In a worId where fashions and faces change with alarming regularity, Focal’s distinctive Utopia series loudspeakers are about as close to a permanent fixture as you can get. Of course, there have been massive evolutionary strides made since their launch in 1995, each family marked by a distinctive technology: W cones in the original models, the Beryllium tweeter in the second series (2002), and the totally revised cabinetry, sumptuous aesthetics and Electro Magnetic bass drivers of Series III (2008). Looks-wise at least, that brings us pretty much up to date, but under that calm, designer exterior, ten years has seen significant – and in some cases necessary – change. The pint-sized Diablo and flagship Grande EM have always impressed, while the more manageable but still EM-equipped floorstanding Stella was an instant hit. But like all families, Utopia had its more characterful members, the original Scala proving frustratingly room-dependent while the similar but larger Maestro model with its twin bass drivers was definitely the awkward middle child.
All that started to change with the arrival of the Scala V2, with changes to the bass driver’s suspension and the venting of its voice coil, along with subtle modifications to the internal profiling of the bass cabinet’s walls and the space between the midrange and tweeter baffle producing a far more linear and, crucially, more integrated bottom end. Suddenly, the Scala was starting to sound like the speaker it had always promised to be. But time stands still for no man and Scala V2 has now become Scala Evo, with the application of driver developments from the Sopra series to the flagship designs. At the same time, I’ve moved from my original listening room – the one in which the Scala V2 sounded so impressive – to a larger space in which the compact three-way might just struggle. With Focal so bullish about the improved linearity and lower distortion of the new Utopia Evo models, what better way to test their confidence than a review of the original problem child? Usher in the latest Maestro Utopia Evo – and prepare to be amazed.
On paper, the Maestro seems to offer little more than the Scala: 250mm taller, 62mm wider and 100mm deeper, its larger cabinet accommodates a second 11” W cone bass driver (incorporating an adjustable Magnetic Damping Circuit) to go with the familiar looking 6.5” W cone midrange unit and 27mm Beryllium tweeter. It weighs in at 30kg more and at £44,999, adds £17,000 to the smaller speaker’s price tag. Which seems like quite a lot for 3Hz more extension and an extra dB of sensitivity. But don’t be misled by the numbers. Meet the Maestro in person and it possesses significantly greater physical presence and visual impact than the svelte lines of the Scala. This is an unmistakably big loudspeaker, it’s gentle curves and flawless finish failing to disguise the fact that it’s also a bruiser. The Maestro doesn’t just look big, it goes big too, with the sort of effortless insouciance and boundless energy that is as musically dramatic as it is impressive. This Maestro is no shrinking violet but it is also well-named and fortunately, it has the grace, finesse, and sophistication to harness that musical power. However, unleashing that potent potential requires considerable care and not a little experimentation.