Focal -JM Lab Nova Utopia Be VS. B&W 801D

IMO both produce incredible full range sound in a proper system. Which do you like better and why regardless of the price difference?

The Nova is a better speaker than the 801D, it produces a wider and slightly taller soundstage and the Beryillium tweeter is smoother than the B&W. I would say that at $40K the JM Labs are a bit pricey.

The B&W are very good at playing loud without distortion but I have never heard them sound great unless played by big solid state. The JM can work wonderfully with tube amplifiers.
I would add that the Nova has some of the best bass definition I have ever heard -- if you want to hear timpani reproduced in a lifelike manner, it is hard to do better.

I otherwise agree with Dave (Audiooracle). I have heard the diamond tweeter in a pair of 802D's and was very impressed, but the Nova is a more refined speaker (as it should be given the gigantic price differential). Be careful with tube amps featuring high source impedences, however, as they will tip up the high frequency response and make the berylium tweeter sound hot.
Raquel,though my proposal stiall stands( -:) ),the Nova has inaccurate bass response.It is very enjoyable,and I LOVE the speakers(if set up correctly...not easy,btw),but the definition is NOT really accurate.Hear a big sealed box,to know what I mean.The "Q" factor is not ideal for this,and many other models.
Hi Sirspeedy:

I respectfully disagree. I have heard a lot of acoustic-suspension designs, not to mention that I ran Dunlavy's for six years with solid-state amplification (and I owned Advents for many years, not that they were particularly good examples of the design approach). For that matter, my closest hi-fi friend ran huge Dunlavy V's and I knew them very well. Sealed-box, ported, transmission line, isobaric, peanut butter -- it's all blather depending upon how the speaker is actually designed and executed (although I will grant you that a properly implemented sealed-box design has a lot of advantages). In short, I do not recall having heard a speaker that is more spot-on in the bass than the Novas.

PS - I hate to disappoint you, but I'm a guy. Raquel is my wife's name. She was with me when I was rushing to bid on a cartridge a number of years back and I needed a quick user name. The clock ticking loudly, I asked in a partial panic, "What name do I use?" She said, "How about my name?" I agreed. I won the cartridge. I still have it. I still have my wife (last time I checked).
I heard the Nova Utopias at Sound by Singer in Manhattan last fall. The speakers were being driven by Zanden SET tube amps. The sound was RELENTLESSLY bright. Otherwise, I thought the performance of the speakers was commendable, but it was difficult for me to get past the tipped up treble response. Does anyone have enough experience with the Novas to know whether the sound I heard was the result of impedance issues resulting from the pairing of the speakers with SET tube amps? Or is the Beryllium tweeter inherently bright?
Racquel,you told me that story before.I know of your gender,but was kidding!Happily married with two kids,am I.Sorry,the Nova and almost all vents/ports,trans lines are not accurate,compared to a really good sealed box.The Dunlevy's "played out" long ago,and had driver integration problems,yet my Avalon Ascents are a "classic" example of "spot on" mid bass accuracy.That is why they will most likely be with me in the "nursing home".SO good are they!!BTW,I said mid bass,as I have employed(very successfully)a REL STENTOR for low bass impact/augmentation.A KILLER combo.Yet everyone likes their own stuff,so I remain questionable,except to my own little audio group.-:)Sorry for the conceit.
BTW,I too heard the Zanden combo on the NOVA's,and at the time I auditioned them,they were stunning.NO over the top treble,which I have always heard on them before.I heard them with music I was intimately familiar with,and was very impressed.All other times I heard them(numerous)they were Hi Fi-ish.This last time was a winner,but a huge room.
I had always loved the original Utopia's,and heard J Skull's home set-up on one occassion.Sorry,but although very good,compared to the Ascents,the midbass was overly damped.However he had a HUGE room,and I believe the Utopias were a better fit,then his previous Ascents(but he insisted the Ascents worked well,there).
I still like the NOVA's very much,and I once A/B'd the original Utopia to the Avalon Eidolons.It was NO contest,using the Exact componentry(all SOTA,btw).The Eidolons went bright far too quickly,and were smoked by the Utopias.Not to diss the Eidolons,but the Utopias sounded more like live music,that day.
It was at this time that I decided the industry had good enough technology in sub bass systems to move to a REL.Previously,I was interested in augmenting the Wilson sub,but held out.I simply LOVE the "AVA-REL" combo,but you must take the room into account.If I were in a very large room(mine is 13x22.5)I would consider the Nova or maybe the Strads,but the Ascents,as driven are rediculously good.230 lbs of sealed box,with external croosovers,and detail matching the "a bit overhyped" current crop of drivers(spouse factor had to impact the decision to discontinue,as four huge boxes won't make it in many living rooms).The "crossover of a speaker is far more critical to voicing,and almost any really good driver can suffice in a given design,but consumers are impressed by what they actually see".This is a quote by a WAY famous speaker builder.
I am sorry if I give the impression of absorbed with what I own,but I have heard it ALL,and there is too much hype surrounding the hobby today.A boatload of "classic" designs easily competes with todays priciest stuff,and there are ways to mod stuff to incredible degrees of performance.I have one pal who modded his Infinity RS-1b's to a level that many would never believe,but he knows what music should sound like,as he reviewed the Mercury collection,and I never question him.Best ear I know of.

BTW...I take back my proposal,but you are still a nice fellow hobbyist.Best to you. -:)
The Be tweeter is not bright unless the electronics are or there is an impedance mismatch. Raquel is right on. Many of the Be's impedance plots will show you a huge hump in the highs. Personally, using a SET amp with Novas is totally missing the point anyway. These big speakers need some real power to shine in full glory. I haven't heard Singer's setup but for my tastes in bass, I can say it probably wouldn't work. If there isn't enough bass, all you have left is treble....

Getting back to the tweeter, after hearing Diva Bes several times now - in a couple setups - the Be tweeter can actually be surprisingly laid back. I was expecting a little more forwardness but have yet to hear it that way. I believe it was JA who also said that.

Audiooracle very much knows what he is talking about with this speaker -- I heed his word and wonder whether he has anything more to add about the characteristics of Focal's Be tweeters as used in the Utopia Be line. Are they, like Focal's tioxid tweeter used in the first Utopia line (and used, I believe, in modified form by Wilson), inherently hot? I was with Cincy_Bob when we heard the Novas at Singer. I did not find the treble remarkable one way or the other, but I have a bit of hearing damage in one ear that "rolls off" treble a bit for me. We were very much hoping to hear the speakers run with the Burmester amp in that big room, but something prevented it -- I can't recall what. So I would add that the spectacular bass definition I heard was yielded by, of all things, an 845-based single ended amp (albeit a very, very good one). I admit that my exposure to the speaker was limited to that two-hour session, but I heard them long enough to get a feel.

Sir Speedy: I agree with virtually everything you wrote. And you are to be commended on your spectacular speakers -- weren't the Ascents designed when Charlie Hanson was still part of Avalon?

The results you get have a lot to do with the particular setup of the system.

I worked for close to 16 years at SBS. I sold and set up the JM Labs many times. The results you could get out of them had a lot to do with what you were running them with.

I was the detail setup freak so when I demoed the speakers for my customers I made sure they heard the systems set up the best way possible, on many an occassion the setups were not optimal and the system didn't sound great.

The BE versions of the JM Labs do a lot of things well. The BE tweeter is way smoother than the earlier non be series, also the midrange was more integrated and coherent.

I will agree with Sir speedy that the JM Labs bass is loose.

JM tunes for a big presentation and a tighter more accurate bass is well less French. The problem with the JM Labs is that the baffles are too big and they present a big but not super well focused soundstage.

I will agree that a REL or any other really good subwoofer will dramatically improve a speaker system. Even the big Wilson's at SBS improved dramatically with a good sub.

I have on display in my showrooms the new JL Audio Fathoms and they improve all the speakers I play them with.

It all comes down to taste. There are ported speakers with great bass, speed and slam and sealed ones which trade bass depth with volume.
>>I have on display in my showrooms the new JL Audio Fathoms and they improve all the speakers I play them with.<<

Never ever ever miss a chance to sell something do you?
Tight bass is not French? That sure is a first! Perhaps compared to Avalons but I wouldn't generalize. After hearing Mulidine, Apertura, Triangle, Mosquito, Vulcain, and PE Leon speakers, I can tell you French speakers have tight bass overall.

If you expect a 13 inch woofer to sound tight, then it might be your expectations that are loose! lol. They make other models too you know, like the Diva with twin 8 inchers and a very slim baffle to favor focused imaging.

Choosing the right speaker isn't a one-size-has-to-fit-all approach. You first have to determine what style of sound you like, what room you have, and then choose the speaker accordingly. If you want focus above all else, the Nova would be the wrong choice in the first place. Simple as that. Otherwise, Focal would only make 1 Utopia model instead of 7 different ones.

I never stated the Nova's had "loose" bass!I said I felt they were "not accurate".Many speakers sound just fine,but in reality are not accurate in bass response.People like overemphasis in this area.I do too,but have really toned down my set-up over the years for a more accurate presentation.I have heard the BIG(GIGANTIC) NOLA set-up,with ASR driving it.The bass towers DEFINITELY are NOT accurate,and stood out,clearly!Yet they went DEEP,and I guess some would love it.NOT for me,though.Just my taste.
I have heard the Nvas/orig Utopias on many,many occassions.With a vast array of stuff.Tubes and solid state.
I LOVE the potential these speakers have,but I believe it is the room that will dictate ultimate sucess,so long as componentry is up to task!
The speakers seem to like a long wall set-up,though Singer uses a deep wide room to generate "that" sound.Yes,to me the Zanden amp drove them to almost perfection,on the day I heard them.Using familiar discs.I was quite surprised,as I have also heard the "tweets" tweeting too much!Not this time.The bass was certainly not a problem here.If it was,then I just did not care,at the time.
The EBA french solid state amps,on a long wall set-up,was a stunning experience to me(probably the best I have heard on these speakers),with the original Utopia(very warm,with slam,and good harmonics).Bass was the best,and tightest I have heard here.The two occassions I heard the speakers sound good(to me)were good enough to not worry about actual bass accuracy.It was JUST SO good,that sometimes one "lets go a bit" with fanaticism.These two times were the REAL DEAL,for me.
I believe the speaker is NOT TOO overpriced.I get the impression JM Labs is trying to hold price a bit,though it did go up.Just an opinion.
This speaker throws a HUGE stage,and one I cannot believe my Ascent can touch,in a large room.I still don't believe Scull,when he claimed the Ascents he owned,before the Utopias,could fill his huge listening space,but what do I know?
I bulit my dedicated room specifically for my Ascents,with the input of Avalon(at the time,yes CH designed them).One reason why they sound SO good,but under 35-40 hz they need help,for the last amount of depth,and impact.Then,PERFECTION, in this amount of square footage.
If I were to move to a bigger room,I would not consider anything less than the NOVA's though.I don't think my Ascent/Rel combo could handle that amount of square footage.My friends think I am nuts,but it's my call.
I am probably moving in a couple of years(kids are older,and going on their own)so will consider the new room very carefully.Hence,my non stop "analysis" of stuff,for future.How much fun is this hobby,sometimes??
Not to thoroughly hijack this thread, but simply for the sake of discussion, I note that I heard the original Grand Utopias in the same room at Singer back in 2000 driven by big Krell and supported with Krell's big subwoofer ("Master Reference"). Of course it went loud as hell and shook the foundation, but it sounded, overall, totally unconvincing -- it was as far away from the actual sound of unamplified instruments in its own way as a clock radio. We then went into the much smaller adjoining room ("we" -- Cincy Bob was in town and along for the ride that day as well) where a pair of Meadowlark Herons driven by a VAC 30/30 did everything right that the JM Labs / Krell set-up did wrong -- we shook our heads in amazement at how much better the Meadowlark / VAC combo was at emulating the sound of unamplified musical instruments.

PS - I would bet the ranch that Audiooracle, whose talents I know well, almost certainly put together the Meadowlark / VAC set-up, and that he had nothing to do with that dreadful Grand Utopia / Krell set-up !!
Racquel,since I try to hear almost ANY Utopia type set-up I can squeeze in,at a reasonable distance from my home turf,I heard that set-up too.I definitely agree.My original point of this "type" of speaker needing a specific set-up for "UTOPIA" in listening remains intact.They are quite finicky to get just right.Sorry,but Mr. Scull(a very nice guy,btw)did not have the "magic" when I was at his listening room.In the "ribbon chair"!
Like some other products I have come into contact with over the years,these baby's have that "something" which continues to intrigue me!
Also,Singer demoes, at shows, have remained a huge disappointment.
As I write this, I am enjoying my Grande Utopia Be's, which sound absolutely stunning (and as close to live as I can find) in my room. I've heard the Grande Be's at Sound by Singer several times, and they sound terrible there (IMO). No way I would buy them based on that audition alone.

The Nova Be's are a terrific speaker and are a "bargain" compared to the Grandes given the huge price differential - even more of a bargain if you buy them off of Audiogon.
Reply to Kmccarty. I know exactly what you mean. How many times do we hear great audio gear sound terrible at dealers, audio shows, ect... I have a pair of JM Lab Electra 920.1 speakers in my two channel setup and JM Lab Chorus in my home theatre which both sound great. I've also heard them at dealers where they sounded horrible. If that was my impression of JM Lab speakers I would of thought they sucked! I think some audiophiles tend to make judgement too quickly based on experiences of poor sound at dealers. IMO most dealers would be rich if they could make money on demonstrating poor sound. Some audiophiles go on about what is wrong with the design of a particular product and therefore claim its no good. Most of us are really not qualified or have done proper experiments to come to these conclusions. A great example is how some claim that the woofer has to be a certain size in relation to the midrange in a 3 way design. Both the Nova Utopia and the 801d have large woofers compared to their midrange (13" and 15" 3 way systems). Both can sound utterly superb in the right setup. That being said its my own policy to hear potential upgrades in my own room because you simply can't trust what we hear at a dealer or what people say. By the way I've never had the pleasure of hearing the Grande Utopia Be but can only imagine how amazing they can sound!
My 2 cents: I listened to Andy Singer's Nova Utopia show at the NY show (2004 I think) and thought the bass was really abusive, for what it's worth. OTOH, his Grande Utopia Be demo in the next room (about the same size as the Nova room I think) was far better, with well integrated and natural bass and great vocals. (It was some Rolling Stones DVD). The Novas sounded like they were strained and pushed, but the Grandes sounded really effortless and not at all overwhelming for their size.
Hey Raquel,

Can you explain further how the source impedence issue makes tweeters sound hot? Are you talking about the impedence matching between pre and poweramp?


An amplifier's output impedence "reacts" with a speaker's impedence, and vice-versa. Many tube amps have a generally high output impedence that features large peaks and dips (solid-state amps tend to be more linear in this respect). The impedence of speakers can also vary widely and feature peaks and dips (with cone speakers, usually in the bass, but not always). The uneven nature of a tube amp's output impedence can cause a speaker to have uneven output, especially where the speaker itself has a roller coaster impedence, which is to say, the lows, mids or highs do not all put out the same volume in response to the same signal volume. For example (and this is purely a hypothetical), in response to warble tones that should result in 90 db. of sound coming from all frequencies, the bass and mids would put out 90 db. each, but the treble would put out 95 db. Thus, on music, the treble will be too strong relative to the other octaves and will be perceived as sounding hot or screeching. If it is the bass that is exaggerated, the speaker will sound boomy. When John Atkinson measured the Nova Utopia Be for Stereophile, he wrote:

"[D]espite its having a nominal value of 8 ohms, the Nova's impedance varied considerably, remaining below 6 ohms for much of the midrange and above 9 ohms for much of the treble (fig.1, solid trace). If the Nova Utopia is used with an amplifier having a highish source impedance—a classic tube design, for example—the treble region will shelve up by a couple of dB, changing the perceived balance considerably. However, it is probably not a good idea to use a tube amplifier with this speaker, as it is a demanding load in the bass region. Not only does the impedance drop almost to 3 ohms in the midbass and the middle of the midrange, there is a punishing combination of 4.1 ohms magnitude and -50 degrees electrical phase angle at 62Hz. A good 4-ohm-capable solid-state amplifier will work best with this speaker."

I hope this responds to your question.
There has been much discussion about room size and amplification for the Nova's... is there a recommended room size for them?

My room is about 19' wide x 21' deep with all acoustic treaments by Richard Rives. I plan to move into a bigger place in the next few years, but would the Nova's be overkill here.

As for amplification I was leaning toward the Mcintosh MC501 mono amps. Has anyone heard these on mac equipment and what did you think?