Monitors of all shapes and sizes have always seemed like an extension of the stereo speakers I saved up my paper route money to buy when I was a kid. Over time they got better, clearer, definitely more expensive (ouch), and I learned what I needed from them to work and mix. Fundamentally just boxes that resonated well around the reproduction of music, any oddness they had or created by coupling to the room could be learned and compensated for. I figured out what the monitors did well, what they didn't, and how to get my work done. But what I never realized was how much of a presence speaker/room interaction accounted for when listening. It's been such a constant that I never imagined a world where I felt free of it.

I got to spend a couple of months with the Focal Shape Twin active near-field monitors, and my experience has been wonderful. These monitors seem to disappear in a way that I've not quite experienced before. There's far less room interaction than any monitors I've ever used. They're extremely clear, but not clinical, and speaking in hyperbole, there seems to be just the sound itself. I love these monitors, and I've found them to be true while providing great mix translation and being easy to work on.

A 2.5-inch high frequency driver (equally aligned for both horizontal and vertical placement) system gets a lot of monitor into a small space. The Shape Twin is made of curved MDF wood, covered in a dark walnut veneer. With included adjustable decoupling spikes, and a small footprint of about 18-inches tall, 9-inches wide and about 1 foot deep, these are not huge monitors by any stretch. Featuring two 8-inch passive radiators on each side and two 5-inch Flax cones arranged around a concave aluminum-magnesium tweeter, the earth tones all around would easily blend into the background of a period '70s movie. They're also not really that heavy, which honestly is wonderful. It's not that I move monitors around all the time (like the daily swapping at some studios), but when you dread having to move them at all because they're difficult to maneuver, that's just not good.

Featuring one 50 watt and two 80 watt class AB internal amps, the lower speaker takes care of frequencies between 40 and 180 Hz, while the top goes from 40 Hz to 2.5 kHz. Made of a new material for Focal, the cones are a rigid sandwich, layers of flax in between glass fibers, making for a focused and clear bass/low midrange reproduction. TMD surround rings around the drivers - what Focal calls "suspended harmonic absorbers" - help further minimize distortion in critical midrange frequencies. The inverted M-shaped dome tweeter used in the Shape Twin is a newly updated Focal design. The dome's new shape has improved rigidity, and thanks to an optimized voice coil paired with the suspension system found in Focal's SM6 and SM9 [Tape Op #108] designs, the Shape Twins offers even lower distortion (sense a theme here?), with the added bonus of a larger sweet spot. I can attest that the imaging is vibrant and easy to work with. I could make accurate and subtle decisions on placement even when working further back in the studio, away from the central listening position.

The passive radiators on the side extend the low-end, and they sound clearer than ported systems I've used. I think this is one of the major contributing factors to the Shape Twin's clarity in my room. Sub bass synths and deep kick drums just translate better with the Shape Twins, which may be their most killer feature. I barely ever had to use a sub to get really low detail. With previous monitors, I always felt like I could dial low-end elements that I knew would feel musical and have the right vibe but had been surprised how their relationships would change in the outside world. They'd work, just not always exactly how I expected. Low-end translation on the Shape Twins came across extremely stable in the outside world with no surprises over a number of playback systems. That alone sold me on their usability. Plus, the clear midrange detail allowed for matched balances with smaller speakers, and, pleasantly, mixes done on the Shape Twins translated really well on my phone!

The rear panel features balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA inputs, with a stepped 12 dB/octave High-Pass Filter control with settings for FR (full range), 45, 60, and 90 Hz. There are a trio of tone controls designed to help correct for room placement: a boost or cut of a low shelf at 250 Hz, a low mid bell at 160, and a high shelf at 4.5 kHz. Attachment points for wall or ceiling mounts are also there. Focal suggests 20 hours of break in at medium volume with full-range source material before you turn them up.

While the Shape Twins initially do come across as a low distortion take on classic rock nearfields, that would be missing the essence of what's different here. There's definitely a sense of the monitor itself receding, and the raw sonics taking over. They're so clear that, in my experience, when you crank them up (they do have the ability to get rather loud), the room resonance doesn't build like anything I've ever heard. The self-resonance of the Shape Twins seems to be extremely minimal, with a reproduction so even in the low-end that they just didn't excite the room in the way that I was used to - I had less speaker and more sound.

The Shape Twin has several advances for Focal, and the design emphasis on lowering distortion at all points is evident in the incredible usability and translation prowess of these monitors. Since modern production uses so much saturation and harmonic manipulation, they've created a wonderful tool that allows you to better hear what type of distortion you are actually using.

One odd thing that takes a bit of getting used to; the On/Off switch is really a Standby/Off switch. When you turn the Shape Twins on they need audio signal to fully engage. Later during normal workflow, if there is no input for a few minutes the Shape Twins return to standby mode and will need a little bit of signal to reengage. They do come right back to life, but it takes a little bit of time to get used to that pause in operation. EU Ecodesign standards now require implementation of a standby mode. Though there are no controls to define an alternate silent "rest" time, in the U.S., you can talk to your Focal dealer about permanently disabling Standby mode.

Well balanced across the frequency spectrum, with great imaging and tone shaping options that help pair them to a wide variety of rooms and situations, the Shape Twin's price point is fantastic. They're easily replacing monitors in my room that cost a few times as much, and outside of getting used to the standby mode, it feels like a step up in performance, build quality, and peace of mind. A solid choice,the Focal Shape Twins are stunners - fully capable sonic tools that help your perspective on sound and the world navigate this modern playback landscape.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

Or Learn More