Focal Grande Utopia EM Evo loudspeaker

hfnedchoice.pngThe latest Utopia flagship has improved drivers and cabinets – does the sound match its impressive presence?

When it comes to the description of products – and not just in hi-fi – one word has become so ubiquitous that it no longer has much meaning: that word is 'iconic'. Yet Focal has dodged that particular bullet by describing its new Grande Utopia EM Evo – all 265kg, two metres and £160k-a-pair of it – and its smaller stablemate, the Stella Utopia EM Evo, as 'the most emblematic high-fidelity loudspeakers of all its collections'.

You can kind of see where the company's coming from. After all, the unusual design, with its upper section canted forward, and the range of high-gloss colour finishes – here in a choice of Ash Grey, British Racing Green, Black Lacquer, Carrara White and Metallic Blue – has echoes through the range, down to the much more affordable Sopra and Kanta lineups. Encounter a pair of high-end Focal speakers, and you could hardly confuse yourself you're sitting in front of the product of any other manufacturer.

Looming Thunder
All the same, nothing quite prepares you for the sheer visual impact of a pair of Grande Utopia EM Evo speakers, even in editor PM's relatively large listening room where we conducted both lab and listening tests. I'd experienced the same speakers a few weeks previously at a show, where they looked big in a cavernous hotel conference room; here, in Ash Grey and virtually filling the space from floor to ceiling, they were positively lowering in their storm-toned colourway. 'Presence' doesn't cover it: these speakers look just plain intimidating.

Hands On
It's not the first time the Grande Utopias have graced these halls: in their earlier iteration they were reviewed by the late John Bamford [HFN Sep '14] in the same room. And I'd heard that previous version in various locations over the years, from a hotel suite when they were launched through to Focal's own rather excellent listening room in Saint Etienne. However, this was the first time I was to get truly 'hands on' with the Grand Utopia EM Evo speakers, connected into a known system and in a room with which I was familiar – so expectations were high.

A word about that 'hands on' thing… Given their sheer scale and mass, this isn't a speaker you'd want to install and set up without a crew. There's another reason, too: if you've already formed an impression of complexity just from the pictures on these pages, you ain't seen the half of it.


With some pride, Focal mentions the degree to which the speakers can be customised to suit the listening space. Its 'Focus Time Adjustment' covers 1458 possible mechanical and electronic permutations. These include a series of links on the cabinet rear enabling the crossover characteristics to be altered. Bass tuning for that sub-80Hz woofer is also offered via a level control on the offboard PSUs that serve that big electromagnetic (EM) driver at the bottom of each 'stack'.

Mechanical adjustment involves retrieving the supplied 'starting handle', inserting it into a hole in the rear of the tweeter cabinet – the speaker is in five sections – and cranking. As you wind, the mechanics within curl, or uncurl, the top of the speaker toward the listening position, enhancing that 'emblematic' shape. A numerical readout on the cabinet rear makes the setting repeatable. Meanwhile the electrical links allow you to modify the crossover slopes and relative levels of the drivers, and adjust the Q of the subwoofer, which can help modify the bass delivery when used in conjunction with those sub-bass power controls. These two off board boxes [see Sidebar 2], with their multi-position switches, are PSUs for the electromagnets used in the place of conventional permanent types in Focal's big 40cm driver. In practice, dialling the power up or down has more impact on the damping of its bass than output or extension.

I found a middle setting was about right in PM's room, but it remained a juggling act between getting convincing bass and still maintaining control. But I guess it beats trying to heft 265kg apiece to different positions, listening and then doing it all again…

Made In France
As usual Focal goes its own way, with everything designed and manufactured in-house. So what has been Evo'd here? Well, the mid drivers have gained Tuned Mass Dampers [see Sidebar 1], and the addition of Focal's Neutral Inductance Circuit – a Faraday ring in the motor circuit of the two 16.5cm sandwich-coned 'W' drivers. This normalises the field strength, inductance and reduces distortion of the magnet assembly regardless of voice coil position.

In addition the driver mounting is strengthened with the use of milled-from-solid 'Reinforcement Rings' between the woodwork and the driver chassis. These stiffen the assembly and spread the load of the attachment. Full rings are used on the two 16.5cm drivers, with ring 'segments' for the 40cm unit.

These changes have enabled the crossover to be revised as part of the development process, improving the phase response between bass and midrange drivers. Otherwise the Utopia still uses those five drivers, an inverted beryllium dome tweeter, with 'Infinite Acoustic Loading', and a 27cm 'W'-coned midbass unit making up the complement. Each is mounted in its own 'Gamma Structure' enclosure, made from MDF up to 5cm thick and featuring a proprietary internal damping material.

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