Focal Aria 905

Hardware Review

Focal Aria 905
Thursday, December 4, 2014
bookshelf loudspeaker
René van Es

René waxes lyrical about a giant slaying, flax powered slice of affordable high end with a totally new Focal sound.

Over a year ago I listened to and greatly enjoyed the Focal Aria 948 loudspeakers, the biggest model in the Aria range. The Aria 905 is the smallest speaker that Focal has made with a flax cone, and I am happy to state that they are little gems.

What the flax
The way that Focal tunes its speakers is a little different to the way it did this in the past, a time when some criticised the inverted dome tweeters for being too loud or upfront. The current dome material for the Aria tweeter is an alloy of magnesium and aluminium with a Poron suspension, and it sounds softer and more in balance with the mid/bass than ever. The latter cone contains flax, a natural material which is pressed between two layers of 0.04 mm thick glass-fibre. Flax has many of the qualities that designers look for in a cone material: it’s made of hollow fibres so is very light, it has the same elongation as carbon and is self-damping. In the Aria 905 Focal uses flax for the mid/bass driver. The two drivers are housed is a small 13inch high cabinet with a bass reflex port on the front baffle. The cabinet is finished with a glass top plate, walnut or black coloured side walls and faux leather on front and rear panels. The optional matching stand is an aluminium column on a glass plinth. A magnetically attached grille cloth is supplied if you want to hide the drivers, and on the back is a single pair of cable terminals and the provision to hang the Aria 905 from a wall.

Qute combo
I started by connecting up my Naim UnitiQute and playing pianist François Chaplin’s interpretation of Chopin’s Nocturnes. The 905 does a good job of separating the wood of the grand piano from the strings. But the amp inside the UnitiQute has limited power in the low end, which is fine for this music, otherwise the Aria 905 would have to struggle to keep the wood resonance of the piano tight and clear. The music is fluid but fails to completely escape from the speaker cabinets, I have noticed this with the UnitiQute in the past so should not blame the Focal. The answer is to add a Naim NAP 100 power amp to the system. A completely different kind of piano was recorded by the Bobo Stenson Trio on the jazz CD Cantado. The opening track Olivia shows how well balanced the Aria 905 is. The piano is always clear, while the bass is quite good and cymbals sound really metallic. The bass could be tighter and more detailed, but we are talking about a relatively cheap system on an all-in-one player. This kind of music is not the easiest to reproduce and the Aria’s do well. The flax cone seems almost dedicated to voices, both male and female, as Caro Emerald shows with her song The Other Woman. The voice is very clear and I can easily understand each and every word she sings, even when the band starts playing louder and louder. Timing is good, as I expect with Naim, and the overall balance is fine enough to enjoy the music for extended periods. With a better quality recording by Paul Stephenson on which he sings about the Captain Of The Loving Kind, acoustic instruments surround his warm and attractive voice, and again higher frequencies and the midrange are the winners, the bass has limited range.

Grip
I decided to find out what a more powerful amp would do and how tight the grip on the woofer could be. I switched from the UnitiQute to a Bluesound Node streamer with NAD M51 DAC and Exposure 3012S2 monoblock amps and keep playing Paul’s music. Bass gets far tighter, timing is improved and there is greater definition. But this is not the most important improvement. The Aria 905 gets a life! The midrange handles the voice as well as you would expect from a far more expensive loudspeaker, details suddenly appear at high frequencies, stereo image is way bigger and bolder. It no longer sticks to the loudspeakers anymore. The speaker disappears from the stage to leave the music on its own. I can hear you saying that we have a price imbalance between electronics and loudspeakers, yes we have. But consider a limited space or a room where a bigger speaker is not an option, you still want to enjoy music as much as possible. In that case invest in a decent source, DAC and some powerful amplifiers, and let me tell you that you won’t recognise the Aria 905 anymore. Give it a try with a dealer and decide which way to go. Are you on a tight budget, pair the 905 with a NAD, Micromega, Cambridge Audio or another amp with or without a built-in streamer. If you are able to spend more money go for some Naim or ATC electronics and should you be in the market for heavy stuff look at separates. How else would you play your favourite Patricia Barber pieces, like A Taste Of Honey from Café Blue. I was really surprised at the way the Aria 905 plays this song compared to my main system.

Somebody at Focal did a very fine job in finding flax for the cones. At the same time someone else tuned the tweeters a couple of decibels down for better integration with the woofer and less strain on the ears. The 905 may be the smallest in the Aria range but it is as seductive as the biggest one.

Sock removal
I’m writing this whilst listening to music from the movie The Prince Of Tides, a James Newton Howard composition that shows the Aria 905 is suitable for home cinema use as well as music. Focal surprised me with the first Aria I heard, the big 948 that blew my socks off. I used Focal speakers for 15 years before changing to PMCs, so I can hear that the Aria series has a different tuning, and it’s not only the cone material. Something seems to have changed in R&D and the results are a big bonus for Focal. These little gems deliver performance that most affordable speakers can only dream of. They sound good with a small amp like a Micromega MyAmp, they sound better with an all-in-one Naim system, they sound amazing with a powerful amp that keeps them on track. Do not expect high end build quality, but listen for yourself, take a look at the price and listen again. If you are as impressed as I am, get them right away. They are excellent in any small room for a second system, I dare you to set them up in the main room too. Focal is ahead of the game with this range.

Specifications: 

Type    Two-way bass-reflex bookshelf loudspeaker

Speaker drivers    5’’ (13cm) Flax bass/midrange +  1’’ (25mm) Al/Mg TNF inverted dome tweeter

Frequency response (+/- 3dB) 60Hz - 28kHz

Low frequency point - 6dB    52Hz

Sensitivity (2.83V / 1m)    89dB

Nominal impedance    8 Ohms

Minimum impedance    4 Ohms

Recommended amplifier power    25-100W

Crossover frequency    2500Hz

Dimensions (H x W x D)     334x212x245mm

Price: 
walnut £600
gloss black £699
Manufacturer Details: 

Focal-JMLab

www.focal.com

Distributor Details: 

Focal-JMlab UK Ltd
www.focal.com
T 0845 660 2680