Focal are famous for their tweeters. As an OEM driver manufacturer, their justly famous titanium inverted domes have graced many loudspeakers from high-end manufacturers, notably Wilson Audio. More recently, Focal’s own loudspeakers have come from nowhere, making significant inroads into the market with a range of mind-boggling breadth and depth, starting at under £300 and extending to beyond £50k. The conventional hi-fi ranges include the Chorus 700 and 800 series, an overlapping (in cost and performance) range of smaller standmount and floorstanding loudspeakers at domestically realistic prices; the Profiles, a good-looking part-AV, part-lifestyle range pitched above the Chorus; the high-end Electras and the super high-end Utopias. The Electras benefit greatly from trickle-down technology from the no-holds-barred Utopias, including the application of the extraordinary beryllium tweeter, designated by “Be” in the nomenclature. Clearly, though, somebody at Focal woke up in a sweat late one night, having discovered a market niche they didn’t cover comprehensively enough, hence the introduction of the Electra S models, similar to the Electra Bes but without the beryllium tweeter and offered at a significant saving. To be fair, the price gap between the top of the Chorus 800 series and the lower reaches of the Electra Be’s represented quite a stretch, a gap neatly narrowed by these newcomers.
At present, the Electra S range consists of a single standmount, the Electra 1007S, and a largish floorstander, the 1027S reviewed here (plus the obligatory AV add-ons) each considerably less expensive than the corresponding Be models. Interestingly, there is still a trickle-down effect at work,in that the technology developed to manufacture the beryllium tweeter has also permitted a new generation of aluminium-magnesium alloy tweeters to be formed using the same process, offering a level of performance beyond that of the previous generation of Al/Mg tweeters, still in use in the Chorus and Profile ranges. The remainder of the driver complement here is the same as the equivalent Be model, a 6.5 inch “W” sandwich polymer midrange, and paired 6.5” “W” sandwich polymer bass units but there are other changes, too: the cabinet of the 1027S loses the downwardfiring bass-reflex port of the 1027Be (and the pontoonlike feet which serve to vent the port) in favour of a conventional rear-firing flared port; the crossovers are changed and the cabinets are finished in a smart, satin lacquer with a plain top, rather than the high-gloss, slightly sparkly finish and glass topplate of the 1027Be. Personal taste plays a part here, of course, but I found the understated sheen of the 1027S more appealing. The review samples are finished with side-cheeks in Macassar ebony, a boldly-grained wood which I also liked greatly. My wife however assures me that in this, I am sorely mistaken. To be fair, it probably suits more contemporary décor rather better.
Here’s a tip: don’t audition these if they are factory fresh. The Electra S models seem to require a fair few hours of running-in, more than the –Be variants. If they sound hard, aggressive and shouty, they still have a way to go. Once that is achieved, however, they blossom into something rather fine. It is odd, isn’t it, how expectations can be coloured by specifications? The Be variants quote an upper frequency roll-off (-3dB) of 40kHz. The S versions go to a ‘mere’ 30kHz, so immediately you start listening for topend harshness or fizz, forgetting that until quite recently, even the sweetest tweeters rarely extended much above 20kHz and, using a CD source, I’m unlikely to seriously challenge the top octave anyway. So let’s forget the psycho-acoustic tomfoolery and just play some music. There is great topto- toe coherence in these loudspeakers, bass goes deep while remaining tuneful and agile all the way down, midrange is expressive and natural, and the top end is clear and utterly unforced or stressed. I listened mostly using my faithful NVA 60 Watt integrated and never felt that this either hobbled the loudspeakers, or embarrassed the amp. On the contrary, the pairing produced some very satisfying music. In this, they differ from the similarly-priced and otherwise excellent Elac FS210 Anniversary, which really need a very good and powerful amplifier to give of their best, most particularly in the region of bass control. The Electras, in contrast, will not unduly tax even quite modest amplification, though they will amply reward quality. When I’m getting a feel for a new piece of kit, I often just take an amble through my music collection, letting my next choice of track be suggested by the last. This can be instructive because if you find yourself favouring one genre over another, it may tell you something subtle but important about what that equipment is doing with the music. In the case of the 1027S, my first listening session took me on a trip through the pop, rock and jazz end of my collection, clearly this is a loudspeaker that thrives on energy and enthusiasm and has the ability to convey that through sheer drive and élan. There is a freshness and fleet-footedness about this loudspeaker which threatens to turn any listening session into a party, and an all-nighter at that. The word here is “fun” and it is a word used more than once by other people who’ve heard them at my place. Make no mistake, however, this is no mere bouncy, bassy speaker for upbeat, modern music. I turned my attention to more serious matters and the 1027S rewarded me with scale, depth, subtlety and vibrant tonal colour. For orchestral and choral music, they are easily able to portray mass and drama, while still allowing subtle interplay and fine detail to be freely expressed. At one point, I put on Sibelius’ Karelia Suite (Mackerras, RPO, TRP013) and I confess, I usually skip the middle movement, in favour of the bold and brassy first and last; nobody does brass quite like Sibelius. This time, however, something about the way the speaker portrayed the opening Intermezzo stayed my hand and I listened to the whole suite including the rather more atmospheric Ballade. And when you do that, the closing Alla Marcia makes much more sense, picking up from the second movement it is clearly very much more than just a bombastic set-piece. Oops, silly me, missing the point. Sibelius 1: Dickinson 0, a lesson taught to me by what was quickly turning out to be a rather fine allrounder.
They do calm and sophistication too: more Sibelius, this time Valse Triste, and the 1027S’ phrasing, the ebb and flow of the orchestra carries you along effortlessly. Putting on Gershwin’s ‘I got rhythm’ variations for piano & orchestra (Virgin Classics 7243 5 6147829), the 1027S encourages not merely foot-tapping, but I’m embarrassed to recall a certain amount of armwaving, nodding and pointing as well. Music through the 1027S is a very interactive experience, the conveying of musicianship, and the aim of creating an emotional connection from performer to listener, is expertly and convincingly achieved.
It would be a serious mistake to consider the 1027S as simply a ‘budget’ 1027Be. That demeans the quite remarkable performance achievable from the new model. The two speakers both perform impressively at their respective prices and I can see the market for the 1027S coming equally from somebody moving up from a £2k loudspeaker as from providing a solution for somebody whose budget won’t stretch to the £4k 1027Be. Having heard both, the beryllium betweetered version offers not only an elegant and silken top-end but, counterintuitively, the tweeter (and revised crossover) elevates bass performance beyond that available in the S, a performance as unobtrusive as it is effective. The S’s bass doesn’t exactly draw attention to itself, although in a bass-heavy or largescale piece the Be is a little more circumspect, as befits its seniority. Honestly, though, I wouldn’t argue with anybody who said they preferred the former over the latter.
Apart from the sophisticated tweeter technology, Focal designs also feature phase-linear crossovers, something I have come to properly appreciate while also using the Electras with the Accuphase 213 integrated amp. Accuphase (name, clue, ok?) also expound the benefits of phase linearity and the results, manifested most obviously in superior imaging and soundstaging qualities, bear out this viewpoint handsomely. If you already like what the Electras do, try to hear them working with a phase-linear amplifier if you can; the 1027S will repay the effort with interest, proving that as easy going as this speaker is, it definitely rewards audiophile ambitions. When Focal introduced the 1027Be they brought genuinely high-end musical performance down in price; with the 1027S (Berylium tweeter or not) they’ve done it again.