Can't speak for Focal, but my French Triangles are very capable, musical, and lovable performers. Also rumored to be bright by some, but thats not how I hear them.
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I am a big fan of the French sound. I own or have owned speakers from the best known French speaker manufacturers: Focal (JM Labs), Triangle and JM Reynaud.
Focal can probably be considered the most mainstream the three, with several product lines. IMO, the Cobalt 806S is a very nice "budget" speakers that sounds better then it's price point.
You need to listen to a pair; preferably with your gear and in your room.
i posted a (largely favorable) review of the 806s on these forums a couple of years ago if you care to search for it. i generally agree with phasecorrect that they're not the optimal rock speaker, though i've never found 'em too bright or fatiguing. fwiw, as hyperactive an audio trader as i am, i've continued to listen to these daily for three years and they're one of the few pieces i haven't considered upgrading.
It seems that focal-jm labs has not put any effort in home speakers in years. They did a lot of developments in the automotive, studio gear, personal gear but not much in speakers since utopia (late 90s?). Last time I checked them, chorus line I believe, they were bright with muffled medium.
I did not care for them at all. I would not buy even 1/2 price.
Chrisr, I dont think you are up to speed here. Focal has whole new ranges of speakers since then that are highly engineered in collaboration with research institutions in Europe.
Whether you like their current sound is a different question but I would describe it as the exact opposite of what you heard. I have heard the 800 series and was impressed for the price, Ounce you move higher up the range their speakers are outstanding (in my opinion) and I believe the engineering is stellar. Their technology trickles down into the budget products but of course price becomes a limiting factor. Many good speakers at that price so try hear a few.
Why buy anything made in France. As you will find, quality is poor, value is non existent, and service will never happen. Sound? Best to characterized it as 'lazy listening. About two years ago I visited some audio shops in Paris and found French made speakers had terrible sound. I think it is a French thing.
I can't speak directly to the 806S speakers, but I have the 806V speakers that replaced them (also up for sale. :). They are exceptional speakers, and have some of the best clarity I've heard anywhere near their price range. That said, I agree with Phasecorrect that they may be a little lean for primarily rock/pop. They sound amazing for jazz, vocals, instrumental, some electronic music, folk, home theater, etc... but rock/pop isn't really their strongest area, IMHO. Of course, for mostly rock/pop, I tend to prefer a warmer sound, even if it's not as detailed.
I know some people at this price point will swear by the Focals as the best speakers available on a budget, depending on their tastes. I read some of those reviews before I picked these up. All depends on personal taste.
But I would give high praise to the Focals for using "trickle-down" technologies from their four-, five, and six-figure speakers to create speakers that are really exceptional for their class.
I own old Electras which are one step up but it is a pretty a big step and think they are fabulous. I did spend a good deal of time, money and effort finding the right electronics for them. I've needed service once and it was easy and smooth. I agree however that for heavy handed bassy rock these are not the best. I do think they do "pop" just fine however. You might do well to try some more widely available speakers, as suggested above.
I guess you haven't listened to Focal speakers. I previously owned the Chorus series and now I own the Electra series and couldn't be happier. I compared them to many brands and found them most satisfying especially when it comes to voices. As someone stated above they work especially well with jazz and classical music. Focal speakers are also very revealing so if the recording is crap so will be the sound. Concerning quality, they are top notch. The craftmenship of the enclosures are made like fine furniture.
Focal drivers are also well know globally and I believe Wilson speakers still use some of their drivers.
BTW- What system do you have?