There is a shift happening at Best Buy, and I am super excited to be a part of it. Look no further than the product being reviewed here, the Focal Aria 906. For the uninitiated, Focal is a serious player in the ultra high fidelity market. Designed and manufactured in France, Focal (pronounced pho-kal) has been impressing audiophiles with their innovative approaches to speaker design since the early 80s. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to unpack these and get them hooked up when they arrived so I could make the most of our short time together.
First impressions of the Focal Aria
The aesthetics of a speaker are almost as important as their sound to some consumers, and I can say without a doubt, the Aria 906 doesn’t disappoint. My review pair came in high gloss piano black, a look that would stand out in any environment. Focal has incorporated leather facing on the front, bottom, and back of the speakers, which adds a touch of class to the feel of the speaker.
The most intriguing part of this loudspeaker is the 6.5” mid-range/bass driver, which is made out of French flax fibers. According to Focal, the sandwich flax cone provides an original look (check!) and delivers a natural, open mid-range and bass.
The tweeter incorporates inverted dome technology, is constructed of aluminum/magnesium, and by using a unique suspension method between the dome and its bracket, reduces distortion three-fold in the 2-3 kHz range. This is the range of treble that often will become piercing to ones ears, particularly at higher volume. If a speaker can’t properly manage this range, it is a deal breaker for me.
The binding posts are compatible with banana plugs, or can be connected with bare wire. I really like the way the raised ridges on the binding post spins; it is super smooth and compliments the overall quality expected from a Focal.
Break them in!
I cannot stress this point enough. A brand new pair of speakers is not going to sound their best right out of the box. Allowing the components some time to loosen up is highly recommended before pushing them too hard or judging their sound. Focal recommends about 20 hours of constant operation; I ran them for 3 days straight at low volume to ensure that I was going to get the best experience.
Grills off, or on?
There is an endless debate that ensues amongst speaker aficionados: grills on or off? It usually boils down to personal preference, and can change from speaker to speaker. I am a big fan of leaving the grills off. Manufacturers today spend so much time making their speakers look sexy, it is a shame to hide that behind the grill. The Arias have a great looking tweeter, and the leather facing adds a nice touch, but if I’m being honest, the flax cone and lack of the Focal logo under the grill would tempt me to leave them on. The logo, an abstract ‘F’ in the shape of a funnel cloud, is unmistakable, and deserves to be broadcast to the world that you are running a pair of Focal’s.
Focal Aria 906 Specs
Focal suggests the frequency range of the Aria 906s reaches down to 47 Hz, a very low number for a bookshelf speaker. (The lower the number, the greater the bass range the speaker will reproduce – for more info low-end frequencies this check this post out). The sensitivity is rated at a solid 89.5, and will accept amplification from 25 -200 watts. (I explain the relationship between watts and sensitivity here). I hooked them up to my Marantz receiver that outputs 50 watts per channel at 8 ohms and I never felt that I needed more power. For more insight into how amps, watts, and ohms impact your home theatre, check out this post.
How do they sound?
I put speakers through a series of challenges through a selection of songs that I know so well that any deviation from the way I know it should sound will stand out. They are designed to test the ability of the loudspeaker to deliver a clean, natural sound across the entire spectrum.
What do I listen for?
Some songs are meant to test the ability to handle treble that can get out of hand, (Lindsay Buckingham’s guitar, combined with he and Stevie’s vocals at the end of The Chain, Chicago’s legendary horn section making magic as the song transitions to Get Away) others intended to make sure the mid-range isn’t lost to the bass (listening for Tim Schmidt’s bass line to be clearly defined throughout Hotel California.) Canned Heat is a great test of the low-end definition and dynamic range contrast with strings. The challenge is to achieve these while not losing any of the colour present throughout the rest of the song. It should go without saying I do these tests while pushing the volume to concert-like levels, around 105-110 dB.
Eagles – Hotel California (Hell Freezes Over)
Fleetwood Mac – The Chain
Pink Floyd – Time
Jamiroquai – Canned Heat
Chicago – Hard to Say I’m Sorry/Get Away
Morcheeba – The Sea
In short, the Aria 906 performed brilliantly. The tweeter delivered as promised, never getting into a situation where I had to reduce the volume to prevent piercing or distortion. It was open, and it became evident that Focal has found something special with their inverted dome technology.
The sound reproduction in the lower range was stunning for a bookshelf speaker. I had to look at my subwoofer a couple times to double check that it wasn’t on and supplementing the bass. The mid-range was smooth and present, something of a challenge for a two-way speaker that has a single driver handling the entire lower end. Sonically, Focal nailed it. Given their stellar reputation, this should come as no surprise.
I spent hours listening to a wide range of music, from folk and alt rock to pop and dance. There was not one weakness I could pinpoint, not one shortcoming that would make me second guess any of the decisions Focal made with the Aria 906.
Are Focal Aria right for you?
Anyone in the market for a great pair of speakers should seriously consider these as an option. The Aria 906 would easily outperform many floor standing speakers, and with the Focal badge on the front you can’t go wrong. While there is a premium to be paid with genuine high fidelity speakers, these will provide years, if not a lifetime, of listening pleasure.