Focus Audio Classic FC 9
Before buying a pair of speakers, the shopper must consider several
factors. The most obvious one is budget, as that will dictate which part of the
loudspeaker market the shopper should focus on. The second factor is speaker size, and
this brings up a host of questions to be answered: How big is the room in which the
speakers will be used? What electronics will power them? How loud do they need to play?
Can the speakers be placed where they sound best, or will the buyers partner want
them close to the walls? How much low-end extension is desired? And so on.
For my own system, I decided on a pair of
bookshelf speakers, largely because I find them easier to position to get an even tonal
balance, a convincingly three-dimensional soundstage, and satisfying bass. That said, I
enjoy a variety of music, some of which has bass that goes well below my speakers
lower limit. This is why its fun for me to review floorstanding speakers, for the
visceral impact they can impart to music. So it was with some enthusiasm that I received a
pair of Focus Audios Classic FC 9 speakers ($1999 USD per pair) and cued up
Located just east of Toronto, in Markham,
Ontario, Focus Audio began designing and manufacturing loudspeakers in 1993. Today the
company has several product series, including the Multichannel, Prestige, Classic, and
Signature, as well as their flagship line, the Master Series.
The FC 9, the largest floorstander in the Classic
Series and the subject of this review, embodies the emphases that Focus places on
craftsmanship and quality control. The fitnfinish of the FC 9 is perfect,
and its warm veneers of real cherrywood (dark rosewood is also available) are matched:
each speaker of one pair is a mirror image of the other. The clean lines of its contoured
front baffle lend the FC 9 a softer appearance that makes it seem less imposing than
its actual size: 43"H x 8"W x 13"D. The pictures on Focuss website
dont do the FC 9 justice; you need to see it in person, and run your hands
along its cabinet, to fully appreciate the attention to detail that has gone into this
speaker. While $1999 isnt cheap for a pair of speakers, its not outrageous for
something of this size that makes music and looks like fine furniture.
Each FC 9 weighs 62 pounds, this considerable weight
the result of using thick MDF: 1" for the cabinet walls and 2" for the front
baffle. Focus claims that the baffles nonrectilinear shape is intended to improve
imaging, presumably by reducing the amount of diffraction that occurs when high-frequency
soundwaves are reflected off and radiate outward from the cabinet edges directly
surrounding the tweeter. Although the FC 9 comes with front grilles, I didnt
use them; they didnt benefit the sound, and hid the baffle and drivers, which I
wanted to see.
The three-driver FC 9 is a two-way design: the 1"
Vifa ring-radiator tweeter crosses over to the two Peerless 7" long-throw Nomex
woofers at 2kHz. The crossover is reportedly of high quality, with high-purity copper
coils and polypropylene capacitors. The tweeter is cooled by air rather than the
ferrofluid common in many other speakers, including my own PSB M2s. With two 7"
drivers working in parallel to produce musical information below 2kHz, I anticipated a
speaker with some weight down low.
The FC 9s frequency response is a claimed
35Hz-25kHz, +/-3dB, and its sensitivity is on the high side, at 91dB/W/m; the nominal
impedance is 4 ohms. With such specs, the FC 9 is nearly a full-range design, and
should be a relatively easy load for any amplifier comfortable with 4-ohm impedance.
During the review period the volume knob of my 100Wpc integrated amplifier rarely traveled
past 10 oclock, except when I listened to LPs, which output a lower signal than CDs.
However, if you have a big room and/or like to play your music loud, Focus claims that the
FC 9 can handle 20-500W of power -- it should be able to handle almost anything you
can throw at it. It also has two pairs of binding posts, should you decide to biamp or
If your room would better accommodate a smaller
floorstanding speaker, there are two others in the Classic series. Both use the same
1" tweeter as the FC 9 but differ in their woofer configurations. The FC 7, reviewed in April
of 2009 by Colin Smith on GoodSound!, has a single 7" woofer and measures
38"H x 8"Wx 10"D ($1400/pair). Almost identical in size is the FC 8, at
38"H x 7.5"W x 10"D and with two 5.25" woofers ($1700/pair).
System and setup
I drove the FC 9s with a Bryston B100 SST integrated
amplifier, to which they were connected using AudioQuest Type 4 speaker cables terminated
in banana plugs. An AMX Optimum AVC 31 coaxial cable linked the digital output of an NAD
C542 CD player to the DAC aboard the Bryston. My Thorens TD-160HD turntable is fitted with
a modified Rega RB250 tonearm and Dynavectors DV-10X5 high-output moving-coil
cartridge. All electronics were plugged into an ExactPower EP15A power conditioner.
The first time I listened to the FC 9s, I was amazed
by how awful the bass sounded. Higher in the audioband everything was much clearer, but
the bass was way too overblown in my room. The problem wasnt only the quantity of
bass but its quality: It lacked punch and grip, instead sounding slow, fat, and muffled --
and no matter where I positioned the speakers, I couldnt fix the problem. After
listening to them for 10 to 20 hours, I set them aside and reinserted my PSB M2s so that I
could work on another review.
Several weeks later I reinstalled the FC 9s and found
the quality of the bass substantially improved, and it continued to improve over the next
few days. By the time I began taking notes, it was as if I was hearing the
FC 9s potential for the first time. In the past Ive reviewed speakers
that needed some break-in, but this normally took only a few hours, not a few days.
Whats more, none of these speakers underwent the almost complete transformation I
experienced with the FC 9s. I ended up positioning them so that the front baffles were
45" from the front wall and the center of the tweeter was 30" from the
sidewalls. The speakers were 70" apart, and toed in slightly so that the tweeter axes
crossed just behind my head.
Although the FC 9s bass performance at first
concerned me, it ended up being one of the qualities I most admired in the speakers
sound, fulfilling my desire for a more visceral listening experience while maintaining the
level of quality I expect from a speaker at this price. Through the FC 9s, low
frequencies had the kind of weight and brawn that simply arent possible from a
bookshelf speaker with a smaller cabinet volume and woofer.
The impact and solidity of the kick drum on
"Alameda," from Elliott Smiths Either/Or (CD, Kill Rock Stars krs
269), were impressive, bestowing on the drum kit a real sense of heft. The same was true
of the Great Lake Swimmers "Your Rocky Spine," from Ongiara (CD,
Nettwerk 30691 2), in which the kick drum was warm and clear -- not displaying the last
ounce of detail, but sounding full and present while providing the music with a
toe-tapping rhythmic foundation. Perhaps the greatest strength of the FC 9s
bass reproduction was that it wasnt out of step with the rest of the music. The
speaker was tonally well balanced and, despite my first impression, not
As much as I enjoyed the greater senses of scale and weight
the FC 9s brought to much of what I listened to, I was most impressed by their
ability to precisely image. Pinpoint imaging is something I usually associate with
minimonitors, but the FC 9s had me reevaluating that assumption. Their ability to
portray instruments and voices accurately across the stage was stunning. On Elliott
Smiths "Angeles," also from Either/Or, his double-tracked vocal was
revealed with crystalline clarity, sounding upfront and well separated. The FC 9s
consistently reproduced voices with a sound that was lucid, open, and transparent, helping
to bring various singers into my room and, in the process, adding a feeling of intimacy to
the music. Their ability to produce stable, focused images across the stage further helped
to convey a sense of authenticity to the music. It was easy to close my eyes and imagine
the performance taking place in front of me.
This was particularly true when I listened to Shady
Grove (CD, Acoustic Disc ACD-21), a collection of traditional folk songs and ballads
performed by Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, and a small group of bluegrass musicians. This
is a beautiful recording to begin with, but you need a great speaker to reveal it as such.
The Focus FC 9 qualified: The clarity of the guitar, banjo, and mandolin were almost
beyond reproach, the crisp resonance of the strings sounding as clear as day, each
instrument cut out with near razor precision.
The FC 9 had a wide dynamic range, able to instantly
go from soft to loud. This was especially nice when listening to classical works such as
Rachmaninoffs Symphonic Dances -- the energy of the Minnesota Orchestra, led
by Eiji Oue, was invigorating (CD, Reference RR-96CD). My bookshelf speakers can play
plenty loud when asked to, but its the effortless sense of scale that larger
speakers, such as the Focus FC 9s, bring to music that separates them from their
smaller brethren. My only regret is that I wasnt able to play them in a bigger room
so that I could test them to their limit. With their superb imaging, it might be possible
to place them farther apart and still achieve good center fill. That said, even with the
speakers just under 6 apart I was still easily able to "see" the Minnesota
Orchestra spread out before me across a broad, deep stage.
I compared the New Classic FC 9s to my reference
speakers, the PSB Platinum M2s ($1999/pair). The M2 is a two-way design with a 1"
aluminum tweeter and a 6.5" woofer; introduced in 2004, it was a benchmark bookshelf
speaker at the time, and still holds its own six years later against more recent offerings
from PSBs competitors.
Despite the difference in their sizes, I was surprised to
hear how similar the FC 9 and M2 sounded in some areas. One of these was retrieval of
detail: both speakers were close to the best Ive heard (that honor goes to the Usher
X-718). As I cued up Smiths "Angeles" again, both the Focus and PSB were
commendable in their ability to expose subtle details, such as the sliding of Smiths
fingers up and down his guitars fretboard. His voice, too, was reproduced with
wonderful clarity by both pairs of speakers, holding a stable position just in front of
the plane of the speakers.
Eddie Vedders soundtrack album for Into the Wild
(CD, J Records 15944-2) revealed a bit more. In "Society," Vedders voice
sounded similar through both pairs of speakers, but it was in the sound of the
reverberation on his voice that the PSB and Focus diverged. Through the FC 9s, this
track sounded as if it had been recorded in a larger hall than through the M2s, which were
unable to communicate that sense of an immense acoustic so effortlessly re-created by the
Listening to the dance Non allegro from
Rachmaninoffs Symphonic Dances made further differences between the two
speakers immediately obvious. The crash of the percussion and roll of the timpani were
powerful through the M2s -- but through the FC 9s they were explosive, the music
grander, the physical energy of the orchestra more easily conveyed.
Obviously, the FC 9s excellent dynamics and
weightier low end were functions of its larger size, as was the fact that the Focus was
capable of moving a greater volume of air than the PSB. The M2s smaller cabinet and
single woofer can do only so much. Although both speakers performed at a very high level
in my room, the choice of one over the other will likely have more to do with personal
listening habits and the size of the listening room. However, when you consider that you
can get a nearly full-range speaker for even less than the cost of a pair of M2s (given
that youll need to buy stands for them), the FC 9s definitely make a case for
themselves as a good deal, if you have the room to accommodate them.
The Classic FC 9 was the first speaker Id heard
from Focus Audio, and I found it impressive across the board. Its fitnfinish
is stunning, and will likely have visitors to your listening room guessing they cost much
more. Looks aside, the FC 9s greatest asset is its sound: pure, powerful, and
precise, a collection of traits that made for an engrossing listening experience. If you
have the space and are in the market for a well-designed, gorgeously crafted pair of
floorstanding speakers, you should hear the Classic FC 9. Sonically and
aesthetically, it offers a complete package that youll be proud to own and use for
. . . Philip Beaudette
|Focus Audio Classic FC 9 Loudspeakers
Price: $1999 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
43 Riviera Drive, Unit 10
Markham, Ontario L3R 5J6
Phone: (905) 415-8773
Fax: (905) 415-0456