Focal 1008be

Living Voice vs Focal 1008be


Introduction
I have not posted a review here for a while as my percentage of Naim gear has been reducing over time, but these speakers have impressed me mightily and present a solution that feels akin to pulling a rabbit out of a hat. A small speaker that in a smallish room produces real tuneful bass, oh, and has superb higher frequencies as well.

One of the strengths of the Naim forum is the electronics commonality allows a sharing of relevant experience, a brief example: A number of years ago I had stopped using Naim as my main amps. I moved from a Chord DAC64 to the Benchmark DAC1, this is a superb DAC that I thoroughly enjoyed but was continually criticised here. I unplugged my DAC and cabling and walked down to my local dealer and plugged it into a midrange Naim system - 252, PSU, 250 and Focal speakers from memory, it sucked. All life and energy disappeared from the music. Yet another lesson that this hobby is about far more than 1s and 0s, and that context matters. I cannot offer this context, but I suspect these speakers will still deliver for members here.

I have been going through a system re-modelling over the last year or so, although I hadn't really intended this. There are fixed points in my system:

EAR534;
EAR868PL (new addition);
LP12/Aro/Geddon; and
Bel Canto DAC3.5vb.

My Naim NS01 is fixed, until it inevitably dies; the cost of repair will then determine whether it stays.

I had thought that my Living Voice Auditorium IIs were also fixed, but this fixture was loosened by a Bake Off. I had the pleasure of listening to Graham's system which at that time included Tannoy GRF 15" Gold DCs. This in combination with his vinyl front end took his system as near to 'the edge' as I felt you could take it while remaining on the right side; it was a bit of a tight rope walk, and one that worked brilliantly. Not quite so well with his CD front end when playing female vocals, but with classical music, and the Barberolli/Du Pre Elgar Cello Concerto in particular, was breath taking. I bought the new mastering of the Barberolli Elgar pieces as a result and whilst they are very good in my system the emotional connection wasn't there to the same extent.

Graham bought over his 10" Tannoy DCs to my house. The Tannoy sound was there, on a smaller scale. The Living Voice bass heft was simply so much better. The Tannoys revealed the difference in quality between the LP12 and NS01 front ends clearly; in saying this it doesn't mean that the LP12 is automatically better, it depends on what is being played. The Living Voice equalises the two front ends not allowing the music to quite hit the heights that they can.

Having sold some HiFi pieces I had an available war chest and had a definite plan to listen to, and probably buy, a pair of Tannoy 12" DCs on sale on the WigWam for £1k, an excellent price for what look to me to be some great speakers. Having arranged to go over and listen to them I started to cogetate, how would they fit into my living room?


The Room
Our living room is 14' x 12', but the 14' is effectively reduced to 12' by a book case. The wall behind the speakers is solid brick, but includes the doorway set at a 20 degree angle, toward the listener.

This room is not ideal for the Living Voice speakers, there should be more space than the 4' gap between the speakers and more space behind than the 12", although these are angled to the wall extending this space to 16". By themselves the bass is too strongly re-enforced and so I filled the rear port with straws with varying depths. This reduced the bass enforcement.

I use Townsend Supertweeters with the LVs.

The room would also appear not to be ideal for the Focal 1008be. The reviews I read state that they are generally best placed when pulled 3' to 4' from the rear wall, and 3' from the side walls. In my room the speakers are 16" from the rear wall, 2.5' and 3.5' from the side walls. The speakers to date have been placed so that the rear (unplugged) port fires into a corner in one side, which has a rack of LPs which probably act as a baffle, on the other they fire towards the living room door which will further deflect the sound to the right-hand wall.

Speaker History
In 1982 I bought a pair of Linn Kans, these remained my main speakers for the next twelve or so years before being replaced by Art Skibos. A number of years ago I did an extended series of auditions which eventually led to my purchase of the Living Voice Auditorium IIs, the best speakers I had had in my system. Real bass heft and delightful with female vocals. I did note that my musical diet altered, the percentage of rock declined whilst jazz increased.

It was interesting when selling the Linn Kans a few weeks ago to plug them into my current system; the Living Voice are simply much better speakers, but they did clearly show the way in which the LV top end is rolled off; as I wrote listening to the Kans, '... felt like having a refreshing shower'. The Kan tweeter clearly showed in detail what was happening with cymbals on the drumkit, detail that is moved backwards by the LVs, it is there but you have to actively listen for it.


Tannoy, Living Voice and Focal.
The Tannoy DCs ally top end detail with great bass in a seamless presentation that is addictive. However, the bass is dependent on the case size and this would be overpowering in my modestly sized living room to achieve a bass to equal the LVs. A friend who a decade ago was my Naim dealer and knows my system recommended I get the Focal 1008be. As mentioned above the reviews all sounded warning bells in my head. The more I thought about it the more I felt I just had to work through a dealer who would lend me the speakers, I found a pair which I collected last Friday on the proviso that I could return them after using them for a week or so.

Adding to my doubts were the Focal specs. I LOVE the bass on the Living Voices, they add depth and excitement that I will simply not live without; these go down to 35Hz, the Focals to 46Hz. Would they be up to the task?

Listening Tests
My current test playlist is:

Artist - Album - Quality - Track:
Rolling Stones - Brussel Affair - 4416 - Brown Sugar
Jeff Buckley - Grace - 4416 - So Real
Phil Collins - Tarzan - 4416 - Two Worlds
Phil Collins - Tarzan - 4416 - Son of Man
Keane - Hopes and Fears - 4416 - Bend and Break
Creedance Clearwater Revival - Chronicles - 4416 - Susie Q
Thompson Twins - Into The Gap - 4416 - Doctor Doctor
James Horner - Star Trek: Wrath of Khan - 9624(LP) - Surprise Attack
John Powell - How to Train Your Dragon - 4416 - This is Berk
Stevie Nicks - The Other Side of the Mirror - 9624(LP) - Long Way to Go
Handel - Messiah: Butt, Dunedan Consort - 9624 - Thus Saith The Lord
Rachmaninov - Piano Concerto 2: Jorge Prats - 4416 - II.Adagio
Orff - Carmina Burana: Czech Radio Symph Orch - 4416 - O Fortuna
Rimsky Korsakov - Scheherazade: Piano Duo - 8824 - 2nd Movement
Fleetwood Mac - Rumours - 9624 - The Chain
Elton John - Live at A&R Studios NYC - 9624(LP) - Sixty Years On
Marvin Gaye - Motown Gold - 4416 - I Heard It Through The Grapevine
Four Tops - Motown Gold - 4416 - Reach Out, I'll be There
Simon & Garfunkle - Old Friends - 4416 - Keep the Customer Satisfied
Carly Simon - No Secrets - LP - You're So Vain
Pink Floyd - The Wall - LP - Side 2

This list deliberately includes tracks that are not the best mastered. In addition I played a number of albums and tracks that I thought would inform the comparison:

Rich Woman - Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - 4416
Babylon - David Gray - 4416
Upojenie - Pat Metheny & Anna Maria Jopek - 4416

First up were the Living Voice:



To be followed using the same material by:



Rolling Stones - Brussel Affair - 4416 - Brown Sugar
It was immediately obvious how much detail the Berrylium tweeters were delivering. Not in a falsely highlighted way but in a unified soundfield. It was as though the Kans detail was being more delightfully delivered in conjunction with the LV bass, but, and this was surprising, the quality of the 1008 bass was a step up on what I had heard from the LV, which was revealed to be somewhat one note in comparison to the Focals.

Stevie Nicks - The Other Side of the Mirror - 9624(LP) - Long Way to Go
The bass on the Focals was linear, there were no notes where the bass bloomed, the LV could demonstrate this in my room. This worked to effect for the LV on this track where there is a delicious puase where a bass guitar note is leaned on and works delightfully. The Focals lack this element of bloom, which I suspect is accurate - but I missed it.

Rimsky Korsakov - Scheherazade: Piano Duo - 8824 - 2nd Movement
Oh, wow. I enjoyed this through the LV, but with the Focals the piano takes real and realistic weight; hadn't expected that.

Elton John - Live at A&R Studios NYC - 9624(LP) - Sixty Years On
The three performers are more clearly delineated via the Focals, I suspect there is more to be gained here by careful speaker positioning. The high energy drum work is infectiously conveyed.

Marvin Gaye - Motown Gold - 4416 - I Heard It Through The Grapevine
The LV is slightly kinder, hiding the issues in the recording. The impact is brilliantly conveyed by the Focals, but the vocals are spotlighted - not unlistenable at all, but certainly more comfortable via the LV.


Rich Woman - Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - 4416
Babylon - David Gray - 4416
Subterranean bass, and surprisingly realised on the Focals. Deep, but not at all uncontrolled.

Upojenie - Pat Metheny & Anna Maria Jopek - 4416
On the LV this album, in conjunction with the Townsend Supertweeters, gets very near to overly sharp. On the Focals the music is just brilliantly realised - unexpected.


Conclusion
These are two excellent speakers. In my system in my room the Focals are something very special. That they have a beautifully realised top end was something I expected. That their bass was wonderfully extended and tuneful surprised and delighted me. After listening to them for four hours I rang the dealer and told Tony at Acoustic Arts that they wouldn't be coming back.

I suspect that the Living Voice in a larger room have more to give. However, whatever is done they won't match the high frequencies of the Focals, and this helps to energise a lot of music.

In fact one of the things that has impressed me most about the Focals is their clarity. The music is presented in a manner that is incredibly clear.

The Focals have delivered all I was looking for from the Tannoys, but in a far more practically sized package. What they deliver is incredible. If you have a more modestly sized room I think that you may find these deliver in spades.

M

Original Post

Great comparison review Mr Underhill.

I have a pair of Focal Profil  77 floorstanders and was listening to Classic F.M sunday and it was so easy to follow instruments in the soundstage.A mate had a pair of Living Voice obx r2 s running on 7 watt monoblock SET amps and he changed them for Focals.

i had a pair of 1007 be a few years ago and then upgraded to 1008. The latter sounded really bad fresh out of the box- the 1007 sounded better! but after 2 weeks of non-stop break-in (face to face, out of phase) the 1008 REALLY opened up. Blast the hell out of them if they are brand new  

Hi Tabby,

I did enjoy the LVs, but I was squeezing a square peg into too small a hole. This probably didn't allow them to give their best, although they were chosen after a loooong audition process ....and the the Focals just sing, such clarity. I bought them ex-dem and the dealer had a bit of doubt about the EAR amps, but they are a superb partnership.

I have heard the Naim amps though non-be Focals, love to hear the combination.

Hi MCJT,

I asked the dealer how much time had been put on the speakers and he confessed that he had run a CD through them for a number of hours before I picked them up as he couldn't remember. I find it hard to comprehend how they could get better.

As he knew I was running valve amps he demoed them to me using ARC, rather laid back - not so in my system, but no trace of edge, unless it is in the source music. I am just so glad that these are delivering what I heard in the Tannoy DCs but is a package that is practical for my room.

I had a friend over yesterday who plays drums and guitar, he was amazed at the detail that the speakers were presenting, but not in a sterile or analytic way. As I type I am listening to Peter Gabriel's remastered 'So' and I keep being interrupted by detail in the playing that I have never noticed ......and that BASS!

M

 

Terrific write-up, Mr Underhill. I enjoyed reading it.  

I've been a Focal fan for some time now, and initially ran a pair of 816SWEs from a Chord pre/power.  When I demo'ed those in-store, I also heard a pair of 1007be's, the 1008's predecessor, and was very impressed as how they imaged and that beryllium tweeter.  At the time, I couldn't quite stretch to a pair of 1007s but looking back now the bug had bitten and when some years later I got the chance of a pair of ex-dem 1028be's I had to have them.  Like you, having looked at the specs and space requirements of the Electras, I was sceptical about whether I could give the speakers the room Focal say they need. But having experimented they work very well rather closer to the rear wall than the specs would suggest. Very interesting that they work well with your tube amps, too.

The 1008be will also match well your rear Domes too

 

Mike

I use Focal Electra 1038be's in very large room (30x20 ft) with peaked cathedral ceiling which tops out at 16 ft.  Plus this room spills over into 2 other rooms. Needless to say this is a big space.  I drive these large Focal's (112 lbs)  with a pair of Olive 135's via CDS 2, NAT 01, 52/super cap.  This system easily drives the daddy Focal's and fills the room with fantastic sound. Olive heaven!  Right now listening to Two Against Nature by Steely Dan's album of same name.  Fagen is in the room with Becker and the rest of this top notch band.  Just a phenomenal sound.  Fills the room with music. Best speakers I've had-

so mr underhill enjoy them Focal's!

david

 
Mr Underhill posted:

Hi MCJT,

I asked the dealer how much time had been put on the speakers and he confessed that he had run a CD through them for a number of hours before I picked them up as he couldn't remember. I find it hard to comprehend how they could get better.

i'm not sure if you mean you don't comprehend the concept of break-in, or that you think the speakers are already so good they couldn't be better. 

Anyway, i spent 2 weeks running a test on 1008 and 1007 and A-B'ed them before and after- i guarantee if you like the 1008 now, you will like them even more after 200 hours!

Hi MDS,

Thx. The dealer was somewhat concerned about the ability of the EARs to control the bass with them placed rather closer to the back wall than ideal, as it happens no problem; but this was why I wanted to go through a dealer.

Been working my way through a few films, and they work very well with the Domes, which of course brings up the question of the centre speaker! The Audio Physic works well with the Focals, but doesn't have the see through clarity of the beryllium tweeter.

 

Hi David,

That is one heck of a room!

MCJT,

The latter, they are just so good now.

M

Brief update:

When I initially installed the speakers I blutacked them to the stands. Since then I have bolted them. This has also tightened up the imaging.

A friend popped round the other evening who nows my system well. He said, 'When I saw you had moved from Living Voice to Focal I thought you may be losing it as I know how much you hate edge, now that I hear these I understand.'.

Graham's previous experience has been with the Utopias. I have not heard these myself but I understand they are far more demanding of what is put in front of them. The 1008be are a different beast. As he noted: The top end is almost electrostatic and the bass quality shows the Living Voice to be a bit one note. He also noted that he thought the sound in the mid-range could be a bit pinched, but I decided not to pursue this as I am just enjoying the change, if an issue is identified by me I might start obsessing on that! Everything in this game is a compromise, and this is a great one.

M

Good news, M.  Often early favourable impressions fade, and we mistake 'different' for 'better'.  Always best to be patient and get used to the new kit.  As you know, I'm a big Focal fan so it's nice to learn of another happy owner.

Mike  

Hi Mike,

I agree, it is always easy to hear a difference, harder to judge if it an improvement. As you may have read I am having fun comparing my Oppo 105 to my FAR more expensive DAC. The former wins on detail and dynamics but I suspect that the Bel Canto will charm me with its charms when I switch back.

Always happy to have another opinion if you fancy coming over!

M

Mr Underhill posted:

Hi Mike,

I agree, it is always easy to hear a difference, harder to judge if it an improvement. As you may have read I am having fun comparing my Oppo 105 to my FAR more expensive DAC. The former wins on detail and dynamics but I suspect that the Bel Canto will charm me with its charms when I switch back.

Always happy to have another opinion if you fancy coming over!

M

Yes, M. Must take up your kind offer soon.  Will ping you an email.

Mike

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