Focal CMS65

Active Nearfield Monitors

Published in SOS April 2009
Bookmark and Share

Reviews : Monitors

Focal control everything from the design to manufacture in their factory in France — and this approach appears to be paying off.

Paul White

Focal CMS65

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.

Design & Construction

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.

Focal CMS65 £1265$1900
Extremely well-balanced, detailed sound.
Excellent build quality.
Sensibly priced.
These are excellent speakers that manage to be uncompromisingly honest while not costing a fortune. They may cost a bit more than your average monitor but the difference is worth it.
CMS65 £1265; CMS50 £874. Prices per pair, including VAT.
SCV London +44 (0)20 8418 0778.
CMS65 $1900 per pair.
Audio Plus Services +1 800 663 9352.

SOS Readers Ads


of Second-User Gear for sale now — don't miss out!

AVI Neutron Five

2.1 Monitor System

Thumbnail for article: AVI Neutron Five

This interesting monitor system uses the natural roll-off of the satellite speakers to provide the crossover with the subwoofer.

Tannoy Reveal 601A

Studio Nearfield Reference Monitors

Thumbnail for article: Tannoy Reveal 601A

Building to a price inevitably entails compromises. The art is in choosing the right ones...

Quested V3110

Three-way Active Monitors

Thumbnail for article: Quested V3110

Sometimes, a dose of old-fashioned good engineering delivers something well worth listening to...

Adam A7X

Active Two-way Studio Monitors

Thumbnail for article: Adam A7X

Their A7 nearfield monitors received many plaudits, not least in the pages of SOS, but manufacturer Adam thought there was room for improvement.


Active Nearfield Monitors

Thumbnail for article: PMC TB2S AII

PMC broke new ground a decade ago with their TB2 monitors, but the competition have been catching up. Does PMCs new activated design nudge them back to the front of the pack?

Avantone Active MixCube

Secondary Reference Monitors

Thumbnail for article: Avantone Active MixCube

Avantone have added on-board amplification to their contemporary take on the classic Horrortone secondary monitor, and the result is something quite special...

Sonodyne SM 50AK

Two-way Nearfield Active Monitors

Thumbnail for article: Sonodyne SM 50AK

India may be a growing force in most industries these days, but few Indian pro-audio companies have made it into Western markets. Can Sonodynes speakers change all that?

Unity Audio The Rock

Monitor Speakers

Thumbnail for article: Unity Audio The Rock

The time-domain response of monitors is often sacrificed for level, but this sealed-cabinet design tackles that issue head-on...

Infrasonic Blow 4D

Nearfield Monitor Speakers

Thumbnail for article: Infrasonic Blow 4D

With digital and analogue inputs, these small speakers from newcomers Infrasonic promise a lot for the money. Can they outperform their budget price tag?

Blue Sky Sat 8 & Sub 212

2.1 Monitoring System

Thumbnail for article: Blue Sky Sat 8 & Sub 212

If you demand brutal and revealing precision from your monitors, read on...

Barefoot Sound MicroMain 27

Active Three-way Monitors

Thumbnail for article: Barefoot Sound MicroMain 27

As well as a distinctive design, these huge nearfield monitors offer a frequency and time-domain performance that compares with the best.

Adam S3XV

Studio Reference Monitors

Thumbnail for article: Adam S3XV

Adam make the leap to a three-way speaker design that seems to pay dividends in clarity and separation.

JBL LSR 2300

Monitor Speakers

Thumbnail for article: JBL LSR 2300

JBL have a reputation for clinically precise monitors, but this time theyve come up with something a little smoother...

Equator Audio Q8

Active Monitors

Thumbnail for article: Equator Audio Q8

Coaxially-mounted speakers may seem a bit old-school, but theres nothing wrong with the theory — and a touch of DSP can make them very modern indeed!

M-Audio Studiophile DSM1

DSP Reference Monitors

Thumbnail for article: M-Audio Studiophile DSM1

Built-in DSP extends the flexibility and usefulness of these capable speakers.

Event Opal

Studio Monitors

Thumbnail for article: Event Opal

Events new owners make some extravagant claims for these new high-end monitors, whose design is said to put quality first. Do they live up to the hype?

Samson Resolv A6 & 120A

Studio Monitors & Subwoofer

Thumbnail for article: Samson Resolv A6 & 120A

Samsons new low-cost nearfields can produce a big sound, but do they measure up for serious mixing? We find out.

Prodipe Pro Ribbon 8

Active Monitors

Thumbnail for article: Prodipe Pro Ribbon 8

Ribbon tweeters can yield a smooth sound, while still capably reproducing transient detail — and the Pro Ribbon range promises to do so for an attractive price.

Focal CMS65

Active Nearfield Monitors

Thumbnail for article: Focal CMS65

Focal control everything from design to manufacture in their factory in France — and this approach appears to be paying off.

Klein+Hummel O410

Active Midfield Monitors

Thumbnail for article: Klein+Hummel O410

Getting the balance right between the benefits and disadvantages of ported and non-ported speaker designs is a tricky job, and K+H do it better than most with this ported model.

WIN Great Prizes in SOS Competitions!


Home | Search | News | Current Issue | Tablet Mag | Articles | Forum | Blog | Subscribe | Shop | Readers Ads

Advertise | Information | Privacy Policy | Support | Login Help


Email: Contact SOS

Telephone: +44 (0)1954 789888

Fax: +44 (0)1954 789895

Registered Office: Media House, Trafalgar Way, Bar Hill, Cambridge, CB23 8SQ, United Kingdom.

Sound On Sound Ltd is registered in England and Wales.

Company number: 3015516 VAT number: GB 638 5307 26


We accept the following payment methods in our web Shop:

Pay by PayPal - fast and secure  VISA  MasterCard  Solo  Electron  Maestro (used to be Switch)  

All contents copyright © SOS Publications Group and/or its licensors, 1985-2016. All rights reserved.
The contents of this article are subject to worldwide copyright protection and reproduction in whole or part, whether mechanical or electronic, is expressly forbidden without the prior written consent of the Publishers. Great care has been taken to ensure accuracy in the preparation of this article but neither Sound On Sound Limited nor the publishers can be held responsible for its contents.
The views expressed are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of the publishers.

Web site designed & maintained by PB Associates | SOS | Relative Media