Focal Aria K2 936, Aria K2 Center, Aria K2 906 Sides, and Focal SUB 1000F – Powerful, Elegant, and Accurate! – 5.1 System - Full Review!

Manufacturer & Model
Focal Aria 5.1 System: Aria K2 936 x2, Aria K2 Center, Aria 906 x 2, Focal Sub 1000F
MSRP
Aria K2 936 - $5990 pair, Aria K2 Center - $1190 each, Aria K2 906 - $1990 pair, Focal Sub 1000F - $1990 each
Link
https://www.focal.com/en/home-audio/high-fidelity-speakers/aria-k2/ https://www.focal.com/en/home-audio/high-fidelity-speakers/subwoofers/sub-1000-f
Highlights
Aria K2 936 – Three-way Tower Speaker – Ash Grey/Black Finish
6.5" (x3) Aramid and Fiberglass Cone Woofer in a ported cabinet (3 ports)
6.5" Aramid and Fiberglass Cone Mid-Range
1" Aluminum/Magnesium inverted dome tweeter
Magnetically Attached Grille
Aria K2 Centre Channel – 2-Way Speaker – Ash Grey/Black Finish
6.5" (x2) Aramid and Fiberglass Cone Woofer/Midrange in a ported Cabinet (2 Rear Ports)
1" Aluminum/Magnesium inverted dome tweeter
Magnetically Attached Grille
Aria K2 906 – Two-Way Bookshelf Speaker – Ash Grey/Black Finish
6.5" Aramid and Fiberglass Cone Woofer/Midrange in a ported Cabinet (1 front-facing port)
1" Aluminum/Magnesium inverted dome tweeter
Magnetically Attached Grille
Focal SUB 1000F 12" Powered Subwoofer
12" (30cm), Dual Magnet Driver with Flax and Fiberglass Cone
High Excursion Driver
Sealed Cabinet
1000W BASH® Amplifier
24Hz – 200Hz (±3dB)
Variable crossover 40Hz to 160Hz
Auto On/Off
Cup and Pin Attached Circular Grille
Summary
Combining stunning aesthetics with high performance derived by using trickle-down technology from the Focal Utopia line of ultra-premium speakers, the Aria K2 series delivers crisp highs and solid lows with a natural and pleasing sound. The Aria K2 936 tower speakers offer pinpoint imaging with a wide and deep soundstage. The smaller Aria K2 906 bookshelf speakers offer commensurate performance in a compact form factor for side and rear surround duties or as the heart of a small room stereo/home theater system. The Aria K2 Centre speaker renders the critical dialog channel with striking clarity and a natural vibe. The visually appealing 12" Focal SUB 1000F subwoofer pumps solid LFE into medium-sized rooms without protest.
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The Review
I have long been an admirer of Focal products. I had the privilege of hearing a demonstration of the Grande Utopia EM EVO Loudspeakers at the last live Axpona show (Chicago - April 2019). That demo, and those speakers, received my vote for "Best in Show," at least in the "Price is No Object" category!

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But alas, those 4-way, 6.5-foot tall, 584 pounds (each!), $260,000 a pair, aural behemoths were not destined to come home with me that day.

I listened to the other speakers Focal had on display and recalled that the sound was very pleasing to my ears across every line, even in the spectacularly crappy acoustic environment of the show. "Quite an accomplishment," I thought at the time. I left the show with a plan and lust in my heart, only to find my wife would not allow me to sell the house to finance the Grande Utopias.

But, as it turns out, it was not to be a totally "unrequited love" after all! AV NIRVANA and Focal recently allowed me to get my hands on some Focal speakers for review. Not just a pair of speakers, but an actual 5.1 multi-channel speaker system consisting of speakers from the Focal Aria K2 Home Theater lineup, along with the Focal SUB 1000F Subwoofer to manage the bottom end.

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Was I ready, willing, and able? Heck Yeah!



Delivery Day
The journey taken by the Focal speakers to my home was a "long and winding road." Starting in France, wending their way across the pond to Montreal, Canada, and finally coming to rest in Dallas, Texas.

A friendly FedEx Freight driver delivered the Focal speakers right into my garage. All six (five boxes) were wrapped in plastic and sitting atop a standard-sized pallet.

Cutting the plastic wrap exposed the neatly stacked boxes. All appeared to be in good shape with no visible damage. Breaking down the pallet, I moved the speakers to my listening room.

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All packing materials appeared robust and appropriate for the size and weight of each speaker. The speakers were nicely wrapped and captured between Styrofoam end caps. The larger Aria K2 936 floor standing speakers had an additional cardboard spacer around the speaker, functioning as support inside the more extended box. My only quibble was the use of the now seldom seen, industrial-sized staples that held the boxes closed. It's a secure packing method, just one I don't particularly care for, as I invariably poke my finger trying to pry them safely out of the box.



Construction and Design
From initial design to cabinets to drivers, Focal designs and manufactures its high-end speaker systems at state-of-the-art facilities in France.

To quote the Focal website:

"For more than 40 years, Focal has been designing and manufacturing home audio loudspeakers, car audio speaker drivers and amplifiers, monitoring loudspeakers for recording studios, and more recently, headphones. Based in Saint-Étienne, France, Focal has earned its place amongst the leaders of the audio industry by providing unique technologies and through constant innovation.

Everyone at Focal shares the same philosophy: French craftsmanship and industrialisation, innovation and tradition all come together to give audiophiles and music lovers access to the ultimate sound."

QUALITY À LA FRANÇAISE

I unpacked each of the Aria speakers and was instantly impressed with the beautiful mirror-like, Gloss Black, and Ash Grey finishes on the tops and sides. The front panel of the Aria K2 936 towers and smaller Aria K2 906 speakers is an attractive and elegant, matte black "Faux Leather" finish.

The Aria K2 Centre Channel speaker has glossy Ash Grey side panels but is otherwise wrapped with that same matte black "Faux Leather" finish found on the front panel of the other speakers. The speaker sensibly eschews the glossy black topsides of the other speakers to tame those pesky screen reflections.

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Overall, the fit and finish were flawless on every piece. All drivers appear to be precisely machined and fitted. The Aramid (Kevlar)/Fiberglass Cones of the Woofers and Midrange are a beautiful yellow. The very interesting, inverted dome Aluminum/Magnesium tweeter, sitting in a shallow dimpled waveguide, is also pleasing to the eyes.

Each Aria loudspeaker has a tasteful black cloth over ABS plastic grille, held in place with magnets.

The Aria line shares technology developed for some of Focal's upper echelon speakers. The "K2" designation in this most recent iteration of the Aria speaker lineup refers to the woofer and midrange drivers. The K2 is a Focal designed and manufactured designation for a cone material consisting of a ROHACELL® structural foam core sandwiched between bonded Aramid (Kevlar) layers on the front of the cone and bonded fiberglass layers on the rear. ROHACELL® is a structural foam made from polymethacrylimide (PMI) from Evonik. ROHACELL foam is light, but strong and rigid enough, to be used in the landing flaps, winglets, and fairings of airplanes. This construction/composition makes for a very light but extremely rigid cone material that more accurately reproduces the frequencies asked of it with lower distortion and breakup.

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The other shared technology involves an interesting tweeter design. The inverted dome tweeter, similar in design to the Beryllium tweeter used in the flagship Utopia lineup, is made of an Aluminum and Magnesium composite that is extremely light, rigid, and responsive. The tweeter is suspended within a PORON surround for a smoother, more articulate high-end. PORON foam is a microcellular urethane with high compression set resistance and a high degree of energy absorption. These properties are very effective at isolating/floating/disassociating the tweeter cone from the structure of the motor system and frame of the speaker. In addition, the tweeter is mounted in a shallow Urethane waveguide for improved imaging and horizontal dispersion.

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As mentioned previously, the finishes on all the Aria speakers are beautifully done, and the fit and construction are as perfect as they can get. The cabinets on the Aria K2 936, K2 906, and the K2 Centre Channel are all constructed of MDF. The Aria cabinets have a subtle taper toward the rear to present non-parallel surfaces internally to reduce/eliminate/dampen internal standing waves and resonances. A hard rap with my little rubber mallet on all sides of every speaker returned no ringing or hollowness and produced only a nice solid "Thunk!"

All of the reviewed Aria speakers use sturdy 5-way binding posts in a recessed plastic housing on the speaker's rear. Interestingly the banana jack openings are covered with a plastic cap. If you want to use the banana jack feature, you must first remove those caps. The rather interesting reason, and justification, behind this "feature" has everything to do with the pin size and spacing of some European AC ("Mains") plugs. A single or dual banana plug could be directly plugged into the 220V "Mains" wall jack presenting a serious shock hazard, not to mention destroying whatever equipment to which the other end returns. If this seems like an unlikely scenario, I must remind you that nothing is out of the realm of possibility for a five year old! In any event, the Focal binding posts will accept a banana plug with just a little work on your part.

The Aria K2 936 is a 3-way tower speaker that features one TNF Aluminum/Magnesium Tweeter, one 6.5" K2 mid-range driver, and three 6.5" K2 woofers. The tweeter is a sealed back assembly isolating it from the other drivers, and the mid-range driver is housed in a separate internal enclosure. The cabinet is constructed of rigidly braced MDF and has non-parallel sides designed to tame internal resonances and standing waves. Even the damping material was carefully considered to control internal resonances and vibrations. The cabinet sits atop a wide, stable, cast Aluminum alloy baseplate/plinth that elevates the speaker and places it on a subtle rake. Four extrusions separate the speaker cabinet from the plinth allowing space for the bottom-facing port to breathe. Two additional small ports are front-facing and are hidden by the top-to-bottom grille assembly when in place. Four adjustable spikes are integrated into the Aluminum alloy plinth module. Twist-on caps are supplied to make the spikes less "spiky" and to protect more delicate surfaces.

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The 3-way crossover is a 2nd order Linkwitz-Riley design with a 12dB per octave slope. According to Focal, the crossover is carefully designed to emulate the best characteristics of a 4th order Linkwitz-Riley design. The crossover points are at 260Hz and 3100Hz.

Sensitivity is a respectable 92dB at 2.83V (1 watt) into 8 Ohms at 1 meter, making the Aria K2 936 an easy-to-drive speaker.

Size-wise the Aria K2 936 tower speaker is 451/4" x 119/16" x 145/8" (1,150mm x 294mm x 371mm) H x W x D and weighs a manageable 64lbs (29kg) with the grille on.

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The smaller Aria K2 906 2-way bookshelf/stand speaker shares the stunning good looks of its larger sibling, the Aria K2 936. The 6.5" K2 Mid-Range speaker found in the Aria K2 936 is utilized as a Bass/Midrange Driver in the K2 906, while the same TNF Aluminum/Magnesium Tweeter assembly is used for high-frequency duties. There is a single port on the face of the speaker.

Focal gives the frequency response as 55Hz – 28kHz ±3dB.

A similar crossover design to its big brother is used in the smaller bookshelf/stand speaker with the single crossover point at 2800Hz.

Sensitivity is given as 91dB with 2.83V (1 watt) into 8 Ohms at 1 meter.

Dimensions and weight are 87/8’ x 11” x 153/8” (225 x 280 x 390mm) W x D x H and 18.7lbs (8.5kg) with grille attached.

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The Aria K2 Centre Channel 2-way speaker features a similar cabinet design laid out in the horizontal and uses two of the K2 mid/bass drivers and the same TNF Aluminum/Magnesium Tweeter assembly mounted in the same shallow waveguide as its siblings. Twin ports face rearward, keeping the front panel clean and uncluttered.

Frequency response is a claimed 57Hz to 28kHz (±3dB). With a nominal impedance of 8 Ohms (minimum impedance 4.3 Ohms) and a sensitivity of 91dB with 2.83V (1 watt) @ 1 meter, the Aria K2 936 is relatively easy to drive. Recommended amplifier power is 40 – 200 watts. The Aria K2 CC shares a similar crossover design to the Aria K2 906 bookshelf/stand speaker and the same single crossover point at 2800Hz.

Dimensions of the Aria K2 Centre Channel are a reasonably compact 21" x 95/8" x 77/8" (533 x 245 x 200mm) W x D x H, and it weighs in at 23.15lbs (10.5kg) with the grille attached.

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The Focal SUB 1000F has a high-gloss black front panel combined with a lovely black matte, bordering on satin, lightly textured, finish on all other exposed surfaces. The subwoofer cabinet is constructed using MDF all around with an extra thick 1 9/16" front panel. The subwoofer weighs in at a manageable 47lbs (21.5kg) and is sized at 16 17/32" x 15 ¾" x 16 17/32". The circular speaker grille (cloth over ABS frame) is attached with the tried-and-true cup and pin system.

The 1000-watt RMS BASH® amplifier (a hybrid of Class AB and Class D, sometimes designated as Class H) provides ample drive to the 12", Flax/Fiberglass coned, long-excursion woofer. The woofer uses dual (Stacked) magnets and is said to have a low-frequency cutoff at 22Hz with a nominal operating frequency range of 24Hz to 200Hz (±3dB). The cone material is constructed using Flax fibers suspended between Fiberglass layers giving it an extremely light but rigid structure and fascinating appearance.

The simple plate-amp has RCA hi-impedance inputs in stereo with a dedicated LFE input as well. Controls are basic and consist of a variable crossover rotary control, a rotary volume control, a phase switch that toggles between 0˚ and 180˚, and an on/auto-on toggle switch. A separate "all off" master rocker switch sits next to the 3-prong IEC power socket. A minor disappointment in the control group/connect set is the absence of balanced inputs.

The Focal SUB 1000F features a 1 9/16" thick front panel and 1" side and rear panels of MDF. The sealed cabinet is said to be rigidly braced and damped internally to reduce resonances. A "good hard rap" with my little rubber mallet produced a light, hollow ring in the cabinet.

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Setup
I replaced my fronts with the Focal Aria K2 936's right and left using a slight toe-in aimed to cross a bit behind my main seating position. The Aria K2 CC was placed on my center channel stand. The front channels were connected using a single 10-gauge Belden 5T00UP speaker wire equipped with heavy spade lugs. The Aria K2 Centre channel speaker was connected using the same Belden 5T00UP 10-gauge speaker wire. The Aria K2 936's were powered with my Parasound Halo A21 amplifier (250 watts into 8 Ohms) and the Aria K2 Centre with one channel on my Parasound Halo A52+, 5-channel amplifier (185 watts into 8 Ohms).

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The Aria K2 906 speakers replaced my in-wall BG Radia SA-320i speakers and were connected using 14-gauge Belden speaker cables to two channels of my Parasound Halo A52+ amplifier (185 watts @ 8 Ohms). I rigged "speaker stands"with a projector table on the right and a Kustom PA speaker wedge standing on-end for the left side.

A much classier solution would be the Aria S 900 Speaker Stand (pictured somewhere above), available from Focal, to elevate and support the Aria K2 906 speakers more appropriately in a much more visually appealing way.

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Lastly, I installed the Focal Sub 1000F in my normal left-hand subwoofer position vacated by one of my Rythmik F18 subwoofers. I used a Rolls Low Impedance to Hi-Impedance studio transformer to feed the Focal SUB 1000F.

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I used the Marantz/Audyssey MultiEQ app to dial in the speakers. After running the Audyssey correction program to eight places, the frequency correction range was limited to 300Hz for the right, left, and center speakers. In addition, the Audyssey correction range was limited to 600Hz on the side channels. This setup leaves the upper frequencies unencumbered and applies the Audyssey corrections to 300Hz and 600Hz below, respectively.

For testing the Aria speakers and SUB 1000F combination, they were configured initially as a 5.1 for multi-channel audio/home theater and stereo for the music listening. For later listening, I would roll my ATMOS channels (Polk in-ceiling CS-6 x 4) and rear surround speakers (BG Radia SA-320i speakers) into the mix to see if there would be any issues with timbre matching.



Measurements
All measurements were completed using REW Pro and my MiniDSP UMIK-1 microphone running on a MacBook Pro. The pre/pro used throughout is a Marantz AV7705.

The frequency response of the Aria K2 936 tower speaker is rated at an impressive 39Hz to 28kHz ±3dB (!!).
Using the limited capabilities of my equipment listed above, I set about measuring what I could. While other speakers claim high frequencies out to light speed and beyond, very few attach a plus/minus rating on that claim. Plus, or minus 3dB out to 28kHz is a "tough row to hoe" in my experience. And while I can't truly verify the upper limit to 28kHz, I can say this is the flattest measuring speaker I have ever measured in my room. The speakers extended FLAT to my equipment limitation of 24kHz with no sign of rolling off!

Given that data point, I will implicitly trust Focal's claim of 28kHz ±3dB frequency response! As far as the claimed low-frequency extension of 39Hz, the Aria K2 936 easily bested that specification exhibiting usable energy below 30Hz. The dip in the LF response is a nodal problem in my room and not the speaker's fault.

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I measured the other Aria Speakers at 1meter, confirming that each performed just as well against the claimed specifications.

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The following are the measurements from the listening position, giving a somewhat better picture of what the room does to the speaker's response.

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In a slightly different approach than other speakers I have had the privilege to review recently, Focal has opted to tightly control the hi-frequency dispersion using an inverted dome tweeter set in a shallow waveguide. That control has resulted in a speaker with a definite “sweet spot”. Not to worry though, that “sweet spot” is a rather wide one, and the control of the horizontal dispersion, and probably more importantly, the vertical dispersion creates a more direct and focused sound. The drop-off as I moved around the horizontal axis of the speaker was a smooth and natural transition. Vertically I noticed no difference standing or sitting.

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Lastly, I measured the Focal Sub 1000F at 1 meter. The measurement confirms the claimed low-frequency response of 24Hz to 200Hz with plenty of energy available down to 20Hz. The chart also demonstrates the room nodal suck-out I have when using a single subwoofer. While there is a better spot in my room for boundary reinforcement of a single subwoofer, it's a placement that "sucks" for other reasons (it is behind me). Because of that, I tend to avoid using that position because of "localization" issues when listening with a single subwoofer.

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Listening
I let the new speakers and my ears and brain break-in for a solid week before any critical listening. Then, after gathering some music together in 2-channel and multi-channel, I sat down for a listen.

Music
I listened to a wide variety of music in stereo, either streamed by Amazon HD via Marantz HEOS and on CD or SACD for "Multi-Channel" audio. I also included some vinyl selections on the playlist for these speakers. All stereo was played as straight "unenhanced" stereo using the Aria K2 936 speakers running full range and working in conjunction with the Focal SUB 1000F for the extreme bottom end. Multi-Channel audio was presented in 5.1 surround using the full complement of Focal speakers.

I started with a couple of vinyl selections from my small collection.

Three Dog Night's 1969 release of Suitable for Framing found the band in great form and riding high on the success of their inaugural 1968 release, Three Dog Night. I bought this LP new in 1969, and the album has been beaten to crap over the years. However, even with this abuse when played through the Aria K2 936 speakers, the album held up with the essence of the music still coming through the noisy, beat-up LP.

Following the rough TDN vinyl with one in much better shape, I spun up The Cars' eponymous 1978 debut release. As a precursor band to the "New Wave" sound, some might dismiss The Cars as fluff. On the contrary, I find that The Carsmusic is well-constructed, tight, nuanced, and very well recorded.

The Aria speakers portrayed the band's sound as solid, full, and detailed. The speakers threw up a solid center image, even with a physical spread of 10.5 feet between the speakers. The soundstage was believable and thick.

With the lead-in track "Good Times Roll" and track two, "My Best Friends Girl," I found myself tapping my toes and singing along (poorly!), not particularly listening, but just enjoying!

One of my cleanest LPs is the second release from The Alan Parsons Project, 1977's I Robot. This outstanding studio recording showcased the best in sound and studio musicians of the time.

While intending only to sample a couple of tracks, I found myself listening to the entire side one of the LP and the first two tracks of side two before moving on. All tracks exhibited the lovely fine details and micro-dynamics of the music that I find many other speakers don't reveal. The soundstage was much bigger, with this recording highlighting the placement and clearly defined instruments, with phantom images and ambiance extending beyond the confines of the speakers at times. As before, the bass was solid and physical, the mid-range was smooth and intelligible, and the high-end was crisp, smooth, and extended. Especially well-reproduced were the drums, percussion, and keyboard sounds. The cymbals were crisply rendered, and the delicate micro-details were clearly defined.

Moving onward to CDs in stereo, I sampled the 2000 release of the Grammy Award-winning CD from Steely Dan, Two Against Nature (2001 - Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Album, Best Engineered Album – Non-Classical, and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals).

I listened to multiple selections, including "Gaslighting Abbie," "What a Shame About Me," "Two Against Nature,"and "Cousin Dupree." The Aria K2 936 speakers conveyed the Steely Dan sound perfectly with tight, articulate bass and a shimmering high-end with warm, focused, and inviting vocals.

Next, I sampled selections from the 1988 release of Thomas Dolby's foray into funky-ness, Aliens Ate My Buick. Fans poorly received this departure from his regular musical fare at the time, but the album has "struck a chord" with me for whatever reason. Again, the recording is excellent, and the performance is tight. The late, great Terry Jackson lays down some tasty bass throughout, providing the foundation for a robust and tight connection/interplay between bass, drums, and synths.

My two favorite tracks on the CD, "Airhead" and "Hot Sauce," were standouts on the Aria K2 936. Even without the subwoofer engaged, the bass was substantial, hyper-articulate, defined, and well connected. The mid-range was smooth and warm, and the high-end was concise, clear, and extended with plenty of air.

Next up was Simply Red's 1985 release, Picture Book. I love the sound of this 1985 release. Its big and airy studio sculpted sound at its best, literally dripping in the sweetest reverb of the time. Despite being quite wet, the sound was never sloppy through the Aria speakers. Instead, the sound was refined and transparent, open, and airy.

I was struck by the clarity of sound and sense of space in the recording when listening to the Deutsche Grammophon1995 recording of Gustav Holst's The Planets. Deutsche Grammophon had developed an interesting all-digital recording technique they had dubbed "4D Audio Recording" in the early '90s. The process was said to simplify the digital recording chain and reduce time-domain/delay issues, adding clarity to the final recorded sound. However, the "4D" process did not refer to a spatial 4th dimension. But instead, it referred to four key technical Dimensions (developments or techniques) used by Deutsche Grammophon that were said to "eliminate the listeners awareness of the technical medium" used and resulted in a "completely natural sound quality." And while I can't testify to the completeness and accuracy of that claim, I will agree that this 1995 recording does sound exceedingly good!

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Through the Focal speakers, "Mars, the Bringer of War" was appropriately heavy and solemn, while the tone of "Venus, the Bringer of Peace" was much lighter and airier. Both segments were reproduced with a feeling of weight and impact but still maintained an intimacy and delicate touch when the mood lightened. The Aria speakers accurately portrayed the mood and emotion of each selection, invoking a feel for the music.

My final selection on CD was another Grammy Award-winning disk that I often reference. This recording won the 1986 Grammy Award for Best Arrangement on an Instrumental for "Early A.M. Attitude." The album was also nominated for Best Engineered Recording, Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocals, and Best Pop Instrumental Performance! From Dave Grusin and Lee Ritenour, the 1985 release of Harlequin. This recording was the catalyst that first convinced me that the CD format had real merit. The studio sculpted soundstage can be lush, extensive, emotional, and connecting when played through the right speakers.

The Aria speakers proved to be "the right speakers!" The soundstage was big and airy but precise throughout the disc, with a lush and full sound when present in the material.

Lastly, I listened to some multi-channel music sampled on SACD, from Nora Jones's inaugural release Come Away With Me, and from master keyboardist Hiromi's releases, Another Mind, and Brain.

The surround sound mix for the Nora Jones release accentuates ambiance. In doing so, it is all about the atmosphere. The Focal Aria speakers worked very well in this respect. The speakers created a believable, warm, and natural soundstage, drawing the listener into the music. The Aria K2 936 speakers and the Focal SUB 1000F worked well together. The acoustic double bass used throughout the recording was warm, rounded, and mellow, with a subtle, natural reinforcement added by the subwoofer when needed.

In contrast, the recordings by Hiromi are big and bombastic. The surround is used many times for effect, with the instruments hard-panned to various speakers. At no time did the more diminutive Aria K2 906 speakers sound strained or stressed when handed the piano or synth duties. Instead, the timbre and dynamics matching were smooth and seamless between the front, center, and side speakers.

The crashing, lowest register piano chords in the tune "Another Mind" were strong and well defined. Likewise, the synths used in both CDs were strong, extended, dynamic, and crisply rendered with a nice electronic edge through all speakers.

The low-end by the Focal subwoofer and was tight and articulate, with the electric bass, kick drum, and synths supported and reinforced as needed.

During this multi-channel audio session, I listened to the 2011 DVD Audio remix of Discipline from King Crimson. The intricate guitar parts and complicated rhythms were powerfully rendered and floated between speakers seamlessly.

The vocals on "Elephant Talk" were hard center in the mix. The Aria K2 Centre speaker was very forward, and the vocals had to be dialed back a smidge for the best blend. Unfortunately, with this disk, it was a case of "too much of a good thing," literally overpowering the front left and right speakers. But even so, the hot center channel mix, as overpowering as it was before lowering the level, was natural sounding. It just stood out too much.


Video and Home Theater
I started with a 2017 concert video that I consider well recorded, the Yes, Live at the Apollo set featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, and Rick Wakeman. This Yes stage lineup was completed with solid showings from Lee Pomeroy on bass and Lou Molino on drums. This performance was filmed and recorded in front of a sold-out audience at the Manchester England Apollo Theater. I must speculate that the mic'ing techniques used must have been nice and tight, with multiple directs used extensively. I'm guessing this because the overall sound is so concise and controlled, almost studio-like. Crowd noise is present, but it is obviously mixed back into the recording for effect, sometimes at inexplicable moments. There is substantial "air and space" present, but I think that has little to do with the room sound usually found in live venue recordings and more to do with the later mixdown in the studio.

The sound presented by my Marantz processor was in surround (although the recorded sound is not specified as surround in the credits), with even the height speakers kicking in. Through the Focal Aria speakers, the sound was clear, full, and open. Although clearly artificially supported and partly studio generated, the soundstage was expansive with a rock-solid center image. The surrounds, appropriately, were not used for cheesy effects but were there adding "ambiance." The Focal subwoofer was supportive of the music without getting in the way and never sounding boomy or bloated.

YouTube supplied the next two music video selections from New Zealand composer Nigel Stanford. The sound of 2014's "Cymatics" and the 2017 "Automatica" YouTube mixes are spectacular considering the source (YouTube), and was tightly connected to the images on the screen. The overall sound was powerful and concise. The extreme low-end of the "Cymatics" video was very present and powerfully conveyed, but at the same time, it was a little light on the slam and extreme lows that I know should be there. I'll chalk that up to the limitations of the smaller Focal SUB 1000F in my oversized room.

Moving on to movies and series, I started with the latest episode of Foundation on Apple TV+. I love this take on the classic sci-fi novel by Isaac Asimov more and more. The Aria Centre speaker clearly and concisely presented the dialog. Action sequences were rendered powerfully, with a rock-solid connection between the action and effects with the images on the screen. I listened to this episode in both 5.1 and 7.1.4 and never found an issue with the blend or timbre when the Focal speakers worked with my rear channels or ATMOS speakers. The effects and movement were smoothly handed off to the other speakers, and nothing stood out as "off."

Loading the 2020 superhero film Bloodshot starring Vin Diesel (Apple TV iTunes), I found the extreme action and dynamics aptly conveyed by the Aria speakers. Effects and movement tracked well across the 5.1 surround sphere. In addition, the dialog was clear and well-rendered with an excellent natural timbre with solid placement on the screen.

The single 12" Focal SUB 1000F again felt a little underwhelming in spots throughout the movie. The sub never exhibited any stress or strain, even when played LOUD! But it also failed to recreate some of the LFE excitement that I know should be there. To see if an additional sub would dial the excitement level back up, I returned one of my 18" Rythmik F18 subs to the setup. As I thought, adding the extra subwoofer was exactly what my room needed, and working together with the Focal subwoofer, the "balance" was restored to the subwoofer-universe.

Cueing up the Blu-Ray disk of 2017's Star Wars Episode VIII - The Last Jedi gave me more of the same. Tightly connected action and sound cues across all channels and crisp, cleanly rendered dialog with excellent focus.

I had intended to sample the opening sequence and soon found I was more than an hour into this movie that I had already watched multiple times. Pausing and sitting back to analyze what had happened to engender this unexpected connection, I realized something I should have picked up on earlier. I was simply watching and listening to the movie. I was drawn into the action on the screen by the sound and finding something new in the experience.

The low-end was again somewhat lacking with only the Focal subwoofer, so I finished off The Last Jedi with the additional help of the Rythmik F18.



Summary and Closing Thoughts
The Aria speakers revied make stellar home theater speakers. They are open and transparent with loads of impact when called to action. That action tracked perfectly across the speakers in the surround sphere.

The dialog through the Aria K2 Centre speaker was crisp, focused, and, above all, natural sounding at any volume. Low volumes still sounded full and natural, while testing at high-volume remained clear with no evidence of congestion or compression artifacts.

The Focal's played well with my other speakers, never overtly calling attention to themselves or the dis-similar speakers I was using for rear surround and ATMOS duties.

The Focal SUB 1000F was tight and responsive and would be a good fit in a music-only system. However, it has a somewhat limited low-frequency extension for home theater applications, constricting it somewhat in genuine super LFE moments. And, if it was a bit underwhelming for home theater, that could be because I was asking a lot from a single 12" subwoofer in a rather large room! But, as I have said in the past, you can never go wrong by adding another subwoofer, two, or three… Indeed, adding another sub back into the mix dramatically increased the low-end impact when needed and brought the smile back to my face!

The music listening sessions never really stopped. I found myself constantly popping something else in the disk player or streaming something new via Amazon Music HD. Title after title, I just kept cueing them up and listening. From Billy Joel to Blues Traveler, Genesis to King Crimson, Jethro Tull to Maroon Five, and Holtz to Bach, the Focal Aria speakers consistently delivered a clean, eminently listenable sound with every genre of music I threw at them. I was pulling music out that I had not listened to in years and loving it! I found myself listening for long periods without the dreaded "listening fatigue" ever setting in.

There was one quality that I should have picked up on a bit earlier during my extended music listening session. And that revelation was, these speakers are INVOLVING! They are speakers to which I wanted to listen. So much so that I was constantly drawn back into the listening arena, sampling more and more.

Toward the end of the process, I think that was just what I was doing, listening! Not so much reviewing or analyzing but listening! I can live with that.

Good buy? Based solely on performance, that is a purely subjective decision someone would have to make after careful consideration and looking at the other options in this price range. But adding those stunning good looks, the quality of construction, the technical innovation, and a certain amount of the emotional quotient into the equation may very well tip the scales in Focal’s favor for many.

The Focal's come with a one-year warranty that can be extended at no additional charge by three more years when purchased from an authorized dealer and registered with Focal.

Now excuse me! I have some more listening to do!


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Aria K2 936 Speaker Specifications
  • Type: 3-way bass-reflex floor-standing loudspeaker
  • Speaker Drivers: 61/2" (16.5cm) x 3 K2 Woofer, 61/2" (16.5cm) K2 Midrange, 1" (25mm) Al/Mg TNF Inverted Dome Tweeter
  • Frequency Response: 39Hz - 28kHz (+/- 3dB)
  • Low Frequency Cut-Off Point: 32Hz (- 6 dB)
  • Sensitivity: 92dB (2.83V / 1m)
  • Nominal Impedance:
  • Minimum Impedance: 2.8 Ω
  • Recommended Amplifier Power: 50 - 300W
  • Crossover Frequency: 260Hz / 3,100Hz
  • Dimensions: 451/4x119/16x145/8" (1,150x294x371mm) (H x W x D)
  • Weight: 64lbs (29kg)
  • Type: Bass-Reflex 2-way Center Channel Speaker
  • Speaker Drivers: 61/2" (16.5cm) x 2 K2 Bass/Midrange, Inverted Dome TNF tweeter Al/Mg 1" (25mm)
  • Frequency Response: 57Hz - 28kHZ (±3dB)
  • Low Frequency Cut-Off: 50Hz (-6dB)
  • Sensitivity: 91dB (2.83V/1m):
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Minimal Impedance: 4.3 Ohms
  • Recommended Amplifier Power: 40 - 200W
  • Crossover Frequency: 2,800Hz
  • Dimensions: 21x95/8x77/8" (533x245x200mm) (WxDxH)
  • Weight (with grille): 23.15lbs (10.5kg)

Aria K2 Centre Specifications
  • Type: Bass-Reflex 2-way Center Channel Speaker
  • Speaker Drivers: 61/2" (16.5cm) x 2 K2 Bass/Midrange, Inverted Dome TNF tweeter Al/Mg 1" (25mm)
  • Frequency Response: 57Hz - 28kHZ (±3dB)
  • Low Frequency Cut-Off: 50Hz (-6dB)
  • Sensitivity: 91dB (2.83V/1m):
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Minimal Impedance: 4.3 Ohms
  • Recommended Amplifier Power: 40 - 200W
  • Crossover Frequency: 2,800Hz
  • Dimensions: 21x95/8x77/8" (533x245x200mm) (WxDxH)
  • Weight (with grille): 23.15lbs (10.5kg)


Aria K2 906 Speaker Specifications
  • Type: Bass-Reflex 2-way Bookshelf Loudspeaker
  • Speaker Drivers: 61/2" (16.5cm) K2 Bass/Midrange, 1" (25mm) Inverted Dome TNF Tweeter Al/Mg
  • Frequency Response: 55Hz - 28kHz (±3dB)
  • Low Frequency Cut-Off: 47Hz (-6dB)
  • Sensitivity: 89.5dB (2.83V/1m)
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Minimal Impedance: 4.6 Ohms
  • Recommended Amplifier Power: 30 - 120W
  • Crossover Frequency: 2,800Hz
  • Dimensions: 87/8x11x153/8" (225x280x390mm) (WxDxH)
  • Weight (with grille): 18.7lbs (8.5kg)


Focal SUB 1000F Specifications
  • Type: Active Sealed Subwoofer
  • Driver: 12" (30cm) Flax woofer
    Low-Frequency Cutoff: 22Hz
  • Frequency Response: 24Hz - 200Hz
    Crossover Frequency: 40Hz to 160Hz
  • Inputs: Stereo Line-Level Inputs (2x RCA), Direct Line LFE (1x RCA)
  • Phase: 0°/180° (Toggle Switch)
  • Power: On/Auto (Toggle Switch)
  • Master Power: Rocker Switch near IEC Three Prong AC Socket
  • Dimensions: 1617/32" x 153/4" x 1617/32" (420 x 400 x 420mm)
  • Weight: 47lbs (21.5kg)
 

Sonnie

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Nice system and nice review Tom. I'm a Focal fan myself and have always enjoyed listening to their speakers at the shows, and the one time we had some here at my house.

Thomas Dolby huh... brings back some memories that I should be blinded to. :whistling:
 

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Nice system and nice review Tom. I'm a Focal fan myself and have always enjoyed listening to their speakers at the shows, and the one time we had some here at my house.

Thomas Dolby huh... brings back some memories that I should be blinded to. :whistling:
Thanks Sonnie! I really enjoyed my time with the Focals.
Yeah, Thomas Dolby... One of my many perversions :cool:

T
 

Todd Anderson

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These aren't budget speakers by any stretch of the imagination and it sounds like they live up to their price tag. Always a good sign when you feel the need to explore favorite albums! I really dig the look of these speakers, particularly the leathered look of the baffles.

It's too bad that you didn't have two Focal subs on hand because I suspect the F18 you introduced into the system did a lot of heavy lifting.

We need to get some of those Grand Utopia's in your home! :redgrin:
 

Tom L.

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These aren't budget speakers by any stretch of the imagination and it sounds like they live up to their price tag. Always a good sign when you feel the need to explore favorite albums! I really dig the look of these speakers, particularly the leathered look of the baffles.

It's too bad that you didn't have two Focal subs on hand because I suspect the F18 you introduced into the system did a lot of heavy lifting.

We need to get some of those Grand Utopia's in your home! :redgrin:
Hi Todd,
I believe you are right! The price tag is justified with the Focal's. When you combine performance commensurate with the price and stunning good looks you've got a winner!

Two subs would have definitely helped in my somewhat oversized room. What the SUB 1000F was pumping out was nice and solid and tight but a bit underwhelming with home theater.
I'd love to take a swing at the Grand Utopia's... As long as they arrive with four husky lads to tote them around and help set them up I'd be all over it!:jump::jump::jump:

T
 

ddlooping

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Thanks for the review Tom :)

How did the center perform horizontally off-axis?
It's more often than not problematic with MTM centers.
 

Tom L.

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Thanks for the review Tom :)

How did the center perform horizontally off-axis?
It's more often than not problematic with MTM centers.
Thanks! It was a fun experience!

I didn’t actually formally check the center channel off-axis response. I did check the off-axis response on the Aria 936 and found it pretty good for a speaker with a tweeter mounted in a waveguide. With the Aria Center Channel featuring the same tweeter assembly I didn’t feel the the need to check the off-axis response of the center channel.

I’ve found in the past that tweeters in waveguides are more directional/focused in nature and are to be expected to have a more pronounced drop-off moving to the sides. The upside is more controlled energy is directed into the area the designer deemed most important. My room is big enough and the seating position back far enough that almost any center channel speaker should have enough spread for proper coverage.

I don’t really think off-axis response would be too much of an issue for most speakers set dead center of the seating area, unless the seating is unusually wide and close to the speakers. In that case I would think the balance presented to the seats far left and far right wouldd more problematic than the off-axis response of the center channel :cool:
 

ddlooping

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