Being at the Focal point of music
In the heart of this beautiful country of France, several reputable manufacturers have gotten us accustomed to high quality audio products both in electronic components and in loudspeaker systems. Of course, JMLab / Focal has strongly contributed to these efforts, and over a long period of time, they have solidified a reputation that has enabled them to quickly become one of the flagships of the French audio industry. The Société of Saint-Étienne has always been able to evolve and present great innovations in acoustic loudspeakers to the industry, both in the Professional audio field as well as in High-Fidelity aimed at consumers.
With a sales catalogue that already has several reputable models, Focal is definitely not a company that is happy to sit on its laurels. It continues to offer both amateurs and connoisseurs of music loudspeakers that combine innovations both technically and aesthetically.
Today I am in the presence of the Kanta No. 2, a new Focal model which, at first glance, seems to me to have been conceived after combining several advanced technologies that, individually, were found on different speakers manufactured by the company.
Physical and technical Observations
As soon as the Kanta’s were delivered to my home, I was surprised by the size of the boxes. After finding the size of the speakers on the technical documents, it is clear that Focal has thought of including adequate space inside the box in order to properly protect their product. Opening the box, the hypothesis is confirmed as I find several internal foam supports perfectly protecting the speakers from any transport related damage. The test pair of Kanta is all black – the faceplate (or front baffle if you prefer) as well as for the rest of the cabinet. I would be amiss not to mention that Focal offers several combinations of colors, including veneers with natural wood finishes. This will allow buyers to marry them to their decor easily.
On first observation, this very massive faceplate with a thickness of nearly two inches and even overextends beyond the sides of the cabinet. It is clear that this shows a design choice that predisposes a great rigidity of the whole cabinet. This faceplate is made from a new moulded Monobloc high-density polymer (HDP): a material which is capable of higher performance compared to the MDF cabinets which were used until now, completely developed by Focal in its home labs. It seems that this material, very massive and more inert, is much easier to mould and shape than conventional MDF panels. This new material also helps to create the concave shape that converges to the tweeter.
Despite a superb black metallic color, I have to admit that the finish is not quite what I expected from a product of this pedigree. With the help of the rays of sunlight reflected on the cabinet, I notice a small texture akin to an orange peel. On the flat surfaces, this is not noticeable to the touch, but on the rounded sides of the front baffle, these textures are slightly felt at my fingertips. On the other hand, honorable mention for the port, moulded into the faceplate which fits really well aesthetically. At the rear of the cabinet, the Kanta No. 2 remains simple despite a second port, this time plastic, mounted on a plate that is complemented by a set of simple terminal blocks.
Another point, which cannot be ignored, is the base system of the Kanta. Made of injected Zamak, which is in fact an alloy of zinc, aluminum, magnesium and copper, these floor supports raise the speakers a few inches and give them a very high stability. Of course, the four legs are decked with very high quality spikes and counter spikes.
Focal chose the FLAX construction for the woofers and the midrange speakers. This technology, used on different models for consumers and professionals, has already proven these advantages to the industry, Flax meets the requirements for obtaining low mass, high rigidity and excellent damping, ensuring crystal clear and precise sound.
As for the tweeter, Focal has chosen to integrate the IAL3 (Infinite Acoustic Loading), model made of beryllium, into Kanta No. 2. So the Focal Kanta is the first enclosure to combine FLAX cones and beryllium tweeter for its pairing of transducers.
Auditioning the Kanta No. 2
First, I load my CD player with the breakthrough album of Pianist Eldar Djangirov and his trio. On Morning Bell, which is an original composition of the English band Radiohead, one is presented with a frantic drums rhythm that is reproduced here with superb precision and impact. A flawless control in the swift passages, even if the contents of the percussions appear jostled by the seemingly overloaded by design. The Kanta seems to help keep the lines very clean.
On the opening track Point Of View Redux, the piano also rolls at a hellish speed and the Kanta manages this speed without ever compromising the complex harmonic structure of the instrument, which is no easy task for a loudspeaker system, regardless of its pedigree. I really like to evaluate a pair of speakers with this type of content that is both lively, skillful and especially expeditious. This allows me to note that these Focals control the whole with precision and impact, while ensuring a nearly disconcerting natural, almost surreal impression on the listener.
Another young pianist I like very much is Justin Kauflin and his album Dedication produced by the great Quincy Jones. On For Clark, we are offered a performance completely opposite the crazy rhythm of Djangirov. Here, we have a silky and enveloping result in soothing intimacy and calm. With a little more serenity, I revel in the acoustic qualities of the sound stage. I find myself under several layers of musical information that are easily analyzed in relation to each other. Of course, the Focal Kanta generate an eloquent panoramic width, but this would be nothing without this precision in the image, which allows me to enjoy this music at its fair value. Listening to The Professor, I confirm my perceptions with the impression of the drum kit being literally between my listening post and the speakers themselves. An exceptional reproduction that definitely helps to transmit information to the listener.
I now move on to another album which is one of my favorites of the last years, that of the group of Nik Bärtsch with the opus Continuum. From the first notes of Modul 29_14, I am stunned by the depth of the basses. It is easy to see the skillful cohabitation of the attacking force, which is well defined and impactful, and the substantial extension of the lowest notes. With the Kanta, the top of the register is loaded with details that are extracted from the music for the greatest pleasure of my ears. On some passages of this album, the highs are perhaps a little forward, but we are really far from the excess or over coloring, even favouring, in most cases, a softness marked by sensational musicality.
In the final testing days, I concluded my evaluations with an album that became a classic in progressive modern rock. Indeed, the English group Porcupine Tree marked the music scene at the launch of this album, in 2007, which today became a reference for groups of the genre Fear of a Blank Planet. Without hesitation, I move on to Anesthetize – more than 17 minutes of inspired and inspiring music. At the beginning of this song, Gavin Harrison’s drum kit launches a challenge to the Kanta with melodic rhythmic and tones of drums that must be distinct and accurate in order to convey the pleasure of this artistic creation.
Well, that’s successful! As mentioned earlier, Focal Kanta No. 2 is very good with by maintaining the complex nature of certain instruments and complex cadences presented by these – and drums are no exception. Much like the electric guitars of Steven Wilson which, throughout the piece, are furiously solid in their respective structure and power, the Focal speakers perform almost organically. And what about remarkable presence of Wilson’s vocals! Like the rest of the image, the phantom center is not only complete without the shadow of a doubt, but it is propelled vigorously to the listening position. The results are explicit and seductive. Of course, the response to these vocals from the Kanta enriches the experience in a meaningful way.
With the results obtained in this product evaluation for the Focal Kanta No 2, it is easy to say that we are in front of a serious offering. The different technologies specific to Focal, combined with this new concave, polymer-front cabinet make this ensemble surprising, but above all convincing. This model, which takes its place between the Electra and Sopra No. 1, derives many advantages from the thoughtful choices of the Focal design team. Firstly, the natural feel of the music and the balance between the instruments reproduced are worthy of mention including the collateral atmosphere of the recording environment. I found a beautiful linearity in the extension of frequencies, which, in my opinion, is essential to the effectiveness of the mixing of the various instruments on a musical production.
On several music excerpts used, the response, especially at the bottom of the register, really surprised me. It IS quite substantial. What’s interesting here, is that never is this depth blurred. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The basses are always straightforward and concise, regardless of the amount presented by the different music tracks and styles / genres.
But I believe that the strongest point about these speakers is definitely the projection that is very effective, as well as all those sensations of proximity and involvement that it forges for the audience. As mentioned beforehand, it develops a multi-layered array between the source and my ears, and although I have already been given to experience these sensations with other high-end speakers, I am convinced that the Kanta made me live a little something more in terms of reproducing more complex soundstages. As a result, they now place the bar a little higher.
They are very interesting, these Kanta. By exploring and especially testing the choice of components that helped create this model, I must say that I am not surprised at these performances. They meet the high expectations I had. No matter how they are described, they are clearly candidates to be considered in their price range. No doubt in my mind. This is a great success of our Focal cousins.
Eldar Djangirov Trio, Breakthrough, Compact Disc, Motéma Music llc, 2013
Justin Kauflin, Dedication, Compact disc, Qwest Records, 2014
Nik Bärtsch’s Mobile, Continuum, Compact Disc, ECM Records, 2016
Porcupine Tree, Fear of a Blank Planet, Compact Disc, Atlantic Records, 2007