A day or so after James’ visit to Focal it was the turn of the press to be shown the facilities and technologies that this impressive company has at its disposal. We started our tour at the cabinet factory in the small town of Bourbon Lancy, this is where Focal builds and finishes the woodwork for its Utopia and Electra ranges, the top end stuff with the complicated shapes and fancy finishes. It’s not a huge place but there’s an awful lot of precision machined MDF in it and the quality of cabinets it produces is stunning.
Focal has benefited from hiring a lacquer expert whose previous job was to restore furniture for the King of Morocco, apparently the political situation got a bit too unstable for his liking in recent times and he returned to his native soil. The company offers custom finishing of its top ranges and colours like Lamborghini orange and Hot Chocolat from BMW Mini are distinct favourites, I preferred the slate grey and mahogany combination on a pair of Diablos but I none of my peers agreed, pearls before swine etc!
Left: Grande Utopia in the new dem room. Right: MD Gerrard Chretien with mahogany Diablo
At the main factory in Saint Etienne Focal builds the drivers for pretty much its entire range, models that span the in-car, professional audio and domestic audio world. The company specialises in foam cored sandwich drivers which it is able to custom build by varying the amount of polyglas skins on differing thicknesses of foam. This means that speakers are not balanced by electrical changes to the crossover as is usually the case but by making a driver to suit the cabinet size and application.
Focal makes exclusively metal tweeters, inverted dome types in either mag-alloy or beryllium. The latter is said to be 100x the price of gold so I was surprised to see so many in production, however things are obviously going well for the company and there are Be tweeters on Electra as well as Utopia models. It was hard not to notice how many attractive workers they have on the production line down there, there’s either something in the Evian or all the less charming employees had another holiday on that day, they are French after all.
Having paid our dues we were rewarded with a visit to the jazz festival in nearby Vienne. This has the advantage of a large Roman amphitheatre where the sound is spectacular because the natural amplification works so well. We saw Larry Carlton and Al Di Meola, the latter making a superb sound with his New World Orchestra. If you’re ever in that neck of the woods in early July make sure you get tickets, whoever is playing.
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