Focal’s revised Alpha‑series speakers offer serious studio monitoring at an entry‑level price.
Building on the success of their original Alpha nearfield active monitor range (reviewed in January 2015, www.soundonsound.com/reviews/focal-alpha-65), French manufacturers Focal have recently revisited and updated that design, adding the Evo suffix to help identify the newer models. The original Alpha range proved extremely popular as the company’s entry‑level monitor series for home and project studios, but the new Evo series has enabled Focal to introduce a new, more modern look and style to the monitors, as well as to include some new technologies and revised features.
The new Alpha Evo range currently comprises two models: the 50 Evo and 65 Evo, these equating closely to the specs of the original Alpha 50 and 65 models. (At the time of writing there is no replacement for the larger Alpha 80 model.) I was supplied with a pair of 65 Evos for this review, but I’ll include technical details for the 50 Evo where the two models differ.
The most obvious visual difference between the original and Evo models is a trio of unusual and striking angled notches carved into the cabinet’s bolt‑on side panels, along with the Focal name. The lowest of these notches cuts right through to the front baffle at the port edges, too. These styling changes are quite bold and so may be a Marmite (a ‘love it or hate it’) thing but, personally, I quite liked their distinctiveness, and they certainly help to make the Evo monitors instantly recognisable.
Another obvious difference is that the cabinet baffle has radiused edges to help reduce diffraction from the baffle fringes and thus improve stereo imaging. Also, the port is now a single wide slot rather than the dual‑outlet arrangement of the original, this new design borrowing from the port aperture of the company’s SM6 models (Solo6BE, Twin6 BE, Trio6 BE, etc). The single large horizontal slot is claimed to ensure a laminar air flow and, although not visible, the inner end of the port tube is flared too, both aspects helping to reduce turbulence noise and resonances.
The cabinet itself is constructed from 15mm MDF, just as before, but with improved and extended internal bracing arrangements to make it stiffer and more inert than the previous design. As with the original Alphas, the cabinet is still finished in black vinyl and paint, with the 65 Evo measuring 339 x 261 x 289 mm and weighing 7.6kg, with a low‑frequency turnover specified at 40Hz. (Dimensions for the 50 Evo are 310 x 228 x 239 mm, while it weighs a shade under 6kg and gets down to 45Hz.)
One more striking feature of the new Evo models is the slightly blue tinge to the bass‑mid driver. Like it’s forebear, the 65 Evo model uses a 6.5‑inch (165mm) driver (the 50 Evo has 5‑inch or 130mm unit) constructed with Focal’s own ‘SlateFibre’ cone material. This composite fabric was first introduced in the company’s Chora hi‑fi brand speakers in 2019 and it is manufactured from non‑woven recycled carbon fibres in a thermoplastic polymer. The result is claimed to be much stiffer and better damped than the ‘PolyGlass’ material used in the original Alpha’s bass/mid drivers, and Focal say this new material contributes substantially to the sound signature of its Evo monitors.
The tweeter in both Evo models is the same 25mm inverted‑dome aluminium tweeter as employed in the earlier Alpha models, although it has been slightly enhanced in the Evo range by the addition of an integrated acoustic waveguide to help control dispersion. Focal are unusual amongst monitor speaker manufacturers in their use of bespoke hard‑dome tweeters, but the company argue that metal domes inherently suffer less deformation distortions than soft‑dome designs, and thus generate less distortion. A downside of this approach is a potential for self‑resonance issues, which need to be carefully controlled. Focal’s more expensive models use beryllium for the metallic dome, but the Evos use aluminium instead as part of the ‘value engineering’ necessary to achieve the entry‑level price. Nevertheless, the Evo tweeters have a response which extends to 22kHz, and their wide, even dispersion characteristic helps to generate a large listening area.
Thoughtfully, Focal provide the monitors with simple press‑fit removable metal grilles which can be clipped over the two drivers to afford some mechanical protection. However, as these grilles have a noticeable impact on the speaker’s acoustic performance the company recommend removing them when listening critically. Also included in the shipping carton, besides the protective grilles, are four rubber feet (which can be attached to the base to help isolate the speaker from its platform), a user manual and an IEC mains power cable.
In an industry where digital signal processing is rapidly becoming a common technique to linearise a loudspeaker’s performance, Focal have kept the new Alpha Evos resolutely analogue throughout, presumably to keep costs as low as possible. And, since the company build their own drivers, they have the advantage of being able to optimise their performance without the need of DSP correction.
However, while the input circuitry and room EQ facilities are much the same as on the original Alphas, the power amps are now efficient Class‑D designs instead of the traditional A/B form used previously, and with slightly lower power ratings — the latter being permissible in part because the SlateFibre drivers are more efficient than their PolyGlass equivalents. As a result, the 65 Evo is equipped with two separate amps, rated at 55W and 25W for the bass/mid unit and tweeter, respectively. (The smaller 50 Evo model delivers 30W to the bass/mid driver and 20W to the tweeter.)
Both new models actually have slightly lower maximum SPL ratings than their respective forebears. The Alpha 65 Evo manages 104dB SPL, while the 50 Evo’s figure is 101dB SPL (both measured at 1m). These figures are 2dB lower than the equivalent non‑Evo Alpha models, but I really don’t think this slightly reduced maximum level is likely to be significant in typical applications when the recommended listening distance is 0.4‑3.0 metres. And anyway, the Evo’s reduced power consumption is good for the planet!
Turning to the rear panel, which also forms the heatsink for the electronics, the controls and connections are much as before, although there are a few amendments. Mains power is connected via the usual IEC inlet (with integral fuse‑holder) at the bottom of the rear panel. However, the power supply is now a universal switched‑mode type which accepts AC mains supplies in the 100‑240 V range without need for adjustment. The speakers are Class‑1 devices, of course, which means they employ the mains safety earth connection.
Rear‑panel audio connections have been expanded to include a new TRS balanced input option alongside the XLR and unbalanced RCA phono inputs seen on the original Alphas.
A rocker switch at the top of the rear panel turns the speaker on or off, although an auto‑on/standby facility is enabled as standard. The ‘auto‑off on silence’ duration has been reduced to 15 minutes (it was 30 minutes on the original Alphas, so more power saving there), while the speakers power up automatically if an audio signal above ‑42dBu (6mV) is detected. While in standby mode the speaker consumes less than 0.5W, and an LED at the bottom of the front baffle indicates the power status. However, not everyone likes or wants auto‑power functions, so Focal have sensibly added a slide switch to disable this facility, if preferred.
Shelf EQ is provided to correct for speaker placement near boundaries and/or to adjust tonal balance to suit personal preferences and room acoustics. To this end a pair of knobs near the top of the back panel adjust the bass response (effective below 300Hz with ±6dB range) and treble (above 4.5kHz with a ±3dB range). This feature is exactly the same as on the original Alpha models.
Rear‑panel audio connections have been expanded to include a new TRS balanced input option alongside the XLR and unbalanced RCA phono inputs seen on the original Alphas. The XLR input is now routed through switching contacts of the TRS socket, so the latter takes priority, while the RCA phono input can be used simultaneously with a balanced input, if desired. The nominal sensitivity of the XLR and TRS inputs is +4dBu, while the RCA‑phono input is ‑10dBV — although both can be increased by 6dB via a slide switch adjacent to the TRS socket. All the audio connections present a 10kΩ input impedance, but there is no variable sensitivity control. This is a rather unusual design decision, and while many monitor controllers are equipped with level trims, the absence of the facility on the speaker itself could make balancing and fine‑tuning the phantom centre rather more difficult than it could be in some installations.
A final (and very useful) new addition is the inclusion of a pair of threaded inserts just below the EQ controls and audio connectors. These allow attachment to a wall‑ or ceiling‑mounting bracket, for which Focal specify K&M fittings with M6 screws at 70mm centres.
Although controversial in some quarters, some speaker designs do seem to ‘bed in’ during the first few hours of use, with their sound character often changing quite noticeably over that period. To this end, Focal recommend that the Evo speakers are allowed a running‑in period to permit the materials in the drivers to settle down and attain their designed performance characteristics. The company also warn against high‑level listening for the first few hours of use, and suggests playing bass‑rich material at moderate volume for around 20 hours before using the speakers for critical listening. In my experience this is good advice, and I made sure to allow a few days of running in before I started my formal evaluation.
I noticed a few creaks from the side panels as I manhandled the speakers from their shipping boxes onto stands in my studio, which reflects the ‘value‑engineering’ involved in their construction, but once they were up and running I couldn’t detect any rattles, creaks or resonances at all.
I set up the 65 Evo monitors above my usual Neumann KH310s, driven from a second monitor output of my Crookwood mastering console. The EQ controls were initially set flat and the sensitivity at the default 0dB setting, and I never felt the need to change either as my auditioning progressed. The listening distance was around 1.25m in a fairly well‑treated room.
I was able to hear easily into complex mixes, and to resolve the timing and tuning relationships between bass and kick drums pretty well.
Prior to running them in, my initial impression of the 65 Evos was of a rather tight bass that had a hint of ‘cardboard’ about the sound character. But after leaving the speakers running in the background for a few days, as per Focal’s advice, I found that the bass had filled out considerably to give an impressively deep and powerful yet fast and precise low end.
Stereo imaging and depth, as well as the musical dynamics, were all to a pleasingly good standard, too, delivering a wide and stable listening area and a very involving and musical sound. I was able to hear easily into complex mixes, and to resolve the timing and tuning relationships between bass and kick drums pretty well.
The entire frequency response was impressively flat in my room, starting from around 40Hz, with no major resonances or dips, which is a very good result. The low‑end extension really is quite impressive for a cabinet of this size. The top end is obviously well extended and clean, but perhaps not quite as smooth or effortlessly airy as more expensive monitors can usually manage. Given the very attractive cost of the speaker, we can’t expect ‘perfection’ (whatever that is), and I’d categorise this aspect of the 65 Evo just as part of its character, rather than a working weakness; it’s definitely not something that impedes mixing in any practical sense, but I feel it’s worth mentioning for anyone that compares these monitors to others with soft‑dome tweeters which typically have a different HF character.
Auditioning a wide range of musical genres and spoken voices from my reference track playlists, the 65 Evo consistently punched well above its price, and served as a genuinely effective studio monitor, revealing recording maladies as well as successes. The low‑end control is particularly worth highlighting, as is the midrange detail and clarity. I am genuinely impressed with how well these monitors perform on an absolute scale, and at the retail price they represent a very good buy indeed.
- Fast and punchy, but with an overall neutral sound character.
- Impressive bass extension for the cabinet size.
- Auto‑on/standby function can be disabled.
- Good stereo imaging, stable over a wide area.
- Excellent quality for an entry‑level studio monitor.
- Power switch is on the back panel.
- No variable input sensitivity control.
Building on the success of the original Alphas, the new 65 Evo delivers an impressively punchy, detailed and well‑balanced sound, with good bass extension, all for a remarkably affordable price.
Alpha 65 Evo £598, Alpha 50 Evo £478. Prices are per pair, including VAT.
SCV Distribution +44 (0)3301 222 500
Alpha 65 Evo $898, Alpha 50 Evo $698. Prices are per pair.