Focal Kanta No2 loudspeaker Page 2

Initially auditioned in editor PM’s listening room, there was a real sense of impending doom in Bowie’s sonorous tones, yet the percussion sounded taut and precise, with a whiplash crack like the ricochet of a bullet. The contrast between Bowie’s mournful tones and the skittering percussion created a real sense of tension and unease, reflected in the Kanta No2’s performance. At times the drums sounded positively manic, and as Bowie intones ‘how many times does an angel fall?’ it felt as though his world was spinning out of control (as, tragically, it proved to be so).

118focal.1250.jpgTurning to something a little more upbeat, the Kanta No2 confidently balanced the changing moods and tempo of Björk’s ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ [Post; One Little Indian TPLP51CDL]. There’s a seductive lilting tone on the opening woodwind and the gently plucked double-bass, and Björk’s softly whispering voice has a delicate warmth that is a world away from some of her more unearthly vocal gymnastics. But when the chorus kicks in, the Kanta No2 knows that it’s time to step up a gear, and the blaring horns and jangling piano swing with an authentic 1950’s big band sound.

Focal’s website frequently refers to the challenge of maintaining bass performance within the more restricted confines of the Kanta’s compact cabinets, but the company’s engineers have done well here. Listening to the remastered 2009 version of ‘Come Together’ by The Beatles [Abbey Road; EMI B0025KVLUQ] I was immediately struck by the famous sliding bass-guitar riff that opens the track. These initial notes were satisfyingly full and firm, grabbing my attention and pulling me into the song, before sliding smoothly along with a relaxed swing of the hips that made it hard to keeping sitting still.

There’s a nice contrast, too, between the delicacy of the bass and the heavier guitar chords that weigh in at the end of the chorus. Lennon’s lead vocal could be a little more prominent, perhaps – it almost sounds as though he’s singing from the rear of the stage, until the backing voices join in and add a little extra vocal weight. To be fair, it’s a very natural sound that’s not unlike listening to a live performance at home, yet it can still sound a little constrained at times, as though the Kanta No2 is reluctant to let go and really reach out into the room.

118focal.2250.jpg It’s a similar story with the widescreen production of Enya’s ‘The Humming’ [Warner]. The quality of the sound is impeccable, with attractive warmth on the humming refrain, while the slow, insistent drumbeat gives the song a stately, processional pace. Enya’s layered harmonies are smooth and detailed, and the sound floats lightly in the air immediately around and above the speakers, in typical Enya fashion. Yet that floating sound-cloud does seem quite static and lacking the boldness to spread further afield. Even moving just a little further back in the room, I clearly get the sense that I’m straying out of bounds and leaving Enya’s atmospherics behind me.

Small Spaces
Of course, it’s not unusual for speaker brands to emphasise precise positioning in order to achieve the best sound quality, but the scope here seems somewhat rigid and inflexible. Focal claims the Kanta No2 is designed for rooms measuring up to 750ft2 (60m2), but also adds that the speakers work best in smaller rooms of up to 320ft2 (30m2).

Subsequent listening suggested that the latter figure is perhaps more realistic, as the speakers sounded terrific when I was in the sweet spot of a smaller space – and they would be great if you have a listening room or den that you can devote to them.

But while the tonal quality of the sound is hard to fault, the speakers should provide a greater sense of space in order to really ‘own’ the room – as you might expect at this price. But perhaps that’s something Focal is saving for the yet-to-be announced Kanta No3?

Hi-Fi News Verdict
The sound here can feel a little constrained at times, and is perhaps better suited to bijou rooms where you can give the Kanta No2s the attention they need. Yet that extra touch of style must surely attract users who have been intimidated by the visuals of Focal’s earlier speakers. So it’s mission accomplished for this new and more streamlined design that produces an insightful sound in ‘real’ spaces.

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