Focal's elegant, striking, and strikingly different Sopra No.2 has quickly established a reputation as the sweet spot in the entire Focal range. Offering the right size, at the right price, with more than a hint of what makes the Utopias look and sound so special, it has just enough bass, is easy to accommodate and easy to drive: it offers that perfect blend of virtues in a speaker that sounds instantly impressive, goes the distance, and stands well apart from the crowd. If that doesn’t tick all the boxes then someone has been adding extra boxes I haven’t noticed. Judging from sales and the almost universal acclaim the speaker has received, no one else has noticed those boxes either.
So what are we to make of the Sopra No.3? Launched at Munich earlier this year it had the assembled press scratching their collective heads: 100mm taller, 50mm wider and another 50mm deeper might not sound like much – indeed, unless you stand the two speakers side by side, in a big space it can be hard to tell them apart – but it makes for a substantially larger and more physically as well as visually imposing speaker once you get it into a domestic environment. That’s fine if what you are getting is more, much more of what makes the No.2 so special, but a quick glance at the numbers and that’s when the confusion starts. All that extra volume and the use of 210mm as opposed to 180mm drivers doesn’t seem to have delivered an awful lot. Basic speaker theory dictates a three-way linkage between the size of the cabinet, the system bandwidth, and its efficiency: increase one and you impact the others, so in theory the No.3’s increase in cabinet volume and acoustic power should translate into greater efficiency, increased bandwidth, or both. Instead, the bigger box, bigger drivers, 25% increase in weight, and bigger price-tag deliver one paltry extra Hertz of bandwidth and a whole half a decibel of sensitivity. Notice how I slipped the P-word in there? That’s what really had us all confused: the No.3 seemed to undermine all the practical and domestic benefits of the No.2 while hiking the price from £10,500 to a whopping £15,750 – a 50% increase that doesn’t just break but shatters the critical £10K price barrier. Somehow, somewhere, those numbers – 1Hz, 0.5dB, £5,250 – just don’t add up and in commercial terms one has to wonder what Focal were about? On the face of it, either whoever came up with the concept got it wrong or the sales and marketing team should have said something, either the performance or (being one’s normal, cynical self) the figures should have been massaged – unless of course Focal knew (or knows) something we do not.