Focal Professional Solo6 Be

Device Type: Powered Speaker
Input: 1 XLR per speaker
Dimensions (H x W x D): 13 x 9-7/16 x 11-7/16" (330 x 240 x 290mm)
Weight: 24.2lb (11kg)/each
Availability: online and through authorized dealers
Price: $1,350.00/each
Website: www.focalprofessional.com

Earth Movers
Why not? I mean, if you were me, wouldn't you? In an exchange with Bruce Brown, Owner and Engineer at Puget Sound Studios (see our Q&A), Bruce mentioned that he was using the Focal Solo6 Be monitors (as well as the Twin6 and Sub6 in a 5.1 array) in his recording studio. And that information stuck in my head and poked at me when I recently thought about desktop speakers to review. And I thought why not? Rated at 40Hz - 40kHz with a 150W rms, BASH® amp for the midbass/bass driver and a 100W rms class A/B amp for the treble, these bad boys max out at 113dB SPL (peak @ 1m). So yea, they work really well as nearfield desktop earth movers.

The Solo6 Be utilize the Focal TB871 Beryllium inverted dome tweeter and a 6-1/2" (16.5cm) Focal "W" composite sandwich cone speaker for the mid/woofer. As I mentioned up front, these are rated at 40Hz - 40kHz and driven by over 200 bi-amplified Watts per side. So I'd say a subwoofer is not required, just some restraint with very tempting volume levels. The 24 pound+ veneered MDF cabinets are finished off with dark red natural side panels, a black body, and some brushed and sparkly metal accents around the drivers. The slotted port is front mounted so you can place the Solo6 Bes up close to the back wall which is a good thing seeing as they're nearly a foot deep.

But why Beryllium? I wondered the same thing so I went to the Focal website:

Focal, after two years of research and development, produced a world first: a pure Beryllium inverted dome, able to cover more than five octaves (1000Hz – 40kHz). You may ask yourself why do we strive for an extended response at 40kHz, if the human ear can only hear up to 20kHz? If you can extend frequency response, you will improve the perception of transients and other micro details. As well, the linearity of the speaker’s response curve is mainly a function of three opposite parameters: lightness, rigidity and damping.

To this day, only one material permits a joining of these parameters: Beryllium. For domes with identical masses, Beryllium is seven times more rigid than Titanium or Aluminum, the latter two well known for their rigidity. This results in a sound wave propagation three times faster than Titanium and two and a half times faster than Aluminum. In the end, the linearity of the frequency response curve, the acoustic transparency and the impulse response of the Beryllium tweeter are maximized and offer near-perfect sound.

The Solo6 Bes sport a single XLR input per side and there are three user-adjustable level settings: Input sensitivity (+4dBu and -10dBV), HF contour (continuous adjustment of high frequency level above 5kHz within a ±3dB range), and LF contour (continuous adjustment of low frequency level below 150Hz within a ±6dB range). There's a green power indicator up front, a power switch around back and the Solo6s ship with a speaker grille covering the tweeters for shipping purposes only. Those beryllium tweeters prefer to run naked. I did not mention a volume control because there isn't one.

I used the Solo6 Bes with my loaner Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC/Preamp (see review) using its volume control and XLR outputs to connect to the Focals using the Kimber Kable Select KS 1126 Balanced interconnects. The Mytek was connected to my iMac via firewire using a Furutech FireBird-96 cable and I used Audirvana Plus in Playlist mode for playback.

I Feel The Sky Tumbling' Down
Perhaps counter-intuitively, bigger speakers can sound more relaxed than small speakers. They make music-making sound effortless. This effortlessness comes across in the feel of the overall presentation which in a word sounds natural and spacious. Your brain does not have to fill in many blanks or interpret fundamentals from second order harmonics. You get the whole note. So any music that relies on bass, like the tempestuous new Locust release titled You'll Be Safe Forever released on Editions Mego sounds completely authoritative and present. Hand-in-hand with near full-range performance is a speaker's ability to handle dynamic swings with real authority which the Solo6 Bes manage without breaking even a hint of a sweat. Again, think effortless and natural which translates into shock-ability in terms of dynamic swings. Something like Aroo from King Midas Sound sounds positively stunningly wicked through the Solo6 Bes.

Yet, the Solo6s are also capable of delicacy and subtlety along with bombast and eruptive power. This was apparent with the DSD download of Penderecki's Violin Concerto, Horn Concerto from Channel Classics where every nuance of this magisterial performance is presented with stunning authority. And the Solo6s are dead quiet when they're supposed to be where sounds emerge from utter silence. With a nearfield monitor this capable of reproducing music's ebb and flow along with its punch and power, the listening experience becomes completely engrossing and physically engaging. You feel the music as much as hear it and that is a thrilling experience.

I'm not talking simply about the Solo6's ability to play loud, which they do really well, rather the overall scale of music presented is life-like. The sound picture portrayed feels as large as life. You may think that the difference between a 4" driver and a 6.5" driver is only 2.5 inches but what you'd be missing in terms of overall size speaks volumes. A 6.5" driver can move a heck of a lot more air and the physicality of this difference is significant, especially in the nearfield where it can also be intoxicating.

But all of this effort would hardly be worth the trouble if voices, including instrumental, electronic, and human, are not also conveyed in a convincing manner. Here, the Solo6's shine as brightly and I found their ability to deliver color and texture to be captivating. The Focal Solo6 Bes present your music in a natural light where everything that's meant to be exposed is there for all to hear. But I'm not suggesting the Solo6's are bright-sounding or fatiguing in any way whatsoever. Coupled with their dramatic sense of scale, effortless way with dynamic swings, and heart-pounding physicality that reaches down into the nether regions with ease, we're talking about impactful music delivery and some heavily engrossing music listening. I've not had such an expansive (or expensive) sound take up residence on my desk and the experience is addictive. It is something I will miss.

Music Movers
I suppose you can have too big when it comes to speakers, especially speakers that will live within the confines of a desktop. But if you can fit the Focal Solo6 Be and you're serious about enjoying listening to music on your desktop, you'll want to consider these monitors. Of course the Focal Solo6 Bes also represent a significant investment in nearfield listening especially seeing as you'll want to pair them with an equally engaging DAC and one that includes a decent volume control since the Solo6s do not include one. The Mytek DAC, due to its size and performance, makes a great partner.

For some, especially those who spend a lot of time staring into a computer screen, the desktop is the new listening frontier and with a speaker like the Focal Solo6 Be, you can have the lion's share of what your music has to offer all within arm's reach. Just be prepared to be completely distracted by music.



Associated Equipment

COMMENTS
mink70's picture

Well-done. I heard Kim Gordon give a talk yesterday in a large room and play a CD of her new project over a large pair of Genelec powered monitors with 12" woofers. I was blown away by the sound. Not just the ability to play loud without strain or compression, but by the delicacy, imaging, and the huge scale they projected. As a tube aficianado, I'm seriously rethinking my bias against powered speakers (and solid-state amps). Would these Focals work as hi-fi speakers out in a medium-sized room? Or are they solely for nearfield listening?

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I haven't picked this up yet but what I've heard sounds like its worth having.

Would these Focals work as hi-fi speakers out in a medium-sized room? Or are they solely for nearfield listening?

I did not try the Focals in my room as I don't have long enough XLR cables to properly set them up in-room so I wouldn't be able to give them a fair shake. That said, they certainly seem to have enough power to fill a decent-sized room.

BobReynolds's picture

A good friend has been using the Focal Solo 6 in his main system for a couple of years now. They will easily fill a typical living space. Realistically, though a subwoofer is needed; he uses a Martin Logan 3-driver model.

Vincent Kars's picture

Don’t think this is a powered speaker (a passive speaker with a build-in amp) but an active speaker (an amp for each driver and the crossover before the amp).

However as I do see a Lucinello, I won’t critize you enlightened

Michael Lavorgna's picture

...better than I do ;-)

bigrasshopper's picture

I too, am looking, furtively, at supplementing my main system with somthing on a smaller scale.  Initially, as a desk top speaker / system, but later as my living situation invariably changes, I would, ideally, value the flexibility  to be able to use monitors in a second stand alone setup.  As a desktop, these seem more than adequate, since they  eliminate a component.  But because of their size they may also be capable farther afield.  Are they at all  compareable to your speakers in residence, and separate components.  Would you see the built amps as an eventual drawback?  Do have a sense of whether or how happy you might be with this system beyond the desk, on stands?  Or do think they are more strictly and narrowly purposed.   Obviously, the review is more narrowly purposed and you did not audition them this way, but I ask, just the same. Can you place them in a larger context ?  - Thanks

Michael Lavorgna's picture

...I don't have XLR cables that are long enough to allow for proper in-room setup. But the Solo6s can certainly play very loud so they'd be worth trying, imo.

bsm's picture

Good to know you've got a hammer and magnifying glass on hand there!

Michael Lavorgna's picture

For examining a system's micro-detail and flattening out a lumpy frequency response.

;-)

mink70's picture

Thanks Michael.

Yes, it was the new Body/Head, a double album that's about to be released. They played some material from it at the Red Bull noise event in Queens last night, and it sounds promising.

Here's what I was asking, more specifically: what makes this a nearfield monitor? Is it merely power, or is there something about this speaker's dispersion pattern that works best only at close distances?

Michael Lavorgna's picture

...what makes this a nearfield monitor? Is it merely power, or is there something about this speaker's dispersion pattern that works best only at close distances?

Great question and I wish I had an equally good answer. In the marketing literature for the Solo6s, they do specify that they work best between 1m and 3m from the listener but I would imagine that with proper placement they could work well at greater distances especially due to their relatively large mid-bass/bass driver and 250W of output power.

TL's picture

I was reading this review in bed, and my wife saw Michael's desktop pictures and said: that's messy. We are both curious about the winged light bulb.

I have a 24-in iMac which I seldom use due to an ergonomic issue, to me at least, that the height of the screen is not adjustable. (Here's a picture of it with a pair of Sonus faber Concertino speakers, which are a bit smaller than the Solo6 Be, http://www.123macmini.com/gallery/displayimage.php?pid=1370&fullsize=1). I wanted to lower the top of the screen to eye level, to avoid stretching my neck like that of a goose; but I noticed that Michael even elevated the base a few notches.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

The light is the Lucellino by Ingo Maurer (www.ingo-maurer.com).

My desktop is a bit more crowded than usual due to the size of the Solo6. A fair tradeoff, imo.

BobReynolds's picture

I discovered active studio monitors about 5 years ago and highly recommend them. I'm currently using a pair of Klein + Hummel (now Neumann) O300D 3-way, tri-amped monitors. They are the best speakers I've owned.

I recently bought a pair of Neumann KH 120A monitors for my office. I suggest Michael give these a try on his desktop. 

BobReynolds's picture

I've really enjoyed your reviews of powered (some active) monitors. I think many audiophiles have shunned this segment of the market at their own loss. I wish Stereophile reviewers were as brave as you. Thanks again.

Cadfael's picture

As an afficianado of tiny homes this would look to be a good solution. It eliminates the need for a separate amp and would appear to provide very high fidelity. For, someone like myself, researching and planning ahead for good sound in small places it is another to add to my short list of speakers I could reasonably afford and still keep the total price tag under $10K.

The 3m limit is about what you would have, or less, in a Tumbleweed Tiny House, or slightly larger than tiny house (which is what I have in mind). So, that presents no real limitation.

Cadfael's picture

Michael,

While I realize that you likely do not have both on hand to compare, but just based upon your impressions which would you consider the better "small" speaker:

Solo Be 6?

Or

Kef LS 50?

Of course there are the obvious differences in that you have to have some form of external amplification for the Kefs, but assuming amplification of equal quality which, if either gains the edge?

 

Thanks,

Warren

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I have not heard the KEF LS50 for any real length of time so I cannot comment based on personal experience. But from what I've read (see John Atkinson's review) and heard from others who have heard this speaker, if I was building an in-room system, not desktop, the LS50s would be on my very short list.

Cadfael's picture

I read the review before commenting again. It fairly well confirmed much of what I had heard as well. Since, short term, I am looking at near-field and long term small room. It begins to come back to: Do I want to have to buy an amp too? Or, is the amplifier quality built into the solos of high enough quality, also given the fact that they are bi-amped, to make it a toss-up for what my budget will allow (which would also let me spend more on a DAC)? (And I lovvvve that Beryllium Tweeter and had not expected to find it in such a reasonably priced package - given that even the little Utopias are coming in around 13 grand these days.)

Comparing the impressions in the two reviews, your's and John Atkinson's  (along with others - I tend to research things to death before buying),  the Solos offer a more compact arrangement since you can cut out the amp/pre-amp/ingetgrated from the equation (along with a set of speaker cables). That, of course, trades off against the flexibility of upgrading the amp/pre-amp/integrated.

Sigh! Decisions, decisions. I reckon I'll have to listen to the PSBs a little longer.

What a horrible fate. /tongue in cheek

highstream's picture

Michael,

  Is that some kind of cork board or ? on the wall behind the desk.  I assume it's for sound treatment. And what is that white board over on the right?  Thanks,

Roger

Michael Lavorgna's picture

...Echo Absorber felt panels in the area around my desk and home made panels in the listening room proper. These are made from stretchers used for painting with untreated  cotton canvas stretched over them and polyfill stuffed into the space in the back side.

highstream's picture

Thanks! Strangely, the place that carries your Echo Absorber online, soundproofcow.com in PA, sells small orders but they aren't set up to ship them; their narrowest boxes are 11", which means two to three times the shipping cost of their competitors.

Cadfael's picture

Hi Michael,

Just a quick update. I ended up going with the KEFs and now that they have broken in I am more than pleased with their performance. I'll need an upgrade in my electronics (Wyred-4-Sound mPRE, Audirvana controlling iTunes, and Emotiva mini-X) to get the most they have to offer, but within the limitations of my current rig they offer a lot. Since I tend to listen to a lot of orchestral music I have to concur with Art Dudley's review that they are simply lovely. On Jazz they do a good job of recreating the smoky atmosphere of a cheap dive and a hot band. Vocals actually sound like Vocals - BB King sounds like BB King. The only thing I could wish for would be a little more weight in the lower registers. While their performance is neutral and musical the missing bottom end shows in larger scale works. I am left looking for more low end energy - particularly Tympani which do not carry enough weight to approach a realistic delivery.

However, from the midbass on up they are delicate, airy, and very precise doing a good job of separating the instruments of the orchestra and not turning them into hi-fi mush. Flute in particular, which a lot of speakers get very wrong, sounds ethereal and delicate - as it should. Maria Piccinini's "Belle Epoque" came through delightfully.

Of course Organ Pedal Tones are frustratingly diminished (but a good subwoofer should cure that).

gnadna's picture

hello Michael and everyone,

Although the listening would be quite different, would you recommend the higly praised mini maggies over the Solo 6 for a desktop leisure context?

 

Thanks in advanced for your opinion(s) !

Michael Lavorgna's picture

They do look interesting and I'm sure you're aware they are not active speakers like the Focals so they require an amp.

evan's picture

Hi Michael,
i've noticed unsual powercords on the back of the speakers!!
Can you recall which powercords did you use and whether or not they made any difference from the usual ones?
thank you

Michael Lavorgna's picture
The cable you see sticking out of the back of the Focal's is the Kimber Kable Select KS 1126 Balanced interconnects.