Sheepishly, I'm here to review a product from a company we've been ignoring for all the wrong reasons. Mentioning 'JM Lab' might trigger a response in those who remember the minutiae of show reports. They'll think 'French', 'speaker manufacturer'...'Focal drivers'. And it's that last bit which makes this so embarrassing. Not only is JM Lab the speaker manufacturing division of a company well-known for raw drivers (Wilson WATTs use Focal units, for example), it has had UK distribution for some time. So this long-overdue assessment of one of its products isn't mere appeasement of the French; it's wholly justifiable in UK middle-market terms.
Because JM Lab has taken advantage of the single-market concept, if not quite shoving speakers at us through the Chunnel, it has a range of imported speakers which doesn't suffer the price disadvantages normally attributed to foreign-made goods. The Micron Carat retails for only �390 per pair in basic form, and it offers performance and perceived value on a par with our home-grown speakers of like price. For the Francophobes among the speaker-builders in the UK, here's another reason to hate the French.
Stand-mounted, rear-ported, compact two-way speakers are not exactly in short supply in the UK, so the Micron Carat has to offer something substantially different to make it stand out among the myriad minis on offer. The �390 version is finished in black ash vinyl over chipboard while the �459 version uses an MDF cabinet veneered in auburn or lacquered in black satin. I would suspect that the cabinet changes are accompanied by some small sonic gains, too, but I've spent time only with the less-expensive model; I would hope that stockists will be able to A/B the two for you.
So far, so similar. The enclosure, measuring 300x194x202mm (HWD), has bevelled vertical edges to create a narrower baffle. Build quality matches British speakers at this price point; if the badge were removed I'd easily mistake these for small Tannoys or Mordaunt-Shorts. At the rear are multi-way terminals, the port is positioned top-and-centre and there's a sticker showing you how to wire them in single, bi-wired or bi-amped mode.
Remove the grille and that's where things become interesting -- not least because the Micron Carat contains a version of the company's famous inverted dome tweeter which will allow the impoverished audio casualty to boast that his/her system shares a genetic link with the Wilson WATT. The tweeters aren't the same as those found in the WATT, of course -- just the topology. The Micron Carat, however, uses a new version of the 25mm inverted dome, this time made from something called Tioxid. Despite sounding like a noxious medicine, Tioxid is actually titanium treated with a proprietary coating unique to Focal, said to absorb surface waves and thereby reduce distortion. Behind the dome is a 72mm diameter magnet.
Crossover at 3kHz is via an 18dB/octave circuit featuring 'two parallel voice coils'. The recipient of the lower frequency signals is a 136mm woofer consisting of a Neoflex cone, dual-voice coil and diecast chassis, backed with a 100mm diameter magnet. The entire system is specified as having a 4 ohm impedance, sensitivity of 88.5dB for 2.8V/1m and maximum SPL capability of 103.7dB. Hungrier than today's 90dB-plus efficiency experts, the 'Carat is happier with a bit more than the miserable 40W offered by sub-�200 integrateds...though that's what will most likely power them in the UK.