Focal Bird 2.1 System Reviewed
By: Andrew Robinson,
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Lifestyle is not a four-letter word, but you wouldn't know that by talking to an audiophile. The term lifestyle is often applied to audio and video products aimed at appealing to - ahem - everyday women, which any true believer (aka an audiophile) will tell you is sacrilege. But what is a lifestyle product really? Is it not a product aimed at providing the maximum level of performance with the minimum amount of fuss? While true believers will argue there's no such thing as maximum performance when talking about a lifestyle product, the truth of it is, the aspect audiophiles fear most is the no-fuss part. You see, part of being an audiophile, or any enthusiast for that matter, is that you get to nerd out or feel superior because you and maybe a few others are the only ones who "get it." It's true, because if performance were truly everything, then a product such as the Focal Bird 2.1 System reviewed here would be all the audiophile goodness any reasonable person needs. But audiophilia isn't about being reasonable; it's about being right. Well if my time spent with and subsequent enjoyment of Focal's diminutive Bird 2.1 system is wrong in the eyes of audiophiles everywhere, then I don't want to be right.
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The Focal Bird 2.1 system is a complete two-channel experience aimed at providing everyone from the casual listener to the hardened enthusiast with a trouble-free and enjoyable sound experience. It accomplishes this by being more than just a pair of speakers or a satellite subwoofer combo. The Focal Bird 2.1 system is, for lack of a better word, a soundbar-like system - only there's no "bar" part. In place of a single bar that would otherwise rest above or below your beloved HDTV, the Focal Bird 2.1 system features two unique satellite loudspeakers called Birds.
The Birds are round-ish in their shape, at least in the back, and they feature a smooth, high gloss finish of either white or black. The Bird is a compact little gem measuring nearly 12 inches tall (on its included stand) by six inches in diameter and seven inches deep (again, due to its stand). The Bird tips the scales at a scant four and a half pounds, making it ideal for all types of mounting options, which I'll talk about later. Behind the Bird's non-removable metal grill rests a five and a half inch Polyflex cone midbass driver as well as an aluminum dome tweeter. The Bird is the middle child in the line, which also includes a smaller satellite option in the Little Bird as well as a larger option in the Super Bird. All three speakers work seamlessly with the Power Bird, the system's bass/control module, and are merely options to consider should your needs or room change. As for the Bird, it has a reported frequency response of 70Hz to 25kHz with a sensitivity of 89dB and an impedance of eight Ohms. The Bird can dip as low as three Ohms, but you don't really have to concern yourself with it seeing as how the Bird will be part of a complete system, one that already has power and has taken its special needs into account.
Speaking of power, the Bird System wouldn't be one without the Power Bird, which at first glance appears to be nothing more than a compact receiver of sorts, but upon closer inspection you realize that not only is the Power Bird an audio receiver, it's also the system's subwoofer. The Power Bird is a combination integrated stereo amplifier/active subwoofer featuring a single, six and a half inch woofer powered by an internal 80-Watt amplifier. This tiny combo helps flesh out the Bird's lower end, possessing a frequency response of 42Hz to 120Hz. To power the speakers the Power Bird dishes out 35-Watts to each of its two channels. But don't think that because the Power Bird houses two amplifiers and a subwoofer that it is somehow huge or ugly, for it's neither. The Power Bird itself measures four inches tall by 17 inches wide and nearly 14 inches deep and is finished to the same high standard as the Bird speakers and comes in your choice of gloss white or gloss black. Beyond its subwoofer and power amplifier duties, the Power Bird is also an analog and digital audio receiver, featuring two RCA style analog inputs, one mini stereo jack and two digital inputs (one optical and one coaxial). There's even a front mounted headphone jack too. All of the above mentioned features and input options are controlled via a single, simple remote.
But wait - there's more.
Along with being able to connect to various analog and digital sources, the Power Bird is also wireless ready via a small transmitter. There are three different transmitters available and all three use what is called Kleer wireless transmission technology. Basically you attach one of the three wireless transmitters to your iPad, iPhone, iPod or computer, hit two small buttons, one on the back of the Power Bird the other on the dongle itself, and within seconds you'll be able to enjoy all your music wirelessly. This means that when you walk in the door after a long day at the office all you need to do is place your iPhone onto the wireless iDock/transmitter or connect the iTransmitter to the bottom of your phone and you'll be able to enjoy a little relaxation music while getting ready for dinner. That's awesome. I should point out that while the Kleer iTransmitter dongle for your iPhone, iPad or iPod is included, the before-mentioned iDock and wireless USB transmitter are not.
While the iTransmitters and iDocks may be sold separately there's an awful lot of standard kit that comes with the Bird 2.1 System, kit that includes two different types of table/wall mounts, loudspeaker cable as well as mounting hardware and other pieces necessary to help hide/route unsightly cables. The total cost of Focal's Bird 2.1 system is $995, which may seem a bit on the high side at first but not when you begin to add up what it would cost to achieve the same levels of usability and performance via an ala carte system.
The Bird 2.1 System is among the easiest systems to install - ever. Even if you choose to wall mount the Bird satellite speakers, like I did, the time it takes you complete a professional looking installation pales in comparison to much of the competition. Out of the box and into my bedroom I had the entire Bird 2.1 System up and running in under 30 minutes. Keep in mind I mounted the two Bird speakers to the wall flanking my 42-inch Samsung HDTV.
I mounted the speakers first, which required me to angle the attached stands from a vertical to a horizontal position, find a suitable height, screw in two drywall anchors (I used my own) and then affix each speaker to the wall. From there I unboxed the Power Bird and set it atop my Sanus equipment rack below my HDTV. Using the included speaker cables I connected each speaker, via their small but high-end pushpin style posts, to the back of the Power Bird.
The one thing you have to be careful not to overlook is the small series of switches on the Power Bird below the binding posts that select the various crossover points based on whatever Bird speaker you're using. I flipped the switch for the regular Bird and moved on.
From there I connected my Sony Blu-ray player to the Power Bird's optical input and my DVR to its coaxial. I should mention that the Power Bird does not decode and/or play back Dolby Digital or DTS surround sound formats, nor does it do any faux surround sound playback - this is a pure, two-channel product. From there I hit power and was off. I dialed in the subwoofer level via a large knob next to the Power Bird's binding posts and was ready to enjoy my favorite music and movies.
I went ahead and let everything settle into its new surroundings for a few days before sitting down for any critical listening.
I began my evaluation of the Focal Bird 2.1 system using an old favorite of mine, Alanis Morissette MTV Unplugged (Maverick). I like this album for a lot of reasons, the biggest reason being it's a pretty well recorded album, all things considered. I began with the track "I Was Hoping," which starts off with a simple acoustic guitar later accompanied by Morissette herself.
Read more about the performance of the Focal Bird system on Page 2.