Over the past 20 plus years, I have been very blessed to own some of the most fantastic loudspeakers that the audiophile industry has been able to produce. The pressure is always to make a floorstanding speaker that can get you closer and closer to the music, and the price to get that Nth degree of performance often is pretty steep. I became aware of French loudspeaker manufacturer Focal as the maker of the much-praised tweeter in many of my beloved Wilson Audio speakers from the past. Focal's reputation for building first-rate drivers is second to none worldwide, and the company still makes drivers for certain speaker manufacturers. Of course, Focal makes its own speakers, too--which have increasingly gained attention from the most demanding listeners, thanks to their high efficiency, innovative technologies, and simply stunning industrial design.
A few years back, I was wooed to purchase a pair of Focal Diablo Utopia bookshelf speakers. In rough terms, they were a small version of Focal's flagship Grand Utopia EM. Considering the installation was going to be in my West Los Angeles office, I didn't have the space or the capital to go big with the Grand Utopias. I loved the Diablo's size and sound, and I ultimately brought them home to mate with an 85-inch Samsung Ultra HD TV in my recently renovated 1957 "post-and-beam" home. They looked good. They sounded very, very good. But then the Focal Sopra N�2 arrived on the market, and the rules changed. Priced at $13,995 per pair and in a full floorstanding form factor, the Sopra N�2 is packed with even more patented technologies from Focal's flagship speaker. I knew immediately that I wanted a pair.
One of the unique features of the Sopra N�2 is its sexy form factor. It's a narrow and tall floorstanding speaker with a tilt in the top of the cabinet (which is made in Burgundy, by the way) that gives the speaker a very human, if not feminine, aura. The fit and finish of the speaker will go toe to toe with any model from the top speaker makers in the business, be it Bowers & Wilkins, Wilson Audio, Magico, MartinLogan, YG Acoustic, or Meridian. Every nut, bold, part, mold, and design cue is carefully crafted to look like sex on a stick, to use a Jimmy Choo reference. The effect is that women who normally hate large, boxy, black speakers have commented without being prompted, "Wow, those are some really pretty speakers." Or, "I didn't know I would like speakers painted in white, but they look really good." Focal offers a pretty aggressive array of stock colors, including orange (I call it Philadelphia Flyers orange, and I wanted to order it so very badly), black, white, red, and a few really well done blood-wood stained finishes. I played it somewhat safe and ordered up the white Sopra N�2s.
The Focal Sopra N�2s come nicely packed and, thankfully, without a palette in my case. I was able to unbox them and assemble the fantastically designed feet for both speakers in less than 25 minutes, and that was with me being very deliberate. Having a helper would be nice, but it isn't a must.
Because the Sopra N�2s have a reported efficiency of 91 dB, you can match them with damn near any good power amp you like. I used Classe Audio's new Class D Sigma AMP5 power amp that, trust me, does not sound like the Class D amps of yesteryear. The AMP5 offers 200 watts per channel, which allowed me to rattle my home's new triple-paned, Xeon-filled windows peeking out at the Pacific Ocean.
In comparison with the five pairs of Wilson Audio speakers that I've owned in the past--all of which were very responsive to small positioning changes in the room--the process of dialing in the Sopra N�2s to get rocking the best bass and imaging was pretty straightforward. Add in my $1,300 SVS SB-13 subwoofer, and it was even easier to get rocking quickly. However, I tried to spend a good amount of my review time listening with only the full-range Focals--although I personally always use the SVS, even for TV listening. Clearly, the Focals benefit from fine tuning and laser adjustments for the sweet spot, but you can expect to have rocking good sound in short order when setting up the Focal Sopra N�2s.
Recently, I was on a phone call with one of my favorite PR people in the AV business (they don't represent Focal, but they do represent other top-of-the-line speaker makers), and we were discussing how there really hasn't been any sea-change technologies in speaker development in the past 75 years. While that might be true, the best speaker companies push the limit of what can be done in a more traditional speaker, and none more so than Focal.
A lot of what makes the Sopra N�2 great is owed to advances made in the higher-end Focal flagship products. NIC, or Neutral Inductance Circuit, addresses improvements in the magnetic field of a driver that decreases distortion in a meaningful way, and that technology comes right from the Grand Utopia EM speakers. Another patented new speaker technology is the Tuned Mass Damper, which consists of two tubular rings on the suspension of the midrange driver that are designed to "stabilize the dynamic behavior of the surround according to resonance, thus avoiding deformation of the cone without afflicting the dynamics." Regarding higher frequencies, Focal is famous for using Beryllium tweeters; but, beyond the use of exotic materials is the infinite horn-loading technology, where Focal installs the tweeter right on top of an area that allows it to breathe back into the cabinet in a horn-like configuration. While it's not as perfect as the speaker resonating in free air, it creates a very open, lively (but never bright) high end that you'd expect from drastically different speaker technologies that can't compete with Focal's dynamics. This technology is also patented.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...