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Testing Ground

Focal Kanta N°1 Test: bookshelf speakers for incredibly high-quality audio

By Alban Amouroux |

Focal Kanta N°1 test: The dual-material design of these Focal Kanta speakers gives them an original look, and their bookshelf format makes them a great option for many. Despite the smaller format, they’re still generously sized, which will no doubt make them a real feature in any room you choose to put them in. They also contain the brand’s signature Beryllium tweeter. These speakers treat us to Focal’s contemporary understanding of premium high-fidelity sound.

Focal’s product catalogue currently includes seven ranges of HiFi speakers. Each of the French brand’s ranges is complete, offering all the different systems and formats that comprise a HiFi or home cinema system: bookshelf, floor standing, and centre speakers. Even though this range still has some room for improvement, it’s still one of their best (after Utopia and Sopra), making the Kanta N°1's premium, perhaps even top-of-the-range speakers. This is confirmed by the price tag, with a pair of “small” Kanta N°1 speakers coming in at £5000.

This price point is partly due to the fact that this range is made in France. Focal workshops are responsible for every component and every stage of production: from the cabinets, speakers and filters to the veneer and paint. And these French origins won’t go unnoticed either, since this information is displayed on the front and back of the speaker, as well as in the documentation that comes with it (plus, a little card with a handwritten signature of the person who validated the final tuning of the product serves as one final reminder). There’s undeniably a certain pride attached to having Made in France speakers in your living room.

Features

● Bookshelf speakers
● Price: £5 000 la paire
● Design: 2 way
● Speakers: 1x 27 mm Beryllium tweeter, 1x 165 mm Flax woofer
● Frequency response: 46 – 40 000 Hz (+/-3 dB)
● Sensitivity: 88 dB to 1 kHz
● Impendance : 8 ohms (3.9 ohms minimum)
● Power rating: 150 watts
● Accessories : 4x rubber pads, foam to slide into the vent, stand (optional)
● Dimensions (l x h x d) : 234 x 422 x 391 mm
● Weight : 13 kg

Kanta N°1 Overview

You’ll instantly be able to recognise these speakers as part of Focal’s catalogue. Not just because of the large logo at the bottom of the front panel, but because of their overall shape. Ever since the brand first released the Utopia range, Focal has been creating speakers with a curved front panel. All the different components angle towards each other to create a kind of “focal point”, meaning these speakers will definitely create a sonic sweet-spot in your listening room.

The Kanta N°1 follows the same design principles, with a curved front panel that has a vertical tweeter and a woofer angled slightly upwards. The front panel is made out of high density polymer instead of the usual wood. As a result, it’s rigid and less effected by sound vibrations. The side panels are part of the speakers’ main body, which is made from a single piece of moulded wood. The top panel is made of glass, which only adds to the Kanta’s premium feel.

Focal offers a variety of colours and finishes. The front of the speakers are available in matte, dark grey, ivory or white. They’re also available in a black or white lacquered finish. The side panels come in either black lacquer, matt walnut or gloss walnut. For those who are looking for something a little unique, some retailers even offer matte or glossy blue or glossy yellow. There’s something for everyone, and the number of options makes it easy to find a style that matches your interior design.

The Kanta N°1 has a 2-way design. The 16.5 cm midrange/woofer features a flax sandwich cone made out of high-quality flax fibres enclosed within two sheets of fibreglass. The whole thing is thin and lightweight, something which is further attested to when you look through the rear port (you can see light coming through the flax membrane). It’s held in place by a TMD suspension that decouples it from the fixed central core cover.

The IAL3 pure Beryllium inverted dome tweeter is ultra light. Focal has combined it with an optimised acoustic load volume which aims to eliminate any sound distortion—the phenomenon that Focal considers to be the enemy of high fidelity sound. The combination of these two speakers offers a very wide bandwidth, starting at 46 Hz and reaching up to 40 kHz.

Using the Kanta N°1

The Kanta N°1 can simply be placed on any piece of furniture capable of holding their 13 kg of weight, you’ll just need to glue the four small rubber pads to each corner of the base of the speakers. Aside from protecting your furniture, this decouples the speakers and avoids vibrations being transmitted. There are also three screw holes underneath the device so that it can be secured to a stand if desired.

The 2-way design of each speaker is managed by a passive crossover with a classic cut-off frequency of 2,400 Hz. The crossover is terminated by a high-quality single terminal block with blades for optimal clamping. There is no option for bi-wiring or double amplification. Focal believes its speakers will work best with a simple stereo amplifier.

Focal recommends a model with a power range from 25 to 150 Watts, which gives you an array of options. Sensitivity measurements of 88 dB are about average, so you can aim for an amplification rather close to 100 Watts. The minimum impedance of 3.9 ohms means you need to be careful that you choose a model that supports this.

Kanta N°1 speakers are recommended for rooms no larger than 25 m2. For larger rooms, you should consider the N°2 or N°3 column speakers. Going back to the unique aesthetic of this Focal range, you can choose to protect the midrange/woofer with a round magnetic cover. There’s no full-size cover to protect the entire front panel (after all, it would be a shame to hide its beautiful finish). The tweeter is protected by a stylish metal grill that should not be touched since Beryllium is fragile.

Listening Experience

These speakers were placed in the same position as our test bookshelf models (i.e. on a piece of furniture as high as conventional speaker stands), and placed on IsoAcoustics insulating stands. Our 2x125 Watt Parasound amplifier took care of the power supply. We played a few of our usual test tracks to check the positioning and orientation of the speakers in relation to the listening area. We ended up moving them away from the rear wall to allow the vent to do its thing without the need for foam covers. Then we let the system run for a few hours at medium volume before starting our listening session which was spread across several days.

The extent of the Kanta N°1’s capabilities was perfectly demonstrated through Hinako Omori’s dreamy electro album A Journey… The layering is clear and precise, as is the placement within it. The layers create a carpet of sound that stretches from the foreground and reaches far, far into the distance, totally immersing you in the music.

On Deluxe’s brand new Latin-inspired funk album Moustache Gracias, the Focal speakers elegantly reproduce the different elements of the complexly constructed tracks. They offer each musician, each sound, a clear legibility which renders the music clear and easy to take in. The timbres are silky and the midrange is incredibly rich, which only serves to benefit the reproduction of the brass instruments.

Remedy, Breakbot’s latest EP, allows us to explore the Kanta N°1’s low register capabilities. Without over doing it, it creates a natural, impactful sound that expresses the music beautifully. The bass is excellently articulated and always rich in terms of timbre and level differentiation. Though these speakers don’t have a sub-bass, the fantastic rendering of the lowest frequencies gives the sound a natural depth, making it feel authentic and real.

The Kanta is also well-suited to classical music. The sound field is such that it doesn’t feel like you’re listening to the music through speakers. When we listened to Brahm’s Symphony No. 2 conducted by Herbert Blomstedt, the speakers respected the authentic positioning of the instruments in the pit, effectively welcoming the orchestra right into our listening room. Again, the depth of sound was superb. We found the ensemble sounded even better if we sat a little further away than normal. The brass and strings were reproduced in a natural way without any excessive intensity. This is one of the strengths of these Focal speakers: they manage to extract every tiny detail without ever going overboard.

Pros :
Natural timbres
Depth of bass
Depth of sound field
Quality materials and manufacturing

Cons :
Might not visually appeal to everyone
Large for bookshelf speakers

Conclusion

The Focal Kanta N°1 bookshelf speakers perfectly represent everything we can expect from high fidelity: a reproduction that manages to respect the raw musical message while still conveying emotion. These speakers do just that without ever emphasising one register over another. This avoids strong time signatures that can become tiring after a while. The Kanta N°1 creates a reproduction with a huge sound field and natural timbres. They manage to reproduce every tiny detail of both the instruments and the recording location without becoming too surgical in doing so (thanks in no small part to the well-supported lower registers and impressive, full reproduction). Drums and other percussion sound incredibly detailed and natural. Moreover, thanks to the various finishes and colour combinations (there are currently five), it should be easy to choose one that suits your interior. However, its rather distinct design, unusual in shape and finish, might not be for everyone; especially those looking for something more classic in appearance.