French monitor speaker manufacturer Focal has gained a solid reputation for producing both drivers for other manufacturers as well as its own range of professional and hi-fi speakers.
Its high-end studio monitors have many fans, and I count myself amongst them, so it is with some interest that I had an opportunity to audition a new monitor that fits in a range aimed at the project studio market — the CMS range. It was the Focal CMS65 ($950 each) that I got to try.
Focal CMS65 review
The Focal CMS65 is an active, front-ported, two-way design in a compact reinforced and damped, black-powder-coated, die-cast aluminum enclosure, weighing a solid 23 lbs. and measuring 14.5 inches x 9.5 inches x 9 inches. Focal driver design is always an interesting subject; the tweeter is a familiar and very successful design. It is an inverted dome aluminum/magnesium tweeter mounted into an elliptical waveguide that controls the tweeter’s directivity. According to Focal, aluminum/magnesium offers high levels of self-dampening that subsequently improves high-frequency replication and faster impulse response.
In the case of the Focal CMS65, the woofer is a 6.5-inch polyglass driver. This is another example of Focal’s clever design; a thin paper cone coated in a thin layer of glass combines the effected selfdampening of the paper with good rigidity, thanks to the glass layer. The biamped Focal CMS65 supplies 100W to the woofer and 60W to the tweeter. This combined package delivers a frequency response (+/-3 dB) of 45 Hz through to 28 kHz, with a maximum SPL of 108 dB (at 1m). The front of the Focal CMS65 has a couple of LED indicators to show power and clipping alongside a volume control that gives up to -66 dB of attenuation.
It is the rear of the Focal CSM65 where we find an array of variable settings. Both balanced and unbalanced inputs are provided on the CMS65 via either XLR or RCA sockets. Input sensitivity can be selected using a 3-position recessed rotary selector with options for -4 dBu, 0, and +10 dBv. Also included are four recessed rotary selector switches for EQ correction in various forms.
First, a high pass filter has a 12 dB/octave slope with options to either bypass or select turnover frequencies of 45, 60, and 90 Hz. Next, a frequency-shelving option has a frequency point pre-selected at 450 Hz. You are able to then choose +2 dB, flat, -2, -4, or -6 dB levels of cut or boost as monitor position and acoustics dictate. A desktop notch filter is provided to counteract close surface reflections. A center frequency of 160 Hz with a Q factor of two can then be attenuated by -2, -4, or -6 dB as required. Finally, a high-frequency shelving EQ with frequency pre-selected at 4.5 kHz. In this case, we can apply +2, flat, -2, and -4 dB levels of cut or boost as needed.
Focal CMS65 In Use
The Focal CMS65 monitors are supplied with rubber mats to sit your speakers on either a desktop or meter bridge. They are pretty sturdy; I found no issue with them in any setup. The CMS65 monitors come with a perforated metal grille over the tweeters for protection, and the simple, well-written user guide recommends you remove these grilles and replace them with a phase plug (a plastic ring with central divider) for optimum use with the supplied hook tool; all is very straightforward and you do want to make sure you do this, as performance is dramatically changed, as you would expect.
The equalization options are extensive, and the effects of any changes are instantly recognized in use. I found that I was able to leave the Focal CMS65 pair in a flat neutral setting for the variety of system applications I used them with.
I had very high levels of expectation for the Focal CMS65, and I was not disappointed. Low frequencies were full and present without a hint of flabby or boomy characteristics — just nice, tight, and accurate reproduction. But it is when you hear the midrange that the Focal CMS65s really do deliver. The mids have wonderful clarity — they are crisp and well defined with great stereo imaging. The tiniest of balance and tonal changes can be easily picked out across a wide range of volume use.
Extending through the midrange into high frequencies, the Focal CMS65 continued to impress me with bright, clear highs that are free of harsh edges and excessive softening. It is a pleasing and accurate sound that I found instantly able to trust and work with for extended periods of time with ease.
The Focal CMS65 monitors are entering an overpopulated area of audio equipment and will go head to head with well-established competition. After spending time away from some of these other options and then returning to the Focal CMS65, I would personally choose the CMS65 monitor for day-to-day use without hesitation.
After all, it’s all about clarity. For me, the Focal CMS65 is in a class of its own in this regard. At the very least, these should be on your short list for audition.
Focal USA | www.focalprofessional.com
By Simon Tillbrook – the principal music tutor at Islington Music Workshop in London and a freelance engineer, mainly on American soil.