I started off my critical listening with several familiar acoustic musical selections featuring solo piano or guitar. In my opinion, the piano and guitar are two of the most difficult instruments to reproduce realistically. One such track I used was a terrific recording of French pianist H�l�ne Grimaud performing the familiar Debussy composition "R�verie, L. 68: (Andantino sognando)" from her album Memory, streamed from Qobuz in 96 kHz/24-bit (Deutsche Grammophon).
Through the Aria 926s, there was a lot of detail to the layered overtones of the somber beginning. There was such transparency and tonal accuracy that it seemed the sound did not emanate from speakers, but rather the room itself. High notes were articulate and detailed without sounding harsh. The soundstage was wider than expected, and in between notes, the background was so starkly quiet that that I swore I heard foot pedal pushes on a few occasions. The Aria 926s created a believable acoustic space. While it wasn't quite convincing enough to make me believe I was listening to the live recording in the studio, it came close enough that I found myself listening to the entire album instead of just the single track on more than one occasion. Not a bad indicator for a speaker at its price point.
Moving on to a track with acoustic guitar and a male vocal, I listened to Ed Sheeran's "Sunburn (You Need Me EP Version)" from the first disc of his collection of five EPs appropriately titled 5 (Paw Print Records), which he released before signing with Atlantic Records. I played the shiny silver disc using the Oppo player. The Aria 926s conveyed all the intimacy of the acoustic space in which this track was recorded. The acoustic space recreated by the speakers made me feel as though I was a guest in the space with Ed sitting just a few feet directly in front of me. The rich, textured tones of his vocal were portrayed accurately through the Arias. On this close-miked recording, I could clearly hear every slide of Ed's fingers up and down the frets of the guitar neck.
Listening to favorite female vocalists such as Sade singing "The Big Unknown" from the motion picture Widows streamed from Tidal in 44.1 kHz/16-bit (Sony Music Entertainment) or Sara Bareilles performing "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" from her album Brave Enough: Live at the Variety Playhouse streamed from Qobuz in 96 kHz/24-bit (Epic) was no less emotionally expressive and detailed.
With the Aria 926s passing the test on solo instruments and vocals, it was time to move on to something a bit more complex. I switched to the Pop/Rock track "Bad Liar" by Imagine Dragons from their fourth album, Origins, streamed from Qobuz in 44.1 kHz/24-bit (Kid Ina Korner - Interscope). The band is known for their arena-sized, percussion-rich anthems and this track is no exception. On some speakers, the bass drum can lack coherence, sounding a bit congested and muddy.
On the Focals, the bass was punchy, tight, and controlled. The Focals did a great job of teasing out the individual instruments and vocals into their own acoustic space surrounded by air, throwing a huge wall-to-wall soundstage in the process. Dan Reynolds' voice was reproduced with all the grit, energy, and emotion I'm familiar with, having heard him perform live in concert. And at the 3:50 minute mark, drummer Dan Platzman strikes what might be the rim of the drum three times. This sound appeared to originate from high up the side walls of the room near the ceiling, startling me a bit with its height and width.
To test the lower limits of the Focal Aria 926, I queued up the Submotion Orchestra track "Variations" from their album Kites, streamed from Tidal in 44.1 kHz/16-bit (SMO Recordings). "Variations" is a laid-back track with a sultry vocal, but will really test a speaker's ability to reproduce bass. I turned up the volume to a level beyond where I would normally listen.
On this track, deep bass kicks in around the 0:35 second mark. When it did, the Focals did their best to reproduce the synthesized notes. I could tell they lacked a bit of that deep bass impact of the track I've heard through my larger reference speakers, and there wasn't that same punch in the gut. The Focals seemed to be straining just a touch, evidenced by a slight loss in cohesion.
Crossing over the Focal Aria 926 speakers to two JL Audio subs at 60 Hz through the Class� Preamp seemed to do the trick. The Class� CP-800 can quickly switch back and forth between a 2.0 and 2.2 speaker configuration. Doing so confirmed my first impressions about the bass. With the subs added in, the low bass was punchier, tighter, and better controlled. There was no longer any hint of bass strain or leanness from the Focal speakers when combined with the subs. But it took a track with exceedingly deep bass to expose the limits of the Focals. The vast majority of music contains very little if any bass information below 45 Hz.
Since movies and music play pretty much equally in my listening room, I integrated the Focal Aria 926s into the rest of my reference surround sound system, comprised of an Aerial Acoustics center channel and surrounds, as well as the two JL Audio subs previously mentioned.
Everything was calibrated using the room correction software built into the JL Audio subs and the Marantz AV8801. With that taken care of, I popped Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (Sony Pictures Entertainment) into the Ultra HD Blu-ray disc player.
There is a wild helicopter chase scene in the movie where the pilot (Nick Jonas) takes off by first crashing through a closed barn door and then is shot at by the bad guys using rocket launchers as he makes his escape. The sounds are swirling all around the room from the rockets whizzing by, and then when the helicopter loses elevation due to a malfunction. And then there are the albino rhinos chasing the helicopter. Just your typical movie starring the Rock.�
The Aria 926s never drew attention to themselves, blending in seamlessly with the other speakers in the room to provide a cohesive three-dimensional sound field. All the while, dialogue was crystal clear as it moved across the front soundstage, with no discernable change in tonal character. The movie, while not exactly high drama, was definitely entertaining with the Aria 926s in place. I experienced similar results again and again, whether streaming the latest episodes of Star Trek Discovery on CBS All Access or watching other movies on disc like Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star is Born. I found the Focal Aria 926s to be an excellent choice for home theater as well as music.�
From my experience, the Focal Aria 926s wouldn't be the best choice for musical tastes that lean heavily toward genres like rap, hip-hop, or very dynamic full-scale symphonic works, at least not on its own. For these types of bass heavy music, a speaker that is closer to full range would be preferable (translation: larger and more expensive). However, crossing over the Aria 926s to a good subwoofer or two eliminates that concern completely.�
Comparison and Competition
The Aria 926 can compete with more expensive speakers like the B&W 702 S2 ($4,500 per pair), the Sonus faber Sonetto III ($3,995 per pair), or the Monitor Audio Gold 200 ($4,500 per pair). While the Aria 926 is just a bit leaner in the bass, add in a good subwoofer and for about the same total cost, it can best them.
The Focal Aria 926 possesses a smooth yet detailed top end along with a level of coherency across its frequency range that is surprising at its price. The Focal's inverted dome tweeter along with its Flax midrange and Flax bass drivers combine to present phenomenal imaging within a soundstage that is surprisingly wide and deep. The Focal Aria 926 can hold its own against speakers costing more and not be embarrassed.
While these speakers may not offer the same level of resolution or bass impact as their big brothers, the Sopras, spend some time listening and it becomes obvious the Aria 926s are of Focal lineage. The balanced presentation of the Focal Aria 926s make them a speaker I would gladly listen to all day.
If you are a fan of the Focal sound and your musical tastes run the likes of genres such as pop/rock, alternative, jazz, instrumental or small ensemble classical, the Focal Aria 926 would be a great choice among speakers in their price range and even a bit higher.
And if you're looking for a speaker that can also serve double duty for home theater, add the Aria CC 900 center, Aria SR 900 surrounds, and a sub or two to the Focal Aria 926 and you'll have a first-class multichannel setup that will provide enjoyment for years to come.
� Visit the�Focal website�for more information.
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