As a company that started off primarily producing drive units for OEM use by other manufacturers, Focal have always had a flair for research and innovation that has resulted in some interesting technological advances and solutions within its range of loudspeakers. The Sopra No. 1 would at first glance offer nothing that has not been seen before within the more recent Focal range; it is a straightforward compact two way system, using the now-familiar beryllium tweeter and a single 165mm bass-mid unit utilising the ‘W’ sandwich cone in a line up similar to the Diablo Utopia, to which it bears a family resemblance. However, this is not Utopia-lite; Sopra represents the culmination of independent R&D and Focal decided that the results are significant enough to merit the introduction of a new range, comprising two models that sit between the current Electra and Utopia range.
Arriving in what would appear to be two very oversized boxes, the Sopra No. 1’s come complete with a pair of stands. These require bolting together and consist of a single column with a top plate on which the speaker can sit (with supplied small rubber feet), or screw in to the underside for greater stability. The base incorporates decent spikes with easy adjustment from the top, and can be retracted fully to enable the structure to be easily positioned before engaging the spikes into the carpet. This well thought out approach made setting up the Sopra No. 1’s very easy.
Not that there was a lot of messing about; the Sopra No. 1’s sounded really promising from the start, even before I had begun to think about the all important details of positioning and fine tuning. While no one would deny the importance of this process, I’m always encouraged when a product grabs your attention straight out of the box, and for once I was inclined to believe that they had been run in before arriving for review. Fed from a Naim 300DR, an amp whose abilities continue to make my jaw drop, there was an assured ‘rightness’ to the sound that had me figuring I was going to enjoy these speakers, although at this early stage if questioned I would have found it difficult to articulate exactly why.
A closer look at the Sopra range does reveal a few clues to some of the latest research carried out by the design team, however the aforementioned white paper suggests that quite a lot of the development is hidden from view. Focal is not alone in identifying the importance of somehow dealing with the rear radiation produced by the tweeter diaphragm, and in this instance, rather than absorbing the energy within a closed space, a progressively damped cavity and horn arrangement exits to the outside world at the rear. This not only provides a degree of loading to the diaphragm, but also achieves the desired absorption using less space than a sealed chamber. This leaves more cabinet volume available for the bass driver, an important requirement in a speaker of this size. In the process, this has had the effect of reducing distortion by up to thirty percent, principally at the lower end of the tweeter’s range and the crucial crossover point where the ear is particularly sensitive.