The Focal SM9 3-Way active studio monitor is one of the strangest looking speakers I’ve ever seen! Unfortunately, they aren’t expected to be released until around March 2011, so I won’t be able to get my hands on them to take a listen just yet! Until then though, it is certainly worth doing a little digging around to discover what we should be expecting from these odd looking boxes!
Focal claim that the SM9 “establishes itself as a reference thanks to the precision of the stereo image, its capacity to reproduce each of the micro details of the audio signal, as well as unconditional respect of the original dynamics.”
Sounds like a good start!
THE FOCAL SM9 – TWO MONITORS IN ONE!
It’s claimed to be a major SM9 innovation, offering two monitor speakers, in one unique cabinet! And ‘unique’ is definitely the word for it! From the front, it looks kind of like a manufacturing error, with one speaker panel on the nearest surface, AND one on the top! Actually, scrap that last thought, what it looks like is something you would find in the boot of a lowered Citroen Saxo with a massive spoiler, 5 exhausts, sparkling alloys, neon lights on the wheels, and a sticker in the back window! You officially bin pimped!!! Not sure that that’s a good thing, but it’s only because I’ve never seen anything like it in a studio before! If it sounds good then I will invariably change my mind!
Something that I’m quite curious about, is how this thing actually works. How does it give an accurate stereo image from one cabinet? So, the SM9 is actually composed of 2 monitors:
1. A 3-way monitor (Beryllium tweeter + 6.5 inch ‘W’ woofer + 8 inch ‘W’ subwoofer + 11 inch passive radiator), which offers a phenomenally wide frequency response from 30Hz to 40kHz.
2. A 2-way monitor (Beryllium tweeter + 6.5 inch ‘W’ woofer), offering a frequency response from 90Hz to 40kHz, which allows you to check the mix transfer quality for systems that offer limited frequency response in the bass range (e.g. TV sets, computers, cars, iPod docks, etc). This monitor is also useful for checking the midrange register, which is very hard to equalize and balance in terms of sound level compared to other areas of an audio signal. The activation of this monitor is made by turning off the FOCUS mode on the side panel.
So it’s actually two different monitors in one casing! I get it now! This monitor isn’t something that is going to suffice for mixing on it’s own, you are still going to require 2 of them, it’s just that instead of owning 2 sets of monitors (one main set, and another set with a different type of frequency response to compare mixes to), you can just own one pair of the Focal SM9’s and switch between their built-in monitors as and when required. Kind of handy I guess, and a great space saving device!
THE FOCAL SM9 – THE SCIENCE BIT
The SM9 is built with Focal’s hallmark inverted dome tweeter, which they originally introduced more than 20 years ago, and has stuck ever since. The design of the tweeter produces a high output, but without requiring high energy input and without decreasing directivity. I’ll take their word for it on that one I guess!
The dome, which is made from pure Beryllium is capable of covering a massive 5 full octaves from 1,000Hz to 40,000Hz! This technology is said to reproduce high frequencies with unmatched speed and transparency, giving an unprecedented price/performance match, and the TB872 tweeters are also capable of delivering outstanding dynamics thanks to it’s ultra-strong magnetic field of 2.1 teslas! From what I can remember from my school physics lessons, that’s pretty impressive!
The Focal company have been developing composite sandwich cones for more than 15 years, and this speaker comes equipped with what has become known as a ‘W’ cone. The ‘W’ process (Glass/Foam/Glass) provides a true optimization of the frequency response through fine tuning of mass, rigidity and damping parameters. “The balance between these 3 fundamental and often contradictory parameters is at the basis of the outstanding sound neutrality of our speakers.” Thanks for that Focal!
Before I get into the fun part of testing them for myself (I wish :-( ), there are just a couple more technological details to note down. One of those is the custom designed ‘W’ passive radiator, which enables the SM9 to reproduce it’s lowest frequency range within a very small volume without any air flow noises. And finally, the SM9 utilises high performance tailor-made amplification technology, to deliver differing powers to each frequency channel (low: 400W, mid: 100W, high: 100W), ensuring that the dynamics of the low level audio signal are catered for, to provide complete bass transparency.
THE FOCAL SM9 – DO THEY LIVE UP TO THE HYPE?
The answer to this is that only time will tell! From what I’ve found out, they sound like they’re going to be an exceptional piece of kit! And for almost £5000 for a pair, and from a renowned professional monitor brand such as Focal, you wouldn’t be blamed for expecting any less! I’m certainly not, and am very much looking forward to when we get our first delivery, so I can set up a pair in our showroom and hear what all the fuss is about!
The Focal SM9 is available for pre-order from Absolute Music now!