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Speakers

Ooh la la! The Focal Sopra No. 1 speaker

Focal's awesome "little" speaker wows the Audiophiliac.

I have a long history with Focal speakers. I spent years selling them when I was an audio salesman in the 1990s, and I owned a pair of their Mini Utopia speakers at the time. Still, it's been ages since I reviewed a Focal, so it's about time I get reacquainted with their speakers, starting with their Sopra No. 1. It's the smallest Sopra; Focal also offers Sopra No. 2 and No. 3 towers, a Sopra Center channel speaker, and Sopra Surround BE speakers for home-theater aficionados.

Focal Sopra No. 1 speakers

Focal

I listened to the Sopra No. 1 at Park Avenue Audio's New York City showroom, where the speakers were partnered with an Arcam D33 digital converter and a Hegel H30 power amplifier. The speakers projected a vast, sharply focused, and deep soundstage with classical music files streamed losslessly from Tidal. Resolution and clarity were also first-rate.

The Sopra No. 1 is a two-way design featuring a 1-inch (27 mm) concave beryllium tweeter mounted in a unique way that Focal dubbed "Infinite Horn Loading." Horns are usually in front of the tweeter, but here on the Sopra No. 1 -- and all Sopra speakers -- the horn is positioned in back to absorb the sound coming from the backside of the tweeter. Sopra No. 1 also features a 6.5-inch (165 mm) "W" sandwich cone mid-bass woofer. The tweeter and mid-bass woofer are proprietary designs; both of those as well as the cabinet are made in Focal's factory in France.

It has a single set of heavy-duty speaker cable binding posts, and just below them a small bass port/slot. Impedance is rated at 8 ohms, but drops down to as low as 3.9 ohms. It's not all that small a speaker. The Sopra measures 16.7 by 11 by 15 inches (425 by 279 by 396 mm) and weighs a substantial 40.8 pounds (18.5 kg). I'm bored with black speakers, so I was pleased to note Sopras are available in Carrara White, Black Lacquer, Imperial Red and Electric Orange lacquered hues, and Graphite Black and Dogato Walnut finishes.

When I played Antonio Sanchez's solo drumming tracks on the "Birdman" movie soundtrack at high volume the dynamics were truly spectacular. The drums transients and attack were more lifelike than most speakers the Sopra's size, but I did miss some of the drums' low-end power compared with what I get from the TAD ME-1 speakers I have at home. The KEF Reference 1 speaker has a sweeter tonal balance than the Sopra.

Next, Aphex Twin's "Syro" album's mix filled the entire room, and the staccato bass pulse was super tight. When the Grateful Dead's "American Beauty" album showcased the band's vocals, I literally had goosebumps.

With Wilco's latest, "Schmilco," the Sopra brought Jeff Tweedy's vocal and acoustic guitar back to life. I've played this album on nearly every speaker I've reviewed over the past year or so, and the Sopra's midrange was flat out gorgeous. I finished up with Sufjan Stevens' new one, "Carrie and Lowell Live," and the intimacy and vibrancy of the sound made me feel like I was in the presence of the band. There's not much more I can ask from a relatively small speaker.

The Focal Sopra No. 1 retails for $8,000, £7,000 or AU$14,250 per pair and it's awfully good, but it's not Focal's best stand-mount speaker. That honor goes to Focal's Diablo Utopia that goes for $14,000, £8,800 or AU$18,000 per pair.