The Focal family sound is generally very fast, sharp and engaging; these speakers go loud without compression and punch hard on transients, making them lively listens. And the new 926 doesn’t lose any of these good things, but it seems to do everything with a little more elan than you’d have got from the earlier 800 series. There’s a sense that the new cone material gives a smoother and more subtle sound, yet it is no less detailed – indeed it’s quite the reverse. I find the 926 to be a fine advertisement for its maker’s new driver technology, sounding as it does ‘all of a piece’ and really rather natural. Certainly it’s never screechy – as some rivals can be – or dull. Instead, it strikes a considered balance that preserves all those key characteristics we know and love from Focal, yet seems to do things in a more mature and even-handed way than the company’s past offerings at this price point.
There’s a sense that the new cone material gives a smoother and more subtle sound
The result is a big, expansive and open-sounding box that’s smooth and detailed from bottom to top. Being a three-way, it feels like it has a lot in reserve, so when crunching crescendos arrive – such as that powerful electric guitar noodling by Bill Nelson in Be Bop Deluxe’s Modern Music – there’s no sense of the speaker sounding breathless and lapsing into stridency. At the same time, those flax cones invest the midband with a transparent feel, meaning it is better able to show the differences between recording studios than many other similarly priced boxes. The Be Bop Deluxe disc sounds a little bright and bracing, whereas Isaac Hayes’ Stax-recorded Shaft is a whole lot warmer and more sumptuous – it’s good to know the speakers aren’t adding too large a sonic footprint.
Tonally the 926 is a real gentleman, then. Cafe Regio’s, which is a beautifully rich analogue track, is every bit as warm as it should be, yet shuffles along nicely without the sense that the speaker is losing the rhythmic plot. Although a little softer sounding, those flax cones are just as fast at capturing the attack transients of a snare drum rim shot or the dull pounding of the bass drum, and the result is an extremely enjoyable yet most unfatiguing listen. In absolute terms, there’s just a little bit of warmth in the upper bass, which is always an issue with larger floorstanders that aren’t hewn from granite. It’s far from an unpleasant effect and indeed careful room placement minimizes it further, but you’ll hear tighter bass guitar sounds from chunkier speakers further up the Focal range.
Focal Aria 926’s In Sight
You might think that with a slightly sweeter midband sound, the metal tweeter will stick out a little more than with previous Focal boxes, but it proves enjoyably smooth. Age of Love’s eponymous single is an exquisite slice of trancey dance music, from the genre’s halcyon days back in the nineties, and the 926s jump in with aplomb. At high volumes, this speaker is quite superb; distortion is so low that you can push it right up to the point that your flares start flapping, the Aria slamming out vast tracks of full, tuneful bass without the merest hint of complaint. Across the mid, the 926 is excellent – fast and poised and wonderfully engaging – and treble glistens away with a lovely crisp yet smooth hi-hat sound.
The fact that all four drive units are matched up to one another so well makes for a very convincing stereo soundstage. Whether it is the epic rock of Genesis’ Los Endos or the beautiful acoustic Aerial Boundaries by Michael Hedges, the Focals cope superbly for a sub-speaker system in the tricky job of reproducing the spatiality of the original recording. Of course, higher-end designs – and particularly panel speakers like Quad’s 2805 – do better, but the 926 is still very convincing. It seems to push forward beyond the plane of the speakers quite easily, but doesn’t ram the music down your throat. And it can hang instruments back very convincingly, too – with the overall effect of a very spacious and phase-coherent recorded acoustic.
Focal Aria 926 – a highly capable, fine looking mid-price floorstanders
As a fan of Focal speakers, I have always been aware that they need a certain sort of source to partner them for best results; their upfront and engaging nature makes them lots of fun, but they won’t flatter poor front ends gladly. Now though, the new flax cones make the latest mid-price Focal speakers far more amenable to a wide variety of systems. You no longer need to make excuses, and need worry less about partnering equipment. If the Aria 926 is anything to go by, this new cone material marks a step-change for the company. Overall then, these new floorstanders are an unqualified success; I really enjoy my time with them and I would recommend them to anyone in the market for such a thing. With power, passion yet sophistication and breeding, there’s a lot to like here.
· Product: Focal Aria 926
· Type: Floorstanding Loudspeaker
· Weight: 25kg
· Dimensions: (WxHxD) 294 x1,035 x371mm
· Features: 1x 25mm Au/Mg TNF inverted dome tweeter; 1x 165mm and 2x 165mm
· and bass drivers; Quoted power handling: 40-250W; Quoted sensitivity:
· Quoted frequency response: 45Hz- 28kHz (+/- 3dB)