Focal Shape Twin - active 2.5-way studio monitors

Focal Shape Twin - active 2.5-way studio monitors

There are many monitors on the market, however, regardless of the price, they are not very different in terms of their design. They are usually 2-way - woofer + tweeter. Boredom... Against the background of such constructions, the latest Focal Shape Twin monitors are unique - the level of construction and applied innovative materials suggests that it is a construction from the NASA development department :-) How does this translate into sound and work?

Radek Barczak

 Focal Shape Twin front rear

There is probably no studio monitor manufacturer on the market with such technological potential as Focal. Focal is not only a pro section, but also a consumer and audiophile department - these departments generate the highest turnover. And profits. The development department of this manufacturer is an independent organizational unit that absorbs a constant percentage of profits every year. It's a smart policy. All this to be a step ahead of the competition. Focal does not cease in the search for more and more modern and more perfect materials for the construction of transducers. At the same time, the economic aspect is an important element - the search is aimed at developing materials with high quality parameters, but not as expensive to implement as the notorious diaphragms of tweeters from beryllium. The Shape series is based on a few new solutions, and the Twin model is a kind of an attempt to perfect design study with a degree of complexity exceeding almost all competitive constructions on the market. Is the final effect adequate to the degree of structural complication?

At the beginning of the test let's face it - the Focal Shape Twin is not an uncompromising construction. Focal has such uncompromising solutions in its range of technologies as beryllium tweeters with minimally minimized harmonics and nonharmonic resonances and a binaural stimulus response resulting from the atomic structure - in beryllium as a solid element, sound propagates the fastest. Focal is the only producer that uses this element to build membranes.

Focal is also famous for woofers with composite "sandwich" constructions made of material called "W" Sandwich, which consists of Rohacell honeycomb foam and fiberglass layer. This material provides many times higher stiffness of the membrane even in relation to Kevlar membranes and composite Polyglass membranes. And this also translates into a brilliant reduction of distortion.

 Focal Shape Twin open tweeter

In the Shape series, these transducers have not been implemented. New ones have been developed. They are a compromise, because they are pickups from cheaper materials. Other power amplifiers have also been used - instead of the top endings working in the G class, Focal Shape Twin works with very "musical" AB endings. Well, by assumption, the Shape series is characterized by the smallest possible size of the housing. But the fact that the Focal Shape Twin is not an uncompromising construction - these monitors are located in the middle price class - does not mean that it is not an absolutely unique construction!

The design assumptions are impressive. The level of complexity and the number of variables that the constructors had to control when creating this monitor exceed most of the near field monitors. First, it would not be easy - it's an absolutely analog monitor. Zero digits. Filters responsible for bandwidth distribution are electronic components. And there is what to „share”, because the monitor is a 2.5-way design :-)

 Focal Shape Twin Flax sandwich cone woofer zoom

While designing the Shape series, Focal engineers have developed up to 5 new technologies that have been implemented in the new series. First of all, a new type of material for the construction of woofer membranes has been developed. What could it be? Lightness of fibers similar to glass fibers, diameter approx. 20 microns, stiffness similar to Kevlar, and tensile strength similar to carbon fibers. In addition, the damping characteristic value of 80% of the cellulose damping characteristic ... It is a composite made of a fabric of young flax and fiberglass fibers. This material was named "F" Sandwich, and the membrane construction technology was called Flax Cone. 

In constructing woofers for the Shape series, a new membrane suspension system called TMD (Tuned Mass Damper) was also implemented, eliminating non-harmonic distortions, according to the producer's data, even by 50% occurring at the maximum deflection of the membrane. It is worth noting that thanks to this suspension, new membranes of material with a thickness of only 0.4 mm also process the medium band in the range of 1 kHz - 3 kHz very linearly.

New woofers have newly developed magnets in a technology called Neutral Inductance Circuit (NIC). According to the producer, it is also supposed to reduce nonlinear distortions by up to 50% and eliminate the effect of sound compression.

 Focal Shape Twin caly 3 4

In Focal Shape Twin we find two woofers with a diameter of 5". One woofer processes, according to the manufacturer, the low-frequency band from 40 Hz to 180 Hz, where the signal is limited by a low-cut filter at about 200 Hz. The second woofer operates in the range from 40 Hz to 2.5 kHz, with the measurements showing that the filter with a slope of 24 dB / octave is set to approximately 2.3 kHz. In practice, it can be said that both woofers work down at a drop of -10 dB from the nominal level of about 70 Hz. A band below 70 Hz is generated by passive membranes. Woofer resonance are at 44 Hz, which allows you to strengthen the lowest band so that in measurements in combination with passive membranes 40 Hz can be obtained with a drop of -10 dB.

The bottom tweeter filter is also set to 2.3 kHz with a slope of 24 dB / oct. The tweeter is working according to catalog data up to 35 kHz. Although our measuring system works only up to 20 kHz, but on the measurements it can be seen that the efficiency curve of the driver in the highest band increases, by as much as 4 dB. So this 35 kHz is possible, although working on sessions at 48 kHz or 44.1 kHz, it will be more useful for bats :-) Unless you are working at an increased sampling rate of 88.2 kHz or 96 kHz. Then we have the chance to have better mapped recordings of microphone shots.

 Focal Shape Twin radiator membrana bierna logo

In addition, there are two 8-inch passive membranes - once a very popular way to strengthen the lower band with small closed enclosures. These passive heatsinks are tuned to 50 Hz. I have often experienced the delay of sound in the lower band using a passive membrane. In the case of this construction, this phenomenon does not occur! What's more, the passive membranes have been installed in such a place that they fit in phase with the entire processing band.

 Focal Shape Twin radiator membrana bierna open

Focal Shape Twin is a 2.5-way system of transducers and passive membranes creating an acoustic system. So it has one tweeter, two 5” transducers and two passive diaphragms 8". The work of all these elements had to be somehow synchronized. How did this Focal company succeed?

Two woofers with a diameter of 5 "have a slightly larger active surface than one woofer 7". So theoretically it would be possible to compare tested monitors with those with a 7-inch woofer. It must be remembered that two pickups in one set is a 3 dB gain, and a smaller diameter translates into faster work and better pulse signaling. Especially that woofers are extremely light, because they were built of a new composite, 0.4 mm thick, based on flax and fiberglass fibers. A large jump of membranes with a new TMD suspension guarantees an extra high dynamics. Each woofer is powered from a separate 80 W power amplifier operating in the AB class.

 Focal Shape Twin tweeter 2

The tweeter is equipped with a magnesium diaphragm (aluminum + magnesium - Al + Mg) with a characteristic M-shape. The diaphragm is "concave", and the outer rings allow for forward-reverse operation, preventing large deformations inside the diaphragm. This solution gives wider dispersion and wider sweetspot without the use of a waveguide or tube - which always introduces some phase distortions. An additional advantage is also lower distortions, which we owe to both the shape of the membrane and the material from which it was built. The Magnesium alloy, whose rigidity is 8 times higher than that of silk domes and more than 3 times higher than titanium membranes, is also relatively low, quite poor in harmonic resonance - the addition of magnesium reduces the unpleasant resonance in the highest audible band around 14-18 kHz, which is characteristic of pure aluminum membranes. This also translates into small harmonics distortions and non-harmonic monitors tested. The lightness of the membrane and the material's density make it possible to obtain a much wider effective bandwidth range - the tweeter in Focal Shape Twin processes sound up to 35 kHz. The tweeter is driven by a 50 W power amplifier, also in the AB class.

 Focal Shape Twin logo top

To ensure stiffness, thick MDF has been used for the casing, which has a substantial thickness of 25 mm on the front part. The rest of the housing walls are 15 mm thick. The housing is covered with black lacquer on the sides and a tasteful veneer on the front.

 Focal Shape Twin nozki

An interesting solution is to mount in the base 4 adjustable metal feet, thanks to which we can direct the monitor plane up / down. A useful solution.

 Focal Shape Twin back mixer

The monitors are equipped with two types of inputs - symmetrical XLR and asymmetrical cinch / RCA. Interestingly, both inputs operate simultaneously, although this may have an effect on reducing the dynamics. Two M6 threads are mounted on the back panel to mount the monitor to the wall on a special mounting bracket. K & M designs are recommended (sets of arm plus holder). A very useful solution if you use, for example, two or more large computer monitors and do not want to set the monitors too wide, which could make the stereo scene of our mixes unreal. 

In the back, apart from the inputs, the power socket and the power switch, we find a number of switches allowing to match the tested monitors to the acoustic conditions prevailing in our home studio. It should be emphasized that all filters are analog.

Monitors in the standard setting work in the full band, from 40 Hz to 25 kHz. If there is a need, we can limit bandwidth processing in the bottom using filters that are switched on for 45 Hz, 60 Hz or 90 Hz. So if we want to connect the subwoofer to our monitors, it's best to cut them off at 90 Hz.

The Midrange / Bass filter - set at 160 Hz with the goodness of one octave (Q = 1) will be extremely useful in many cases, it allows for adjusting, for example, amplification of this band range by reflections from the desk or mixer. This filter can be set within +/- 3 dB. 

In addition, we have two shelf filters - for the bottom band @ 250 Hz and for the upper @ 4.5 kHz with smooth regulation in the range of +/- 6 dB.

The adjustment of values takes place smoothly, using ordinary potentiometers without any cavity - this also applies to the potentiometers of the amplification level of the amplifiers... To precisely set the identical value on both monitors You just need to stay in focus. But you can live with it and work with it. In the end, how many times do we change the settings of the correction filters to adapt the monitors to our home studio?

 Focal Shape Twin woofers tweeter

How do all these technologies translate into work on mixes? The first thing that draws attention is the incredibly precise, punctual, but also soft in decay low bandwidth. 5 "woofers with light diaphragms give great readability to the pulses, and passive membranes add an octave down to the low woofer bandwidth. The impression is amazing. However, this is not a monitor for mixing and listening to hip hop, with a long subbase stretching over the legs. Focal Shape Twin is a precise tool, like a kind of macro-zoom, catching any bumps and errors of musicians or recordings. It can embarrass a number of rhythmical sections, revealing rhythmic and intonational imperfections below.

In addition, a substantially closed structure turns out to be less susceptible to unevenness resulting from imperfections in the room. We listened to these monitors during tests in three different, not very acoustically adapted rooms - just the normal "home" studios on the desk in the room :-) And behind each Focal Shape Twin was characterized by smaller unevenness in the bottom of the band than monitors with bass-reflex.

The second element of the sound, to which we pointed out, is the punctuality of transients. The sound in the middle and upper band gives the impression of being "dismantled" into constituent factors. It is worth noting that we are also talking about the bandwidth processed by the woofer. It came out, for example, when listening to the rhythmic division played by hi-hat and bongos. In the mixed recordings, suddenly a new rhythmic layer opened, which needed to be corrected. It is interesting that in a complex sound texture these monitors "do not get tired", do not lose their detail. The fact that it was more difficult to get a "nice" mix than, for example, on monitors with popular quasi-ribbon transducers that were popular in recent years. But ... in studio monitors, that's probably what this is all about. They are supposed to convey the truth, not to color and to add "beauty".

 Focal Shape Twin SMAART skladowe

Regarding the evenness of the bandwidth - in the majority of the range it is within the tolerance of +/- 2 dB, while in the full range it is kept at a rate of +/- 3 dB. Even in the measurement in the "free" space of a large theater and concert hall, burdened with reflections in the mid-range of 350 - 700 Hz resulting from the height at which the monitors were set, the characteristics turned out to be very linear.

 Focal Shape Twin SMAART char all

A surprising feature of the Focal Shape Twin monitors is that they display a very even frequency response even at lower volume levels. This is due to the lightness of the woofer membranes and the use of two smaller 5 "transducers that need a smaller pulse than, for example, a larger 7-inch diaphragm. Of course, the isophonic hearing curve works also :-) It is not about the volume, but about the precision and "compliance" of the transducers to work - you do not have to "load" them into high-powered speakers to control the full frequency image of the material being mixed.

 Focal Shape Twin tweeter center

E Muzyk 2017 SilverAs for the character of the sound - because I personally try to work at not too high loudness levels to compensate for the characteristics of hearing, I raised the plate equalizer by about 3 dB down the band - for a better impression of bottom placement. I also had to compensate for the reflections from the desk top using a dedicated filter - I used a value of around -2 dB. I raised the top of the band with the HF equalizer by 2 dB - for better control of vocal phrases. Remember that when you increase the volume level below, you have to take into account the need to compensate for the main volume of the monitor. The power of the amplifiers is set in the optimal position to obtain the full maximum SPL without the use of equalizer gain (110 dB from 1 meter !!!). When we raise the lower band, we exceed the maximum power. It is therefore necessary to compensate for this 3 dB on the main volume potentiometer.

 Focal Shape Twin front side 3 4

I'm happy with my monitor set. But if I was looking for new monitors, the Focal Shape Twin would be on the list of several models fighting for my reasons :-) If we like overflowing furious bass, Focal Shape Twin are not monitors for us. Unless we complete the set with a subwoofer. However, if you're looking for a precise, reliable full-range monitor at a good price, Focal Shape Twin is a very interesting proposition.

Distributor: MBS