April 1, 2009
Focus Audio Classic FC 7
Canada is truly a blessed country. Its
got natural wonders like the Grosse Morne National Park in Newfoundland, and the
incredible rainforests of Vancouver Island. Its the only G8 country that hasnt
had to bail out its banks. Everyone in Canada has healthcare, and the country owns
hockey. And as if all that werent enough, Canada is also a world leader in
loudspeaker design and production. Whats in the water up there?
With the Canadian speaker industry dominated by such
benchmark brands as Paradigm and PSB, its got to be tough to break into the market.
Whats even harder is building a reputation as an honest-to-goodness competitor of
those seminal brands. Despite the obstacles, some smaller companies have managed the feat;
from Axiom to Verity Audio, theres a plethora of smaller speaker makers in the Great
White North, and among the best known of these is Focus Audio.
Located just outside the metropolis of Toronto, Ontario,
Focus Audio has earned a reputation for producing high-quality speakers that feature
exquisite finishes of wood veneer. In the pages of the SoundStage! Network, Focus has
easily won over the likes of Doug Schneider and Wes Phillips, who both wholeheartedly
agreed that Focus speakers are worth the sometimes substantial prices they command.
Imagine, then, the interest at GoodSound! when Focus asked if wed be
interested in listening to their new Classic line of value-priced speakers. As Wes said in
the Conclusion of his review of the FS888, when it comes to being offered a speaker from
Focus Audio, the only answer is Bring it on!
Focus Audios FC 7 ($1400 USD per pair) uses a
cabinet built of 1"-thick MDF on the sides and back, and a whopping 2"-thick
baffle. Each FC 7 measures 38"H x 8"W x 10"D and weighs 48 pounds.
This two-way design uses a 1" ring-radiator tweeter and a 7" Nomex-coned
long-throw woofer made by a "renowned Danish driver manufacturer to Focus
Audios exacting specifications." The Classic lines drivers are tested at
the Focus factory to ensure theyre within spec, and are then matched with
crossovers. Driver/crossover matching for a $1400/pair speaker? Now thats
impressive. The claimed frequency response is 35Hz-25kHz, ±3dB, the sensitivity 86dB/W/m,
the impedance 8 ohms, and the recommended amplifier power 20-300W.
As are its four Classic siblings, the FC 7 is clad in
a high-quality veneer of real rosewood. Each pair is bookend matched, meaning that the two
speakers patterns of wood grain are complementary. The veneer gives the FC 7 an
impressive visual presence; everyone who saw the pair of them in my listening room said
they loved the look. Even my speaker-jaded missus was pleased to have the FC 7s on
display. Their very high level of fitnfinish wouldnt be out of place on
speakers costing thousands more.
Of course, a great finish on an ugly shape is darn near
pointless, and Focus Audio has ensured that the FC 7s profile enhances the
speakers visual impact. Though the cabinet is assembled from several pieces, it
looks as if carved from a single block of wood. The bevels cut into the sides of the upper
third of the front baffle are mirrored on the bottom third to give the FC 7 a modern
look when viewed from the three-quarter position; dead on, they create the illusion of the
speakers center section appearing to have something of a belly!
But the facets arent there only for looks; they serve
an important function in shaping the tweeters radiation pattern in two
ways. With a smaller baffle area, dispersion can be improved, which means that the
tweeters output can radiate more evenly over a wider arc. In addition, the
bevels reduce the deleterious effects of diffraction.
The FC 7s plinth is permanently affixed to its
base and comes with very sharp spikes, but no feet suitable for wood floors. When I rapped
a side panel, I discovered that the crack of knuckles on veneer noticeably
sharpened about 12" above the plinth, indicating that, down there, the cabinet is
completely solid and very heavily braced. Whatever the case, this feature ensures that the
FC 7 remains planted to the floor; there seems little chance that the speaker could
topple over. It also makes for a very inert cabinet.
See our Focus Classic FC 7 photo gallery.
System and sound
The Focus FC 7s were driven by my Simaudio Moon i5.3
integrated amplifier. As usual, my laptop full of uncompressed WAV music files served as
the digital source, with a Benchmark DAC1 Pre converting from USB to analog. Connecting
the computer and the Benchmark was a Synergistic Research Tesla Tricon USB cable;
Supras Ply 3.4/S speaker cables were strung between the i5.3 and the FC 7s.
The FC 7s projected a very wide soundstage. For the
first month I had them, I toed them in to fire directly at my listening position -- they
sounded good but not great. Then I attended the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show and saw
that Focus Audio was demonstrating the FC 7s big brother, the FC 9, with almost
no toe-in at all. In fact, the FC 9s baffles were nearly parallel to the rooms
front wall. This positioning had an incredible effect on treble dispersion -- the 9s
sounded so much more open than the 7s, which Id obviously positioned incorrectly.
And despite the fact that, at CES, I sat way outside what youd normally expect to be
any pair of speakers "sweet spot," the imaging was incredible. Sitting
beside me, the SoundStage! Networks Roger Kanno remarked that "these things
image like crazy!" But the FC 9s didnt exaggerate the soundstage, didnt
smear, and didnt misplace instruments or vocals. I couldnt wait to get home to
reposition the FC 7s.
That done, I sat back and was immediately bathed in the
same wondrous soundfield Id heard in Las Vegas from the FC 9s. The improvement was
enormous -- the FC 7s now sounded like completely different speakers, and quickly
became addictive. I spent more time in front of the FC 7s than I have with any
speaker Ive reviewed since the Exodus Audio Kepler. Its a great thing when a
reviewer has to force himself to go to bed.
The FC 7s treatment of some of my favorite music
was responsible for many lost hours of sleep. Brian Lynch Meets Bill Charlap
(CD, Sharp Nine 1027-2) was an excellent tool for assessing the Focus, especially its
tweeter. Take, for example, "On Green Dolphin Street," which features
Lynchs piercing muted trumpet and the steady pulse of Joe Farnsworths ride
cymbal. On this track Lynch puts a lot of power behind his loudest, highest notes, and
because of this, the recording can be hard to bear through speakers that lean toward the
bright side of the street. The FC 7 was not one of them. Its ring-radiator tweeter
excelled at offering bucketsful of the qualities I love to hear in a tweeter: it was
liquid, detailed, and crisp. On the other hand, that tweeter had none of the traits that
can ruin high-frequency reproduction, for it never sounded etched, grating, or hot -- even
when I threw at the FC 7s the brightest recordings I own.
I recently received a copy of Mariah Parkers Sangria
(CD, Ancient-Future.com 2017), a disc I didnt think Id like but that quickly
became a favorite. Who knew that Indo-Latin jazz fusion could be so entertaining? The
album opens with "Waterwheel," which showed how well the FC 7s could image.
With eight performers playing an eclectic mixture of tabla, scalloped fretboard guitar,
bansuri (an "alto transverse Indian flute"), bowed bass, and piano, the
FC 7s were given a lot to manage. The track opens with a reaping piano phrase at
center stage, as a series of other instruments join from various points in space. First,
the string bass moans in the foreground. Then, on the far left, sleigh bells provide some
accents, while the bansuri provides punctuation up front on the right. All these are
backstopped by the tabla, which is more prominent at the right but is also present a
little way into the left of the soundstage. Yes, the FC 7s made it very easy to
follow each instrument independently, but also did a marvelous job of bringing these
disparate elements into an intoxicating, satisfying whole.
Of course, the tweeter is only half the FC 7s
driver complement. A 7" woofer might be considered on the large size these days, but
it proved just the ticket for going low. The FC 7 definitely went into the mid- to
low-40Hz area with no trouble at all, as evinced by the string bass in
"Waterwheel," which sounded as full and rich and throaty as an angry bull.
Actually, nothing I threw at the woofer seemed to push it to its limits, so I have little
trouble believing it has significant output into the high- to mid-30Hz area.
Still, that single woofer was
responsible for the FC 7s only real problem. In the pivotal middle frequencies,
I found the FC 7 tough to critique. Male and female voices were natural and
uncolored. There were a few times, however, when I suspect the crossover point (or my
room) got in the way of some midrange performance. This was manifest in a momentary
narrowing of the soundstage, and by my sense that the sound was emerging from the baffles,
from between the two drivers. This happened only with certain recordings, most notably
early ones by Harry Connick, Jr. More modern recordings -- by, for example, Michael
Bublé, Tony Bennett, and Paul Anka -- exhibited none of this midrange anomaly.
Generally speaking, a single large woofer wont sound
as "fast" as two smaller woofers working in tandem. This was the case with the
FC 7, at least in comparison with Paradigms all-new Studio 60 v.5 ($1998/pair).
The FC 7s 7" woofer offered terrific performance and went plenty deep, but
it was just a hair slower than the Studio 60s twin 5" drivers. This was evident
when, for example, I listened to Ray Browns acoustic bass, which tended to sound a
bit loose and flabby. Kick-drums, too, could have been tighter. This was by no means a
serious problem, but one that bears noting.
The Paradigm and Focus speakers were quite different in the
ways they reproduced treble. What was interesting was that both tweeters were very
neutral, yet sounded quite different. The Paradigms G-PAL aluminum tweeter was more
aggressive, and excelled, for example, at capturing the attack energy of a drumstick
striking a ride cymbal. The FC 7s strengths were more in the shimmer and decay of
For the midrange, the FC 7 is up against a dedicated
driver in the Studio 60 v.5, so its not much of a contest in that department. The
Studio 60 remained even-keeled no matter what I threw at it, and in the mids was clearly
superior to the FC 7. Of course, with a purpose-built driver and a $600 premium,
its only fair to expect that the Paradigm would come out on top.
The Focus Audio FC 7 is a great speaker and a great
bargain. For just $1400, a pair of FC 7s offers deep bass, outstanding soundstaging,
and a spaciousness that makes an airplane hangar seem confining. Nor does it hurt that the
speakers look like a million bucks, and offer fitnfinish on a level above
their price. It was a real treat to have the FC 7s in my listening room for several
months; if I werent packing and moving, Id be sorely tempted to keep them.
These intoxicating loudspeakers will keep many listeners up way past their bedtimes;
though the resulting lack of sleep might shorten lives, FC 7 owners will at least die
. . . Colin Smith
Price of equipment reviewed