Belgium is better known for its chocolates than its studio monitors — but Belgian company FAR aim to change all that. David Mellor opens up the black magic boxes....
The FAR (Fundamental Acoustic Research) company is comparatively recently established, but judging from their range of studio monitors, which goes all the way up to the DBW200 at over £4500 per pair, this Belgian company are taking the business extremely seriously, and have a working relationship with the University of Liege, whose two anechoic chambers are used for testing FAR products.
FAR's stated philosophy on loudspeaker design includes the following aims:
- A good extension of the frequency range.
- A minimum of phase shift to maintain good stereo imaging.
- A natural low‑frequency extension without excessively high Q, which generally gives a boomy sound.
- The engineer must be able to work a long time without becoming fatigued with the sound.
The FAR CR20 under review is designed as a nearfield monitor for video and film post production and editing suites, but there's no reason why it shouldn't be very useful in music studios, where it would compete on size and/or price with models such as the Alesis Monitor Two, KRK 7000B, and Tannoy System 800.
When I encounter a new pair of monitors, the first thing I want to know is that they are solidly constructed. I was encouraged from the moment I opened the outer carton of one of the CR20s and found that the packaging is partly made of chipboard! If they take this much trouble over the wrapping, the contents must surely be good. The cabinet of the CR20 is made from 18mm and 22mm MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard) which is pretty much standard these days and has a so‑called soft black finish (other colours and finishes are available to order). The size of these monitors is 400(h) x 300(w) x 280(d)mm, which makes them on the large size for nearfield use, but not excessively so. On the base is a foam pad which should decouple, to a certain extent, any vibrations in the cabinet from whatever it is mounted on. At the back there's a pair of binding posts with decent‑sized holes, to accept proper loudspeaker cable, which also look as though they will take 4mm connectors — but since I think this type of connector is a complete waste of time, and they're apparently going to be banned on grounds of electrical safety in continental Europe, I didn't have any to try out. I look forward to the day when we have a standard loudspeaker connector (any votes for the Neutrik Speakon?) so we can plug in speakers the way we do the rest of our equipment. At the front, there's no grille in front of the bright yellow diaphragms of the drive units, or any apparent provision for fixing one, which I would have liked to see, especially given the extremely eye‑catching colour of the drivers!
As you'd expect, there are two drivers, both made by Focal. The 7‑inch woofer has, according to the brochure, an ultra‑rigid poly‑sandwich Kevlar K2 diaphragm, an 11.5mm double voice coil, a powerful magnet and an ultra‑rigid basket. What this means in terms a normal person could understand is that the woofer's cone is quite stiff, which helps to avoid distortion in the mid frequency band. The powerful magnet ought to mean that the woofer is quite efficient. The specified figure of 91dB SPL in anechoic conditions, with an input of 1 watt measured at 1 metre, is about par for the course for this type of loudspeaker. Power handling is rated at 100 watts (250W peak), and impedance is 8Ω.
The double voice coil is an interesting and unusual feature. Virtually all low‑frequency drive units have only a single voice coil, which acts like an electromagnet when driven by a signal. The magnetic field of the coil interacts with the field of the drive unit's permanent magnet, to cause the diaphragm to move in and out. This happens over the full frequency range of the driver, the extent of this range of frequencies being controlled by the crossover. The LF driver in the FAR CR20 has two voice coils and, according to the specification, the crossover sends frequencies below 800Hz to one coil and frequencies below 3500Hz to the other (including 800Hz and below). Apparently this allows, with careful design considering the interaction between the coils, better control over the bass response. Whatever the reasoning behind it, the CR20's bass is not over‑emphasised and is relatively clear and well articulated. Some might prefer speakers with more bass, which would probably tend towards boominess. Not me, however: for its size, the bass output of the CR20 is quite adequate for nearfield purposes.
The cabinet is of the bass reflex variety, with two ports rather than one, which seems to be quite fashionable at the moment. The reasoning behind the bass reflex design is that the resonance of the cabinet can be set a little lower than that of the low‑frequency drive unit and thus enable the loudspeaker as a whole to reach lower frequencies than its size would suggest — often at the expense, however, of a little 'boominess'. FAR, on the other hand, claim to have chosen to moderate the quantity of bass their monitors produce, to place the emphasis on quality, which can't be a bad thing.
The two drive units are mounted centrally, as close together as physically possible. This is exactly as it should be for vertical mounting, since whatever your position in a horizontal plane in front of one of these speakers, your ears will be equidistant from both woofer and tweeter. Mount them horizontally, however and, as with almost all nearfield monitors mounted in such a way, you'll be locked into a single 'hot spot' where cancellation effects will be at their minimum.
Although the CR20s were supplied as a pair, there doesn't seem to be any internal difference between the left and right speakers. The corners of the cabinets are slightly rounded (though not as rounded as some cabinets I've come across), which should reduce diffraction effects.
There is no studio equipment, other than microphones, perhaps, where the listener's subjective judgment is more important. The CR20's frequency response is listed in the brochure as 40Hz‑20kHz (±3dB), which does seem rather optimistic for a small cabinet, and the published graph would seem to indicate that the bass starts to roll off significantly below 60Hz. There is a small peak in the response at around 3.5kHz, which is exactly where the ear is most sensitive.
One of my favourite test CDs at the moment is Stephen Still's Manassas, first released in 1972 (but I only discovered it this year). This CD has a big sound, but realistically big — over‑emphasised, and with a lot of detail in the individual instruments. I found that the CR20s were up to the task, producing a sound much bigger than their size might suggest, and revealing an impressive amount of detail in the mix, but not to an over‑analytical extent. In fact, they revealed that some of my mixes, although they have plenty of low bass, are embarrassingly lacking in upper‑bass punch. Used in the close field, these monitors are good for fine‑tuning reverb parameters, and should be useful tools for bringing out the best qualities in any instrument or voice.
The best test of a pair of monitors is to use them for their intended purpose: making a recording and mixing it. Unless you intentionally compensate for any defects the monitors might have, your mix will have defects in the opposite direction, which will be audible when that mix is played on the system you're most familiar with. The clarity of the bass provided by the CR20s is such that it is possible to differentiate quite precisely between the low‑frequency components of the instruments in a mix. However, the slight peak at around 3.5kHz could be a little worrying, since it tends to bring out the articulation of words more clearly — so in the mix that goes down to tape, it might be more difficult to make out the words unless you took care to over‑emphasise them. This isn't a serious problem, just something you should bear in mind.
The FAR CR20s are solid, well‑made, and will give quite an accurate aural picture of your mixes. During one of my favourite loudspeaker tests (how long can I listen at a high level without my ears getting tired?), I was pleased to note that they also exhibited no tendency to induce listening fatigue. Monitor choice will always be subjective, and I'd always recommend that you listen for yourself before purchasing, but I believe the CR20s to be a serious option in the nearfield monitor market.
The FAR company is based in Liege, Belgium, and was founded by Pierre Thomas, who made his name designing the internal acoustics for studios around Europe. His designs included his own large monitors, individually produced for each studio, which proved popular, and when customers began to ask if smaller ones were available, the decision was made to go into commercial production. FAR have been established for eight years, and have been making monitors commercially, which are apparently selling well on the continent, for about three years. The range currently comprises:
- CR10 compact 2‑way nearfield: £499
- CR20 nearfield (7‑inch LF driver, Kevlar cone): £799
- CR40 (8‑inch LF driver, mainly supplied as rear pair in a FAR surround system, but can be bought as monitors in their own right): £699
- DBW80 (twin 6‑inch drivers, 3‑inch soft‑dome mid, 1‑inch tweeter): £1485
- DBW100 (as above,with twin 7‑inch drivers and a bigger cabinet, recommended for use as main or midfield monitors): £1995
- DBW200 (2x15, 8‑inch Kevlar mid/1‑inch Kevlar HF — serious main monitors!): Around £4700
- Clean bass.
- Easy on the ear.
- Well made.
- Slight peak around 3.5kHz.
A viable option for nearfield monitoring, especially if you want accurate, rather than artificially boosted, bass representation.