My Speaker Journey and Focal Sopra 2


Well here is my speaker journey and my personal review of the Focal Sopra 2 speaker.

I guess a little history is needed. So, way back in the day my first really “High End” speaker system was the Legacy Focus speakers. I listened to them at the Legacy company in Illinois. I brought along a Carver M400 cube amp and I have to say the Focus sounded nice with this little amp. I really liked them, and I bought them and ended up playing them with a Crown Macro Reference amp. They had a big sound, but the bass even though was presented by (3) 12” woofers did not seem to articulate the bass notes the way I thought these big speakers should. However, I did enjoy this combo for several years until I found a good deal on some Von Schweikert SR 4’s. Now, I did not actually hear these speakers, I bought these speakers based on paid reviews at the time.

The VS speakers took forever to break in! First listen was way too much “glassy” sound. I then placed them front to front and one speaker out of phase to the other and let them play for about a month. Finally, I would say I broke them in. But in the end, there was just too much of the Aluminum woofer cones and tweeters that well let’s say, was not the sound I was after.

So, then I found a pair of Eggleston Works Andra 2’s. Luckily the dealer I bought these from also took my Legacy Focus & the Von Schweikert in on trade. To my ears and now with a Pass Labs amp they had the sound I was looking for. But as time went on, I thought the Andra’s Esotar tweeters to be a little recessed in the upper frequencies. Always something isn’t it?

Before the Focus speaker all my other speakers were some form of DIY. So, this time I set out to make the very best DIY speakers that I could based on the sound I preferred. I also had just purchased the Atmasphere M-60 3.3 tube amps which sound great but are limited in amp power. I figured a DIY 2-way with a stable 8- ohm high sensitivity speaker with (my now JL Audio Fathom F-113 subs) would be the ticket. After many proto types I settled in on the Aurum Cantus G-1 Ribbon tweeter and the ScanSpeak Revelator Mid/Bass driver. I then experimented with several crossover components and finished with what I believe to be the best. I used Mundorf SGO classic caps and Jensen foil inductors. To balance out the tweeter to the Mid/woofer I used Path Audio Resistors. I found some very attractive cabinets and with a little internal volume adjusting everything was complete. Wow did these impress me and all others who heard them. I firmly believe that using better components and especially crossover parts is what makes the speaker. Forget the bling…

To visit a brick and mortar audio store these days requires quite a long car ride. I visited one place that specializes in Magnepan. I heard speakers from Magnepan a long time ago and I really liked the sound. But this time after being used to the sound of my DIY speakers the Magnepan sounded anemic. I listened to both the 3.7i and the 20.7 they had a nice soundstage, but they simply could not “rock”. This demo sort of confirmed that my DIY speakers reached my goal in the sound that I preferred.

So, I stayed with my DIY speakers. As time went by I did listen to some Wilson’s, Sonus Faber and other speakers (in my price range) and I was still not impressed. Too bright, or too dull, etc.

I then replaced my Atmasphere amps with the new Bob Carver Raven 350’s tube amps. I wanted more power and the Bob Carvers are rated 350 RMS class A. The Bob Carver amps drove my DIY speakers to such a dynamic sound, that I thought it couldn’t get any better than this. In fact, I liked the Bob Carver amps so much that I thought his matching speakers (Bob Carver Amazing Line Source) would be nirvana.

Well this is the 2nd time that I bought speakers without hearing them first. (the first one was the Von Schweikert). You would think I would have learned. But no, I had to have the Bob Carver matching speakers to go along with the amps.

Once I received the speakers, I was surprised at how low efficiency they were! I had to crank my Preamp/Amp 75-85% to get the same volume out of the Carvers as I did with my DIY speakers. And the treble was in my face even with no toe in! I tried adjusting the crap out of the Bob Carver outboard crossovers and I still kept hearing a mid/high frequency glare that was driving me nuts! I contacted Bob about the problem and he actually flew out to my home to hear the speakers! What customer service! At first Bob agreed that the speakers did not sound right. But the next day he thought they sounded just as he designed them. He volunteered to make a new set of crossovers based on my preference using a DBX 32 band equalizer that he also owns. I was to send a picture of the adjusted DBX settings and describe the settings that I thought made his speakers sound right. Well I did all that, and I found his speakers to have a large peak in the 6000-10,000hz range centered at 8000hz.

So, the plan was set, except Bob called a couple weeks later and said he didn’t have any more crossovers to modify and wanted me to send mine in for the surgery. I first accepted but then thought what if I still don’t like the sound? I would be left with speakers and a modified crossover that would be impossible to sell. After going back and forth with Bob I looked for other solutions.

During this time, I was reading good things about Goldenear Reference speakers and they were rated class A in Stereophile… And, the new Magico A3 speakers also became available locally to audition. I thought that perhaps rather than trying to sell/ship the Bob Carver large speakers a trade in would make more sense.

Well the Goldenear Reference sounded dead to these ears. Yes, they could do low bass, but the rest of its sound was boring. You know that sound, sort of dull and uninteresting.

When I went to hear the Magico A3 I thought aha, now this sounds nice. A little cold/sterile sounding but my tube amp may solve that. While I was there, I noticed that this dealer also had the Focal brand on hand. First, I listened to the Kanta 2’s and though they sounded nice but when pushed to play some ole’ rock’ n’ roll (Green River CCR) they distorted badly. The port noise sounded like it was trying to blow its nose.

This store also had the Focal Sopra 3’s but no Focal Sopra 2’s. The room was a big room perhaps twice or more the size of my listening room and they were toed in towards the center spot. Amplification used was the Ayre brand. Once I heard the Sopra 3’s I knew this was the sound I had been looking for. Such warmth yet every high frequency sound was present and the midrange was to die for. The bass was clear and defined and the soundstage was awesome. The Focal Sopra 3’s were out of my price range and larger than I wanted to go. After reading as much as I could about the Sopra 2’s I found that Focal uses Mundorf caps and other high-end components in the crossover. The tweeter and midrange are the same units that are used inside the Sopra 3. The main difference is the Sopra 3 uses 8.25” woofers while the Sopra 2’s use 7” woofers. The cabinet is also larger.

So, I searched and searched and finally found a slightly used pair of Sopra 2’s at the “Music Room”. They didn’t offer much in the way of trade in value for my Bob Carver speakers, but we finally agreed on a price that included shipping for both the Sopra 2’s and my Bob Carvers back to them. And, I was able to retain the very good $3000 Sunfire subwoofer that came with the Bob Carvers.

Shipping large speakers back and forth was a pain and it took some extra time, but I finally got the 125lb Focal Sopra 2’s in place in my listening room.

First listen and I was smiling. The same beautiful sound that I heard in the large showroom was present in my home! And I only had to turn the preamp volume half as high as I had to with the Bob Carver Amazing Line Source speakers. The sound quality was there from the lowest bass to the upper treble. Nothing stood out, or faltered, the sound just blended together as one cohesive sound that is so easy to listen to for hours and hours. Also, I think the speaker style is cool and the speakers finish is impeccable.

The Focal Sopra 2’s bass goes so low that I was having a little trouble getting my (4) JL F-113 subs to blend. They are almost not needed. But my system also doubles as Home Theater and too much bass is not a problem with movies. I think I have found a happy medium with a 40hz sub crossover setting, and the Focal’s running full range.

Comparison to my DIY speakers was revealing. Though the dynamics and the overall sound was similar with both designs, the Sopra’s had more body and a much deeper and involving soundstage. Finally, something better than my DIY…

So, the main lessons I learned from all of this is:

NEVER buy expensive speakers without hearing them first no matter what the Reviewer’s write. (I know I state this, while I listened to the Sopra 3’s, and bought the Sopra 2’s? But it wasn’t much of a leap of faith since the Focal designs are so very similar).

And, don’t assume that if an amp is good from a company then there should be a synergy with the company’s speakers. I know, because I found that out the hard way!

I hope you have enjoyed my speaker adventure, and by the way, my DIY speakers are now being used as my rear channel speakers.

ozzy


ozzy
Out of all this I am very pleased that Bob Carver would go to such lengths to help a customer. This is a manufacturer I would buy from.
I almost wish you could send in those crossovers and make a comparison...

In any case, I have to say Congrats on you journey. And, I agree, if you are purchasing an expensive speaker, you should demo it first.
Bob
gdnrrob,

Thank you. Yes I agree that Bob did go that extra mile. (pun intended)  Overall, we had a good time together he has a fascinating history. I believe he is one of the few who pushes the design out of the norm. I really was hoping to like those speakers. I wish I could have been part of the design team when voicing the speakers.

Some of the things I noticed was Inside the crossovers were no name caps and inductors and in my opinion some cheap resistors. I almost thought about redoing the crossover myself but he has a unique design and it would require his help.

ozzy
Great review Ozzy, I enjoyed it!

Just an after thought; you might want to touch upon the addition of the  Isoacoustics GAIA's.
Lak is correct the Isoacoustic footers are amazing improvement for loudspeakers. 

Good luck with your Sopra's we have heard them many times they are excellent.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ
I noticed that there were many online images showing the Sopra's with the Isoacoustic footers. So, I thought they would help present the Sopra's at there best.

ozzy
ozzy 

Nice write up on your Speaker journey.  Rock On!
Ozzy ... 

Interesting speaker journey and a very nicely written report. 

Too bad you didn't pair up your Legacy Focus speakers with Ralph's Atmosphere 60-watt monoblocks.  I believe that with the Focus' efficiency, coupled with Ralph's wonderful sounding amps, it would have been a match made in heaven. 

Frank
oregonpapa,

Thanks. I owned the older model Focus, the model that was even before the 20/20 version. At the time they were listed as high efficiency but with a severe impedance dip that probably wouldn’t work well with the Atmospheres. But, maybe todays newer designed Focus might work well.

ozzy
Ozzy ...

Talk about a mismatch ... I used the Atmosphere 60-watt amps for a few years to drive my old Acoustat Fours. The amps were on loan from a friend. WAY underpowered for the speakers, but that midrange ... Wow!

I've heard Steve Fleischer's Focus' in his main listening room a few times. He drives them with a pair of modified Altec theater amps. Steves system is very musical and correct. Also heard a pair of 20/20s in another home driven by a Sonic Frontiers amp and an ARC sp-3. Very relaxed and musical. One thing about these models of Legacy's; they seem to like tube electronics. 

Frank
oregonpapa,

The new Bob Carver Ravens have that Atmasphere sound. Even more so after I changed a couple of the input tubes to some vintage ones.

The amp - speaker connection is so very important. Specs many times won’t show how the amp and speaker will perform together.

ozzy
That's pretty much how I bought my 936's, sight unseen based on the strength of the 948's. No regrets at all. 
I have seen so many ads for the various Focal models through the years but I didn’t pursue the brand because I thought they looked a little strange with the bend in the speaker cabinet design.

This was the first time I actually got a chance to listen to them. I was surprised at the sound quality of the Focal’s. And now that I have purchased them I actually think the speaker design is pretty cool.

ozzy
Congrats! I've been trying to upgrade my beethovens for 4 maybe 5 years and with $10 k in hand and the used market I expected it to be a slam dunk.  Big shout out to Bob Carver for his ethic. Not having a background that would give me even odds on building my own speakers i'm at the mercy of the market and buying used so I can resell what doesn't work has really helped me stay in the game. I was taken by the Kanta 3 and would appreciate what you heard above the bass that differentiated the sopra from the kanta? 
steve59,

Well I only listened to the Kanta 2 the 3 version was not out yet. I thought that the Kanta 2’s distorted badly when using them with classic rock music.
I thought the Sopra’s sound to be more delicate in the highs and mid and the bass slam was definitely there if needed.

ozzy

@Ozie


very nice account of your trek  towards audio excellence, speakerwise. 


I recall when you were posting about the VR5s but then actually. kind of lost track of your journey. 


Glad to hear the positive remarks on the Carver amps. In the over achiever camp his work does usually stand out, and his amps exhibit themselves as great values.


I heard  Carvewr’s  275 stereo amp pushing a pr of Blade IIs recently in a smallish room and was quite impressed and especially so with the bass reproduction and impact, given just a 75w 2 ch horse was pushing the load.


it is interesting in the comparison and outcomes you realized in the Focal speakers. its great you landed on what fit for your room and tastes, as well as power was being  concerned. congrats!


its always or so it seems, a gamble when chasing new gear which can not be auditioned either at a dealership, in your room or at all. I think it was wise and opportune you were able to entertain an  listen to the larger sibling of the focals you pursued and captured.  


in this past time it usually comes down to some extrapolation or presumptions, one way or another. good for you.


lastly, the real wisdom was considering the ‘fit’ of speakers to room and not merely them to whatever amp. 


great speakers in too small or too large a room is a real pitfall just waiting for some audio nut to step in to.


nice  story. congrats again.  


Thanks for the kind comments.
Getting speakers to perform well in a home setup can be a crapshoot. But the Focal's were easy to integrate and are a pleasure to listen to.

ozzy