The Grande Utopia EM actually consists of a plinth and five cabinets, but is physically divided into three separate elements: the tweeter enclosure, the two boxes above it, and the two boxes below that sit on the plinth. The top and bottom pairs are actually fixed assemblies, their boxes physically fixed together. The clever bit is that the tweeter cabinet moves relative to the bass and midrange below it, as does the midrange and mid/bass unit pairing above it, thus allowing the listener to tighten or loosen the baffle curve depending on listening distance. But with a speaker system that weighs around 572 pounds, the notion of adjusting these elements and then holding them stable while fixing them was clearly out of the question. Instead, Focal has implemented a mechanical arrangement of moving wedges that is simple, precise and repeatable. A drop down flap on the rear of the lower midrange cabinet contains (amongst other things) a beautifully machined crank handle. Fit it into the socket in the back of the tweeter cabinet and each turn raises or lowers the upper elements, the top two cabinets by exactly twice as much as the tweeter enclosure, thus preserving the correct arc. A mechanical/numerical counter allows you to set the angles precisely and the whole exercise will take one person a matter of moments.
The end result contributes not only to the striking appearance of the Grande EM, but also to the easy optimization of its sound, with quite small adjustments in tilt having a profound effect on the presentation and balance of the sound.
Virtually all loudspeakers employ what are now considered conventional bass units, using permanent magnets in their motor systems. These are generally driven passively, but increasingly, in search of greater level, extension and control, designers are resorting to active drive at low frequencies. It’s an undeniably attractive option, offering far greater extension and weight from smaller cabinet volumes, as well as a degree of tuning adjustment to match room conditions.
However, it is not without its own set of compromises, with complexity, cost, amplifier quality, and system integration all posing significant issues. After all, the inside of a speaker cabinet can best be described as a hostile environment for vibration-sensitive electronics, and active crossovers need to match the quality of the preamp used in the system, not too much of a challenge in an AV setup, but really hard to achieve in a high-end rig. And that’s before we even get to the question of amplifier quality and top-to-bottom continuity.
For a speaker like the Grande, where size and cost were largely irrelevant and quality of performance is everything, another solution needed to be found. Perhaps typically, it came from combining forward thinking and new technology with a concept that, in hi-fi terms at least, could be described as positively ancient: the electromagnetic drive-unit. In the days before powerful amps and high-quality, high-power permanent magnets, speaker manufacturers resorted to electromagnets to energize their drivers. You want more bass, more efficiency? Just turn up the power fed to the coil. Of course, it’s not quite that simple, especially when applied to a driver and system with the power demands and bandwidth of the big Utopia, as Robert Harley explains in his sidebar. But the attraction of a driver with not just significantly greater power, but also an inbuilt level of adjustability was just too attractive to pass over, and Focal poured massive effort and resources into achieving its goal. The results are impressive, even from a purely numerical standpoint.
Compared to the driver in the previous Grande, the 400mm EM driver offers an 80 per cent increase in available magnetic field (from 0.93 Tesla to 1.75 Tesla), an 88 per cent increase in the force applied to accelerate the cone, increased sensitivity (92.7dB to 98.6dB), a lower resonant frequency, and an overall reduction in distortion by a factor of almost four—and all down to the nearly 7kg of copper wire used in place of the magnets. Add in an adjustable-output power supply, housed in a small separate enclosure and with six discrete steps from 1W to 75W, and you have the equivalent of 6dB in level adjustment, as well as an “overdrive” setting!