Focal Grande Utopia EM Evo loudspeaker Page 2

The speaker is delivered in two pieces, with the topmost box, for the 27cm midbass driver, mounted onto the rest of the assembly via two locating pins that also serve to make the electrical connection across the divide. As before, reflex loading of that massive woofer is achieved with a downward-venting laminar flow port, with the speaker tilted back on a substantial base that also houses bi-wire terminals and the input for the sub-bass unit's PSU.

Completing the look is the 'Graphite Black' finish of the tweeter module, feet and the speaker chassis, which are revealed when you remove the individual grilles for each driver. Incidentally, the perforated metal grille that protects the beryllium tweeter is now a permanent fixture on the Utopia EM Evo.

sqnote.jpgSound Of Paradise?
Auditioned in editor PM's listening room on the end of a system using a Melco N1ZS20 music library [HFN Jun '17] feeding a dCS Vivaldi One DAC/preamp and Constellation Taurus power amp, the new Utopias frustrated as much as they impressed. Yes, there's so much they do well, but somehow they too often failed to come together to bring on the magic I was expecting from speakers at this level driven by such components.

The ability to tailor the sound, and in particular the bass, is an attractive feature, but I never really got an entirely satisfying combination of weight and control in the low frequencies. There was never a suggestion of boom or 'room unfriendliness' but rarely was there the anticipated low-end grunt.

Having recently heard the Espen Eriksen Trio play live, augmented by saxophonist Andy Sheppard, I appreciated the analytical clarity these speakers brought to their Never Ending January set [Rune Grammofon RCD 2173 96kHz/24-bit]. However, I also missed the warmth and sense of the three playing together as a cohesive whole: they never really sprang free from the speakers, and there was a marked absence of an 'organic' soundstage. A bit of cranking of the old 'starting handle' tightened things up a little, but the sound never quite gelled.

Similarly with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra's recording of Wagner's 'Siegfried Idyll' [from its 40th Anniversary Edition, Linn CKD540, 192kHz/24-bit]. The sound delivered was richly detailed, with a sweet, clear presentation and striking instrumental textures, but there was not quite that tingle factor this recording can evoke, just as the soundstage was slightly two-dimensional and lacking in ambience.


Fulsome Fusillade
Tonally there's nothing at all wrong with the sound, but the magic is in short supply, while with a track with serious bass impact, such Diana Ross's 'I'm Coming Out' from her Diana album [Motown 530 099-2], the sheer power the speakers can deliver threatens to overwhelm the singer.

Released in 1980, the album's production, by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, is hardly shy when it comes to the rhythm section, and against the fusillade of bass and percussion Ms Ross sounds a little lost back there behind the line of the speakers somewhere. Following a little more bass adjustment and she gets just that bit more of a fighting chance, but then that's at the expense of some of the Chic-powered drive of the track.

Persisting with the more stripped-down mix of Everything But The Girl's 'Missing', from Amplified Heart [Edsel/Rhino EDSK7050], the new Grande Utopia speakers are more able to show what they are made of – crank them up and they pound out the beat of the track while keeping Tracey Thorn's vocals very much front and centre. However, hit them with some even heavier bass in the form of a very vintage-sounding 1992 Shep Pettibone mix of Level 42's 'Lessons In Love' [from The Remixes, 513 085-2] and there's a hint of Mark King's thumb-slap bass taking over the room as that big woofer gets into its stride.

When these speakers are good, they're very good, delivering real live atmosphere and ferocious drive with the nostalgia of the 2012 Recorded Live At Metropolis Studios set by Bill Nelson and his Gentlemen Rocketeers [Salvo SVX001]. Those old 1970s hits come up fresh in a sparkling live recording, and there's some superb playing going on here, even though legend has it Nelson wasn't happy with the set-up and the lack of rehearsal time. You'd never guess it with the big Focals doing their PA stack impersonation and howling out the guitars. Furthermore, what's lacking in the niceties of pinpoint imaging is more than compensated for by the sense of fine musicians just clicking together in front of a clearly appreciative audience.

C'est La Vie
Then, just when you think you've got their measure, these 2m-tall monoliths throw you a curveball – or maybe that's a Gallic shrug – with The Who's system-testing 'Baba O'Riley' from Who's Next [2014 Polydor Japan release, UIGY-9596]. Things start promisingly enough, but as the track builds the Utopia EM Evos make it sound, well, a little anaemic, with Keith Moon's usually cannoning drums a particular victim – hardly the anthemic album opener it has long been.

While I don't for a minute regret having spent time with the Grande Utopia EM Evo speakers, I just wish I'd found them a bit more special. I wonder if the French have an expression for 'a curate's egg'?

Hi-Fi News Verdict
The sheer amount of technology that's been brought to bear on these gargantuan speakers is as undeniable as their physical presence is inescapable. However, though I doubt this conclusion will matter to those with the space, budget and hankering for these speakers, I must say that they demand long and careful auditioning, and I sincerely hope their buyers find the magic in them, and love them more.

Supplied by: Focal-JMlab UK Ltd, Salisbury
0845 660 2680