Something Different… The Focal Shape 65 Studio Reference Monitor Review!

In a world brimming with studio reference monitor companies, it can be difficult to separate true innovation from marketing gimmicks without really digging in deep.  Digging deep is what we at Back Stage Indie Report wanted to do because the Shape 65 by Focal has a plethora of new and different approaches to the audio loud speaker.  It all started when I asked several producers and engineers that I know through Back Stage Indie Report, what studio monitors I should look at for our studios?  Though our 15-year-old Mackie 824’s had served us well, it was time to upgrade to newer technologies.  I was surprised and heartened by how many responses came back with the same brand, “Focal”.  Ok… sooo there was a bit of consensus.  But, was this just the latest hype product?  You know how these things take off with the force of zeitgeist alone.

…Fast forward 3 months...

I was at the AES show in New York City covering the event for BSIR and had with me my traveling companion to all things music, Multi Latin Grammy winning Produce / Engineer, Paul “Echo” Irizarry.  As we strolled through the maze of gear manufactures and distributors we came upon the AUDIO PLUS SERVICES  booth.

 

Simon CoteAudio Plus Services is a distributor of high-end consumer and professional audio equipment with brands like Focal, Devialet, Cambridge Audio, Crystal Cable, Siltech, Vovox, Pathos, Lauten Audio, Micromega, and Solid Tech that they distribute to a select group of quality Dealers through-out the country.  They have been doing this for over 25 years and have kept their brands to a few high-end manufacturers.  Not only do they distribute, but you can find them personally demoing these products on social media and at industry events everywhere.  National Account Manager, Mr Simon Cote is all over Youtube giving product demos that I found informative without being too “wonky”.

… back to AES in NYC…

As Echo and I approached the Audio Plus Services booth, he taps me on the shoulder and points to a display of the Focal Shape line of monitors.  “Those are the ones I was telling you about” he said while directing me toward the display.  We were approached by a friendly young man with a disarming smile who later we came to learn was Mr. Patrick Higaki, an Account Manager with Audio Plus Services.  “Would you like to hear them?” he asked and I replied with “please”.  He went on to explain the new technologies incorporated into the design like a flax plant-based cone material, an inverted dome tweeter with a new ridge for structural rigidity (reduces distortion).  As well, a passive radiator on each side of the cabinet to transfer a tight bass response that is un-affected by the proximity of a wall to the rear of the box.  We will discuss these in more detail further on in this review.  Well, back to the “innovation or Gimmick” question?  I asked Patrick if would be willing to put his money where his mouth is (figuratively)?  “Would you loan us a pair to put through the passes back at our own studio in Miami?”  Without hesitation Patrick said “Of course!”

… 6 weeks later…

Focal Shape 65 at Back Stage Indie Report StudioBack In Miami, after shooting emails back and forth with Patrick to coordinate the loaner Shape 65’s, they finally arrived.  We were anxious to get them set up because we were working with a couple new artists and wanted to see how their mixes sounded with the Focal monitors.  At first impression, they are handsome speakers.  Contemporary lines with a natural wood cabinet and a cone woven from organic materials (Flax). Focal Shape 65 at Back Stage Indie Report Studio Actually, Focal has taken their glass fiber technology and added a layer of flax fiber, which is much more rigid.   The  aluminum-magnesium tweeter dome is inverted and has a ridge running just inside the outer circumference to increase rigidity there too.  This new tweeter design they call the “M” shape (not shure why?).  As stated earlier, each side of the Shape 65 has a double-sided passive radiator as opposed to an open bass port.  The passive radiators do what ports don’t.  That is, providing a low-frequency response that increases bass clarity and lets you position your monitors close to walls without loosing accuracy. This makes them especially great for the small studios and mixing suites.  Without a doubt, one of the sexiest looking NF monitor on the block.  But we don’t buy reference monitors for decoration.  At least I hope not…  Though, classing up the studio a bit is a nice added plus!

The back panel is how you know the Shape 65 is a serious piece of audio gear.  There are two inputs, a balanced XLR and an unbalanced RCA that they say can both be connected at the same time.  This would allow a second independent source signal device.  There is an adjustable High Pass Filter should you choose to incorporate a sub woofer as we do in our studio.  To better tune the monitors to your room, there is also a 3 band EQ.  The powered units come with two built-in amplifiers .

…let’s plug um in…

 

Focal Shape 65 at Back Stage Indie Report Studio

Swapped out the mackies 842 for the Shape 65 on our mixing desk.  They are slightly smaller but much more attractive to the eye.  I decided to shut my sub and not High Pass the monitor in any way.  I did not want anything to overtly skew the natural response sound of the Shape 65.  I left the EQ flat and brought up a mix that I was very familiar with.  At a mid volume, the new innovations provide great acoustic transparency. The stereo imaging was precise and wide. The bass frequencies were articulate and naturally represented. The lower mid-ranges were unimpeded and naturally flat without any signal masking.   I found the mid range frequency easy to mix on the Shape 65. I actually found some hissing on my high frequencies that I completely missed before using them.  This process was repeated on several mixes of various styles and the Shape 65 consistently delivered.  Now it was time to try them as I would if permanently set up in our studios.  As I mentioned before, I use a sub, so I engaged the High Pass Filters to roll off some frequencies that would be overly augmented.  Additionally, I used the 3-band EQ on the rear panels to compensate for my natural room characteristics (every room has them).  The Focal Shape 65’s integrated nicely into its environment and delivered great clarity of the sonic image.  Street cost of about $899 each, you would be hard pressed to get this level of performance at this price point from any other maker.

5 Star Rating Back Stage Indie Report gives the Focal Shape 65 it’s top rating.  If you wish to learn about these monitors, check out some of Simon Cote’s videos and I’m sure you can hear them for yourself at a local Dealer

Specifications Provided by Manufacturer

System
Frequency response (+/-3dB): 40Hz – 35kHz
Maximum SPL (musical signal): 109dB SPL (peak @ 1m)

Electronic section
Inputs/ Impedance:
– Type: XLR: balanced 10kOhms
– Connectors: RCA: unbalanced 10kOhms with sensitivity compensation
Midrange and low frequency amplifier: 80W, class AB
High frequency amplifier: 25W, class AB
Automatic standby:
– Standby on: After approximately 30 minutes with no signal
– Standby off: Signal detection > 3 mV
Electrical supply:
– Voltages: 220-240V (T1AL / 250V fuse) or 100-120V (T2AL / 250V fuse)
– Connection: IEC plug and detachable power cord
Settings:
– High pass filter: Adjustable Full range 45/60/90Hz
– Bass: (0 – 250Hz) Adjustable, +/-6dB
Settings:
– Midrange/bass (160Hz, Q=1): Adjustable, +/-3dB
– High (4.5 – 35kHz): Adjustable, +/-3dB
– Power On/Power Off: On/off switch on rear panel
Standby consumption: < 0.5W
Displays and controls: LED for power on/off and standby

Transducers
Woofer: 6.5″ (16,5cm) Flax Cone
Tweeter: 1″ (25mm) ‘M’ profile Aluminum-Magnesium

Cabinet
Construction: 0.6″ (15mm) MDF
Finish: Vinyl, real walnut and black painting
Dimensions with four rubber feet: (HxWxD): 14 x 8.6 x 11.2″ (355 x 218 x 285mm)
Weight: 28.2lb (8.5kg)

Article Disclosure:  Back Stage Indie Report received no compensation from Focal, Audio Plus Services, and/or other person or entity for this product review.

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