For a city of barely more than a half million people, Lyon, France is a pretty cool place. In addition to it’s fantastic cuisine, it’s ranked 19th globally for innovation, a virtual hotspot of technical activity. And it’s home to Focal, an equally innovative speaker manufacturer. A few years ago when I visited the factory, there was something lurking in the corner of the R&D department that would later become the floorstanding Sopra no.2. Inquiring about the prototype, I was quickly escorted out and politely asked not to mention anything about what I saw. It all became clear at last year’s Munich hifi show and here we are today with three Sopra models.
The no.1 is the smallest model, stand mounted, with an MSRP of just under $9,000/pair, including the massive yet stylish stands, leaving nothing to chance. Visually similar to Focal’s Diablo Utopias, costing nearly twice as much, the Sopra no.1 takes advantage of all new technology, developed by Focal to get higher performance from a smaller form factor.
A two way system, the new woofer and tweeter, not only achieve lower distortion figures than past models, they are combined in a very efficient way with an 89db sensitivity, assuring compatibility with modest powered amplifiers. We had excellent luck pairing the Sopras with both solid state and vacuum tube amplifiers.
Walking around the Focal plant, the level of technical expertise combined with an equally high level of old world, hands on craftsmanship is stunning. The Sopra line of speakers are built from their innovative drivers up to the finished product completely by hand via the same craftspeople building the $194,999/pair (not a typo) Grande Utopia EM speakers. It shows the minute you slide them out of the box. These speakers are drop dead gorgeous, and our test pair is coated in a flawless white finish. Beautiful as the walnut veneer is, the Sopra’s sophisticated shape bets for a shiny, solid color. Black, red and orange is also available – all are equally spectacular; your décor will determine which you choose.
Commandeer a bit of help to unpack the Sopras as they weigh just over 40 pounds each with the stands equally massive. Thanks to built-in, easily adjustable spikes, which are easily retractable until you find the best balance between bass punch and midrange clarity, initial setup is a snap. We suggest starting with the Sopras about six feet apart and about three feet from the wall if possible. Proceed to move them apart until the stereo image falls apart, then move slightly back together. Then move them as a pair (might want to grab a tape measure for this) closer and further away from the wall until you get the best bass response without booming. Grab your favorite bass heavy hip hop or EDM tracks to sort this out quickly.
Once you’ve completed this task, sit back and have an adult beverage, but not too many if you want to fine tune the speakers further. Patience still intact, experiment with toe in and then if you really want a gold star, experiment with tilting the speakers back on their axis slightly. This is where those large adjustment knobs at the base of the stands are worth their weight in gold. When you get this angle just right, the stereo image rendered between your speakers really gets deep. Now you can really get the party started.
Yoko Ono’s vocals on “Yes I’m a Witch” is absolutely creepy. She sounds like she’s everywhere in the room, haunting you wherever you go, thanks to the Sopra’s great dispersion characteristics. Sit on the couch, sit on the floor, walk to the kitchen – she’s still right there. But that’s what you pay the big money for; big sound. Excersizing the bass is equally entertaining spinning Mr. Scruff’s Trouser Jazz. The bass energy here keeps you nailed to your seat and tracking through the album, all of my party guests are flabbergasted by just how much air these small speakers can move.
Fun as these audio acrobatics are, all that PR copy about Focal’s new driver technology is absolutely true. These speakers are fatigue and distortion free. The only downside is that if you have a lot of amplifier power on tap and live in an apartment building, you may just have a few neighbors knocking at your door, so be prepared for crisis management or party time.
The Focal Sopra no.1 speakers are a premium offering from one of the world’s finest speaker manufacturers and paired with top shelf components will provide you with a world class listening system. They get our highest recommendation.
$8,995/pair, with stands