Focal Professional CMS 40

Device Type: Powered Speaker
Input: 1 RCA, 1 XLR (per speaker)
Dimensions (H x W x D): 9-3/8 x 6-1/8 x 6-1/8" (238 x 156 x 155mm)
Weight: 11lb (5.5kg)/each
Availability: online and through authorized dealers
Price: $425.00/each

The Focal CMS 40 powered speaker is referred to as a monitor on the company's website. A subtle distinction perhaps but a monitor is meant for monitoring records during production whereas a speaker is meant to be used when the production work is done. So a monitor is a tool for listening whereas a speaker is a tool for enjoyment. Some listeners, like audiophiles, for example, do both and a speaker like the Focal CMS 40 is practically made to order.

The CMS 40 is the smallest speaker in the Focal CMS Series which also includes the CMS 50 and 65 as well the CMS Sub. The CMS 40 is a compact two-way monitor utilizing a 4" Focal woofer with a Polyglass cone and an Aluminum/Magnesium inverted dome Focal tweeter. These drivers are named "Focal" because Focal makes their own drivers. Each CMS 40 driver has its own 25Watt Class A/B amplifier so each pair includes 100W of total output power. Inputs include a pair of RCAs and a pair of XLRs which are mounted on the underside, pointing down, of a recess in the back of the cabinet (see photo).

There's also three, three-position switches around back for adjusting Input Level (+4dBu, 0, -10dBV), Low Frequency Shelving (0-450Hz: Adjustable, 0, -2, +2dB), and High Frequency Shelving (4.5kHz - 20kHz: Adjustable, 0, -2, +2dB). Around front is the on/off switch, volume control (exactly where it belongs), a slotted port, and Focal includes speaker grilles which they recommend you leave off during listening which I did. Also included in the package is a Tweeter Phase Plug which you install by simply pressing it into place after removing the tweeter grille with the included hook.

Setup is simple and straight forward and I decided to use my loaner Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC to take advantage of DSD on my desktop, using its 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 the Furutech FireBird-96 cable and I used Audirvana Plus in Playlist mode for playback. The Focals also come with two types of round ended spikes; 2 adjustable and 4 fixed. I used a fixed pair for each rear position and the adjustable spikes up front to give the CMS 40's some rear-leaning rake, angling their phase-plugged tweeters at my ears. As usual, the CMS 40s sat atop my plywood stacks.

I find the Focal's black powdered subtly sparkly paint finish perfectly pleasant to look at but this is obviously a question of taste. They are built and finished to a nice quality and their included spikes and slotted front mounted port give them a nice squat bulldog appearance. Woof!

Even though I listen critically, I sometimes enjoy myself simultaneously as was the case with the Focal CMS 40 monitor/speakers from the get go. The CMS 40s have a very nice heft to them which you notice when handling them for setup and also when switching their on/off switch. This heft seems to lend a hand in the CMS 40's bass response as their heavy and dense cabinets appear to be fairly resonant-free imparting a nice clean, clear weight to their bass response which Focal rates down to 60Hz (+/-3dB). Even though I listen very near-field, the drivers meshed perfectly and presented a stable and solid sound image dead-center between the pair and with some care taken with placement, this sound image was more or less reproducing my music damn near inside my head which is one of the beauties of listening in the nearfield, imo.

One common knock I've read about professional monitors is they can have a clinical, almost sterile presentation. With the few monitors I've heard on my desktop including my ADAM A3X's, I have no idea what this means. If anything, I've had some powered desktop speakers here for review that just sounded not so great and they would certainly be of little use as monitors. Surely there's nothing in a speaker's typical specifications that would hint at this sonic feature and I find nothing in the CMS 40's sound that sounds like anything but music. The low and high frequency shelving controls came in handy as I boosted the bass response by 2dB and left the other setting in their center, neutral position.

Focal CMS 40 and ADAM A3X (they got along just fine)

Compared to my ADAM A3X's (see review), I'd give the Focals the edge in bass response and also having an overall fuller and more impactful presentation. They sound denser and more meaty even though both speaker's low frequency response is claimed to be the same (60Hz). The ADAM's ribbon tweeter, which is rated to 50kHz as compared to the Focal's 28kHz gives them the edge in HF airiness and also a tad more of the ethereal in your head near-headphone presentation when listening in the nearfield. I'd also give the Focals the edge in dynamic slam and they also tempt me more than the ADAM's to play them louder!

If I had to choose between these two monitors, I'd probably lean towards the slightly pricier Focals for their weightier and more physical sound. Then again, I just might miss the ADAM's uncanny disappearing into your ears act, a product of their ribbon tweeters. But lets get back to the Focals and their high frequencies which are extended without a hint of edginess or brightness. Again their bass response is convincingly weighty and their midrange is rich and inviting. They also image like the Dickens and overall are simply a pleasure to listen to music through.

I listened to all manner of music through the CMS 40s and better recordings sounded better than crappy recordings and DSD downloads sounded simply marvelous. There's a clarity to the Focal's presentation throughout the frequency range that compliments music's finer points and something like the delicate and sweet Mi And L'Au from the ripped CD released on Young God Records blossoms with guitar, toy piano, flute, accordion, bowed psaltery, violin, cello (from Julia Kent), and of course Mi and L'Au's lovely loving vocals.

Professional Enjoyment
The Focal CMS 40s deliver the sonic goods where it counts and I see them as being a very easy speaker to recommend for people shopping for a pair of monitors or speakers for their desktop in their price range. While not pluming the depths of bass response, I can see living with the bass they do offer as it is tuneful and convincingly hefty. Combined with a very pleasant and natural-sounding amount of detail, resolution, and dynamic slam, the CMS 40s deliver your music so you can inspect it, enjoy it, or both.

Associated Equipment

audiostreamuser2013's picture

Great review. Do the speakers exhibit any hissing? I have the B&W MM-1, and the hiss drives me crazy at times.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

The Focals are silent when they're supposed to be. I can't tolerate hiss either especially when listening nearfield.

Ajani's picture

I really enjoy reading all these reviews of pro/desktop monitors. It's very useful to hear how these speakers sound for just listening to music. I hope you eventually get around to some of the other popular pro brands like Dynaudio, Event and Genelec. 

Firstlight's picture

I liked your review also. I have the CMS 50's and they sound incredible. I am using them for my studio monitors. I also paired them with the Focal CMS 10" sub. I have heard the 40's also sound wonderful as studio monitors. Most of the engineers will use the CMS Sub also. I do not think the sub is needed for a desktop system, however, if you found a place for one, your office will never sound the same. I can't imagine getting a desktop pair of speakers like the 40's, maybe a little over kill for a computer, but you won't need another set for a long time. Might as well do it right the first time, and if you have the money to spend you need not look any further in my opinion. I love music and the Focals build quality, soundstage, imaging and detail is outstanding. I talked to many pros and did my research for days before I made my purchase. Expensive, yes... but worth every cent. Excellent choice.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Speaking of overkill, I have the Focal Solo6 Bes here for review ;-)

christopher3393's picture

I auditioned the CMS 50s and your description matches my experience, and articulates it better than I could. I think they are definitely worth the price and are an accomodating size for a large desk. They were a big step up from the Audioengine A5s, and I enjoyed the A5s. I liked the 50s enough to exchange them for the Focal Solo 6 Be to see if the sound could get much better! But that's another story, and another price bracket. The Focal CMS 40 is, in my opinion, a great little monitor for desktop audiophile listening. Thanks for including monitor reviews like these in your reviews.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I have the Solo6 Be here for review (they are playing right now) and I agree - they are another story.


Firstlight's picture

After reading the review now on the Solo6's, I know how sound can improve. I don't doubt that the 6's sound fantastic; and it is another story in sound quality. Maybe someday I can afford them. As for Michaels comment, he's right about $1350.00 each. I paid that for my pair.. But Focals are Focals. You can't go wrong. You get what you pay for.

highstream's picture

Helpful review.  Wish you'd been able to compare these with the Adam Artist 3, as the latter reportedly pick up some of the differences between the A3x and the Focus (see comment on A3x review).  Btw, I think the list on these in the U.S. is about $1050, but the price you list is what many locations are selling them for.

JLM's picture

Surprisingly the term 'prosummer' hasn't been bantered here yet, but that's the territory we're treading on.  I've listened to most of low-end studio monitors and they're all dreadfully uninvolving, sounding no better than low/mid-fi (done well).  From reading lots of reviews, studio/home comparisons, and my 40+ years in stereo/audio I'd summarize most studio monitors as designed to be dry so as to better reveal all the warts and (especially the low-end I heard) to reflect how the recordings will sound on the typical consumer equipment (earbuds, car stereo's, and one-box lifestyle HT systems).

Alternatively audiophile gear is meant to provide above all else enjoyment (fidelity yes, but also a sense of 'juice' added to the sketches).  Dare I say 'color' or "emotion' to the black and white logic that specifications dictate and of course cover those sins of comission (warts) that drive most of us nuts.

At this level of monitor the big time producers must convinced of the quality of performance/recording, so a less fatiguing, more demanding presentation should be expected.

SilverLitz's picture

Last week I bought a pair of CMS50's for my computer desktop. Now I have to zero in on the DAC feeding it (without a preamp; will use my Marantz NA7004 in interim).

With my Marantz NA7004 fixed output, 2.35V unbalanced, is too high for the CMS50 without attenuation, with the 1st volume notch being much too quiet and the 2nd a little too loud for most Pop, but OK for most Classical and Jazz (much too great difference between the 1st/2nd, smaller differences as you turn up the CMS50 volume).  This is using the +4dB Sensitivity, with 0dB and -10dB settings being louder. 

I am noticing a low level electrical hum/buzz, which is leading to think I will want a balanced DAC.

Ideally the DAC will have a volume control, or I will have to build an analog volume control using stepped switches and precision resistors (as well as do some Excel programming to calculate my resistor values, as my spreadsheet that I used to create my volume controls in the preamp I built 15 years ago was in a hard drive that died many years ago). 

Focal Professional folks have recommended the Cambridge DacMagic Plus. Would the Dac Magic be a weak link with the Focal CMS50's? Is a Schiit Gungnir or TEAC UD-501 overkill (though both would probably need the attenuator)?   Benchmark and Mytek have good DACs, balanced with volume, but at significantly higher cost.

I am looking for recommendations for a balanced DAC that would be a good fit for my CMS50's (not be the weak link) and I would like to keep the cost under $1,000.  Having a built in volume control would be great, preferrably analog, but a digital volume would be OK if the DAC has 32 bits of resolution (allowing 48dB of attenuation without losing resolution of 24 bit source).  DSD capability would be great, but it is not necessary.

highstream's picture

While auditioning the CMS 40s as part of computer desktop setup, I discovered that the Focal speakers have little electric shielding.  According to the North American distributor, this is an intentional design decision by Focal engineers to get the best sound.  In my computer desktop set up, a dac off the back of the computer (USB adapters), with one pair of good quality unshielded ICs there is a high pitched tone audible some feet from the speaker.  Even mouse movements can be readily heard.  And that was using better AC cords; with the stock ones, it was even louder.  With another good unshielded IC pair, things returned to an ear-to-speaker level.  I've never experienced this degree of interference with other quality powered desktop size speakers with either IC (or others).  Focal support (U.S.) says better AC cords help, but mainly its in the positioning of everything.  I assume you didn't run into this with the CMS 40s, otherwise you'd have said something.  Any experience in handling this problem with your desktop setup?

Michael Lavorgna's picture

....this problem with the Focals.

SilverLitz's picture

A week ago, I ordered an Audio-gd NFB-28 with TCXO upgrades, with a total cost of $803 (including shipping and Paypal fees). These seem to be popular items as my lead time is October 6, so I should have it in my hands ~mid October.  My DAC has been built in the past few days, and is currently in its 100hr burn-in.

This Audio-gd DAC is fully differentially balanced, with 80-step relay switched analog volume control, significant power supply with R-Core tranformers, headphone amplifier (S/E and Balanced), RCA and XLR analog inputs, can handle USB up to 32bit-384KHz, and seem to be massively built with high quality components. Audio-gd seems to have a very good reputation, especially at Head-Fi site. The downside is you buy directly from the manufacturer in China, but it has a 10yr warranty.

I will be using the NFB-28's volume control, and probably the Low Gain setting (balanced: 2.5V fixed, or 0 to 5V in 80-steps). It has an 80-step analog volume control, and 2 gain settings, and therefore NO truncating of bits. The volume control uses relays to switch Dale resistors (which I used building my DIY preamp and power amps) in the I/V stage, which should not even be adding another part (other than the relay) versus a fixed output DAC. Though, this volume control is not a pure logarithmic, constant dB taper, it is a piecewise linear taper, with steeper slopes at higher volumes to somewhat approximate the log taper. My calculations (based on the output voltage vs. volume setting graph from the Audio-gd website) estimate that the dB change per volume step as between 0.3 and 0.6dB for about 80% of the volume control range.

The Audio-gd volume control should be superior SQ wise than me adding analog volume control with precision resistors and 4-deck rotary switch. 

Bob Last's picture

Checking at the prices, the CMS 40 is around $425.  The Adam A3X is $329 and the Adam A5X is $499.  For $74 more, one can get an Adam A5X. It is a little larger but spec'ed significantly better than the CMS 40.  For example, 100W vs 50W, 5.5" drive unit vs 4".  With the A5X, the disappearing act and airiness will still there coupled with the meaty bass response.

Alan54's picture

Hmm these comments and reviews are enjoyable. The Audio volume control is superior SQ wise and we can also add analog volume control with the 4-deck rotary switch.

Alan54's picture

Yes that's right analog volume can be added with the mobile casino rotary switch of 4 deck. Reviews are good but i dont think it is absolute.

tomkuo's picture

i'm a traveling producer and have been looking for a good pair monitors easy for traveling.
i've throughly enjoyed you review on the CMS 40, ADAM ARTist 3, and A3x, thank you!
i personally own a pair of ADAM A7X in the studio, just love them!
i've my mind pretty set of the CMS 40 after your review, it will offer further versatility listening/monitoring in the studio and seemingly will make good travel companions..
however, just prior to inquire local shops, i realized they do not have voltage switching on them!?
i travel between North America and Europe often, i'm not a fan of using step-down converters.
can you possibly shed light on what Focal means by using different fuse (220-230V/0.5A fuse, 120V/0.8A)? it just doesn't seem like a reliable way to go by changing fuse to convert power on expensive toys..
thank you.

tomkuo's picture

Focal replied > "The CMS 40, the baby in the Focal CMS product line, is the only model that cannot be easily switched to European voltage. Our technician could rewire it to permanently use one voltage or the other. The CMS 50 and CMS 65 have a fuse holder above the IEC socket that pulls out and can be rotated when you change the voltage."