Focal SM9 Studio Monitors

Oct 1, 2012 9:00 AM, Mix, By Kevin Becka

MID-SIZE SPEAKER WITH SWITCHABLE EQ, PLENTY OF SPL AND A SECRET

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Focal SM9 side

Focal is the only company that holds the patent for the manufacture of 100-percent pure Beryllium tweeters, and they sound fantastic. Some reviewers have dissed Beryllium as being too hyped at the top but I don’t find this to be the case. I find Beryllium-based to be very smooth—I love the sound of cymbals, transients, the air I get on vocals, accuracy of room reflections and the incredible stereo field. The aural picture is so solid that you forget the boxes are there and concentrate more on the phantom image that takes on a life of its own. You’d swear center-panned elements are coming right out of the wall.

Dialing Them In

Because of the sheer power and size, I first thought the SM9s would be too much speaker for my small room, but I was so wrong. It’s the perfect speaker for any space that can’t support a midrange and near-field monitor. The EQ options give you many ways to tune the monitors to your space. I could tell that much thought went into the frequency choices and Q widths—they are very musical. At first I ran the SM9s flat and there was some tubbiness due to wall proximity and the size of my room. My sweet spot is very small, but the EQs on the SM9s made it simple to fine-tune that golden area.

After talking with Simon Cote from Audio Plus Services, I employed the 160Hz cut option. He recommended that I kick it down a dB and I instantly A/B’d the choices using Direct Input. This was a definite improvement. It took me a few mixes to feel confident with my EQ choices, but now I’m mostly using the Focus button, especially near the end of a mix when I’m trying to gauge how much bottom is too much and whether I’ve gotten off track.

The Price of Trust

As a reviewer, one of my tenets is to ignore the $$ until the end of the process. It’s too easy to discount something as too cheap or too expensive and confuse the difference between money and value. During this review I’ve had more than one friend say, “Yeah, but they’re so much!” Yes, the price is dear, but you’re not buying just a monitor. It’s two systems. Focal is the first company to put a two- and three-way in one box, so there’s a bit of early adopter pricing at play here. There are obvious R&D costs, but more important, you’re buying trust, the confidence that your listening decisions are beyond question. Frankly, that’s worth whatever you can afford. Once you hear them, you can’t ignore the SM9s’ sonic superiority, clean quiet power, and unique features like Focus and Direct Input mode. The sum of all these qualities makes the Focal SM9 the smart choice for anyone looking to improve their monitoring experience, thereby improving their mixes.

Kevin Becka is Mix’s technical editor.

TRY THIS

Playing with the orientation of your speakers will give you more ways to make sure your listening experience is at its best. Speakers on their sides or upright? Tweeters in? Tweeters out? EQ options? It’s all okay and different for every listener and room. Get a couple of friends involved, make the switches quickly, and then get everyone’s impressions across a wide range of listening sources. You may be surprised that something you thought was against the rules turns out to be your best bet.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

COMPANY: Focal Professional

PRODUCT: SM9 Monitors

WEBSITE: focalprofessional.com

PRICE: $3,595 each

PROS: Sonically excellent; Focus Mode, switchable EQ.

CONS: May be too pricey for some.






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