In Tape Op #60, I gave a glowing review of the Focal Solo6 Be studio monitors, and now I turn to the Sub6 Be, a mighty subwoofer especially designed for use with Focal's 6-range speakers. The Sub6 arrived about a week after the Solo6s, so I'd had time to acclimate to the bass response of the Solo6s before taking the plunge into the deep end. With a 350 Watt BASH amp powering an 11" diameter "W" cone driver in a cabinet with a large-section laminar port, the Sub6 has a frequency response reaching down to 30 Hz. The Sub6 is designed to serve as the LFE channel speaker in a surround system or as a bass or sub-bass complement in a stereo system. In my use, it was as the subwoofer in a stereo monitoring configuration with a pair of Solo6s
serving as the satellites. Hooking up the Sub6 was simple, and getting a grip on
how to tune the whole system was far easier than I had expected. By plugging the outputs of my monitoring chain into the L/R inputs on the back of the Sub6, and then taking the L/R outputs up to the Solo6s, I was ready to go. On the rear panel are a number of controls that allowed me to make choices about how I wanted the different components in the system to behave. A high-pass filter affecting the L/R signals being sent to the satellite speakers can be switched between 75 Hz, 100 Hz, or completely bypassed. A low-pass filter for the Sub6 can be continuously varied between 50 Hz and 150 Hz, allowing me to dial in how much of the low frequencies I wanted the Sub6 to handle. There is a volume control for the Sub6, a mute switch, as well as a polarity switch, and a phase selector that is continuously variable between zero and 180 degrees.
Basically, everything needed to tune the components of the system to each other in a way that best suits the room is on the back of the Sub6. The high and low-shelf controls on the Solo6s provide further control. There's also a jack for a remote bypass switch that brings the sub in and out, while simultaneously defeating and reactivating the hi-pass filter to the Solo6s (or whatever satellite speaker you attach to the Sub6)-a very cool feature for A/B'ing.
Fortunately, my room is treated with bass traps, so aligning the Sub6 to the Solo6s in my listening position was relatively unproblematic. After playing with the high and low-pass filters, I settled in on two settings that I liked. One was with the Solo6s in full-range mode, and the Sub6 low-passed at 50 Hz, allowing the sub to take over where the Solo6s naturally left off (around 40 Hz). The other setting I liked was with the Sub6 and Solo6s crossed over together at 75 Hz. I ended up using the latter setting mostly, finding the bass response in my room to feel more powerful with the Sub6 taking more of the low-end duties. Also, with the Solo6s rolled off at 75 Hz, the midrange imaging seemed to open up even further, and a gentle extension of the depth of field was noticeable. The high end sounded unaffected by whether the Sub6 was in use or not.
Listening to music with the possibility of feeling 30 Hz is always a path of discovery. Some records have little to say below 50 Hz or so, while others carry low-end signals I never knew were there. The Sub6 delivered the lowest of lows with the same kind of clarity and punch I raved about in the Solo6s. Again, I could hear a lack of distortion, if that's possible. With bass frequencies that extend deep enough to blow your pant cuffs, there is an inherent lack of definition in some records that blew my mind as well. (Check out Lanois' kicks with a subwoofer!) Compared to
the Solo6s on their own, the Sub6 left absolutely nothing to the imagination. If there were signals carrying 30 Hz, then those were revealed.
Of course, I couldn't help to make comparisons between the Focal system I had assembled and the Barefoot Sound MicroMain27s I use at Mavericks Studio. Because the monitoring situations were not the same, I'm not really comparing apples to apples, but I will say that working with the Focal system felt remarkably similar to using the MM27s, but seemed to reach into even deeper frequencies than the Barefoots (whose low-end response is rated down to 38 Hz). The amount of information coming out of both systems across the entire frequency spectrum is remarkable. Still, the Barefoots are a unique experience, since the sub frequencies are delivered on the same physical plane as the rest of the spectrum, whereas the Sub6 feels and sounds more like what it is, a separate subwoofer.
Comparing the Solo6s on their own to the whole Focal system with the sub forced me to revisit some of my gushing conclusions about the low end of the Solo6s. Interestingly, the Sub6 made me appreciate the Solo6's low end even more. Of course, adding 350 Watts and nearly twice the speaker diameter added a ton of power and rumble, freeing up the Solo6s to do a slightly better job with the midrange. However, when you consider the price of the Sub6 ($1450 street), we've already leapt into another price bracket entirely, and the Solo6s aren't playing as heroic of a role as they do on their own. Without the Sub6, the Solo6s bring a level of transparent monitoring to a price point where there's little competition. At $3450 for the whole system, the range of comparable options changes considerably. With that said, the Sub6 was surprisingly easy to add on to the Solo6 and was naturally married to the Solo6s sonically. Anyone doing sound design for film or working in a genre that requires constant monitoring of the deepest of bass frequencies would appreciate the clarity, versatility, and ease of the Sub6-in use with or without Focal monitors as the satellites. ($1595 MSRP; www.focalprofessional.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.