Focal Alpha 80 Monitor Review and Measurements

Discussion in 'Speakers' started by purr1n, Aug 2, 2020.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    The gear I used for measurement I believe was the same @ultrabike used for his field trip to Guitar Center to measure monitors. (LOL, something like this may be difficult to arrange right now the midst of COVID). This means the UMIK-1 microphone and a Focusrite 2i2. I knew the Focusrite was good for something! Ultrabike's measurements of various pro monitors can be found here: https://www.superbestaudiofriends.org/index.php?threads/monitor-field-trip-to-guitar-center.2484/ The results here should be comparable to his. I took a few measurements of gear-in common and the results are more or less the same, or very close enough.

    As well as high-end two channel speakers, headphones, and nice car speakers, Focal makes monitors for the professional market. It's my understanding that one goes Focal for the service. For professionals, service can be crucial. The Alpha 80 is Focal's model with the 8" woofer paired with a 1" tweeter. Focal also has an Alpha 65 and 50 with 6.5" and 5" woofers respectively. The woofer looks to be some sort of glass impregnated paper. The tweeter is an aluminum inverted dome mounted on a shallow waveguide. The cabinet is pretty hefty but the speaker has a little bit of that hollow boxy coloration. I didn't take the speaker apart to examine any stuffing inside.

    IMG_20200802_165056.jpg

    As with most other 8" woofer + 1" tweeter monitor designs, the integration between the lows and the highs was merely passable, and the lows seemed compromised compared to monitors with smaller woofers, with less texture and a one-note tendency. Articulation isn't bad though and bass was plenty punchy. I have not heard the Alpha 50 or 65, so I really cannot say how this compares to them. However, I am in the school of smaller woofers for monitors with the addition of big subwoofers. The larger 8" woofers of course reach deeper, have higher SPL capability, and allow for a less complex package without subs. Such is audio, we need to make compromises.

    I would be curious to hear the Alpha 50 as this woofer doesn't sound that much better than the entry level paper woofer found in Focal's car audio line. I guess for the price of a pair of these monitors > $1000, I was expecting performance closer to the their line with the Kevlar cones. Also, I am not sure I like the sound of this aluminum tweeter: it's detailed, but also harsh when we crank up the volume.
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2020
  2. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Focal Alpha 80
    Frequency Response
    1/6 octave smoothing
    GRN = 0 degrees, YEL = 15 degrees, GRY = 30 degrees
    upload_2020-8-2_19-27-45.png

    Subjectively, listened to on-axis, the Alpha 80 come as very slightly v-shaped. Upper mids sounded rough. I was hoping that listening a bit off-axis would cure these small nitnicks, but it didn't. Measured off-axis performance is good with most of the off-axis attenuation after 10kHz.. We don't see any suckouts or oddities at the crossover region. However, off-axis doesn't seem tame the upper mids and lower treble very much.

    The above measurements were taken in my backyard like this with no close boundaries. Plenty of space. The brush behind leads to a hill that goes down to a creek. There are walls 50 feet on either side. There could be some floor bounce.

    IMG_20200802_103955.jpg
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2020
  3. AdvanTech

    AdvanTech Friend

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    Focal's home audio hifi speakers seem to have 6 price tiers, and the woofers in their Kanta line (and I assume the 3 tiers below that) are similarly underwhelming compared to the higher-tiered Sopras and Devore Fidelity speakers that I'd directly compared to them.
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2020
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  4. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Focal Alpha 80
    FR measurement at the port opening. The port looks tuned to 40Hz
    upload_2020-8-2_19-54-54.png

    Focal Alpha 80
    FR measurement < 1" from the woofer. Ignore the dip at 900Hz: I had to use a high incidence angle for the microphone near the dust cap because the tripod was higher than the speaker. (Too hot outside so I put the speaker on a low shelf indoors). Note a gradual xover slope from 1.5kHz to near 3kHz, and then steep drop after that.
    upload_2020-8-2_19-54-39.png

    Focal Alpha 80
    FR measurement < 1" from the tweeter. Steep drop under 2kHz. Slowly rising response from 2kHz up.
    upload_2020-8-2_19-57-3.png
     
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  5. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Focal Alpha 80
    Step Response
    upload_2020-8-2_20-3-15.png
     
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  6. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Skipping around or more precisely coming back: the controls at the back are simple. I like this. There is a power switch, a sensitivity switch, two inputs (XLR and RCA, which comes in handy), and two dials for bass and high boost. The Alpha 80 is an active monitor with a 100W amp to the woofer and a 50W amp to the tweeter.

    IMG_20200802_165122.jpg

    With both dials maxxed, this is the result. The effects are subtle, the range of effect limited or narrow.
    upload_2020-8-2_20-9-47.png

    I was concerned initially that there would not be enough bass cut if one wanted to use the Alpha 80 against a wall. It turns out this isn't the case. The monitor is pretty big with very wide baffle, hence the boundary effects are lessened.
     
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  7. RobS

    RobS RobS? More like RobDiarrhea.

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    Thanks for the measurements and review, purr1n. Looks like it has a very peaky treble region. I don't have hearing loss yet, so these are no go for me.

    I'm not surprised by your experience on the Kanta line. Look at the shit Focal puts in them:



    That cheap of a crossover in a monitor that costs $6K for a pair? Embarrassing. Focal redefining what it means to cut costs.
     
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  8. Walderstorn

    Walderstorn Friend

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    Tbh in this part of the world (Scandinavia) Focal is not much appreciated and the price/quality is one of the reasons. Maybe i shouldn't generalize but that's the info i got from the only 3 hifi stores that i went to. Personally i hadn't seen that before and makes more sense. This is "a bit" underwhelming...
     
  9. Hrodulf

    Hrodulf Prohibited from acting as an MOT until year 2050

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    That off-axis response looks very typical for a non-controlled directivity design. Prolly okay-ish for a treated room, but for most real rooms there will be excessive upper mid energy from the reflected sound. Sharp corners of the enclosure also contribute as secondary radiation points, muddying the image and creating ripples in the upper mids. Lazy design.

    Personally I've never been much of a fan of Focal speaker sound. Somehow their higher end beryllium tweeters end up sounding even worse than lower end ones.
     
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  10. AdvanTech

    AdvanTech Friend

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    Agreed. Somehow, I really don’t get along with the beryllium tweeters in their speakers, but my Utopia headphones are brilliant.
     
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  11. Riotvan

    Riotvan Got lost for three weeks at Delft City Hall

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    Yep, didn't care for the Solo6's but like the Clears.
     
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  12. Psalmanazar

    Psalmanazar Most improved member; A+

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    @purr1n Thank you for the measurements. the service is Focal Care, which you have to pay extra for and mostly covers their ass for poor quality control and poor durability.

    Other brands of monitors, the drivers have better magnets and power handling, heat sinks for class ab amps, lower distortion so you can hear power compression, and better limiters to protect the drivers. And much better warranty service. You don’t have to pay extra for them to overnight you parts for 5000 dollar speakers. ATCs pretty much never break and has anyone ever seen anything but a plate amp broken in Yamaha HS, Dyns, Neumanns, Genelecs, or JBL 70X? Most of them don’t sound great but don’t break. Other monitors (Quested, the ATC 25 that’s a big seller) use off the shelf tweeters you can replace yourself.

    Focal is infamous for cheaping out on plate amps, crossovers, and magnets. The tweeters all have weird ringing and resonances. The plateamps are generic Chinese ones that look like they were made at the same factory that makes them for cheaper Chinese made monitors (JBL, Presonus, KRK)
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2020
  13. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Well, the tweeter is "controlled" in a sense because the off-axis roll-off is minimal until past 10kHz (there is a tiny dip at the XO point). I don't know if this behavior can be attributed to the inverted dome, the small waveguide, or both. Normally, this behavior is good, except in this case, the Alpha 80 have a rising response early from 3kHz.

    One would almost think that Focal would have been better off with a traditional flat mounted tweeter (and a cheap Dayton silk or cloth one at that!) since these simple implementations roll-off early after 2.5kHz off-axis and thereby can counteract the rising response. The HF shelf settings are useless for adjusting the rising response from 3kHz since most of the effect is after 9kHz and the amplitude range of the shelf is limited. I preferred what JBL did in contrast, with the center point at 1kHz with a very shallow rise to the shelf.

    I don't see reflections being an significant cause of or factor to the issues I've mentioned, especially if used nearfield in most decent sized rooms with carpet and furniture. Harsh is just harsh. The HF shelving doesn't have the range and latitude to be used to correct the issues.

    --

    Generally these large woofer and small tweeter monitor designs are never optimal. They can be made to work such as the Seas A26 kit which uses a 10" and large 1.5" tweeter :https://www.superbestaudiofriends.org/index.php?threads/seas-a26-kit.7206/

    However, the A26 uses a simple crossover with a gentle slope and most importantly a large tweeter which can be used in this way. Also, professional monitors may require continuous high-SPL use, thus the necessity of steep XO slopes. Steep XO slopes with very different driver materials and driver sizes never yields a coherent sound from lows to highs. Detailed, articulate, and high power handling yes. Coherent and smoothly integrated no.
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2020
  14. MyPetSasquatch

    MyPetSasquatch Friend

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    TBH this is a great reminder that I've never heard a set of Focal speakers that didn't sound peaky and ring-y with what resembled audible breakup in the upper frequencies. There's just something about their tweeters that nags at me, and in terms of the big European speaker brands I much prefer the Dynaudio soft-dome tweeters.
     
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  15. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    The Focal Alpha 80 would make decent keyboard speakers. This is why a friend purchased them in the first place.
     
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  16. Psalmanazar

    Psalmanazar Most improved member; A+

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    That’s the Genelec and Neumann KH issue. The drivers aren’t integrated and the treble and crossover sound is neither realistic nor resembles any other speakers.

    A big issue is the tweeter material. Metal tweeters are inherently distorted due to the break up leading to heavy imd in the audible band even if the break up and ringing is damped unlike in Focal. The distortion is furthermore uneven unlike the best AMTs, which have much higher distortion than any domes but more even than metal. Both are neither detailed nor clean enough to let the timbre of the woofer dominate the speaker. That’s what happens ime with even decent soft domes, from cheap kits and JBLs to 15000 dollar ATCs.

    The people who prefer metal domes and cones pretty much just prefer the sound of added ringing and imd and are willing to sacrifice detail, clarity, and reactivity for it. I can give sources “smooth and dark but clear” treble on a soft dome, even KRK Kevlar and Yamaha tweeters and Chinese button domes, with precise parametric eq, lowering it with clean as a whistle broad shelf, and then boosting it up again with sheened, smooth EQ (tube style eqs, Neve style products, air bands, etc) slightly but not as much. That’s impossible to do with a metal dome. You’ll just hit the distortion and ringing sweeping around to find the weird fizz and tizz.
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2020
  17. SineDave

    SineDave Friend

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    I actually like the Solo6 Be's quite a lot - but they do require break-in and adjustment. To me, they are markedly better than the passive stuff we're discussing here. I did find they are extremely sensitive to toe-in, and sound awful when not properly positioned.
     
  18. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Well, not all metal drivers are bad. The Be tweeters on the Focal TOTL have good timbre with insane microdetail. The expensive ones from Seas, like the ones used in Amphion are very good - although it's funny seeing those small drivers move their voice coils pass the linear range in the magnetic gap. There's a price for cuteness. And all the metal diaphragms in good compression drivers (JBL / Radian) sound good and smooth when used properly and not abused.
     
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  19. Riotvan

    Riotvan Got lost for three weeks at Delft City Hall

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    Perhaps my opinion on them will land somewhere else today. I mean i did give them a couple of years but i was not as experienced nor was my room as good.
    One thing is for sure though that line of Focal studio monitors is one of the best looking in the industry. If you want active, good looks and like the sound they are not a bad option.
     
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  20. Hrodulf

    Hrodulf Prohibited from acting as an MOT until year 2050

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    Depends what school of "control" you subscribe to. I subscribe to Toole et al. controlled directivity ideas as seen in waveguided JBL, Genelec, Neumann monitors. So generally my preferred radiation shape is something like this.

    good directivity.jpg

    Focal for the same money does this:

    meh directivity.jpg

    In the latter example the speaker seems to push too much upper mid/low treble and thus sounds harsh. Here's what the cheap JBL SR305 does:

    JBL directivity.jpg

    There is no strange lobing and even the vertical directivity is superbly controlled. I suspect that [among other factors] this is why it sounds so good and is a standout at the price point.

    I blame effed up driver timing. Of course the step response you showed for the Shape 80 is all kinds of nasty, especially the tweeter portion.

    Soft domes are self damping. They're the paper drivers of the tweeter world. As for AMT's, they hate playing low, so you need either a mid driver or a very decent woofer that can go high.
     

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