If you consider yourself an audio enthusiast than chances are that you’re already familiar with French speaker maker Focal (previously known as Focal JMlab). During the last few years I’ve had the chance to listen to a number of Focal speakers and have long been a big fan of the way they sound. I’ve listened to models ranging from the affordable Chorus 706 V bookshelf speakers ($699/pair) all the way to the luxurious Utopia III Grande Utopia EM ($180,000/pair). Since 1979, all Focal speakers have been designed and manufactured to the highest standards in France.
This spring we asked Canadian distributor Plurison to send us the Electra 1008 Be II bookshelf loudspeakers ($4995/pair) for review. This model is the smallest loudspeaker in the Electra 1000 Be II series, Focal’s second from the top series. The Electra 1008 Be II is a sophisticated bookshelf loudspeaker which promises to improve a number of sound characteristics over its very well-received predecessor, the Electra 1007 Be. It has one of the most luxurious finishes of any speaker that has made a stop at the CANADA HiFi lab. Its curved front baffle is finished in a high-glossy black with a touch of shimmer (Focal calls this finish Slate Grey). At the top of the baffle, a curved aluminum plate houses the tweeter. The top panel of the cabinet is finished in a high-gloss black, topped with a piece of glass, while the side panels have a high-gloss wood veneer. My review pair had a gorgeous dark cherry finish called Basalt. Two other finishes are available: Champagne (a light cherry) and Slate Grey. For those looking for a truly unique speaker, custom finishes are also available by request. The build quality of these speakers can easily be compared to a luxury vehicle.
But these speakers’ elegant appearance is only half of the story. The Electra 1000 Be II series utilizes some of the most advanced speaker design principles and precious materials available today. The Electra 1008 Be II is a 2-way bass reflex loudspeaker which combines a 1-1/4 inch pure Beryllium IAL inverted dome tweeter with a 6-1/2 inch “W” midbass driver. The rare Beryllium metal possesses ideal properties for a dome tweeter because it is ultra-light weight and incredibly rigid. This tweeter is capable of playing up to 40 kHz at high pressure levels, without break up. Focal is one of very few speaker makers to use Beryllium because it poses significant manufacturing challenges. Focal’s IAL (Infinite Acoustic Loading) technology allows the tweeter to play down to an exceptionally low frequency so that it can take over from the midrange as soon as possible. Hence this tweeter can faithfully reproduce the critical 2000 to 5000 kHz frequency range, where human hearing is most sensitive. Much like the tweeter, Focal’s third generation “W” midbass cone driver was developed to be ultra-light and super rigid. This composite cone combines glass coats of different densities and foam of varying thicknesses. The design of the Electra 1008 Be II cabinets received the same kind of engineering attention as the tweeter and the driver. Each curve, inside and outside of the cabinet, is designed to address specific acoustic issues such as standing waves, dynamic compression in the lower bass, diffraction and edge effects. The tweeter housing is moulded out of a single piece of aluminum providing an ultra-stiff, vibration free platform. The rear of each cabinet houses very solid, high quality speaker binding posts.
The Electra 1008 Be II is an 8 Ohm speaker that has a frequency response rated from 46 Hz to 40 kHz and a sensitivity of 89 dB. It is crossed over at 2200 Hz. Focal recommends driving this speaker with between 25 to 150 watts of power. Removable foam plugs for the rear cabinet ports are provided for those who wish to adjust the bass level output.
At the beginning of my listening tests, I used the Classé Audio CDP-102 CD player and the Fatman iTube 452 integrated tube amp. Later, I replaced the Fatman amp with the Classé Audio CP-500 preamp and CA-2100 amp.
With the Fatman amp, Holst “The Planets” performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra, conducted by Zubin Mehta, has never sounded so natural on any speaker of similar size and price point that I’ve listened to in the past. At higher volume levels, the Electra 1008 Be II’s created a grandiose sense of scale, much like a live orchestra. The soundstage was impressively large in all directions and had a very precise definition. My ears could easily pick out not only various sections of the orchestra, but also some of the individual instruments. These speakers did an excellent job of handling the broad dynamics of the recording which resulted in a powerful, emotion filled presentation. The Electra 1008 Be II’s provided a respectably low and well executed bass. The lowest registers of a double bass played with the distinct sound of a bow sliding across the strings. The midrange had a great deal of detail with a touch of warmth. The highs were extremely crisp and delivered with remarkable realism and speed. The benefits of the Beryllium tweeter were clearly audible – high frequencies were remarkably rich, smooth and had a superb definition. There was absolutely no edginess or brightness in the highs. Cannon in D performed by the Festival Strings Lucerne from “Pachelbel’s Greatest Hit” sounded delightfully clean and passionate. Violins played with amazing fluidity and the harpsichord played delicately in the background. Overall, the Electra 1008 Be II’s played with transparency and outstanding resolution.
One of the musical guests at the 2010 Salon Son & Image was a Montreal-based folk-world band named Give. Their self titled album was available for purchase at the show. I was glad to learn that this album was very well recorded, with audio enthusiasts in mind. The moment I popped in this CD I felt the presence of the performers as if they were right in front of me. Their voices sounded crisp and convincingly real. The Electra 1008 Be II’s revealed every tiny nuance in the vocals. The experience took me back to when I heard the band live at the show several weeks back. However unlike the live show, this presentation was super clean and sparkled with detail – thanks to the lack of a live audience. Various instruments used in the four tracks of this CD played with the same impact and speed of real instruments. Cymbals and strings decayed faithfully. The bass notes played satisfyingly deep and were rich and musical. The soundstage was clearly defined, with air and space between the performers’ vocals and instruments.
To liven things up, I placed the Oasis “Don’t Believe the Truth” album in the CD player and turned up the volume. Listening to Lyla instantly energized the air in my room. The Electra 1008 Be II speakers delivered the vocals of the Gallagher brothers together with distorted, amped-up guitars and drum lines with just the right punch and head-banging emotion. During the slower track “Let There Be Love” the texture of the guitar strings played with such clarity that I could guess what type of pick was used to strum the guitar.
During the final part of my listening tests, I connected the Electra 1008 Be II speakers to my Classé Audio CP-500 preamp and CA-2100 amp. With this solid state duo, the sound became slightly dryer and more analytical. The warmth of the tube sound was absent but the benefit was a better defined, more detailed sound. Guitar strings in D’yer Mak’er from Led Zeppelin’s “Mothership” were more pronounced and various layers of sound were easier to distinguish. I listened to the entire second disc from this album and I couldn’t be more satisfied with the sound that I was hearing. The sound was incredibly natural and transparent, without colouration whatsoever. Overall, the Classé Audio gear was a really great match for the Electra 1008 Be IIs.
The Focal Electra 1008 Be II performed extremely well during my tests with both the tube-based Fatman amp and the solid state Classé Audio gear. The type of amplifier you choose to pair with these speakers is simply a matter of preference – they’ll be equally glad to play with either amp design. The Electra 1008 Be II’s delivered a remarkable level of performance for bookshelf speakers and surpassed many of my expectations. This speaker delivered many of the sound characteristics that I’ve always loved from higher-end Focal models, but in a compact cabinet and at a reasonable price point. This isn’t just another bookshelf speaker – this is a world-class, state of the art speaker. The gorgeous high-end finish doesn’t hurt either. If you’re looking for a bookshelf speaker in this price range, the Electra 1008 Be II should definitely be added to your “must listen” list. This is a true winner!
Focal Electra 1008 Be II Loudspeakers
Price: $4995/pair CAD