The Aria K2 936 ($3299/each) is a special edition that updates the already excellent Focal Aria 936 ($2999/each). The Aria 936 flax cones traded out for woven aramid fiber drivers featuring the same construction as its K2 Power line of automotive speakers and subs. This has both an aesthetic and a performance impact on the speaker: According to Focal it gives this speaker “a dynamic, powerful sound.”
The K2 has an ash gray finish inspired by the Utopia III Evo line. When the grill is removed, the gray contrasts nicely with the yellow aramid fiber cones.
You can see the attention to detail in every part of this speaker. It is made in Saint-Etienne, France, and Focal takes pride in creating and crafting its speaker drivers in-house with complete oversight over design, manufacturer, and quality control.
This three-way ported tower speaker has an array of three 6.5" aramid fiber woofers, one 6.5" aramid fiber midrange, and a 1" aluminum/magnesium inverted dome tweeter. The rated frequency response is 39 Hz to 28 kHz +/-3 dB. Focal recommends that between 50 and 300 W of amplifier power drive this 92 dB sensitivity speaker with an "8-ohms compatible" impedance.
Focal's design includes a multi-port system incorporating both front-firing and down-firing ports; an aluminum alloy base creates the space for the down-firing port and offers a stable platform with adjustable spikes for the 11-9/16" x 45-3/16" x 14-11/16" speaker cabinet.
Without question, the Aria K2 936 is a multi-talented speaker. It's relatively easy-going considering its high performance, so you can use an AVR to drive a pair—one their own or perhaps as part of a surround sound system. However, high-quality amplification is rewarded because this speaker has headroom to leverage that extra power and the finesse it takes to render nuances uncovered by high-performance electronics.
Although buying a pair represents a significant investment in personal home entertainment, a pair of Focal Aria K2 936 make a fantastic choice at their price point for music lovers putting together a premium dedicated two-channel system. Once set up properly and fed high-quality source material, these speakers deliver the full audiophile listening experience.
Another application is dedicated home theater, where the K2 936's easy-to-drive nature and smooth, extended frequency response translates to crystal-clear reproduction of complex, dynamic modern motion picture soundtracks.
These are undeniably attractive speakers, so another use is for a living room sound system where if you sit in the right spot, you get the audiophile experience. But they also like to party, and under the right conditions, these speakers could get people dancing.
The moment I unpacked the pair of Aria K2 936 featured in this review, I knew these speakers were something special. I know you don't judge a book by its cover, but first impressions certainly count for something; I immediately noticed the beautiful fit and finish of the speakers.
There's a stylish contrast between the deeply glossy gray sides, the leather-like front baffle, metallic rings surrounding the drivers, the yellow aramid fiber cones, and the jewel-like inverted dome tweeter its shallow waveguide. Visually, this is not your typical all-black speaker, nor is it some variant of Walnut of Cherry. It's more akin to a piano gloss finish but in gray, and taken together, the K2 936's design has flair, but not to the point of excess.
Before delving into subjective impressions, consider the measurements of the Aria K2 936 performed by Stereophile. All in all, these speakers measure well and in ways that correlate to their clear and precise, uncolored sound. Good dispersion, low distortion, extended treble response, it's all there.
One area that needs a little extra consideration is the impedance rating. Stereophile's measurements indicate the need for amplification to handle a 2-ohm load, which contradicts the idea of these speakers being 8-ohm compatible. But the thing is unless you clip or overheat your amplifier, then it's not an issue; the compatibility question becomes a simpler one of how far you want to push the speakers and the amplifier.
Subjectively speaking, I found the Aria K2 936s to be among the finest sounding speakers I have auditioned in my home, in a 2-channel context. I'm a big fan of holographic imaging with depth, width, and focus. Instruments manifest as individual objects in the proper position and appropriate scale. With a well-done recording, what you hear—especially if you close your eyes—is realistic to the point where you can relax and suspend disbelief. It's meditative and deeply rewarding to truly experience the p[ower of music, instead of just listening to it.
Because speakers have such a close relationship to the room, it's nice to be tuned so that equalization is not mandatory. This allows for a "purist" 2-channel approach, with a truly minimalist signal chain, but it also means if you apply room correction and EQ, that system has to do less work to get things where they should be.
My Denon AVR-X8500H is 4-ohm compatible and drove the K2 936s without issue, up to and above listening levels that I would use. But I know some folks play their system louder than I, and certainly, I had a penchant toward maxing out my systems that have mellowed with age. Anyhow, the AVR behaves just fine right up to its limits but leaves something on the table versus what the speakers are capable of when fully powered.
Speaking of impedance, I performed a measurement using the D.A.T.S. V3 system just out of curiosity. The K2 936 impedance, like all speakers, varies by frequency. And while it's possible to drive these Focal with an AVR, it does dip below 4 ohms from 80 Hz up through 600 Hz, with an absolute low of 2.7 ohms at 120 Hz. Nothing to get too excited about. You can drive these Focals with an AVR, but of course, you are best off with a dedicated amplifier able to deliver high current at low impedance; an amp that's 4-ohm compatible will do the trick.
Speaking of excellent amplification, with this speaker review, I used a Classé Delta Stereo amplifier that's able to show what a pair of K2 936s offer performance-wise when pushed to the limit. It effortlessly outputs an ultra-clean 250 W per channel into 8 ohms, 500 W into 4 ohms, and 350 W per channel into 2 ohms.
For all my listening with the Classé powering the K2 936s, I relied on a Motu M4 4X4 audio interface (reviewed here), a piece of studio-ready gear that measures well and costs very little relative to what it offers. Crucially, it includes a 32-bit capable DAC (up to 192 kHz) and low noise, high dynamic range balanced inputs and outputs. It connects to a PC via USB C, and it also lets me connect the new Rotel RCD-1572MKII CD player as a source (reviewed here), serving as an ultra-minimalist preamp.
I used this combination of CD and hi-res streaming to play both Tidal Master and Amazon Ultra HD music tracks that I am familiar with. I also spun up some compact discs I own for the Rotel review. I've done something similar (minimalist 2-channel rig) for many years (minus the hi-res streaming back in the day), and the results continue to be jaw-dropping. If you frequent audio shows, you know how you sometimes walk into a room, and everything in a system is working perfectly, and it simply sounds profound? That's this system, in my living room, for every day, I had it set up that way.
It does not matter what genres of music you like. I'm confident the Aria K2 936s will offer fresh insights into your favorite tracks and make it a pleasure to reexplore your favorite albums. I'm a fan of various flavors of electronic music, hip hop, ambient, reggae dub, and the occasional bit of classical. I'm not immune to playing a bit of Pink Floyd or Beatles, but my favorite band is The Orb. I'm not a jazz fan, but I can appreciate a good performance and a good recording, and with these Focal in my living room, there's a glorious amount of headroom even when the system is turned up to truly satisfying levels of loudness.
2.0 and 2.1 Systems
Here's the "Cliff's Notes" version of my listening: The Focals powered by the big Classé offered a superior listening experience vs. the AVR, even the formidable AVR-X8500H. That's surely thanks to the extra power on tap in the dedicated amplifier.
However, as great as the 2.0 power system sounds, things got even better when I added my subwoofer—a prototype 12" dual-opposed that was never released—to the mix. Why? Simple... it extends the system response all the way down to 16 Hz.
Do I even need to tell you that I got the best results with music containing ultra-deep bass when I went to a 2.1 configuration, with the Classé in the mix? There's nothing like a well-balanced system with tons of dynamic headroom. The Aria K2 936s have an ease to their delivery that you could liken to what it's like driving a sports car at "normal" speeds on a fun, twisty mountain road. Even though you are not pushing the vehicle's limits, you can feel and enjoy superior handling.
I'm a huge proponent of powerful high-end 2.1 systems. It's been 30 years since I first put one together. The key is that the subwoofer, when properly integrated, only enhances the speakers—it does not "replace" anything. You get all the goodness of the speakers, the cohesive tightness, and the dynamic ease with that extra bass extension that would cost a small fortune if you tried to do the same by purchasing speakers with that much range. And perhaps what matters most is these are speakers where it's easy to get a high-quality subwoofer to blend in seamlessly——or at least it seemed easy to me.
The Orb is perhaps my favorite musical group. Their place in the history of music won't earn a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but hopefully, history will remember the folks that sprung Ambient House upon the world, a sound so ubiquitous today you take it for granted. The Orb has always concentrated on production value and creating fantastical sound fields that can only be fully experienced through exception-performing systems.
And so it is. The Orb in 2.1 kicked ass; it revealed every layer within the mix with a clarity that allows it to expand in three dimensions and render the system itself "invisible" the speakers are not localizable because the soundfield is 100% cohesive. And even in stereo, this system can place sounds seemingly anywhere, even behind your head, if the sound engineer knows how to manipulate phase to achieve the effect.
Binary by Sounds from the Ground is an all-time favorite album of mine, so much so that I play it every morning, ritually. The mix is super expansive and rewards proper attentive listening, seated centered, and ears roughly level to the tweeters. This is where the Aria K2 936 towers superpowers are revealed. Of course, it's subjective, but the way the sound washed over me and how the elements of each track are so distinct yet cohesive, it turned a hyper-familiar listening experience into a treat. From a reviewer/demo perspective, this album is my Dark Side of the Moon, and I expect to be still using it 30 years from now. Hearing it through these Focal towers is genuinely thrilling. (Please don't use Binary to judge my taste in music, just my taste in production techniques!)
Another "classic" speaker test track is Disc Wars from Tron: Legacy. Here, the Aria K2 936s showed what the midrange is all about because the track demands that both the London Symphony Orchestra and Daft Punk's synthesizers cut through the mix. At the same time, massive percussion rumbles the room and taxes subwoofer amplifiers from beginning to end. Here, my subwoofer was the limiting factor, the Focal and Classé combo power through that thick mix and find a way to give it the grand, expansive feel that's surely what the artists intended. Lesser speakers always render this track with a congested sound, likely due to dynamic compression, but not these.
If you listen to a recording with a wide dynamic range at concert levels, the crest factor will eat up that reserve power like a triathlete at their first big post-race meal. When I do "punch it" with this system, the laws of physics involved are well understood: You need 10X the power for 2X the volume. So it is with Disc Wars. I pushed the limits of the amp, and watched the K2 woofers on the Arias come to life! I can't get away with that for long, but what a thrill!
Here's a fact: You need one hell of a good subwoofer to keep up with these towers when they are fully powered. Or more than one. By no means am I saying these towers need a subwoofer, but add a good one, and wow! Moreover, from a home theater perspective, since you can put together a full surround sound system with Aria K2 speakers using the Aria K2 Center ($1299) and Aria K2 906 bookshelf model ($1199/each), for some systems adding a subwoofer or two is inevitable.
Speaking of surround sound, especially movie soundtracks, it is a common misconception that home theater sound is somehow less than 2-channel high-end. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is the movie sound hi-res, but you encounter dynamic range demands that music rarely comes close to. Think of a scene in a film where things go nearly silent, and then there's an explosion; that's some serious dynamic range! I'll address how a full Aria K2 system that includes these towers performs with movies in a separate review.
If you love music with ultra-deep bass, my suggestion is to go 2.1, even though these towers are super impressive on their own. Sub or no sub, you get utterly realistic and encompassing holographic imaging from these speakers, along with a crisp, dynamic sound that's got lots of headroom on tap, so you can turn them up and experience greater dynamics not greater distortion. The sound Aria K2 936 speaker produced as part of a high-performance 2.0 stereo system ranks as one of the finest listening experiences I've had in my home.
I'm not the only one impressed by these towers. Reviews as well as measurements from reliable sources like Stereophile and SoundStage! Hi-Fi offer subjective impressions and measurements that correlate with what I experienced personally. The long story short is it is a powerful, precise speaker that's not quite full range, which is why adding a subwoofer was the icing on the cake that made it all sound so sweet.
The Focal Aria K2 936 is a tower of great sophistication and power. There's no real secret to how it achieves rarefied levels of audio fidelity, and it's a combination of the right materials, meticulous engineering, and French craftsmanship. The asking price seems more and more reasonable as you listen and get to know what a pair can do. Sure, you can find 'nice' tower speakers for less, from Focal and from many other companies, too. But finding better for less could prove a more sizeable challenge.
The Aria K2 936 is squarely in the zone where the price vs. performance ratio is still favorable, but you're already capturing the majority of what's achievable in a speaker this size. In other words, it'll likely cost a lot more to buy a speaker that's superior in its combination of performance and aesthetics. It is a premium speaker that offers the complete package in terms of performance and aesthetics, which makes it Home Theater Review 2022 Editors' Choice award winner for a premium 3-way tower.
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