A dual-driver take on the Shape design yields extended range and clarity
Review by Paul Vnuk Jr. with Justin Perkins
Just shy of one year ago, in our November 2017 issue, we got our first look and listen to the new Focal Shape studio monitors. The Shape series offers many new design features for the French speaker company in styling, materials, and sound. At that time, we reviewed the Shape 40, the 4″ woofer baby of the line, and its big brother the Shape 65 with a 6.5″ woofer. We didn’t review the third member of the family, the “middle child” Shape 50 with its 5″ bass driver.
The latest entry into the Shape line is the flagship Shape Twin. If you are familiar with previous Focal models you will know the the Twin designation means that it features dual matching drivers, over and under the center-mounted tweeter. This design, seen in previously reviewed speakers like the Twin6 Be (reviewed July 2008), is combined with the unique features of the Shape lineup.
A new Shape
The look and styling of the Shape speakers is best described as Mad Men 1960s retro, unlike most of today’s futuristic molded cabinets made of metal and other composite materials. Like all models in the Shape line, the Twin is housed in a striking walnut veneered cabinet constructed of 15 mm MDF. It measures 18.8″ x 8.3″ x 11″ and features a thick rounded face panel which seamlessly curves and wraps around the top and front of the unit. It weighs in at 24 lbs.
On its underside are four screw-adjustable rubber feet, used to angle the speaker for proper listening alignment. It also features rear mounting bolts for use with wall-mounting brackets.
Focal is famous for its inverse dome tweeters made from super thin yet rigid metals such as beryllium. The Shape offers a redesign with an added ridged lip in an M-shape, made from an aluminum/magnesium composite material. According to Focal, this new design increases the rigidity of the dome, which in turn translates to better clarity and high end dispersion.
- SEPTEMBER 2018: Focal Shape Twin
- AUGUST 2018: ART RM5 Active Studio Monitor
- JULY 2018: Universal Audio A/DA STD-1
- JUNE 2018: Toontrack EZKeys Dream Machine and Melancholic Pop MIDI Pack
- MAY 2018: Soyuz Microphones SU-013 Small-Diaphragm FET Condensor Mic
- APRIL 2018: RØDE Complete Studio Kit
- MARCH 2018: LaChapell Audio 583s mk2 Tube Preamp and 500TDI Tube DI
- FEBRUARY 2018: RME Babyface Pro
- JANUARY 2018: Arturia DrumBrute
Flax sandwich (yum!)
Most striking on the Shapes is the rustic wood fiber look of the driver cones. They are made from sandwiched flax fibers rather than glass fibers. The net result is a thinner, lighter, and more rigid material. The cone is seated in a TDM surround made of piston-like rubber shock absorbers that minimize stray reverberations.
The 5″ drivers also makes use of a technology that Focal first introduced in their Hi-Fi Sopra line, called N.I.C. (Neutral Inductance Circuit). This is an update of the Faraday ring design, which according to Focal is “optimised 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.”
The Shapes are a sealed-box design, meaning they lack a bass port. Instead, like the other Shape monitors, they make use of side-mounted passive radiators which move in tandem with the energy of the bass drivers. This controls air flow and low-end dispersion.
As such, passive-radiator designs are well suited for monitors that may be placed near walls or even mounted to them. It also makes the consistent, tight, and clear low-end response of the Shapes less room-dependent than other speaker models. This makes the line a great choice for near field positioning in smaller home studios and edit suites.
Power and tuning
There are three Class AB amplifiers in the Shape Twin, a pair of 80 W amps for the low/mid drivers and a 50 W amp for the tweeter. The frequency response of the Shape Twin is 40 Hz up to 35 kHz with a max SPL of 110.5 dB. Note that the two 5″ drivers are each tuned differently, a common Focal design. The top driver delivers 40 Hz up to 2.5 kHz, and the lower one is focused on the bass, 40 to 180 Hz.
On the rear of the cabinet are the same controls and settings found on the Shape 50 and 65. While almost all powered studio monitors feature some level of tuning, the Shape controls are simple, logical and effective: a 4.5–35 kHz high shelf, a mid peaking EQ set at 160 Hz with a Q of 1, and a low shelf from 0–250 Hz. All three offer ±3dB of boost or attenuation, and work well for further tailoring their sound to your room and tastes. There is also a stepped highpass filter with choices of 45/60/90 Hz.
The Power switch and socket are also located on the back of the box and the unit is equipped with an Auto Standby feature (defeatable via internal jumper) that shuts off the speaker is no signal is present for 30 minutes and then kicks back in when signal returns. The status is indicated by a front green/red LED. Connections are made with balanced XLR in or unbalanced phono connectors.
I am highly familiar with not only the sound of Focal speakers in general, being the owner of a pair of Trio6 Be 3-way monitors (reviewed October 2015) in my studio, but also the sound of the Shape line, as I have been using a pair of Shape 65 speakers in my home listening room/edit suite since last year’s review. That fact should more than give away what I think of the sound of the Shape series!
First let me say, as I did back in my previous review, that the sound of the Shapes is quite different than that of Focal’s Be, SM, or Alpha Series monitors. While all of those model lines nail the detailed and critical Focal studio monitor sound, the Shape line has an evenness, and better yet a richness, not found in the other models. If I had to distill down the sound of the Shapes, I would say that they’re all about the sweet and (dare I say again) comfortable midrange. None of this is comparatively good or bad; I’m just noting that they are different from other Focal monitors.
Not only did I try out the Shape Twin in my studio alongside the Trio6 Be, I also used them at home alongside the Shape 65, and lastly I took them over to Justin Perkins’ Mystery Room Mastering, where we listened to them in his treated mastering room alongside his PSI monitors. I should also note Justin is highly familiar with the Shape sound; he has a pair of Shape 65 in his home studio that he uses for mix checking as well as just for general home listening purposes, similar to my home edit suite applications.
Listening in all three spaces, set back and wide in his mastering studio and my mix room as well as up close and personal in my smaller home space, we both agreed that the magic of the Shapes is in their solid midrange. We were also both impressed by the flexibility offered by the rear controls for opening up the highs, gently carving the mids, and pushing the lows. In Justin’s mastering suite, this really helped with the Shapes in their wide/back position.
When side by side with the Shape 65 in my home listening space, it was easy to hear the improved, enveloping imaging of the Shape Twin; up close, with a conservative sweet spot, it really puts you inside the music. The closer I got to the Shape Twin as a true nearfield, the less necessary I found it to fiddle with the rear controls. Even at moderate levels, bass sources have a nicely-focused tight kick and punch. By contrast the Shape 65 offers a touch more low fullness and extension.
As with all the Shape line, I have listened to them and mixed on them for hours and hours, and fatigue is never an issue. These are also a great low-level mixing speaker, as even at low levels they maintain their rich presence.
Yes, I love the sound of the Focal Shape line, but in fairness I should mention that they have one thing you need to be aware of. They really do sound very different than most speakers in the “objects are brighter in the rearview mirror” world of typical studio monitors. This is just a caution that you will need a little bit of time to learn and familiarize yourself with their unique sound.
All this adds up to say that the Shape Twin monitors just plain sound nice. They’re not critically flat, not surgical, not mix-check odd, not larger-than-life kickin’—just nice and rich, suitable for listening as well as critical work. That makes the Shape Twin a very sweet multipurpose monitoring option to have in your musical life.
Price: $1099 each
More from: Focal, www.focal.com