A black rhino. Two super heavyweight boxers. One Grande Utopia Be speaker. All tip the scales at over 200 kilos, but if it’s a talking point with massive presence you’re after, the latter will be the discerning choice for your living room – provided, of course, you get two of them.
These huge speakers – nearly 1.8 metres tall – are straight off the top shelf of Focal.JMlab, a French speaker maker expert in the business of manufacturing drivers. Indeed, Focal drivers can be found in speakers from many other brands, including highly regarded models from its competitors.
The company-s signature is the inverted dome tweeter, a design approach that institutes a concave dome for the convex shape used on conventional drivers. According to the company, this allows more of the energy that goes into vibrating the tweeter to be radiated as sound, not lost as heat. And this a good thing, because tweeters have to vibrate a heck of a lot to reproduce the highest notes in a soundtrack.
With such a whole lot of shaking going on, tweeters need to be made of extremely light and, to minimise distortion, very strong material. Metal alloys are the stuff of choice for domes, and Focal favours Titanium, but with the Grande Utopia Be the company has taken an even more exotic path.
Beryllium is two-and-half times lighter than Titanium and three times more rigid. It’s perfect for use in speakers, but difficult to work with. Focal-JMlab took on the challenge and more than two years later had developed a machine capable of making a pure Beryllium dome. The pay-off is a driver that can reproduce five octaves, with frequencies extending as high as 40,000 Hz – 20,000 Hz above where most other speakers leave off.
Good sound is just not about the high notes, though. The huge cabinets of the Grande Uptopia Be also house 15 and 10 inch woofers for handling all the bass notes, and for the critical notes in between, two 6.5 inch drivers. At the rear of these is the Power Flower, a magnet assembly that arrays 12 circular magnets into the shape of a flower to wring the maximum possible midrange performance from the speakers.
While many speaker brands buy drivers from companies such as Focal, bolt them into their own cabinets then add some crossover circuitry and their own badge – and excellent results can, indeed, be had from this approach – the Grande Utopia Be is built entirely under the one roof at Focal HQ. This enables a totally integrated speaker design, one that best matches the drivers to the crossovers to the cabinet for consummate musical performance. This is certainly borne out in the Grand Utopia Be, which, paired to the best quality electronics, exhibits tremendous musical scale, transparency and effortlessness.
So how deep does a pocket have to be in order to own a pair of these?
Beryllium is an extremely high-tech material typically used in X-ray equipment and some aeronautical and military applications. It is staggeringly expensive, costing more than gold and nearly 100 times that of Titanium. Then there is the hand assembly of the cabinets, the hand sanding, real wood veneers and manual polishing.
Considering all this finessing, $130,000 seems like a bargain for speakers that are, in all the ways that matter, a real tour de force.