I’ve also mentioned that the Bird satellites offer vibrant midrange tonal colors with extremely smooth, albeit slightly rolled-off, highs. To appreciate the benefits of those two qualities, try playing the familiar track “Narrow Daylight” from Diana Krall’s The Girl In The Other Room [Verve]—a track that has admittedly been over-used in countless showroom demos, but that is nevertheless very revealing. On this and many of Krall’s recordings, vocals have the potential to sound well-defined, evocative, and rich, but are also so closely mic’d that hard transients and especially sibilant “S” sounds can sound painfully piercing or overly “hot”. But the Bird system complements the recording almost perfectly, because its midrange makes the most of the beauty and expressiveness of Krall’s voice, in particular revealing the singer’s ability to emphasize certain phrases through subtly applied shifts in inflection or pace. Similarly, the satellites’ ultra-smooth highs help mitigate the problem of potentially brittle and edgy treble transient and sibilant sounds—yet without imposing an unduly muffled or muted presentation. Is there as much high-frequency openness, transparency, resolution, or “air” as there would be in some higher-end systems? No, but the tradeoff is that the Bird system’s balance adroitly preserves desirable measures of clarity while making the sound of many of today’s overwrought pop recordings much more listenable.
Finally, “Narrow Daylight” also makes a good vehicle for showing the Bird system’s imaging and soundstaging strengths. Thus, the Bird system places Krall and her piano at center stage, flanked by the members her band. A particularly delicious moment arrives about a minute and a half into the song, when the guitarist, who is positioned to Krall’s left and a bit behind her, takes a brief but powerful and exquisite solo that is full of crystalline notes played with soulful vigor. It’s impressive to hear how the sound of the guitar seems to take on a life of its own, completely breaking free from the satellite speaker enclosures and confidently maintaining its position within the soundstage. Of course the tonal and timbral characteristics of the satellites help here, too, so that instead of sounding just slightly “pingy” (as can be the case with some systems), the guitar as rendered by the Bird system sounds appropriate incisive, yet also smooth. My point is that with the Bird system individual elements of the sound are rarely presented in a vacuum, but rather unfold—at least where recordings allow this—within the context of the larger musical whole. This is a quality you would rightly expect to hear from larger systems, but it’s rare to hear precise, three-dimensional soundstages so fully developed from compact systems like this one.
Consider this system if: you like the idea of a small, sleek, unobtrusive three-piece system that is easy to set up, affordable, and that represents an astonishingly capable and refined “everything-in-one-box” introduction to legitimate high-end audio. Trust us on this point: you could easily spend lots more, yet wind up with less sonic sophistication and musical satisfaction than this system provides. Unlike most systems, this one also offers the option of highly effective wireless Apple iDevice or USB connectivity.
Look further if: you like to play demanding, large-scale pieces of music at high volume levels (Mahler symphonies, hip/hop mixes at semi-realistic club levels, etc.). The Bird system does many things well, but it can’t and doesn’t defy the laws of physics. Note, however, that the versions of the system based on the larger Bird—or especially Super Bird—satellites will play much louder than the entry-level version reviewed here.
If you’ve ever wanted a flexible, affordable, and sophisticated taste of high-end audio where everything you need comes in one neat shipping carton, this is the system for you. Whether you use it on your desk or to fill a room with sound, you won’t be disappointed.
Focal Bird Compact Audio System
Little Bird 2-Way Satellite Speaker
Driver complement: 4-inch Polyflex mid/bass driver, small-diameter aluminum dome tweeter.
Frequency response: 89Hz – 25 kHz
Impedance: 8 Ohms
Accessories: Two sets of speaker stands suitable for tabletop or wall-mount applications (one set features flared “Tulip” pedestals while the other set features splayed tripod-type feet lat look like stylized interpretations of birds’ feet), wrench for adjusting speakers and for locking them in place, wall-mount bracket for the Power Bird, and rear-panel mesh grille for the Power Bird.
Dimensions (H x W x D): 8” x 4.69” x 5” (speakers mounted on Tulip stands)
Weight: 1.65 lbs.