Buying speakers can be a daunting, deeply personal, and financially speculative venture. Many of us play the odds when choosing a playback system for our spaces. Perhaps we've demoed specific monitors in other spaces that blew us away, only to be disappointed when we brought them into our own rooms. Some of us seek recommendations from trusted peers while others simply buy the most expensive monitors budget will allow. When turning our listening world upside down with a new set of monitors, I think we all tend to do what research we can, hedge our bets, and hope for the best. I've rolled the dice once already with high-fidelity speaker manufacturer Focal, and since then, I haven't looked back.
Recently, Focal released its Shape series of active professional audio monitors, featuring an updated version of their acclaimed inverted-dome tweeter, paired to a woofer that incorporates NIC (Neutral Inductance Coil) technology. Though I'm no scientist, I'm about to get a little nerdy here. According to Focal, its Shape woofers incorporate a customized "Faraday ring whose dimensions, materials, and positioning were optimized to make the magnetic field no longer affected by the position of the voice coil, by the amperage or the frequency of the current passing through it." Michael Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction in 1831. The "ring" (or induction coil) that bears his name is placed around the voice coil, inside the magnet, which helps to stabilize the voice coil and other elements of the driver assembly that move. Additionally, the Shape woofers utilize lightweight flax fiber cones with high rigidity, which offer improved internal damping over traditional paper cones, in turn resulting in a focused low end and a truer midrange representation. The front baffle of the monitor curves over the top and is covered in a beautiful walnut veneer. Double passive radiators (instead of ports) are on both sides.
After unpacking the pair of Shape 65 monitors I was sent, I followed the user manual's voicing suggestions to set the corrective EQ controls in the rear (to account for speaker position in the room), then tweaked slightly from there. Placement on my speaker shelf was easily customizable due to the four independently adjustable decoupling spikes/thumbscrews located underneath the monitors — a great feature! Focal recommends an ideal listening distance of 3 ft, which works well for small mix spaces like mine, and the resulting stereo image was very wide, even with such tight placement.
Soundwise, the Shape 65 can be groovy, but are more pure and accurate in my opinion. The woofer has a seemingly undistorted midrange honesty that articulates well, while maintaining that honesty at different monitoring levels. I heard excellent transient response and definition, with detailed differentiation between midrange frequencies. While mixing, I could easily pick out midrange conflicts between different instruments, which helped me to identify buildup when two midrange sources (like a mellow electric guitar and a Fender Rhodes, for example) blurred or competed for the same tonal real-estate. The Shape 65 (and all Focal Professional's monitors) incorporate inverted dome tweeters that are less fatiguing than most standard drivers, in my experience. They're accurate and smooth, with more aggression than a ribbon tweeter but less coarseness than a standard dome. In my opinion, the inverted domes are the hallmark of Focal's sound.
Passive radiators on each side of the monitor make the Shape 65s very forgiving of low-end buildup when placed near corners and walls. Monitors with radiators may take some getting used to for some, but for me, they seem to deliver more realism and evenness in bass frequencies than ported designs. Due to personal preference, I preferred running the Shape 65 with a calibrated subwoofer, but the Focal's low-end did reference very well without one too. Published frequency response of the Shape 65 is 40 Hz – 35 kHz.
Focal continues to push harder with new developments in speaker technology while it designs and manufactures all of its major components "in house." The Shape 65 is neither overt nor hyped in sound, but is accurate as all hell for a mid-sized, mid-priced nearfield monitor. Clean. Classy. Elevated. I can hear what I'm reaching for... it's my wallet.