I have a long history with JM Labs/Focal products. One of our most fervent supporters has been a long time dealer. Access has been amazing.
The original JM Labs (before owner Jacques Mahul changed the name to Focal) looked magnificent with their great covers of wood. For some reason, these beautifully engineered speakers were not my cup of tea. Forensic yes, immersive, most certainly. Yet I felt something missing in their particular soul. Never mind me, though, as these massive speakers gained incredible reviews. They were innovative and used highly engineered, bespoke drivers and construction technologies, much of which now appears in the new Sopra line.
I then got to review the updated Utopia line -- all of them! Wow, musical Nirvana. Open, detailed, incredibly powerful and looking very sexy. The new models , Scala, Stella, Grande Utopia, whichever, they all had a family spirit and a sound to die for. A healthy search on Audiophilia will find the reviews. And the magnificent Grande Utopia is still my favourite speaker. A giant in every way and even pushing my Wilson Audio love to the side.
When Focal became the prime name, with JM Labs more or less dissolving, the 'built in France' label has been beneficial in the promotional aspect of all five lines of Focal high end speakers.
The new Sopra line drops in just after the top Utopia III line. This very clever decision will allow more audiophiles to experience the essence of Mahul's genius at a more attractive price. Other smart companies like Raidho and Wilson are doing the same thing with great success.
Ronald Reagan's trickle down failure is the high end's success. None more so with spectacular efforts such as Sopra.
Many audiophiles and Focal fans were waiting patiently for a lower cost Utopia, one that captures the particular magic of the Utopia tweeter, balance, technology and voicing. I think Focal engineers took their time and captured lightning in a bottle. The Sopra 2 is a worthy member of the next generation of Focal speakers.
Focal describes the Sopra 2 as: 3-WAY HIGH-END LOUDSPEAKER – 2 X 8'' WOOFERS
Sopra N°2 is the new epitome of today’s premium loudspeakers. It perfectly combines dynamics, space optimisation and harmonic richness.
Sopra n°2 clearly inaugurates a new era for the “Premium High End” by taking into account new performance criteria. Compact, modern, a pure design, character... all these are essential factors to ensure perfect integration into your interior.
Equipped with best midrange drivers ever developed by Focal, with the NIC and TMD technologies, Sopra n°2 pushes back the limits of sound reproduction in terms of transparency in a very compact enclosure. Indeed, unlike Utopia, which is extravagant by essence and where size is by no means a constraint, Sopra aims for maximal compactness to ensure easy integration into reasonably sized rooms. Sopra n°2 is perfectly at ease in rooms measuring up to 320ft2 (30m2), and is even ideal for larger rooms measuring up to 750ft2 (70m2).
Sopra means 'over', and that's exactly where Focal wants to go with this new line. And in many ways, they have. For USD$13,999 you'll be getting a richly refined speaker using much of the technology found in the Utopia III design -- treble, midrange and bass.
Focal suggests that Sopra No2’s woofers/midrange crossover at 250Hz, the midrange/tweeter at 2200Hz. Frequency response is 34Hz-40kHz, +/-3dB, and its low-frequency extension 28Hz. The rear panel has only a single pair of binding posts.
Much like all Focal speakers, to my taste they need a slight toe in, say 10 degrees. These speakers were well broken in at over 200 hours.
The speakers have a very deep bass that blends perfectly with mid bass. Pines of Rome sorted that. But, what made the new Sopra 2 so successful to my ears is the coherence. The coherence of my Raidho reference still eludes them -- at least on the limited hours I had with them. But they are incredibly musical and blend the tessituras extremely well.
Renee Fleming's singing Strauss' Four Last Songs demonstrates just how well the Sopra integrates melismatic voice and orchestra. And this is the problematic version on RCA in Houston. A good effort but the recording is a shadow compared to her later Decca. The Sopra doesn't fake the recording -- you'll hear a provincial orchestra trying to get its Vienna on. The Sopra clearly shows the successes and the failure (strings).
As for power, the Sopra will take a knockout punch. My favourite test for power is Mehta's incredible Decca recording in LA (Royce Hall) of Varese's Arcana. An odd piece written in 1925, it's a virtuoso tour de force. Shortly after the aleatoric introduction, there is a mighty thwack by the entire orchestra. The Sopra's beautiful drivers just ate it up. I heard the orchestral layers in their most expressive terms. Many speakers deliver the energy but not harmony. This was very impressive.
I think think a few words from Focal about the trickle down technology would be appropriate with emphasis on the famous Beryllium tweeter. Midrange is always toughest to engineer correctly but Focal's justly famous tweeter deserves a highlight (and NIC and TMD) for good measure.
Our Beryllium tweeter features an incredibly light and extremely rigid dome, that deliver a transparent and dynamic sound. Its main limitation comes from the compression of air in the cavity behind it, that create interference with the incredible definition. To overcome this, the ideal would be to have a nearly infinite volume. But the requirement for Sopra to be compact meant that as much of the cabinet as possible had to be used for the bass. We had to explore other options for loading the tweeter, which led us to come up with the IHL system.
The rear of the Beryllium tweeter is loaded via a small cavity which is connected to the exterior of the enclosure by a horn. whom inside is filled with a damping material. Sound waves from the rear of the tweeter are delicately and gradually absorbed. Its acoustic impedance approaches zero so that no resistance alters the movement of the dome. This reduces distortion by 30% and pushes definition to its maximum.
Stabilising the magnetic field
NEUTRAL INDUCTANCE CIRCUIT
Since the beginning, we have always had a great interest in the magnetic circuit, an essential aspect of a speaker drive unit. The precision and detail of audio reproduction depends on the stability of the magnetic field. NIC technology (Neutral Inductance Circuit) permits to control the magnetic field and finally enables to master it in order to limit distortion. It decreases the effects of distortion and give the sound a very high-definition and an unprecedented dynamic.
The obsession with the midrange
TUNED MASS DAMPER
Our teams have revealed resonances which alter definition in the suspension which connects the cone to the basket. The solutions already known for increasing the damping properties of the suspension all result in an increase of the mass which consequently alters definition. The answer came from a technology used in earthquake-resistant skyscrapers and which is also used for the suspension on racing cars. "TMD" technology consists of optimising the suspension profile which controls the resonance in order to drastically reduce distortion and increase the definition of bass and midrange.
These three proprietary technologies in addition to the engineers almost fanatical attention to detail gives Sopra owners a glimpse into Utopia III territory at Sopra prices.
14K is no joke of a price but the fit and finish and benchmark tech is no joke, either. As for the industrial design, you'll either like it or not. I love the look. And the musical philosophy behind it.
Back to the sound.
Driving the Sopras was a charming Rega Elicit integrated [reviewed here] which was surprisingly easy with the Sopra at 91dB efficiency. The Rega is 100 watts. My mighty 400 watt Jeff Rowland Continuum 2 Integrated was a beautiful match [reviewed here]. The Rowland has turned out to be a match made in heaven for many different speakers. None more so than Sopra.
Including base and plinth, the speaker’s overall dimensions are 46.4”H x 14”W x 21”D, and each weighs a hefty 121 pounds.
Piano recordings are very important to me, both as musical statements and review material. Our latest review, Daniel Barenboim's On My New Piano is an interesting new release on DG. His new piano design echoing stringing and voicing from an earlier age sounded beautiful through the Sopra. The unique quality of the piano was heard quite clearly, but not as clear as I thought it might be, considering the hype. More to do with my ears than Sopra's drivers. Barenboim's' mighty technique sounded wonderful whether through filigree sounds of Scarlatti or the deeper rumblings of Chopin and Liszt. Nothing this piano did fazed the Sopras.
Voices like late Bublé recordings sound canned and undernourished. But the new DG release of glorious tenor Fritz Wunderlich Complete Recordings gives the Sopra release to run musically wild. Musical gifts for all. The tweeter shines but all that technology gives balance to the music. Choose your repertoire carefully, the Sopra 2s will give endless musical satisfaction. Wunderlich died prematurely. One of the greatest singers and now his recordings available in one incredible collection. The Sopras soundstage and imaging helped in making any of the Wunderlich selections musical delights. His powerful chest tones and head tones causing no problems. Even Renee Flemings Decca Rosenkavalier and Four Last Songs (mentioned earlier) caused a few chest problems at the apex on that recording.
Altoist Art Pepper's seminal Smack Up from 1960 was a perfect analog album played by Rega. Not his most famous album, but hell of a stereo test. The Sopra drivers just ate it up and displayed instrumental accuracy that was spectacular. His clear alto 'hurting' is pretty hard to capture and the Sopras were winners, here. Very impressive. Pepper's wild playing and tone can be very hard to capture, but nothing here the Focal's technology couldn't handle.
So, all that Focal tech goodness is on display, but that last percentage of coherence was bettered by my Raidho references. Laser like and always welcome. That said, the Sopra is a very coherent speaker -- just experience analog on them. My Rega RP10 [reviewed here] is a lovely marriage with Focal. But to my ears, the Raidho soundstage and imaging are very difficult to beat. And I wouldn't trade them for those two reasons alone. But if no Raidhos, my predilection for all things Focal would make these new speakers a no brainer. Their musicality, power handling and superb imaging and beautiful soundstage make these gorgeous Focal speakers very highly recommended.
Focal Sopra N°2 Loudspeaker
Price: $13,999 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
BP 374, 108 rue de l’avenir
42353 La Talaudière Cedex
Phone: (33) 4-77-43-57-00
North American distributors:
Audio Plus Services (US)
156 Lawrence Paquette Industrial Drive
Champlain, NY 12919
Phone: (800) 663-9352
313 Marion Street
Le Gardeur, Quebec J5Z 4W8
Phone: (866) 271-5689