A well-designed balance of clarity, depth, fullness and affordability
Review by Paul Vnuk Jr.
In our September 2021 issue, we reviewed the Alpha 65 Evo powered studio monitor from Focal. At the same time, the French speaker manufacturer released the smaller Alpha Evo 50—both models representing a new, second-generation take on the entry-level Alpha series. The Alpha Evo line has expanded to two additional models, including the Alpha Twin Evo and the Alpha 80 Evo, which replaces the previously popular Alpha 80.
The Alpha evolution
Since 2014, the Alpha series has been an affordable gateway into the Focal monitor line. The new Alpha Evo models are both an upgrade and redesign of the original Alpha 50, Alpha 65, and now, the Alpha 80 (first reviewed December 2014).
Boasting matching controls and features, the Alpha 50 Evo (5″), Alpha 65 Evo (6.5″) and Alpha 80 Evo (8″) are two-way active designs. The Alpha Twin Evo is a 2.5 configuration with side-by-side 6.5″ drivers similar in style to the company’s popular Twin6 BE monitor (see Fast Forward, Page 8 of RECORDING’s March 2022 issue).
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With a myriad of materials and shapes used in the company’s tweeters and woofers over the past decades, Focal is on an endless quest for materials that will offer the best sonic attributes and performance in its loudspeaker designs. This quest includes the W Composite material used in the SM series cones, Flax in the Focal Shape line, Polyglass in the original Alpha models, and the use of woven silk, Beryllium and more in the company’s tweeter designs.
Alpha Evo high frequencies are handled by a 1″ aluminum inverted dome tweeter seated in a custom dispersion-controlling waveguide unique to the line.
The low end flows from drivers fitted with newly developed Slatefiber cones. These recycled, non-woven carbon fibers are blended with a thermoplastic polymer reported to offer improved velocity for faster transient reaction time, deep, well-defined bass (owing to superb cone rigidity), and better dampening of stray resonances.
The Evo cabinets are MDF covered in textured black vinyl similar to the original Alpha models but with fresh molded plastic side panels. Another noticeable difference is the front-side laminar bass port on the bottom of the cabinet (unlike the dual port on the Alpha). The new single opening is an internally fluted design offering better low-end extension as it vents and disperses the low-frequency energy.
Stylish black grilles designed to cover and protect the drivers are included with every model in the series.
The ‘alpha’ Alpha!
The larger Alpha 80 Evo is both shorter and wider than its predecessor (15.35″ x 11.65″ x 13″), and at 21.6 lbs., it’s 7 lbs. lighter than the former model as well.
Like its smaller siblings, the Alpha 80 Evo is a bi-amped Class D design. It boasts 115W (80/35) of power. The Alpha 80 Evo puts out a maximum SPL of 106dB SPL/1m, with a frequency response of 38 Hz-22 kHz. Interestingly, these specs show a tad less output than the 140W/109dB Alpha 80 as well as a tighter frequency response. While I could not make a side-by-side comparison, the Alpha 80 Evo shows no signs of being underpowered in any way.
Inputs offered are a choice of XLR, 1/4” and RCA. Input sensitivity can be switched between 0dB and +6dB while a pair of shelving filters (+/- 6dB @ 0-250 Hz and +/- 3dB @ 4.5-35 kHz) help tune the monitors for your room and personal taste.
A built-in sleep mode gently switches off the speaker after 15 minutes of inactivity and brings it back to life when the signal returns. Unlike past Focal offerings, this feature is now selectable via a rear located switch adjacent to the master power switch. While automatically powering off inactive monitors can be handy, sometimes I find these (and other) monitors can shut down when listening at low volume (usually late at night) so being able to disable this feature is a welcome addition.
My first spin with the Alpha 80 Evo was in a 7.5′ x 9′ x 6′ basement office / listening space where I usually use a pair of Focal Solo 6 BE monitors. I expected the bass to be very strong here, and there was in fact way too much for the room to handle. Engaging the monitor’s filter straightaway did help reign the sound in. This accomplished, the imaging and clarity that emerged were stunning.
Moving to my larger pro mix room (Moss Garden Music), setting them up and listening alongside my Trio 11 BE monitors was a different story. While I expected the three-way Trio 11 to blow the entry-level speaker away, when it came to filling the space with sound and maintaining a respectable low-end, the Alpha 80 Evo held its own. These babies will crank loud and proud without any breakup or loss of clarity.
While the 10″ Trio 11 BE has an extended low-end reach that you can really feel, the Alpha 80 Evo is a powerful bass contender in its own right, full and lush. Even with low-level listening, the low end was palpable.
Overall, the Alpha 80 Evo exhibits a wide, clear sound with a full low-end bloom. It’s more open on top in the ‘air’ range than the Solo 6 or Trio 11, and like the Alpha 65 Evo, the Alpha 80 Evo has a more open, recessed midrange that highlights a great sense of depth.
Setting up all three two-way models side-by-side showed off a well-developed familial sound. As you move through the models, small to large, the sound stage gets more open, the upper mids and highs become better seated, and the lows go from tight and forward to full and robust. Although there are just two filter controls, the Alpha Evo series is very tonally malleable, able to tame the highs without sounding rounded or muffled, and subdue or goose the bass end with ease.
From Alpha to Zed
As an owner of both the Trio 11 BE and Solo 6 BE models, I know and appreciate the Focal sound, but which Focal sound?
Unlike companies that take a more linear good / better / best approach to sound and price, Focal currently offers three studio monitor lines each with completely different sonic signatures to choose from: the high-end studio-focused tonality of the SM series, the natural neutrality of the Shape series and now the full, dimensional clarity of the Alpha Evo line.
After being so accustomed to the solid presentation of the Solo/Trio models, I will note that it has been taking me some time to learn to mix with the depth offered by the Alpha 80 Evo. Still, I am enjoying the new perspective provided by the Alpha 80 Evo.
I am impressed by the Alpha 80 Evo, and despite its entry-level status, it is a seriously professional monitoring option that I can recommend without hesitation. They are also quite comfortable and easy to kick back and listen to.
Price: $549 each
More from: focal.com
Focal Alpha 50 Evo
To round out our look at the two-way Alpha Evo line, Focal also sent me the Alpha 50 Evo monitors. This compact 13 lb., 5″ driver-equipped box comes with all of the same controls, visual styling and accoutrements of the other models. It puts out 60W (35/25) of power with 101dB SPL/1m and a 45 Hz-22 kHz frequency response.
The Alpha 50 Evo offers the tightest and punchiest low-end response of the three, and while not as room-filling as the bigger models, it will project ample bass for mixing in a smaller space.
Due to the size of the Alpha 50 Evo, it is better suited to smaller mix rooms where you will be closer to the monitors. The Alpha 50 Evo offers an enveloping and dimensional soundstage in line with the rest of the series, even at comfortable mix levels around 70dB. You can also crank it up to the mid-90s with no breakup, distortion or collapsing of the space. Plus, the weight makes it a perfect traveling companion for remote mixing gigs.
Price: $359 each