Garnish Music Production School

Focal SM9 and Twin Studio Monitor Speaker Demo

Focal invited me to Dean Street Studios for a Focal SM9 and Twin Studio Monitor Speaker Demo ages ago, but I just haven’t had time to write about them until now. 

When I walked into the room, the monitors were set up along with some NS10s like we have here for our mixing course. They looked massive with what I thought was an extra driver in the top of the cabinet! More on that later.

Focal SM9 with the passive radiator in the top

The guys (Focal, Focal’s distributors and Gav at Kazbar Systems) had a selection of CDs and asked me to take my pick. I chose James Blake’s album so I could check out how man these monitors are first with that ridiculous bottom end on that record. We flicked through his album until we found the tune, and on it went. All I can confirm from this test is that the sub bass in that record is just too low. I couldn’t really hear anything but the cones were violently flapping about along with the curious cone in the top. It was this point that I asked what the hell it was. It’s called a passive radiator, and all it is really is a speaker cone without the metal bits and magnet. It concave when idol and flaps in and out to low frequency. As for the rest of the design, the inside isn’t designed like a resonating cabinet, nor it it full up with absorbing material. It’s just a sealed box with crossovers, air and amps. You could say it’s neither ported or infinite baffle design. I do wonder what effect the negative sound waves that come out of the back on the speaker bouncing around a cabinet full of amps and crossovers arranged in no particular way. Also, the frequency range is 30Hz right up to 40kHz. 40 kHz!! When we’re born, we’d be lucky to hear 20kHz, and by the time you get to my age around 18kHz is impressive. Lord knows how I can still hear up to 19kHz with the hammering my ears have had over the years! Anyway, what’s the point in going up to 40kHz? At over £4k, they’re not cheap. Are they that expensive because they go up to frequencies twice what a human can hear? I’ll be interested to see how many they sell.

They sounded good when they played something a bit more normal from what I remember. They had some Focal Twins on the floor of the control room so I asked them to set them up too so I could A/B the pair. I do remember the twin sounding not too hifi which is what I get form my Genelec 1031s which I liked. 

Focal Twin and SM9 side by side

One thing about the Focal SM9s that I liked is that they work in two modes; i’ll call it ‘full fat’ mode which is 3-way and ‘diet’ mode which is 2-way. In a nutshell, ‘full fat’ mode is all the speakers on full steam ahead, and ‘diet’ is a neat cut down version where not only the main driver is turned off, the crossover is altered so it’s practically like having an extra pair of near field monitors. I’m a big fan of that, the only problem with it is that you have to change the monitors individually with a fiddly switch on the side of each cabinet. I know if I had that, I would use it half as much as I would if I could control it easily from my listening position with an ‘alt’ button in the middle of an SSL for example.

To summarise, they sounded okay but they didn’t blow me away, it was difficult to tell and I didn’t instantly try and justify £4k in my head for some studio monitor speakers that I don’t really need. I’m a bit scared of the never-seen-before design with that weird passive radiator because I don’t understand fully how it works as I do infinite baffle and ported designs. There’re faults or at least draw-backs with both the infinite baffle and the ported designs, but I do worry about what happens to those negative sound waves in this design. I guess the jury’s still out. I need to get Gav to get me a pair to borrow for a while and will report back. Watch this space…