Focal needs no introduction to regular HomeTheaterReview.com readers. This venerable audio company arguably produces one of the broadest product lines of any manufacturer. From car, home, and professional audio to headphones, subwoofers, and custom installation products, Focal designs its products in France with all of the high-end products made in a local factories at the highest level of performance, and fit-and-finish.
As you may know, Focal started out as a manufacturer of drivers long before designing complete speaker systems, so it makes sense that the company designs and manufactures its own products, implementing proprietary technologies, methods, and innovative materials.
Under review here is the Focal Kanta No. 2 ($9,999/pair), a newer addition to the Focal family. Given its name, and Focal's traditional numbering structure, one can only assume more Kanta models are coming. Following Focal's Sopra build out, it's pretty safe to assume the Kanta will expand with a No. 1 bookshelf, a No. 3 floor-stander, and maybe even a center channel and surround speakers.
With so many models in the Focal line up, it's reasonable to ask what the purpose of the Kanta line is. The answer is simple: trickle-down technology from Focal's ultra high-end Utopia Line, as was the case with Sopra series, but at a lower price point. When comparing the Kanta No. 2 with the other lines, it appears to stand next to the existing Electra line. While the Electra line has been successful for 12 years, it does not benefit from some of the current Focal technologies.
The Kanta No. 2 is a three-way bass reflex floor-standing speaker with front and rear ports, which Focal refers to as Power Flow. It stands at approximately 44 inches tall, and 12.5 inches wide, with a depth of 18 inches, making it just a few inches smaller in every dimension, yet a full 45 pounds lighter, compared to the Sopra N°2.
As for the technologies that Kanta inherits from higher up the line, they include Focal Time (time aligned speaker cabinet), Neutral Inductance Circuit motors (NIC), Tuned Mass Dampening (TMD) suspension, and 100 percent Beryllium tweeters. The Kanta uses a bent baffle and cabinet shape that reclines the two bass drivers and tweeter while pushing forward the midrange driver to keep all frequencies in phase. This design enables the passive crossover network to do less work by eliminating the need to filter for time delays. Neutral Inductance Circuit motors in both the midrange and bass drivers stabilize the magnetic field, which purports to improve definition and dynamic range while lowering distortion, which are all good things as relates to speaker design.
Tuned Mass Damper (TMD) suspension is used in the midrange driver, where two tubular rings on the suspension control resonance to hinder reverberation of the cone, which improves detail in both midrange and bass frequencies while lowering distortion. The driver setup of the Kanta should be of interest, since it's Focal's first application of combining Flax cone drivers with a 100 percent Beryllium inverted dome tweeter.
The use of Flax for the creation of a cone driver is a Focal innovation now in use for just a few years. It is a three-layer design using sheets of glass to sandwich the Flax fiber. The Kanta's 6.5-inch single midrange and dual 6.5-inch bass drivers benefit from the inherent strength and low weight of the Flax design. The Utopia and Sopra line use a W cone driver, which is handmade, requiring approximately 45 minutes to fabricate, whereas a Flax driver uses an automated machine process that is accurate and fast.
The Beryllium tweeter in the Kanta is referred to as the IAL3, and incorporates Infinite Acoustic Loading (IAL) and Infinite Horn Loading (IHL), two technologies that absorb distortion-causing backpressure while increasing treble definition. The speaker baffle on the Kanta No. 2 has to be one of the most prominent that I have ever seen. It exceeds the speaker cabinet in every dimension and is made from a material different than the main cabinet, referred to as High-Density Polymer (HDP). It is 70 percent denser and 15 percent more ridged than Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF), while having 25 percent more damping characteristics. Focal claims that the speaker's one- piece baffle eliminates all sound diffraction. Additionally, this molded baffle is less expensive to manufacture compared to an MDF baffle, creating a benefit not only in effectiveness, but expense as well.
The Hook Up
Unpacking the Kantas was a breeze. Opening the correct side of the packaging allowed me to keep the speakers vertical during the entire process. The Kanta No. 2 comes preinstalled with an outrigger stand that Focal refers to as a Zamac base, which extends beyond the dimensions of the cabinet on all four corners. Spikes are included, along with metal cups to protect hard floor surfaces.
Focal went out of its way with the selection of color and finish combinations available on the Kanta. The main cabinet comes in either a high gloss black lacquer or matte walnut veneer, with four distinct baffle colors for each. Both cabinet finishes share the same style black glass top. With the high gloss black cabinet, the baffle colors maintain a high gloss finish in yellow, white, blue, or black. Likewise, the matte walnut veneer cabinet offers baffle colors that are of a matte finish in taupe, blue, ivory, or grey. These trendy baffle color combinations are viewable on the Focal website.
[[June 2020 update: Two years after its introduction, Focal has announced two new finish options for the Kanta No. 2: Carrara White and Black Lacquer/Walnut. The two new finishes are available to order now from Focal dealers, with no price premium over the existing models at $4,995.00 each.]]
My review sample came in the walnut cabinet and taupe baffle combination, and what a striking combination this turned out to be. Online photos of this combination do not reflect the stunning in-person appearance. It is a tone-on-tone design play, with the flax cone drivers appearing as earthy palm leaves, flowing organically with the walnut cabinet, while blending nicely with the taupe baffle, creating a custom trifecta appearance. If Tommy Bahama made a speaker, it would look like this. The fabric magnetic speaker grills are of a closely matching color to the taupe baffle.
Not unusual for Focal, the fit-and-finish is unrivaled. The woodwork and color finish are exacting and meticulous. However, the artistry does not stop there. The midrange and bass drivers have a brushed metal trim ring, which hides their mounting screws and sits nicely onto the baffle. Interesting to note, their top-of-the-line Utopia product has no such trim.
The tweeter intentionally uses two visible fasteners, which lends to the overall look, and are of a stainless steel appearance, which blends tastefully with a domed metal mesh cover of the same finish. The walnut veneer quality is brilliant as it wraps around the back of the cabinet without seams, revealing a single set of speaker connections.
I installed the Kanta No. 2 in my dedicated theater room, which measures 14.5 feet wide and 13 feet deep. The Ceiling has an "A" frame pitch, with a height that starts at approximately nine feet and peaks at 10 feet.
For the initial break-in and music auditioning, I connected the Kanta to a Rotel RC1590 preamplifier and an RB1590 amp. Using Wireworld Eclipse 8 balanced interconnects and speaker cable, I connected the Kantas to the Rotel stack. An Apple MacBook Pro was used to stream Tidal's HiFi service.
After about 100 hours of break-in, I sat down for some casual listening, with the speakers positioned roughly seven feet from my seated position. To test a female vocal, I chose the song "Suddenly I See" by KT Tunstall. Her voice displayed an authentic texture, with just enough forwardness to make the experience engaging but not overwhelming. The speakers delivered superior imaging that was immediately noticeable.
The Kanta's ability to image so well at such a close distance to my seated position exceeded expectations. Even when looking directly at the speakers, the sound did not sonically appear to be emanating from them. Instead, the image existed in between and in front of the speaker, with incredible depth and width, with specific locations for instruments and vocals. Many great speakers pass through my home, and most have imaged well or even excellently, but nothing performed to the level of what I was experiencing.
Resolution, clarity, contrast, articulation, and realism were also off the charts. A startlingly large soundstage that should only come from a much larger speaker system appeared before me. Vocals were transparent and portrayed so realistically that I played two duets, where the artists on each track had to be pitch matched, making it difficult to distinguish their voices from one another with most speaker systems. On the song "Stay" from Rihanna's album Unapologetic, with guest Mikky Ekko, both artists were clearly rendered and easily distinguishable. Although a simple song in the way of instrumentation, with mainly piano leading the way, it was rendered realistically.
It pains me a bit to admit that both my recently sold Meridian 8000 and previously reviewed Sonus Faber IL Cremonese did not have the same panache in regards to piano playback as does the Kanta No. 2. That's a bold statement given the pedigree of both of those products. If the Meridian's had the same piano performance, perhaps I would not have sold them. I believe the Beryllium tweeter and its match to the Flax midrange driver has a lot to do with the Kanta's stellar performance in this area.
Moving on to the second duet, "Just Give Me a Reason" by Pink and guest Nate Ruess, from her album The Truth About Love, I could more easily differentiate both artists than on other systems that I can remember. As another piano-led compilation, this song let the Kanta show off its ability to recreate nature timbres, which made me sit up straight and take notice. The transient speed and air of realism were impressive.
While streaming numerous other familiar tracks, I quickly developed a growing appreciation of the resolution capabilities of this speaker. Another standout was the bass performance, especially for a speaker of this size. To push the Kantas harder, playing AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" seemed appropriate. A lot is going on with this track, from the high treble lead guitars to the deep bass lines. The Beryllium tweeter was able to show off its speed and accuracy while the twin 6.5-inch flax woofers seemed to violate the laws of physics.
While the Kanta played like a much larger speaker, the bass is not room shaking, so a good quality subwoofer for ultimate low-frequency support would not hurt. To test this, I moved the Kantas to the living room and connected them to a NAD M17 surround sound processor, M27 seven-channel amplifier, and MartinLogan BalancedForce 210 subwoofer, with the speakers crossed over at 50Hz. Here, the Kantas sounded even more substantial with "Thunderstruck," thanks to the bowel-moving bottom end. Coincidentally, the BalancedForce 210 turned out to be an excellent match for the Kanta, since they have similar detail and definition characteristics without the familiar one note thump of some subwoofers.
The Kantas play loudly and had no problem filling the slightly larger living room, which measures 14 feet wide and 15.5 feet deep, with a flat 13-foot ceiling. Based on my experience, it is easy to believe the Kantas could handle a room 50 percent larger.
Even though I did not have a matching center channel, I was interested in experiencing the imaging capabilities of the Kanta on a movie soundtrack. Having just finished a binge-watching fest of all three seasons of Narcos on Netflix, I turned to the movie American Made. This movie has a great soundtrack full of gunfire, roaring plane engines, and dialogue in both Spanish and English. My existing center channel and surround speakers are the Vienna Acoustics Schönberg speaker line. In the scene where Barry Seal uses a Columbian dirt runway to debut his foray into the drug transportation industry, the Kanta's high dynamic range and imaging were not blending well with the more laid-back nature of the Vienna Acoustic center channel. The high revving engines of the plane, along with all the rattles and creaks of the bumpy runway, and final brush against the treetops were in full detail.
If only I had the Kanta center channel to round out this experience. Sadly, it does not exist yet.
Bi-amplifying a speaker is a great way to squeeze out that extra performance, assuming you have a processor that can affectively handle the crossovers and enough amplification to spare, but it won't happen with the Kanta No. 2, and surprisingly not on the Sopra series either. One would need to jump up to the Utopia Maestro Evo to get that functionality, which seems a bit odd but by no means the end of the world.
Comparison and Competition
If price is your main consideration--and it certainly is for most people--there are plenty of options available at roughly the $10,000 level. An equally important consideration, though, is size. A smaller speaker is much easier to integrate into a room, and if it can perform at the level of the Kanta No. 2, you will score some bonus points with your significant other. I would contend that most audio enthusiasts are guilty of believing that more is better. Go big or go home is the typical thought process. I would caution to choose speakers for the room size, not based on your insecurities: Bigger is not always better and is more often a problem when considering the speaker to room proportion ratio. Having lived with the Kanta for a few months, I began to appreciate the total package: a huge and high-resolution soundstage with manageable dimensions.
If the budget increases, perhaps the Kanta No. 3 that I hope to see announced soon will push the envelope on those lower octaves, but I suspect a subwoofer would still be of benefit. Stepping up to the Sopra N°2 ($14,999/pair) is an option as well if you have the extra cash.
The PSB Imagine T3 Tower ($7,499/pair) is lower priced and a great performer. During a brief audition, I recall the T3 having impressive resolution, imaging, and soundstage, making it worth a side-by-side comparison.
The B&W 804 D3 ($9,000/pair) is yet another speaker to consider based on reputation and a brief listen at CES.
The MartinLogan Impression ESL 11A ($9,995/pair) is a highly regarded speaker, but is altogether a different approach due to its electrostatic transducer. Regardless, when choosing a speaker given one's budget, I would think all options are on the table. Once again, consider its larger size, since 67 inches of height and 28 inches of depth is more than most rooms can manage. If that is not an issue for the room, this may be an alternative.
The Kanta No. 2 undoubtedly benefits from the trickle-down technology borrowed from Focal's showpiece Utopia models. At, $9,999 per pair it may seem expensive, but considering the performance, the value factor is quite high. It has an expensive and sophisticated sound quality that carries an air of confidence. The Kanta can play loud and fill most normal-sized rooms with a wall of audio ecstasy. With a modern, classy look, flawless fit-and-finish, and numerous finish color combinations, the Kanta can quickly step into the most demanding interiors. I loved the review sample's fusion of walnut and taupe, and it matched my surroundings perfectly.
Familiarity, as they say, often breeds contempt. By that I mean that with most hi-fi products, the longer you spend with them the more you start to notice their flaws, minor as they may be. With the Kanta No. 2, I found just the opposite: the longer I spent with it, the more I appreciated its sophistication. If you have the budget, the Kanta No. 2 belongs on your short list of contenders.
• Check out our Floorstanding Loudspeakers category page to read similar reviews.
• Visit the Focal website for more information.
• Focal Sopra N°2 Floorstanding Speakers Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.