VAC amps and Focal Grand Utopias at $195k a pair


Ny audio best of show had to have been the VAC suite driving Focal Grand Utopia speakers. Dynamics were off the chart! Bass was tight and forceful!! The Eagles singing Hotel California from the Hell Freezes Over Tour had to have been the most realistic presentation that I've ever heard on any playback system anywhere in the world at any price! (Granted total room electronics cost topped $600k) It would have cost less to have the Eagles perform live at the show!! Anyone else get a chance to hear it or feel system didn't live up to hype and price??
lepps200228
I went to dinner with some friends on Friday night, then came back to the show with an hour to go. We stopped in this room and ... it was empty. We had an hour to play all our own music.

Heaven! Not even a hint of a smudge of a taste of an idea to move on to any other room.
Amazing. I have no axe to grind with VAC or Focal, but I thought the sound in there was horrible. It sounded like the bass was being cancelled out and all that was left was a gritty midrange. I tried moving around the room because I thought I must have been sitting in a bass null, but it seemed the same. I really wanted to have a good experience in that room, but it was not to be. I think those speakers were just too big for the room. Or something.
I beg to differ... Don't know what day you were there or what the status of the system was when you heard it but it's obvious to me that by the time I experienced it all the bugs had been worked out. Sorry your experience was less than perfect...
I've heard other similarly large Focals but not the top EM versions off ARC amps in a decent sized dealer showroom at Lyric in NYC and though what i heard sounded quite fine and effortless, I felt substantiated in my general thinking that speakers that size really need quite a large room to breathe and for everything to integrate optimally on a large scale.

Did not like the sound at all in the Focal room. Agree that size of room could have been the problem.
Me neither. Recessed midband, lack of air. Flabby bass.
Fair enough. I never heard them on the couple of times I went in, having as good a midband as the Nolas, the bass of the Zu Audios or the highs and imaging of the Harbeths. At a $1/3 million, they should have it all.
In fairness, maybe the amps and source were to blame...
The OP is either someone connected with the room or hears with his eyes, hearing what he expected to hear instead of reality. That room was as bad or worse as most of the above posters portray. No bass, no dynamics, no coherence, a very poor sound in general. There were a few similar sized rooms with great sound so this was not the room itself causing the problems. I would love to know which components were not delivering the goods.
Could the variability of assessments be attributed to how the Focals do imaging?

I have heard some Focal demos with extremely holographic imaging. I have found that if one is not tuned into that kind of imaging, everything you hear seems out of whack.

I had that kind of reaction when I first inserted my Bel Canto ref1000m amps into my system. Holography and imaging changed completely and everything seemed to be gone, including any bass. Then as my ears adjusted, the wow factor struck.

FOr sure, a discriminating ear can be trained to focus in on things a certain way and take some time to adjust to changes.
Maybe they had the speakers connected out of phase with each other part of the time? I'm only partly joking :-)

Also, the impedance characteristics of the speakers, assuming they are similar to what was measured in this 2003 Stereophile review (see the graph near the bottom of the page), could conceivably result in poor performance (specifically including weak bass and a messy midrange) if the wrong output tap on the amp had been chosen. Given those impedance characteristics, choosing the 8 ohm tap, rather than the 2 or 4 ohm tap, would change the sound in those directions, although I have no idea to what degree.

Regards,
-- Al
This system was wonderful GREAT dynamics very nice people as well Kevin Hayes is a great guy with wonderful stuff.
Wow! I need to come to the rescue of Kevin Hayes and VAC and assure everyone that it surely wasn't Kevin's Statement tubed electronics. The Statement line is the finest tube equipment I have ever heard, it is effortless in its presentation and has the richest, fullest, well bodied notes ever from tubes; that's why I bought what I could afford; his Signature 2a and his Phi200's. An Audiogon member uses the same electronics with the same Grand Utopia speakers and he's in heaven! If there were any anomalies I'd attribute it to the room, and the AC!
And now I know why Heinz made 57 varieties.
Come to think of it, I'd never heard VAC sound bad before. So, I would not attribute the sound I heard on Sunday to the VAC brand. But again, set-up, placement, room---who knows?
I was there as well and did not like the sound, at all. (a few if us actually chuckled at how badly it sounded). The smaller focals were set up, and sounding much better, BUT, the big Focals were sounding AWESOME with the NAIM Statement amps and preamp. 'Done got old' by Buddy Guy brought the house down. That may have been my best of show but I did hear alot og good stuff. The VAC/Focal was definitely a set up or room issue Saturday,AM.
Interesting read, I never heard this specific set-up but look forward to hearing it at RMAF. Appears VAC will have some competition because there will be another pair of Grands paired up with another manufactures gear.

I'm a proud owner of VAC Statement 450's along with using their Sig MK2a pre paired up with my MBL 101E's for a few years now so I'm very familiar and very happy. I'm really looking forward to hearing along with any other manufactures speakers paired up with the VAC gear in general - curious you know. My speakers list for around $70K now and these Grands list for $195K so one would expect that they should put mine to shame. Should really be comparing MBL's Extremes considering all things.

If they do I'll be looking into getting a pair ;-)

I have only heard the Grands once with Devialet electronics and was left very disappointed scratching my head, I have heard the Stella's on numerous occasions with different electronics and most recently with Rowland 925's with same Vac Sig pre as mine but reading above numerous comments mirrors so far my findings. Apparently the Grands are suppose to be in a whole other league in comparison to the Stella's but this depends on who you discuss such with, sure list for allot more.

Anything I write is only my opinion and others may differ, I know shows are far from ideal but at least the tonality should be there. This is crazy money when you look at the complete package so it brings high expectations as it should.

I get tired of when I hear excuses from these show attendees, come on guys set-up your room properly - start by bringing a system that is fully broken-in - step one. I swear some just use this as a general excuse. If you aren't skilled enough then hire someone to do the set-up, bring this or that to assist in taming the room - use the same room over again and again. After two shows if you haven't figured it out what can I say

How many of you guys have gone into a showroom to hear this and that, the set-ups are usually never that great - have you ever asked your self why? Your happy to be back at home listening to your own.
How many of you remember the old days, when you walked into a store and all the speakers were lined up and you would push a button to hear the speakers.
Didn't Focal buy Naim?
Follow up to hearing both at the RMAF 2014 show for three days on numerous occasions, my thoughts are below, others may differ. I also listened to the Stella's in another room several times.

I was really disappointed over all with both the VAC and Solution rooms driving the same speakers,I felt both systems were at most average and only producing a 2 dimensional performance between the speakers.

Sonic wise defiantly sounded different, tube vs solid state, one more musical and the other more sterile in comparison in my opinion.

As mentioned above in my prior posting I do have VAC Statement 450 mono's and Sig pre so I'm very familiar with their tonality and capabilities over all - sorry but my system absolutely makes both of these systems forgettable.

Not even in the same league, only wish I had my speakers set-up in such a size of room so I could get even more out of them but that's coming - I'm working on it :)

So I'm wondering what's going on, was it the set-up in general, speakers or associated electronics, cables feeding them, room? I don't know but I seem to be leaning more towards the speakers themselves. I have yet to hear the Stella's or Grand's impress me, always seems to be at the most providing a 2 dimensional performance and such between the speakers.

The Grand's are huge, in my opinion they need to be in a large room - even the Stella's are large.

Gorgeous finish - I briefly talked to the man behind the speakers - these speakers were on my list to own and I went to the show ready to purchase. I found out that in a couple years time a new replacement will be available so that should be interesting.
Al (Almarg) is correct. I question that anyone would have heard the Utopia's at their best, as they have an impedance that goes down to almost 2ohms arond 50hz.

And it's a pity Stereophile din't do a - Phase Angle graph as well for these as that could even add to this very low impedance, 1ohm would not be out of the ordinary.

If you would have listened with a good SS amp with good current drive then you would have heard much better, than with a tube amp on these.

http://www.stereophile.com/images/archivesart/GubFig6.jpg

Cheers George
I too was at RMAF and heard both Focal rooms. 2 definitely distinct flavors. I have heard the Grands sound distinctly better at Boulder Electronics' demo room in Boulder. No offense, but I don't think they were set up as well as they can be at all at RMAF. They were not as engaging as I know they are from firsthand experience.
Owned the Maestro Utopia III and it took a while to get them to sing. Took good solid state amplification and a lot of Tripoint to make them come to life. Very revealing of noises. Heard them many times at CES and RMAF and those set ups where underwhelming experiences.
10-28-14: Fplanner2000
I too was at RMAF and heard both Focal rooms. 2 definitely distinct flavors. I have heard the Grands sound distinctly better at Boulder Electronics' demo room in Boulder. No offense, but I don't think they were set up as well as they can be at all at RMAF. They were not as engaging as I know they are from firsthand experience.

Hearing them in these different set-ups I could hear their characteristics "house sound signature" and even listening to the Stella's in the other set-up that house sound was distinctive. It's not my first time experiencing.

Fplanner2000, I hope yours are more engaging because both set-ups with the Grand's including Stella set-up weren't at all, yawn - boring and where is the bass.

I see these big woofers but they appear to be held back "compressed" anyone notice that.

When I listen to the Grand and Stella speakers in general they just seem to be held back, not transparent and I feel are compressed "don't open up and breath".

Put on some demanding music and you will quickly notice.

These speakers are HUGE as we all know, they really need a good size room - anything less would be a no! no!

I'll be hearing the same model again today but this time in someone's home and designated room, 26' x 35' with a 10ft ceiling - that's a good size room for these.

Going to the TAVES Show tomorrow so there might be a pair there, will see.

I don't want anyone reading to think I'm trying to pick on these specific speakers, just providing my first hand experiences because I did have interest in getting a pair.
Dev-
Yes, my speakers sound incredible, to my ears, of course. :-) And, FYI, they are in a 19x20 foot room, so room size is not as important as you might think with these speakers since they are so incredibly adjustable. The key, I have discovered, is to properly adjust them to achieve the sound you want. I had an acquaintance do a "Master Set" on mine and the result far surpassed my expectations.
Fplanner2000, that's all that matters - that you are enjoying. Hopefully with your new designed rack you won't have the huge tall designed one full of gear hampering your left speaker, hopefully you will attach your flat screen to the wall also - doing this will provide you with marvelous improvements.

Don't know why so many duplicate posting above? sorry.

So I went over to the chaps place I mentioned above in my posting, very nicely done room. I would like my designated room to be like that.

As far as the speakers go best I have heard these sound, most defiantly surpassed the RMAF experience but, here we go.
They still have that house sound, seem to be held back and not open "congested" and where's the bass. I had him put on a few pces of music and listened, clearly demonstrated what I'm referring too;

-Livingston Taylor - Isn't She Lovely and Grandma's Hands
-The O-zone Percussion Group - Jazz Varients
-Erich Kunzel Cincinnati Pops Orchestra - Copacabana

Maybe I'm being too hard on them and because I'm use to listening to speakers that just out perform them but I was interested in getting a pair.

The guy asked my honest opinion so with out commenting said come over to my to my place for a listen and we will play the same music and you tell me. He couldn't believe the difference, far from being happy and now looking to change his speakers :)

Listening to a large encloser box type of speaker I would compare the EA MM3's for example which in my opinion substantial surpasses these Focal's by a far margin and at a fraction of the price, not even in the same league - obviously everything I post is only my opinion.

F.Y.I. I sold my MBL's that same night :)
We have a local show happening called the TAVES Show, no Grands present but the Stella's were paired up with the Naim outrageously priced mono blocks "fugly". To date the sound compares to the DEVIALET I heard driving the Grands a few years back, just not sure which one I preferred less.
Dev,
Did you really sell your beloved MBL's? What will you listen to replace them? Your friend I am sure got great deal and wonderful speakers. What amp will he power them?
Thanks for sharing your personal experience, I have enjoyed your prior posts. Albert however is loving his focal grands, and I respect his posts as well. Two opposing conclusions, each true, but our hobby is only obtaining sound quality we prefer and enjoy...not one size fits all...many paths to get us to enjoy the music.
11-01-14: Mribob
Dev,
Did you really sell your beloved MBL's? What will you listen to replace them? Your friend I am sure got great deal and wonderful speakers. What amp will he power them?
Thanks for sharing your personal experience, I have enjoyed your prior posts. Albert however is loving his focal grands, and I respect his posts as well. Two opposing conclusions, each true, but our hobby is only obtaining sound quality we prefer and enjoy...not one size fits all...many paths to get us to enjoy the music.

Yes I did, I have owned them for 9 years and learned allot along the way - absolutely amazing speakers, hard to let them go. :(

My postings are just that, as you know my own thoughts which have assisted many over the years along with yourself - some saving them the time and allot of added expense, Albert is a great guy whom I like and respect but we just differ on these speakers offerings and that's okay.

I already own Vac Statements prior to anyone in this forum so I have a good handle on their sonic capabilities so when I heard was very disappointed.

As mentioned above I went to the RMAF Show prepared to purchase a pair myself mainly because of the glowing reports. I thought for sure it would totally change my past not so favorable listening experiences. In the back of my mind I thought for sure it must have been the gear but at the same time I had already heard them also with ARC Ref250's and 40th Aniv so I was kinda scratching my head wondering - I NOW have a good handle over all of their strengths and weaknesses.

It would have to be an absolute miracle, night and day from what I have heard.

I spoke with the man behind the speakers and he felt the two rooms at the RMAF were demonstrating his speakers capabilities outstandingly and was very satisfied with lots of smiles while I was talking privately with him. I spoke with Brent and he mentioned in the past they did sound better but it was not a night and day difference.

I have already wrote above and there is no sense of repeating, anyone can read but after hearing them recently in a well designed room and to date the best sounding I was still hearing the similarities clearly, what can I say. It is what it is.

We have a local show going on called TAVES, no Grands but had Stella's which were paired up with those crazy priced Naim mono blocks - same as I wrote of above in my other posts. I was sitting at a table with three others, one absolutely loved is, third kinda and remaining thumbs down.

I have now to date heard these with so many amplifications and set-ups this is a speaker that I would have no desire to own.

If we all liked the same it would be pretty boring, as I wrote back to Fplanner.

I also own a pair of Evolution Acoustics MM3 speakers now going on two years so not too shabby of a second speaker to own - I haven't to date put in the same time as I did with the MBL's so I will do such and see.



Dev- To each their own. I am very happy with my Grandes, which exhibit none of the negative characteristics you describe. Best speakers I have ever heard for delivering the "you are there' experience, regardless of performance scale. You seem to have seized upon a few negative characteristics, real or imaginary, and are attributing them to all the Grande's you have heard. While that is your right, it certainly doesn't mean you ARE right. Myself and a whole lot of Focal Grande Utopia EM owners as well as reviewers around the world feel otherwise. As I said, to each their own.
11-03-14: Fplanner2000
Dev- To each their own. I am very happy with my Grandes, which exhibit none of the negative characteristics you describe. Best speakers I have ever heard for delivering the "you are there' experience, regardless of performance scale. You seem to have seized upon a few negative characteristics, real or imaginary, and are attributing them to all the Grande's you have heard. While that is your right, it certainly doesn't mean you ARE right. Myself and a whole lot of Focal Grande Utopia EM owners as well as reviewers around the world feel otherwise. As I said, to each their own.

That's great that you are, you seem to be reading and taking this a little personal and you shouldn't but please take the time to read that I wrote it's good that you are happy with them.

I was looking at getting a pair myself, that's why I flew to another country to hear, wasn't expecting it to be perfect.

I am LOL when you write they don't exhibit any of the negative characteristics I have described - well unfortunately every pair I have heard to date clearly does demonstrate these and I'm not nit picking.

I understand it's your opinion, when you wrote;"Best speakers I have ever heard for delivering the "you are there' experience, regardless of performance scale."

I most defiantly don't agree with that statement and have yet to experience.

If you can't hear those differences well that's great, just enjoy! It's only my opinion so it shouldn't matter.

Please share with us some details outlining the differences your system is portraying in comparison to the one at RMAF.

In what areas is your system outperforming what was being heard.



Peter Breuninger gave a GOLD star for best sound to Vac and Focal Grand Utopias room at RMAF so I guess he heard it at the RIGHT time.
Go listen yourself not impressed by what reviewers say.
Hi Dev,
If you had "flew to another country" to listen to the Grands, why not contact Fplanner2000 or other Grands owners (such as Albert Porter) to see if they'd be willing to accommodate a listening session for you. BTW, I know neither of them. Or at least contact a dealer that can give you a demo in a proper setting for as long as you want. At that level, even if you want a couple of days to demo, I'm sure there are many dealers around in the country that you can fly to. I do not understand the reason you want to base your $180k purchase decision on the sound(s) that you hear at the shows.

For all I know, most rooms at the shows never realize full potential of the systems they are trying to show. Hack, my humble home system sounds better than a lot of them.
Hi Kzhtoo,

I did ask Fplanner and met him actually at the show but he did not offer for his own reasons and avoided me throughout the 3 days of attendance but that's okay I really don't care.

I have actually heard these speakers prior on a few occasions over the past years but never with the same Vac gear that I have nor with Solution. I'm not a newbee to audio and wasn't looking to be floored listening to them at the show but ..... If you read one of my last postings you will read I actually heard a pair in someone's home after the show, the designated room was very well done but poo poo on the sound again - I heard allot of similarities as I have already voiced. I prefer both my MBL 101E's and my EA MM3 speakers by far and even that Grand owner did when he came over. I spoke to Brent of Vac who has set these speakers up a few times and got his input, I told him what I wasn't liking and he responded honestly. I spoke to the man behind the Focal's with specific questions even pertaining these two set-ups and he also provided his response.

I have asked Fplanner to provide in detail outlining what his system does in comparison to the show set-ups but you can see that didn't happen.

I have no further interest in these speakers and have moved on, don't even comment on any threads when I see postings but when a posting is directed to me I will.
Dev you are finding out that just because people spend a lot of money on equipment that it does not guarantee good sound. This person may actually love what he has which is great or he buys what reviewers talk about bad. If he was a confident person he would not have avoided you at all. I use to own ESP speakers for years and some of my friends thought the speakers were rolled off in the highs. It did not bother me because I loved them as they sounded like music and not hi fi. That same friends sound was one I did not like lean in the midrange. I did not tell him because I didn't think he could take it. I saw one time he was selling his amp and preamp with his number listed. I said I saw you are selling your stuff and he denied it right to my face. He did not want you to know he made a mistake in the first place. Can you imagine this guy if you were married to him with important matters to take care of. This is a hobby were we are always learning and having fun. Go figure
If he was a confident person he would not have avoided you at all.
How did you conclude it's lack of confidence? Is it possible they just don't like each other? Different personalities?

I don't know Fplanner or Dev and never met them so I will not speculate without facts.
JWM - If you are talking about me, your "conclusions" are flat-out wrong. I also don't care what Dev does or thinks - it is not my job to convince anyone of anything. It has absolutely nothing to do with confidence in my system, which sounds great, by the way. As far as who comes over to hear my system, that is no one's choice but my own. To presume anything at all from that, as you seem to be doing, is totally ridiculous. Any VAC gear I may have sold previously was to upgrade through the VAC line. Again, not sure how much of your post is directed at me, since I don't think we've ever met. Your lies and false conclusions about me really have no place in this thread, nor anywhere else. Totally counterproductive.
Hi Fplanner,
For sake of clarification, Jwm's example of someone selling equitment and denying it concerns a friend of his. He wasn't referring to you. I never understand how these situations evolve regarding preferences. It is purely a matter of personal taste. If I like the sound of something, what other's may think has no bearing on my choice.
12-11-14: Charles1dad
Hi Fplanner,
For sake of clarification, Jwm's example of someone selling equitment and denying it concerns a friend of his. He wasn't referring to you. I never understand how these situations evolve regarding preferences. It is purely a matter of personal taste. If I like the sound of something, what other's may think has no bearing on my choice.

If he was a confident person he would not have avoided you at all.
So "he" is Dev referring to JWM's friend?

Hands up, don't shoot!!! JWM, was that you on TV rolling out the Rockport on the hand truck? LOL!!!
Fplanner I'm only referring to you avoiding talking to dev at the show. That is what I thought was childish. The rest of the story is not about you.
JWM - I really had nothing to talk to him about and was pretty busy doing other things. That's not childish, just a fact.
Jwm, really doesn't matter. Just refe4r to his own page - speaks for it's self. - I met up with many others and had a blast, went out for dinner with Albert P - Ralph of Atmosphere, Tri of Tri-planner and numerous others.

Wow! This thread and discussion of the Focal's has gotten interesting. Dev, I noticed you own the EA MM 3's and in one of my earlier comments in this thread, I made the claim the MM 7 is the best speaker I have ever heard; and I have heard the Grand Eutopia's, Wilson XLF's and a few other top ones not coming to mind. Have you considered calling Mike Lavigne and listening to his MM 7's? Also noticed you are selling all your VAC, what's next? Hard to beat Kevin's Statement line up.
Knghifi no not me. When I saw the crates for the first time I was scared. How was I going to get these beasts into my house. I called the piano movers.