Reviewing speakers is a funny game. As engineers, perhaps we pick up on how to evaluate monitors in a new listening environment and how to work within the limitations of those conditions – but more than anything, I think we collectively just know when we enjoy listening to music on a set of speakers. So, when a pair of Focal’s new Solo6 ST6s arrived at my studio to test, I figured I’d put them up next to either of my mainstay monitors (my Mackie HR824s [Tape Op #67] and Focal CMS 65s [#71]), do a few sessions, mix a few songs, listen to a few records, and pull them down. My older CMS 65s have a similar form factor and driver size, so I didn’t expect a massive difference in workflow or relative satisfaction. I was wrong. The new Focal Solo6 ST6s are on an entirely different level. There is an amount of detail and clarity that I was simply not getting from either of my other two sets of speakers.
The Solo6 ST6s are handsome units with cherry-colored ash wood side panels, a 6.5-inch woofer, 1-inch tweeter, and all the standard adjustments on the rear: Input level, HPF, High and Low frequency shelf, plus a handy low, mid notch. Oddly, the units I received had been set with the high frequency shelf at -1 dB (which is not the factory setting). I put it flat before I began using them, but after a few hours of listening and tweaking the adjustments, I ultimately ended up with the HF shelf in that same -1 dB spot and left them up as my primary monitors for several weeks.
When mixing with new monitors, I get nervous that the work won’t translate as naturally as it does with speakers I’ve known for years. However, I mixed two EPs for clients with whom I have a collaborative history, and neither noticed any difference in the work. In fact, I felt I could work faster and more accurately because the top end coming off the Solo6 ST6s was so clear and detailed. They’ve got that special thing where the highs are present, but not harsh. One byproduct of that clarity is that I was much more sensitive to noise issues with the tracks I had received and had to lean even more heavily on the trusty iZotope RX [Tape Op #130]. Tracking on the Solo6 ST6s was just as satisfying as it was to mix on them, though I did have one or two moments where I pushed the volume a little bit too high, and some of the explosive low end of Jamie Dick’s 24-inch WFL kick drum pushed the woofers a little harder than they were happy with.
One lovely feature of Focal’s new line is Focus mode, which kills the tweeter and gives an Auratone-esque / linear phase single-driver option. This mode can be triggered with any standard latching footswitch. There is a send/receive port on each speaker, so you can plug the footswitch into one speaker and run a 1/4-inch TS cable from that speaker to the other. I found this most helpful in mono. The Solo6 ST6 offers such a wonderfully wide stereo spread that switching into the Focus mode without also summing to mono felt a bit disorienting. That said, it’s a great option, particularly if the Solo6 ST6 is your sole monitoring option.
All in all, the Focal Solo6 ST6 is a fantastic, clean, and clear monitor at a reasonable mid-range price point. They are neither overly flattering nor clinical – walking that line of truth perfectly. After packing up the Solo6 ST6s to return to Focal, I immediately missed their detail, clarity, and focus and felt compelled to buy a pair for my own studio. ($1599/ea MSRP; focal.com/us)