Focal Speakers: Aria, Kanta, Sopra

I’m confused. I’ve been in the market to replace my B&W 802D speakers. I’ve had them for 10 years and finally cannot take the brightness of them anymore. I’ve replaced amps, preamps, cables, sources, and yet the fundamental brightness is there, fatiguing me after only 1-hour of listening.

I auditioned the Focal Sopra 3 which I am told are not as bright and more musical. LIstened to them a few times, and honestly felt that they were also on the bright side similar to the B&W’s.

Another time I listened to the Focal Kanta 3 speaker. Like the Sopra it also has the Beryllium tweeter. Yet the one time I listened to these, they didn’t seem as bright.

Anyway, recently a friend of mine was in the process of moving, and I stored his Focal Aria 936 speakers at my home. I decided to hook them up to my electronics in my listening room just out of curiosity.

What I found were loudspeakers that were not bright (non beryllium tweeter), a warmer sound, probably due to a better mid-bass then the big 802’s. The extreme resolution was not there, and the midrange seemed congested at times. Yet, I found I could listen and enjoy these speakers for hours at a time. Bad recordings sounded good, and great recordings sounded, well, good also. Speaker placement made minimal difference.

My questions is at what is the sweet spot for Focal speakers. The point where they sound wonderful with extended listening, vs the point where they become a finicky pain in the ass to live with (aka 802D).

I was expecting to spend around an equal amount of money as the 802’s as a starting point, now I’m not so sure if I need to.

Thanks in advance for everyone’s input…

I would look for speakers that use a ribbon tweeter…sweet but very detailed also.

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I would look at speakers from Alta Audio.


These sounded WONDERFUL at Axpona in multiple rooms, driven by Class A solid state and by tubes (in different rooms)

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Great, but again, no dealers around to audition them.

It sounds like your experience isn’t uncommon, and if you enjoyed the Are over the Sopra then maybe looking at speakers with silk done tweeters might also be worthwhile? Harbeth even?
However, I will caution that before they’re fully broken in, the beryllium tweeters can really stick out and have a real edge to them. The first time I went to hear the Kanta I listened to the 1 and 2, and the tweeter on the 1 was doing terrible things, where the 2 was glorious. I asked the dealer and he said the 1 wasn’t yet fully run in abs could I make a second visit in a week or two.
I did just that and the difference was obvious. That same pair of Kanta 1 were now wonderfully integrated, with none of the edge or sheen of two weeks previous. Maybe the Sopra 3 you heard weren’t broken in?
My experience was that the new tweeter on the Kanta resolved more fine detail than the older version in the Sopra, but that the Sopra gives a great deal more presence, solidity and power. The Sopra struck me as luxurious with unlimited power, while the Kanta played warmer and more resolving. But neither was what I’d call bright once broken in.
I personally think they’re wonderful speakers, but if you’re shopping in Sopra 3 budget, so do Wilson, Magico, Dynaudio, and a host of others. You’re sure to find something you love that suits your listening tastes.
Enjoy the hunt
Mick

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I own and LOVE the Elac Vela Series VFS409 floor standers.
Full range and their Andrew Jones designed JET 5 tweeter is AMAZING.
$7400./pair
Here’s their link: Vela Floorstanding Speakers FS409 | ELAC

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Have you auditioned Wilson Audio or Sonus Faber? Both have softer but still detailed highs compared to your B&Ws.

I had heard the sonus fabor homage (i believe). i loved the midrange on them, but they were around the 30k price range…let me ask, how would you describe the sound i’m after?

Based on my listening experience I concur with all of your impressions of all of the speakers you mention in initial post.

Had I not decided to increase my speaker budget because I couldn’t unhear how good Spendor D7 were (for me anyway), if I’d have stayed at under $5k I’d probably have gotten Focal Aria series.

If, like me, you find Be tweeters to be a bit much but still crave extreme clarity in the highs to go with gorgeous mids, suggest demoing the Spendor LPZ tweeter of D series as a imo good compromise to Be. Some say it is also too bright, but it hits the sweet spot imo

If possible, auditioning something like a Conrad Johnson tube preamp with your current system might be worth a shot.

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If you are determined to demo in a dealers showroom before you buy what brands do you actually have access to audition within a reasonable driving distance? Where are you located and what is your upper spending limit? Associated gear you plan to pair the new speakers with? Without this information we are all just shooting fish in a barrel. Also IMO B&W to Focal is a sideways move.

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Changing preamps won’t change the character of a B&W speaker, they are what they are which is why they were paired a lot with earlier Mc gear or Classe.

and not a knock on B&W nowadays…i just don’t like their house sound anymore. I once owned the N802 and loved them

I have the Aria 948’s. The first few weeks the tweeters were very bright and somewhat fatiguing, but as they got some time on them they mellowed considerably. I find them to be quite enjoyable and find that my butt weras out before my ears. Not that anyone needs to know that.

B&W are often paired with McIntosh and Classe because of their dealer networks and corporate parents in addition to appealing to the same type of buyer.

From reading your posts, I would describe what I believe is detailed but softer. If you like the overall sound quality of your 802’s you most likely will not be satisfied with a lower quality speaker, as kzk said above. The ONLY way for you to tell is to listen. You will hear people tell you not to listen to speakers with metal domes. That is not always true. A speaker that might be balanced more towards what your ears like can have a metal dome tweeter and still get you where you need to be.

Everybody hears speakers differently, and has a different idea of what they want to hear, the only way to find it is to listen. No amount of written or verbal description can be a substitute.

I have never encountered an audiophile that has been happy with less sound quality. Audio is very emotional, and emotions can only be gained through experience, and can’t be satisfied with compromise. Sorry to burst your bubble, if that is what I just heard pop.

The good news is Sonus Faber and Wilson have several previous generation speakers on the used market right now, so you might be able to find the quality level you want without putting your children into hock.

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I wonder what’s wrong with my Sopra 2’s. They are not “bright”. I feel left out.

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The gear you are fronting them with is completely different than what he shows in an identical thread on Audiogon. Plus some people like Be tweeters and some don’t. I own a pair of speakers with Be tweeters and while I don’t think them bright they do require more careful equipment pairing.

I have the stand mount Aria 906, currently not in use, and I think the tweeter is butter smooth. Really great.

Yep. I’ve never once found a Focal speaker to be bright if it’s well broken in. But that’s us, right? I find Dynaudio really muted and too warm, but one of my best friends adores his. So many speakers on the market, we’re all bound to find something that tickles our fancy.
I think the “absolute sound” idea hopelessly compromised and just ignore it. If there were a singje goal, all of the speakers at the high end would be converging in sound, but I can’t see it myself.
So much good advice for the OP in this little thread so far.

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Right, almost any audio component can be made to sound good with the right synergistic pairing. At least when I talk about bright versus warm, I do so with respect to a tonal comparison versus a large number of other speakers that I’ve heard, extrapolating to factor in the electronics that were used (which usually means having heard the speakers across a variety of amplification). And everyone prefers what they prefer, so no right or wrong answers. Speakers on the brighter end include Paradigm Persona, Magico, B&W, Focal, some horns, but with the right electronics all of them can sound amazing.

I would definitely not pair any of those speakers with SimAudio or Esoteric amplification, or Nordost cables, though. As always, YMMV

From what I’ve read and heard from owners about BHK amps (I’ve never heard, unfortunately), I bet Focal good be a great pairing