Earlier this year, French speaker and headphone company Focal announced that it was creating Focal North America—a partnership between Focal Global and B&B Electronics. The partnership is starting strong, with the company launching and/or distributing new products in six of the Focal product lines. The primary lines include their Spirit headphones, the Dimension line of soundbars and subwoofers, and 5.1 speaker systems branded as Sib & Co and Dôme. Of interest to CEDIA members and residential and commercial installers, they also have a line of custom installation products—including a new line of speakers targeting Dolby Atmos. I was invited to the 2015 Focal North America event in Phoenix to see some of their newest products and see how the company plans to address the market in 2016 and beyond.
2015 Focal North America Event Guest Speaker: Fab Dupont
I got to meet Ben Jensen, who acceding up Focal North America as president, and Jason Haberman who is the category and marketing manager. The highlight of the first evening of the event was a presentation by none other than Fab Dupont, a recording and mix engineer who’s worked with artists such as Shakira, J Lo, and Kirk Whalum. He’s also an advocate of Focal, and uses their speakers in his mixing studio. Fab knows his stuff, and he started off by bringing up some tracks that he had worked on recently, and which are representative of the industry as a whole.
Fab stated that the problem with most records is that the bottom isn’t right. It’s not uncommon the get an “emasculated” bass track (lacking depth to the kick drum). He frequently adds (presumably via a digital side chain trigger for those of you into this stuff) additional bass tracks to flesh out the sound, and he may even add some “snap” to the top end. It’s not unusual for a plain kick drum to get four tracks and several layers of processing—both effects and compression.
And this is just for the kick.
Consequently, his point was that you spend a LOT of time in front of your speakers. Ear fatigue is a big deal when you’re dealing with an entire day’s worth of listening. Practically, you can note this by the SPL levels you’ll have at the end of the day versus the beginning. It’s not uncommon to measure 20dB SPL or more of “fatigue creep”. That will kill you over time and ruin your ears. I know this first hand as I spent over 7 years working in post production audio—whee the issues are the same even though you’re working on feature films instead of record albums. Distortion is a major cause of ear fatigue. Focal addressed this—particular the line with the use of Beryllium tweeters in their Focal studio monitors, like the SM9 powered monitors that Fab uses.
We were listening to a track called “The Sound” which I believe was by a French band called Colt Seavers. We were looking at the song in AVID’s Pro Tools with a 50-60 track mix. It was mixed on a pair of SM9 monitors with a subwoofer to hear what was going on in the 30Hz region. We also listened to additional tracks, and it was great to hear some of the techniques and thinking that goes into recording and mixing these audio tracks from a Pro who’s well recognized in the industry.
My favorite quote of the evening was this, spoken by Fab Dupont a the closing of the first evening: “The equipment does more and more things, less and less well.”
I’d have to agree, which is why I was looking forward to the next day when I’d get to hear Focal’s home theater, headphones, and custom installation line of products for myself.