Focal control everything from the design to manufacture in their factory in France — and this approach appears to be paying off.
Focal, or Focal‑JMlab, to give them their full title, are based at their factory in Saint‑Etienne, France, where they employ around 200 workers. They've carved out something of a reputation for designing and building specialist drive units for other hi‑fi and pro-audio loudspeaker companies, and they also make hi‑fi speakers that range in price from the affordable to the astronomical. Their studio monitors have also made something of an impact at the high end, but their new CMS65 model now brings them within reach of the project studio, as well as the professional. Apart from some individual components, which are sourced elsewhere, everything is designed and manufactured in their factory.
There are currently two CMS-series monitors: the CMS50, and the CMS65 that's reviewed here. There's also the option of adding a subwoofer for systems where greater level and bass extension are required. Both monitors share common design elements, the main difference being that the slightly lower-powered CMS50 has a five‑inch main drive unit, whereas the CMS65's measures 6.5 inches. Both are ported, two‑way, active designs that use Focal's well‑established aluminium and magnesium inverted-dome tweeter to handle the highs. Focal claim this construction method is the only way to achieve correct movement of the complete dome, because of the way the cone and voice coil are coupled. They also claim that the aluminium/magnesium alloy they use offers good self‑damping, which leads to a cleaner impulse response and the ability to extend the HF to a 3dB-down point at 28kHz. Powering the CMS65 is a 100W amplifier at the low end and a 60W amp for the tweeter, which is set into an elliptical waveguide to control its directivity. The TDA7293 unit that powers the woofer uses a MOS power stage and achieves an impressively low distortion figure of 0.005 percent, and the LM3886 power unit driving the tweeter manages a slew rate of 19V per microsecond, enabling it to follow extremely fast transients.
Focal's woofer is also a bit special, and uses something they call 'Polyglass' technology, where a thin layer of glass micro‑balls is applied to a cellulose pulp cone. I don't know who first came up with the idea of trying this, but Focal claim that it combines the known good self‑damping of paper with the rigidity of glass to exceed the stiffness of a single‑layer Kevlar cone, and to be almost 10 times more rigid than polypropylene. (In theory, a light, stiff cone reduces distortion while maintaining transient definition.) Both drivers are designed to be magnetically shielded.
The CMS65 cabinets are impressively solid, built from cast aluminium with sculpted corners, and with internal bracing and acoustic treatment to provide a virtually resonance‑free housing for the drivers. There's a slot‑shaped reflex port on the front of each cabinet, below the LF driver.
Each cabinet comes with a rubber mat, four rubber 'spikes' that can be fitted to the front or rear of the cabinet to adjust the angle, and two removable metal grilles. It's recommended that, for optimum results, the grilles are removed using the hook provided and the plastic phase-plugs, also included, are fitted over the tweeters. Overall, the cabinet size with the mat fitted is 368.5 x 241x 231mm. Each speaker weighs 10.5kg.
Today's active speakers wouldn't be complete without some rear‑panel settings for the user to fiddle with, and the CMS65 is no exception: there are five screwdriver‑adjustable, detented rotary controls mounted in a metal panel just below the recessed amplifier heatsink. The adjustable-height spikes help the user position the speakers so that the tweeters are aimed at their head, but the room environment and speaker placement relative to walls and corners may require electronic adjustment. Selectable LF and HF shelving filters help to address general room problems, while a further notch correction helps to compensate for reflections from a mixing console or desk. This operates at 160Hz with a Q of 2 (three-quarters of an octave), and can be switched to flat, ‑2dB, ‑4dB or ‑6dB. The LF shelving filter affects frequencies below 450Hz and has settings of flat, +2dB, ‑2dB, ‑4dB and ‑6dB. The negative settings are useful when the speakers are mounted closer to walls or corners than might otherwise be desirable. The high‑pass filter has settings at full, 45Hz, 60Hz and 90Hz with a 12dB per octave slope, while the HF shelving filter has a fixed frequency of 4.5kHz with cut and boost settings of 0dB, ‑4dB, ‑2dB and +2dB. There's also an input gain selector (‑4dBu, 0dBu or +10dBv) and a power switch. A power standby switch is also available on the front panel, as is a flat, rubbery volume control that offers up to 66dB of attenuation. A red LED lights up when the speaker is powered but in standby mode, and this turns green when the speaker is active. There's also a clip indicator next to the volume control that shows when the level is set too high. The filter circuits are built around the ubiquitous NE 5532 amplifier IC, in combination with high‑precision resistors.
The speakers have a 45Hz to 28kHz range at the ‑3dB points, with a peak SPL of 108dB at one metre. The inputs can be on balanced XLRs or unbalanced RCA phonos but there's no quarter-inch jack option.
If you've a selection of well-recorded commercial material that you know, you can tell right away if a speaker sounds 'right' or not — and these Focals sounded pristine without my having to make any changes to the rear-panel controls. Everything was as it should be: a controlled, but sensibly extended bass end, with no boom or flab, a very nicely focused mid‑range, and detailed but smooth highs. The stereo imaging was also excellent, and I found that any flaws in the recorded material were easily revealed. In this respect they should appeal to those who appreciate natural‑sounding speakers such as PMC or K+H, rather than some of the more brash or hyped‑sounding monitors out there. They work well with a wide range of material, from pop to classical, and I can honestly say I found nothing about their performance to dislike. If you want to hear your mix rather than your monitors, these speakers really deserve your consideration, as they have to count as some of the sweetest and most natural‑sounding desktop monitors I've heard in this price range. Highly recommended.
There are many alternatives in this price range, each with their own character. Manufacturers to check out for comparable models include Genelec, Adam, Dynaudio and Mackie, all of whom include an active two‑way model with a 6-inch or 6.5-inch woofer in their range. Those looking for a similar neutral character may also wish to look more closely at ATC, PMC, K+H and AVI speakers.