Focal began as a speaker driver manufacturer in 1979 in France and has been forwarding high-end speaker driver design ever since. The company's first speaker was released in 1982 to much praise, and Focal currently makes a speaker for most every use and budget. The Sopra line has three main speakers: the N�1 bookshelf model, the N�2 floorstander, and the larger N�3 floorstander, the most recent addition to the line. The larger size of the N�3 allows for more bass extension and higher dynamic range. The N�3 is designed for the discerning listener and audiophile; but, at $19,999/pair, they are much less expensive than other speakers with which they are intended to compete.
Focal put a lot of thought and design into the aesthetics of the Sopra line. The speakers come in a variety of finishes, including gloss white, black, red, orange, and wood-paneled. They are beautiful speakers to look at, and anyone can surely find a color to fit their home. My review samples came in gloss white, and I auditioned them with the matching Sopra Center.
The Sopra N�3 has received a lot of trickle-down technology from Focal's Utopia line, plus some new R&D advancements exclusive within the Sopra range. It's a three-way design that utilizes two 8.25-inch bass drivers and a 6.5-inch midrange driver. The Sopra Center, meanwhile, has two 6.5-inch bass drivers and a three-inch midrange. Both speakers use the same 1.13-inch pure Beryllium tweeter. In the N�3, the Beryllium tweeter is precisely positioned at the best height for listening, and the midrange is placed above the tweeter to time-align the drivers for coherency at the listening position. Focal engineers added an IHL or Infinite Horn Loading system that dampens the ultra-light, rigid Beryllium tweeter to allow free movement while designing the main cabinet with segmented inner chambers to maximize bass performance.
The midrange driver has Neutral Inductance Circuits to stabilize the magnetic field through which its voice coil travels. A magnetic field is disturbed by an object moving through it, as well as the frequencies around it. Focal has spent years developing ways to minimize if not eliminate this effect, exposing the voice coil to a consistent magnetic field and thus maximizing accuracy of the driver's reproduction.
The surround of the midrange driver is designed with Tuned Mass Damper technology, similar to what is employed in racecars and seismic building stabilization. Conventional wisdom would eliminate distortion in the surround by making it heavier and less likely to deform, but this decreases efficiency and performance. Adding the Tune Mass Damper allows Focal to minimize this distortion and weight, allowing the driver to perform more consistently without losing performance.
These speakers are big ... even bigger than Focal claims. I measure them as 51.5 inches tall, and the base is 16 by 24 inches at its widest point. Focal has designed the packaging to make the unboxing process fairly easy; however, since each speaker weighs in at over 154 pounds, the N�3 is not something to be unboxed and set up by a single person. Your best bet is to have your dealer deliver and install them for you. I was lucky enough to have a rather large and good friend over when the truck dropped them off, and it was still difficult to move them into place.
My buddy and I shuffled them into the same spot where my previous speakers resided and angled them in at the listening position. I held off on attaching the included spikes, since I have wood floors and figured I would need to move the speakers around a bit to find the ideal location. (Focal includes discs to protect your floors from the spikes.) Positioning the Sopra N�3s actually proved to be a breeze. While they are large speakers, they disappear sonically without much wiggling. Focal has a formula using the distance from the woofers to the floor, as well as the nearest and farthest walls. When I placed the Sopras where I liked them and checked the formula, I discovered I was within a few inches of what the formula calculated. I've never positioned my speakers with an algebraic equation before, but it seems to work.
For sources, I streamed CD-quality TIDAL and some lesser-quality Pandora through my Control 4 system and played silver discs through an Oppo BDP-103D and a Samsung UBD-K8500 UHD Blu-ray player. Control and power came from my Classe Sigma SSP preamp and Classe Amp 5, while all speaker wires were 12g OFC wire.
My current room is a little lively, with several windows, glass doors, and hardwood floors. Right out of the box, the Sopra N�3s sounded a little bright; they definitely needed some break-in before I began my official assessment. I used them for a few weeks, and things really settled in. The slight edge and sibilance that was initially present left completely, and the bass opened up and smoothed out.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...