There are many important components of an audio chain. You save your pennies to get a nice mic, a new preamp, perhaps some different flavors of outboard gear; or if you work in-the-box, maybe you collect plug-ins. Congratulations, you have begun your journey on the path to a gear acquisition habit that will confound your significant other, friends, and extended family — and leave you with an unquenchable thirst for more. But here's my advice: Save the money you were going to spend on rehab, and get yourself a pair of great-sounding monitors. All the fancy toys mean little if you cannot accurately hear what your gear is doing.
In getting a new mix room set up and workable, I found myself longing for new speakers that could deliver more low end and reach higher volumes. Moreover, I wanted something I could trust. On the recommendation of Tape Op's own Scott McChane, I started looking into Focal Professional's SM series of reference monitors [Tape Op #60, #61, #108]. I was originally considering the Twin6 Be, but was intrigued by the new Trio6 Be.
The Trio6 Be is unique in that it is a nearfield monitor with three drivers — 8'' subwoofer, 5'' mid-woofer, and 1'' tweeter — that can operate in two-way or three-way mode with the push of a switch. Three-way mode fires up all three drivers, and claimed frequency responseis35Hz—40kHz(±3dB),or40Hz—20kHz(±1dB). Two-way shuts off the subwoofer, limiting low-end response to 90 Hz (−3 dB), with the reasoning being that this mode is useful for checking mix "translation" to systems with limited bass response.
Each driver has its own internal amp (200 W, 150 W, 100 W), and there are three trim pots on the back panel for low-shelf (250 Hz), low-mid (160 Hz, Q=1), and high-shelf (4.5 kHz) adjustment (±3 dB). Also on the back is an XLR input jack alongside a sensitivity selector (−10 dBV or +4 dBu), and two 1/4'' jacks for switching between two and three—way modes. One jack goes to a remote switch (like a footswitch) that you provide, while the link jack connects to the other monitor(s).
A welcome feature is the ability to position the monitors either vertically or horizontally, with a mid/tweeter plate that can be rotated in 90° increments (using the included hex key). The cabinet is beautifully crafted with side panels of cherry wood. The speakers look real purdy up there on my bridge. Need a workout but hate to work out? You can stay right there in the studio and break a sweat hoisting the Trio6 Be around. This sucker is heavy! Between the amp, wood, and drivers, each speaker weighs in at a beastly 44 lb! Overall size is roughly 20'' × 11'' × 14'.'
My first listening experience after setting up the Trio6 Be pair was David Bowie's brilliant and final album Blackstar, one that I've heard extensively in various formats. I imported 16-bit, 44.1 kHz files from CD into a Pro Tools session, and played the songs through the beautifully clear DAC of my Crane Song Avocet 2 monitor controller [Tape Op #103]. Just calibrating my ears to the Focal speakers was a joyous journey. There was so much beauty in the detail and placement of elements. Greater space and depth were apparent, which engaged me in the music like never before. The speakers sounded very good. I listened to a few other selections of music, and again, the speakers sounded lovely. But sounding "good" is not what I would call the primary goal of a reference monitor. I want accuracy. I want truth. I want to work for the mix. And importantly, I want to be able to listen for a long time, sans fatigue. And on this point, the Trio6 Be delivers. I can trust this speaker, whether I am listening at low volumes, or I have it turned up. Its response is impeccably smooth, and even when the level is rising, there is no perception of excessive pressure in my ears, nor is there a "frequency bulge" due to unmusical behaviors. The music coming out of this speaker never hurts — it just gets louder. In a phone conversation with Andy Hong about this smoothness and painless volume (yes, we geek out internally too), I got schooled in intermodulation distortion and its sonic effects. Since Andy was so bloody articulate, I asked him to explain it again to make sure I didn't miss anything: "Intermodulation distortion is the introduction of spurious frequencies to a complex signal (one consisting of two or more frequencies), in which the new frequencies are sum-and-difference products of the original frequencies. Both harmonic distortion (HD) and intermodulation distortion (IMD) result from nonlinearities in the system that's reproducing the signal, especially when the system is being pushed to extremes. Of particular note is that IMD, unlike HD, often includes components that are not harmonically (and musically) related to the original frequencies. There is no single standard for IMD measurement, but there is some consensus in the belief that at lower volumes, IMD is more fatiguing than HD, and at higher volumes, it's more annoying than HD — sometimes to the point of being painful.
"When I first visited the Focal Professional booth at a trade show some years ago, I was able to handle some of the proprietary parts and materials that Focal utilizes in its speakers. I was amazed by the manufacturing precision throughout, and I was especially impressed by the featherweight mass but extreme stiffness of the woofer cones and tweeter domes, as well as the massive stability of the ‘spider' supporting structures. A technical discussion with one of Focal's engineers ensued. In short, Focal designs and manufacturers its own drivers, establishing the most exacting tolerances possible, especially in regards to the mechanics of true pistonic motion, which, when coupled with the use of high-rigidity composites and alloys, ensures that voice coils, magnets, and diaphragms maintain perfect alignment, even as they near the limits of full excursion. In other words, the drivers are able to change displacement linearly with the output signals from their respective amps — throughout their total volume range — which in turn means lower IMD."
For more on what Andy is talking about, check out Focal Professional's website for details on the technology behind the Trio6 Be's W composite sandwich cones, pure Beryllium inverted dome tweeter, and Class G and Class AB amplification. In practice, what does all this mean?
The bass response on the Trio6 Be is excellent and without sag. I can feel the beater of the kick drum on my chest, and I have learned to trust what I am hearing as fact, not hype. There's enough power here to handle all the low end that big-bass genres like EDM, dub, and hip hop serve up in heaps, with plenty of clarity, punch, and detail coming from the speaker. For most of my work with the Trio6 Be, I have been able to eliminate the use of my separate subwoofer, with the exception of the occasional check on unwanted crud that sometimes floats around down in the sonic sub-basement.
Likewise, the midrange on the Trio6 Be is beautifully detailed. For me, the mix translation of this critical area is worth the price of admission. This speaker offers an extra level of insight to what works and what needs attention in what I consider to be the most crucial segment of the spectrum to get right. Mastering engineer Ed Brooks [Tape Op #39] from Resonant Mastering in Seattle (and formerly of RFI) reinforced what I was hoping was true. I sent Ed an updated mix of a song for a recent Andrea Wittgens record I produced. The song had just not been sitting well with the other material on the record, and it needed a revisit, so I remixed it using the newly installed Trio6 Be speakers. Ed commented that he liked how rich the mix sounded in the mid and low-mid frequencies. Granted, I wasn't starting totally from scratch, but I got the mix together very quickly using the Focals, and the result sounded great. What more could I ask for?
On my previous, smaller monitors, I was always mixing a tad bass-heavy to be certain that mixes sounded "right" when I got them out of the room. Maybe it was the room itself, or maybe it was the speakers, but I have no such issues now with the Focals. In fact, on my first couple mixes, my bass levels were a wee hot because I was so accustomed to juicing the bass, but after a couple of days, I quickly arrived at trusting exactly what I was hearing.
I experimented with placement width as well as horizontal/vertical driver configuration, and I found that regardless of arrangement, the Trio6 Be pair's sweet spot is quite large and accurate. The phantom center is strong and is especially impressive with vocals, which seem to hover in a three-dimensional space. This, by the way, was the comment I heard most when others sat right in front of the speakers: "It's like I can reach out and touch the singer!" Or, "The singer is right there." Also, because the imaging between the two speakers is so strong, panning is accurate and pinpointed.
I love these monitors, and they will not be making the return trip to their origin of departure. The Focal Professional Trio6 Be is a fantastic choice for anyone seeking a high-end monitor that is on the bleeding edge of technology, and one that you can absolutely trust to serve you dutifully for years to come. It gets an A+ for fit, finish, sound, and build quality, as well as for flexibility, trustworthiness, and honesty.