Focal Alpha 50
Input: RCA and XLR
Dimensions (H x W x D): 12.3 x 8.7 x 10.2" (313 x 220 x 258mm)
Weight: 16.1lb (7.3kg)
Availability: online and through Authorized Dealers
The new entry level Alpha line from Focal is meant to bring Focal quality to the discerning listener on a budget. I very favorably reviewed the more upscale Focal CMS 40 (see review) and the top of the line Solo6 Be (see review) so I was more than excited to see this new lower-priced line from Focal. The Alpha 50s are the smallest monitor in the Alpha series which also includes the Alpha 65 and Alpha 80. The 50s are equipped with a 5" woofer/midrange, the 65's with a 6.5 midrange/woofer, and the 80s, you guessed it, an 8" mid/woofer. I opted for the 50s for this review because that's what Focal recommends for extreme nearfield listening (2-3 ft.).
The Alpha 50s house the aforementioned 5" Polyglass cone midrange/woofer loaded in a large laminar port and a 1" aluminum inverted aluminum dome tweeter. The mid/woofer gets its own 35W amplifier while the tweeter makes due with a 20W amplifier. Frequency response is rated by Focal at a healthy 45Hz to 22kHz (+/- 3dB). The 50's are a front ported design so you can back them up to your rear wall if necessary and all of its controls and inputs live around back. These include a single RCA and XLR input per side, and three controls including LF shelving (0 - 300Hz) adjustable in 6dB increments, HF shelving (4.5 - 22kHz) adjustable in +/-3dB increments, and Sensitivity (0/+6db). There's also an on/off switch and the 50's will go into sleep after being silent for about 30 minutes. Last but not least is the power inlet for the included detachable power cord.
The cabinets are made from vinyl-covered 0.6" (15mm) MDF and come in a nice neutral flat black. The cabinet's sides are slightly bowed and there's a lighted Focal logo dead center between the two ports up front that also goes to sleep when the speakers do. I used the Alpha 50's with a pair of the wonderful IsoAcoustics stands (see review) which were sent along for the purposes of this review. I connected the Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC to the 50's via lengths of Kimber Select KS 1126 Balanced ICs and the Mytek was connected to my iMac with a length of Furutech FireBird FireWire cable.
Bigger Is Good
The first thing that impressed me with the Focal Alpha 50s were their sense of scale. Compared to my smaller ADAM A3X, which house a 3.5" woofer (4.5" Basket), the Focal's were clearly capable of a more authoritative sound. A 5" woofer has it all over a 3" woofer when it comes to moving air and this is simply a matter of fact. Of course housing that extra size demands a larger cabinet and I found the Alpha 50's to be about as big as I'd like for my particular desktop. They fit, just.
I also enjoyed the Alpha 50's delicate and fleet-footed sound accommodating everything from Debussy to Lana Del Ray with equally sure footing. With a max SPL rated at 103dB SPL (peak @1m), the 50's can also play louder than you should listen to them. Beauty and the beast. They also operate absolutely silently, something I demand from a desktop speaker. The 50's also locked into the wonderful sense of the recorded space, throwing out a stable and large sound image to get immersed within. There's wasn't that last bit of in-your-headness that the ADAM's ribbon tweeter can deliver, but I found the Alpha 50's very capable of holding my attention for the duration of whatever I was listening to.
I spent a lot of time exploring new music thanks to the Qobuz Hi-Fi lossless streaming service and the 50's performance did not dictate any restraints on this exploration. Dynamic contrasts in particular were wow-inducing. Where I found the Alpha 50s fell short is with ultimate finesse. There was a slight hardness to the upper midrange and upper frequencies and I'd have to point to that inverted dome tweeter as the culprit. Now I am being very picky since this was a subtle and not too troubling aspect of the overall performance but I believe you will get a more easy, relaxed and natural sounding sound from the Focal CMS 40s, the Solo 6 Be, or even the ADAMs. I suppose this is the price we pay for the Alpha's budget status. I will also add that dialing down the HF shelving a few db helped tame this otherwise minor quibble.
What you get instead is some real visceral sound. Bass response is very fit and full and something like Boris' new album Noise is delivered in a gut-wrenchingly convincing manner at gut-wrenching levels. The ADAM A3Xs strain when things get their nastiest. They are clearly more delicate creatures.
Bigger Can Be Better
Neither of the smaller speakers I mentioned can match the Alpha 50's sheer brute force. If you are looking for a desktop speaker in the $600 range and you want them to fill your space with rock solid near full range sound, the Focal Alpha 50s deliver.
Also on hand and in use during the Alpha 50 review: ADAM A3X