Have you heard that beryllium tweeter? Apparently it’s really fast,” noted a colleague when the subject of French loudspeaker manufacturer Focal came up in conversation. I hadn’t heard any beryllium tweeters before, but I have heard some other pretty exotic and fast examples using diamond dust, ceramics and other materials. I found beryllium especially intriguing as it’s one of the lightest and most rigid materials on the planet, two beneficial qualities for accurate and fast sound reproduction. I like accurate and fast—so I was excited to check out the Focal Twin6 Be studio monitors. (For the curious, “Be” is the chemical symbol for beryllium.)
The unique design ideas don’t stop with the exotic light metal tweeter. The Twin6 Be is one of a breed that’s relatively rare in the pro audio business today: a 3-way nearfield/midfield speaker. It does look like a 2-way dual-woofer design, but it’s actually a true 3-way—each 6.5” driver handles low frequencies, but only one handles low mids. A switch on the back of the speaker sets the driver configuration for either left or right placement, which is critical to performance.
The Twin6 Be is powered by three built-in amplifiers running at 150 watts apiece for the low drivers and 100 watts for the high. It sports an impressive measured frequency response of 40 Hz–40 kHz. The input connector is XLR, and an input level switch selects between +4 dBu and –10 dBv. There are contour adjustments of ±6 dB for the lows (below 150 Hz) and ±3 dB for the highs (above 5 kHz).
Out of the box and onto the stands
Weighing in at hulking 30 pounds, the Twin6 is one hefty piece of hardware. I was not prepared for how well built these speakers are; the construction is impressively solid, with an very elegant design. Unlike most monitors in the pro audio business, these feature a gorgeous real wood veneer. The detailing is awesome, down to the machined aluminum back plate and high-quality switches, making for a well-built professional piece of equipment that’s inspiring to see.
It’s important to note that the Twin6 monitors can be set up either horizontally or vertically. All of the literature and pictures I had seen showed them set up horizontally, which also makes sense given the driver configuration. It wasn’t until I read the manual, however, that I discovered they can be set up vertically with the tweeters on the outside. The two orientations sound different (especially in the low end), so it’s very worthwhile to experiment and see which works better in your room.
As I mentioned before, there’s a left-right selector switch that changes which low driver takes on midrange duties. In the horizontal configuration the switch should be set according to position. In a vertical setup Focal suggests you do the same, though I tried switching them (left speaker set to right and vice versa) and found that could work well, again largely depending on your room. Nothing replaces experimentation!
Time to listen
With the Twins in horizontal position, I started some listening in the treated room at the office. Immediately I knew I was going to like these speakers, but decided to let them run in for awhile. A decently long burn-in period of 100 hours or so is good for these monitors, and I did find the low end to get better over time.
So what do the Twins sound like? Well, in a word, brilliant. In fact, they are quite different from any other monitor that I’ve worked on.
Like many people, I find that Yamaha NS-10s serve a valuable purpose for mixing, even though they don’t sound very good. They make me work hard, but the mix always translates better the harder I’m pushed. Over the years I’ve worked on quite a few quality monitors that had great fidelity and were easy to listen to. Inevitably I can hear good detail and can make good decisions with eq, compression and effects. But there’s another quality to a loudspeaker that is harder to judge, and that is what the NS-10 (like it or not) does so well. It pushes you to work harder and really get the balances correct. “Nice” studio monitors may be revealing, but it’s often far too easy to get the mix sounding “nice”—but not translating well on home stereos and car systems.
So, after listening to music on the Focals I was a little worried that they sounded a little too good. I did observe a nice forwardness in the critical mid and upper mid range that I thought would be good for mixing, but did I have another “nice” pair of speakers on my hands? Well, the proof is in the pudding... you never truly know how well you can mix on a speaker until you actually do a mix.
Tracking and mixing
Let me preface the mixing experience by saying that tracking with the Twins was awesome. I like to commit nice outboard eq and compression to tape, and I felt really confident with what the Twins were telling me. Never once did I do something that I later regretted, and I owe this to the resolution, detail and very revealing nature of these speakers. They were plenty loud, with enough low end to fill the room and make musicians happy while cutting basic tracks—something that’s important to me for keeping a good and fun session vibe. If you have a large room, or work on a lot of music with a ton of low end, you may want a sub to go along with the Twins. While they’re not bass-light (and the contour controls work really well), they’re not a huge rocking speaker like some others.
In terms of presentation, the Twins provide a unique sound. The low end is tight and defined, but not especially huge. The low mids are very smooth, and transition nicely into the mids and upper mids where the real sound of the beryllium tweeter is going on. I wouldn’t characterize the Twins as bright, but they have a forwardness and presence that’s more significant than Genelecs, yet not as in your face as ADAM Audio speakers. For me, the sound and presence in this most critical range is important for mixing rock and pop. Depending on your tastes, I think Focal strikes a great balance between neutral and “in your face”.
After long workdays I found the Twins to not be fatiguing at all. In fact, they are the type of animal that has such low distortion and extended bandwidth that it’s easy to turn them up too loud. Our brains recognize that it’s too loud when there’s distortion, so a great sounding speaker like this can be run louder than what’s prudent. Just as important, I also found the Twins to really hold up when listening at extremely quiet volumes. Their presence makes it totally possible to mix really quietly, which is great for doing rides and balances—and for resting your ears.
Imaging on the Twins is “bad to the bone”. Listening, I couldn’t localize the speakers as speakers (as opposed to hearing the music in a space), and the center was solid and connected with the sides. Subtle panning changes were easily detected, and tricky tasks like placing the hi-hat to match the overheads was a piece of cake. The sweet spot is extremely wide, and I found the sound staging held up really well no matter where you’re standing in the room. This is a truly excellent attribute in a monitor for two reasons. First, I like a wide sweet spot and get frustrated with unforgiving and narrow sweet spots. When I move around I don’t want the sound to fall apart. Second, from a client perspective, people are always standing in different places while I’m mixing, and I feel a lot better when the client isn’t hearing some skewed sonic picture.
So, back on track, time for mixing. As the Focals are quite different from anything I’ve used, I’ll admit there was a learning curve for me. I was really liking what I was hearing , but my mixes weren’t translating quite right. I kept tweaking their placement in the room, experimenting with the contour controls, and learning their sound over several months. Throughout the process I kept worrying that even though I really loved the sound of the Twins, were they just not right for me? Were they too easy?
Then, one day, it hit me. What I didn’t realize during all of this tweaking, mixing, and fussing was that the Focals were making me work really hard. They were pushing me to get the most out of what they had to offer. My mixes didn’t always sound right because they weren’t right. For me, the Twins have a unique ability to push, push and push until the mix is done, and until it sounds right. Throughout this process, I hadn’t entirely realized that despite my being a little frustrated at times, my mixes, my sounds, and the music itself were all sounding better. The Twins were anything but easy, and my initial impression of “pretty” turned out to be anything but.
In the end I found that I preferred to run the Twins with the high frequency contour at –2 dB. My mixes were just a touch dull for the pop/rock that I typically work on, and this change got me to push my mixes a touch brighter—just what the doctor ordered.
I’ve been doing quite a few high end monitor reviews over the past year. It’s been both a blessing and a curse, as there’s always a learning curve to get used to something new. While I’m a sucker for fidelity, and being able to hear things in my favorite recordings that I hadn’t heard before, I look for a professional monitor to deliver something beyond fidelity.
I’m looking for a studio monitor that’s like a swift kick in the pants, waking me up and reminding me that there’s still more work to be done on a mix before it’s complete. I want a speaker that is pleasant and revealing for tracking, yet can be a motherly nag when I need it in mixing. So far, more than any other monitor I’ve used, the Focal Twin6 Be is the ticket. And it comes at a price that, considering the build quality and sonics, is a totally reasonable investment for one of the most important tools in your studio.
Price: $1695 each
More from: Focal Professional, 156 Lawrence Paquette Industrial Dr., Champlain, NY 12919. 800/663-9352, www.focalprofessional.com.
Sidebar - Are my studio monitors bad for my health?
Any loudspeaker is bad for the health of your eardrums if you listen too loud for too long! But some users have been worried on another front about the Focals, as beryllium, the material used in the tweeter of the Twin 6 BE, is toxic.
Now hold on and don’t freak out—beryllium is only toxic when ingested or inhaled. The beryllium in the tweeters is perfectly safe, unless they’re somehow torn, abraded, or otherwise damaged. If that happens, Focal does include some emergency stickers to cover a damaged tweeter, after which it should be shipped back to Focal for repair.—JP
Justin Peacock is a producer/engineer/mixer based in Denver, Colorado, and is the Web Editor of Recording Magazine. You can check out his website at www.thehookfactory.com