utopia The 69mm sandwich-machined front panel uses the same principle as ‘Gamma Structure’ to provide inertia and damping. Its density gives it the inertia necessary to provide a stable mechanical reference for optimal definition. The inside of the cabinet has no parallel side panels, and small Helmholtz resonators have been added to the lower section to prevent vertical standing waves. We chose glass as the material for the base of the loudspeaker to provide floor coupling, using spikes, which enabled the fastest propagation time possible, thus eliminating all halo effects in the bass.
NO SACRIFICE OF PERFORMANCE TO AESTHETICS
The design agency Pineau & Le Porcher designed Sopra with one rule : No sacrifice of performance to aesthetics. The Sopra line is destined for the most passionate sound enthusiasts. Its design favours performance, whilst bringing together the qualities expected of an object which will be integrated into very elegant interiors and décors. Lacquered or bloodwood finishes are associated to noble materials to create an elegant line. Substantial efforts were made to give the front a tidy appearance, particularly around the speaker drivers, to iron out any aspects which could afflict the acoustics or the appearance. Sopra’s very structure is articulated around the intermediate section. This injected polyurethane component allows for the upper and lower cabinets to be inclined for the "Focus Time" (acoustic convergence of the channels).
The main theme of Sopra is deliberately uncluttered, though it still offers connoisseurs the opportunity to enjoy all the small details. The grille with an incremental meshing motif protects the Beryllium tweeter and gives it a strong identity. This motif is repeated for sealing the curved back panel of the middle section. The terminal board, the thumb nuts and the adjustable spikes have all been specially designed for Sopra, as have the few visible screws, all of which were manufactured by watchmaking experts.
Focal Sopra N°1 Bookshelf Speakers Reviewed
By: Ben Shyman, June 20, 2016
HTR Product Rating
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My wife and I were preparing for the arrival of our first child and living in a modest two-bedroom Manhattan apartment when the realization hit us--a five-year love affair with our Wilson Sophia 3 speakers was likely to end. It was a simple lifestyle decision really. Nothing more. Like it or not, lifestyle heavily impacts audio system design, and a kiddo is a game changer. So, after finding the Wilsons a new home with a New Jersey audio enthusiast, we began considering all options for a new system.
In my world, music is priority number one. I wanted speakers that would meet a high threshold for quality music reproduction, were space efficient (the Wilsons require lots of space to sound their best), and were not an eye-level target for the exploratory fingers of a curious, soon-to-be-crawling toddler.
The lifestyle change on the horizon was so significant that a complete system overhaul was contemplated. We put all our cards on the table. I sold my classic Dan D'agostino-designed Aragon 4004 MKII amplifier and my trusty Benchmark preamp. My previous system was "speaker heavy," with most of the budget allocated to the Wilsons. This time around, I planned to allocate funds more evenly across components. I began by auditioning speakers, and we listened to everything from high-end soundbars to stand-mounted bookshelf speakers. It was then that long-time friend and HomeTheaterReview.com publisher Jerry Del Colliano, who owned Focal Diablo Utopia speakers for many years, suggested we consider Focal's new Sopra N°1 bookshelf speakers.
The Focals arrived on a single pallet via freight on a chilly, rainy New York afternoon. After carting the boxes up to our Upper East Side box in the sky, unpacking the Focals and setting up each speaker was easy. Laying eyes on the fully assembled Sopra N°1s ($9,500 per pair with the stands) conjures up warm and fuzzy thoughts, as well as phrases like "wife-friendly" and "beyond gorgeous." First impressions are meaningful, and I must admit it's extremely difficult to not fall immediately in love with these thoughtfully designed beauties.
Unlike Jerry, who recently acquired a pair of Sopra N°2s in white--which I'm sure are beautiful--I found the chutzpa to order the Sopra N°1s in Electric Orange. I am glad I took the road less traveled by purchasing speakers in a less traditional color. Guests to our home are drawn directly to the orange Sopra N°1s with their oval grilles, sloped glass tops, sexy curves, and bold metal accents. They make a clear artistic statement that is unusual in the speaker industry, where bland black or wood veneer boxes are the norm. The Sopras are available in white, orange, red, black, and walnut.
The Sopra N°1 is a two-way bass-reflex (rear-ported) speaker featuring a 6.5-inch mid-bass driver and 1.06-inch Beryllium inverted dome tweeter. Focal claims that the advantage of Beryllium is its rigidity and lightness versus other metals (such as aluminum or titanium) and thus its wider and flatter frequency response. The speaker has a sensitivity of 89 dB and can easily be driven by most modest amplifiers. Power handling is 25 to 150 watts.
Each stand/speaker combination weighs about 80 pounds and is incredibly stable, thanks to precisely adjustable spiked feet. Focal says the spikes, thumb nuts, and screws were designed by watchmakers. The stands seem unable, however, to accommodate sand or lead shot for additional heft and stability. While some might view this as a negative, the Sopra N°1s are plenty stable, and I came to view this more as a nice-to-have than a must-have. I was more disappointed that the speaker wire channel that runs through the stand (which offers the opportunity for a sleek, clean installation that many buyers will appreciate) was unable to accommodate thicker, inflexible, or more heavily insulated speaker wire. When I tried to run a sample of Transparent's The Wall Premium 10-AWG cable (a reasonable choice in my opinion) through the internal channel, it was a no-go. Hooking up my Transparent Ultra speaker cables in the more traditional fashion, however, I found the Sopra N°1's connectors were strong and produced a vice grip on the spade lugs.
Our system overhaul included finally putting all of our PCM discs in storage after ripping them to a Synology NAS 416 drive, which would be controlled by a Mac Mini running iTunes and BitPerfect. I control everything using the Remote app on an iPad Mini.
For power, I chose the Pass Labs XA30.8 Class A amp (review pending) as our new amplifier. The Nelson Pass-designed XA30.8 provides 30 watts of power, which seemed ideal for the Sopras. Given my previous ownership of Mark Levinson and Aragon amplifiers, it seemed an appropriate time to return to my high school roots in the late 1980s--when I worked in audio sales and the Nelson Pass-designed Adcom GFA-555 was the amp to own. The new .8 Series Pass Labs amps are no repackaged Adcom from the past. They are some of the sweetest sounding, most controlled amps one will ever hear.
Finally, my cool wife was on board with placing some Acoustimac suede bass traps in several corners and sound-absorption panels at first-reflection points. The engineers at Acoustimac were patient and helpful in considering our floor plan and some photos I provided to help select the right treatments, all which made a meaningful improvement in clarity and imaging, especially with vocals. With that, I took a first stab at positioning the Focals; over the next several weeks, while I tweaked their position and broke them in, the Sopra N°1s' true voice emerged. It was finally time for serious listening.
It is hard to believe that John Coltrane's Blue Trane is nearing its sixtieth birthday. The HDAD 24/192 release (Classics Records) was my edition of choice. Coltrane possesses a unique timbre and character all his own. When you hear him in any context, you know it. The Sopra N°1s quickly transported me from my couch to the original Blue Trane sessions, or at least as close to it as I could humbly expect. Coltrane's tenor saxophone on "Moment's Notice" was presented with a smoothness and realism that, in my view, should make other speaker manufacturers jealous. In fact, throughout all of Blue Trane, the Sopra N°1s allowed a direct, uncolored musical connection to the organized chaos, beauty, and boldness that defines Coltrane's sound.
I played trumpet as a youngster and have a soft spot for the "soprano" of the brass family. In "Locomotion," hearing the attack and clarity of each note during Lee Morgan's speedy trumpet solo made me smile. Finally, the Sopra N°1's bass performance is quite notable given its smaller stature, especially compared with other bookshelf speakers on the market. Despite this fact, however, the prevalence of Paul Chamber's bass was wanting as it rolled off beginning at about 60 Hz. There was an obvious octave gap in the musical spectrum, which would require a subwoofer to fix.
The 30th Anniversary edition of Born to Run (Columbia) was remastered in 24/96 by Bob Ludwig from the original analog masters using the highly touted Plangent Process (http://plangentprocesses.wix.com/plangent ) playback system. Born to Run in high resolution is a must-own for Springsteen fans, and no track, in my view, better exemplifies the lyrical genius and raw emotion of The Boss than "Jungleland." Suki Lahav's opening violin solo and Roy Bittan's familiar piano riff set the stage for a performance that climaxes with an extended saxophone solo by the late Clarence Clemons. I have listened to Born to Run countless times (admittedly, never before in 24/192), and when chills emerged along my arms during the final 90-second buildup into Jungleland's closing moments, I knew the Sopras were special and worth getting really excited about. The Sopra N°1s presented The Boss and Jungleland with an immediacy and emotional tension that was simply thrilling.
My favorite band is Yes, and I recently acquired the 24/192 release of Going for the One (Rhino/Elektra). I've listened to this album for decades, but this was a new opportunity to rediscover the brilliantly composed and masterfully arranged "Turn of the Century" and "Awaken." Would the Sopra N°1s deliver? The 24/192 release of Going for the One completely surpasses the quality of the two previous remastered versions. In fact, this release sounds so much better than its predecessors that the complex instrumentation and layers of sound--notably, Rick Wakeman's pipe organ--can bedevil any loudspeaker. With "Turn of the Century" and "Going for the One," the Sopra N°1s presented a natural and uncongested soundstage with musical fluidity and precise instrument placement. The muddy mids and lackluster highs that plagued preceding releases have been corrected, allowing for even greater appreciation of the quietest passages during Awaken, which are filled with percussion and Jon Anderson's harp.
To find flaw while listening to Going for the One was not difficult, though. To no surprise, Rick Wakeman's pipe organ introduction on "Parallels" begged the Sopra N°1s to dig deeper, and they just could not. It was here that the Sopra N°1s lacked the gusto that would be present with floorstanding speakers or an added subwoofer. This is not to say that the Sopra N°1s failed to deliver musical dynamics. To the contrary, they do so superbly. It was just that, during all my listening, it was here that I yearned deeply for that old Revel Sub-30 (http://hometheaterreview.com/revel-ultima-sub-30-subwoofer-reviewed/ ) that I sold years ago--oh, the lucky bastard who bought it.
In the mid to late 1960s, Neil Young established himself as a prolific artist with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. His solo career took shape in the early 1970s with solo performances known for being intimate sessions, with nothing more than an acoustic guitar, harmonica, and piano at hand. No performance better demonstrates this than Live at Massey Hall 1971 (Reprise Records, CD). Recorded in 1971, the album was not released until 2007. Since that time, it has become widely regarded as one of the great acoustic solo performances. Songs from that 1971 tour would find their way onto Young's best-selling album Harvest.
The Sopra N°1s reveal the smallest details with ease and unrelenting precision. They bring out the best and worst characteristics of a recording. Thankfully, Live at Massey Hall 1971 is an outstanding recording, which allowed the Sopra N°1s to convey the mood and feeling of Young's performance on tracks like "Old Man" and "Needle & Damage Done" with best-in-class excellence. Transparency and imaging were beautifully rendered. Dynamics on "Old Man" were so lifelike, especially at moderate to high volumes, one might be fooled into believing Young was playing a personal performance in my listening room. Closing guitar harmonics on "Don't Let It Bring You Down" had a natural decay that reconfirmed my conclusion regarding the Sopra N°1s' ability to convey details with realism and a deft hand.
Living Colour skyrocketed to fame in the late 1980s with their double-platinum album Vivid (Epic) and Grammy Award-winning hit "Open Letter to a Landlord." In a musical era where most new rock bands emerged from Seattle playing grunge rock, Living Colour emerged from New York City with a refreshing style all their own, merging influences in metal, punk, funk, R&B, rap, and jazz. In 1990 the band released its second studio album, Time's Up (Epic, CD). As I listened to "New Jack Theme, " "Someone Like You" and "Type," Vernon Reid's rhythm guitar tracks were harmonically rich and never sounded muddy. I find hard rock or metal to be the style of music most susceptible to listener fatigue, especially at moderate to high volume. The Sopra N°1s presented Time's Up with virtually no fatigue or harshness. Finally, I was able to appreciate the texture and creativity of Will Calhoun's brushwork during the Caribbean-style ballad "Solace of You" in a way that I had never done in the past.
While the Sopra N°1s are the focal point of my music system, I also have been using them for television and movies in a 2.0-channel configuration. The Sopra N°1s obviously do not provide the bass "slam" and full dynamics of action-packed movie soundtracks on their own, but for vocals and just about everything else, they perform superbly. In recent weeks my wife and I have been watching many of the Academy Award-nominated movies on Blu-ray that we missed in theaters this year, including Brooklyn, Spotlight, The Martian, and Bridge of Spies, and we thoroughly enjoyed every moment through the Sopras. Adding the matching Focal Sopra center channel, surrounds, and subwoofer (released while I was writing this review) would no doubt make for an awesome home cinema experience. To my disappointment, it appears that Focal has decided, at least for the moment, to only offer those additional speakers in black.
If you are in the market for uber-high-end bookshelf speakers, you should strongly consider the Sopra N°1s, as they are truly exceptional loudspeakers. Much like all bookshelf speakers at any price, if bass below 60 Hz is a must-have, then you must add a subwoofer. There are a plethora of makes and models below $2,000 from companies such as Paradigm, Martin Logan, SVS, Revel and B&W, to name just a few, which will more than adequately complement the Sopra N°1s. This begs the question, however, "is it worth it?" While price is never really a downside, relative value is. The subwoofer criticism may seem like a weak downside on the surface because it can be easily applied to all bookshelf models. However, few bookshelf speakers cost $9,500. The debate here probably has no end. Are a pair of bookshelf speakers and a subwoofer totaling $12,000 worth the money versus, perhaps, a pair of floorstanding speakers equal the price? The answer to that question lies within you. In a typical New York City apartment where space is a premium and finding adequate space to position speakers away from walls and corners can be challenging, utilizing a bookshelf system with a properly placed and tuned subwoofer is likely the smarter option.
Comparison and Competition
Competitors to the Sopra N°1s include reference bookshelf offerings from top manufacturers, such as the Revel Ultima GEM2 ($11,400 with stands), B&W 805 Diamond ($5,700 with stands), Sonus Faber Olympica I ($7,700 with stands), Magico S1.5 ($10,800 without stands), and Wilson Duette Series-2 ($22,500 with stands).
If you are dropping in the neighborhood of 10 grand on high-end loudspeakers, perhaps even orange ones, you owe it to yourself to consider all the top options with an open mind and fresh ears. I have, however, owned Wilson Sophia 3s and can confidently say that, as far as the mids and highs are concerned (forget dollar-for-dollar, I am talking absolute), the Sopra N°1s are superior. They definitely sound better than my old Wilson Sophia 3s in nearly every way other than deep bass, and that's no small compliment.
The Sopra N°1s are serious eye-candy. As Prince would've said, "you sexy mother F**KER!" Beyond aesthetics, the Sopras easily exceeded my expectations for serious sit-down listening. The more time I spent with the Sopra N°1s, the more eager I became to re-explore my music collection--late nights, eyes closed, remote in one hand, a few fingers of Oban 14 in the other. There are many speakers on the market up to the task of high-resolution listening. With its horn-loaded beryllium tweeters revealing every detail with insanely low distortion, the Sopra N°1s are one of them. They will pique your intellectual curiosity regarding the endless musical subtleties hiding in your music collection. I never before auditioned a beryllium tweeter in my home, and you owe it to yourself to check it out. But be warned: If you bring your wife, favorite reference music, and American Express card to the showroom, be prepared to accommodate two reasonably sized boxes in the back seat for the drive home. Focal has accomplished something completely unique and groundbreaking with the Sopra N°1s: they sound as good as, if not better than, they look. This little beauty is a beast.
書架揚聲器中的巨人 FOCAL SOPRA No.1
29, Jun 2016 17:22
而鈹振膜凹盆高音單體則是裝置在整塊的金屬「前障板」結構上，重點在於整個高音單體背後的IHL(Infinite Horn Loading)
「無限號角負載(背載)」設計，單體本身背後的腔室與整個號角背載模組結合，背載模組中的號角形腔室，讓背波對於高音振膜的調制降至最低。這個背載模組的設計也是落地款的Sopra No.2上下音箱的耦合裝置，讓上下部的音箱空間能夠接合利用；至於書架型的Sopra No.1則是以一塊玻璃頂板密封此模組，但基本上此模組也是音箱空間的延伸範圍，採取低音反射式設計，低音反射孔位於背板下方。
Sopra No.1是隨附專用腳架的，可直接由揚聲器底部固鎖，支架有阻尼設計抑制共振，底板為強化玻璃材質，四只腳釘的高度可輕易調整。Sopra No.1的標稱阻抗為8歐姆，效率為89dB/w/m，重量為19公斤，腳架的重量則為18.5公斤 ，外觀有木質與亮面烤漆等多種顏色選擇。
試聽搭配的器材還是本刊的標準參考系統，Krell KPS-30iCD唱盤搭配Mark Levinson ML-7AXL前級/Anthem MCA-2後級，訊源線材是Tube Fan Studio，喇叭線則為Supra。一開聲讓筆者意外的，這聽起來一點也不像是書架型揚聲器；雖然Sorpa No.1以書架揚聲器來說體型不算小，而且只採用六吋半的中低音單體，但其寬厚的低頻量感，完全像是一對落地揚聲器。而中高頻則相對顯得柔和，與過往Focal
雖然Sopra No.1的體型比起一般書架揚聲器要大上一截，不過其實只用上了六吋半的中低音單體，讓筆者想起自己第一對購入的揚聲器Celestion SL-6S也是採用6.5吋中低音單體，但其發音的能力與規模完全是兩個不同的境界。兩者甚至在音域平衡上有著不少的相似之處，但呈現出來的明確結像與細膩的聲音紋理，還有真實的質感與浩大的場面，都不是老SL-6S所能相提並論。事實上就以現今市面上相似體型的的揚聲器來說，發音能力要能與Sopra No.1相提並論的應該還是非常難覓。
雖說Sopra No.1聲音相對柔和，但高頻的延伸與堂音的表現卻依然飄逸無比，呈現鈸、鐃等打擊樂器的質感也相當真實，並呈現相當的密度感與適切的光澤，毫無一般金屬振膜高音單體容易過亮或刺耳的現象，這可是筆者所聽過Focal鈹振膜高音單體聲音質地表現最佳的一次。即使兩音路設計通常不易產生銜接不良的問題，筆者還是得說Sopra No.1的音域連貫性是筆者所聽過Focal揚聲器中最佳的一款，在高頻段的聲音特質與優點一路向下延伸到中低頻，各種樂器的泛音同樣是鉅細靡遺的展現，但卻顯得溫厚而真實，不似一些強調性能的書架揚聲器那般火氣旺盛，反而呈現出高尚儒雅的氣息。
所以整個Sopra No.1的聲底是帶著一股高貴氣息，尤其是在鋼琴的錄音中展現出平台鋼琴特有的rand氣質，這是筆者在書架揚聲器中從未聽聞過的表現。也可以說Sopra No.1的下盤穩固完全能比美落地型揚聲器，為整個錄音的呈現打下安定的基礎，沈穩的展現出平台鋼琴的份量。Sopra No.1的低頻量感在本刊的試聽室裡顯得稍多， 但這顯然表示本刊的試聽室其實「裝不下」Sopra No.1，稍多的低頻能量影響了低頻的表現，不如預期的乾淨俐落，但Sopra No.1的低頻段依然是收放自如毫不拖泥帶水，以只用一只6.5吋的中低音單體能有這樣的表現，已經證明Focal製作單體的功力深厚無倫。
所以Sopra No.1的表現完全超乎一對書架型揚聲器所能令人預期的發音能力，在播放大場面或是大型合唱的錄音之際，其氣勢完全不是一般書架揚聲器可以比擬，即使不是在極大的音壓之下，竟也能呈現某種排山倒海之勢，而且極其安穩而毫無絲毫的紊亂。事實上筆者根本認為本刊試聽室並未能讓Sopra No.1完全伸展身手；顯然Focal在型錄上表示Sopra No.1可擺設在大至50平方公尺的空間(約15坪)的說法並未誇大，甚或更大的空間都不見得能難倒Sopra No.1
所以大家切勿被Sopra No.1書架揚聲器的外觀蒙蔽了，這絕不只是一對外觀看起來那樣子的揚聲器而已，其發音能力遠超過其體型，在偌大的空間中開聲絕無任何問題，而根本是一個書架揚聲器中的巨人。而最有意思的，就是Sopra No.1與過往Focal揚聲器大異其趣的聲音風格，不再那麼白熱化的強調透明，更顯溫潤的聲音中保有晶瑩的質感與更具深度的氣質。只可惜筆者至今依然未有機會，能好好的試聽一對Utopia系列揚聲器，所以無法得知Sopra No.1與Utopia相較究竟有多少差別；但顯然Sopra系列不只是將Utopia的設計簡化那麼單純，廠方還是投注了不同的Know-How在其中。
而實際上筆者喜歡Sopra系列的外觀更甚於Utopia系列，更重要的是價格比起Utopia低了一截；當然Sopra No.1三十餘萬的價格絕不便宜，但也絕不是漫天喊價。Sopra No.1展現了Focal廠方的揚聲器設計實力，而不單只是仗著單體的優異性能而已；如果還有人認為小喇叭撐不起大場面，那麼請務必聽聽Focal Sopra No.1！