The latest evolution of the entry-level Alpha series of powered studio monitors
Review by Paul Vnuk Jr.
In 2014 Focal launched the Alpha series of studio monitors—the entry point of the Focal monitor world. A replacement for the previous entry-level CMS line, the Alpha series launched with a trio of models: The Alpha 50, Alpha 65, and Alpha 80. Now seven years later, the French speaker manufacturer brings us the evolution of the Alpha series—the aptly named Alpha 50 Evo and Alpha 65 Evo; the Alpha 80 remains unchanged and is still available.
I reviewed the Alpha 50 and Alpha 80 models back in December 2014. This time around, I was sent the Alpha 65 Evo. Not just a refresh of the original
Alpha models, this is a complete re-design, if not a whole new series.
The Alpha Evo models are a two-way active studio monitor. Both feature a similar look, feature set, and controls. Highs are handled by a 1″ aluminum inverted dome tweeter seated in a newly designed dispersion-controlling waveguide.
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The most significant innovation in the Evo models is the new Slatefiber cones used in the low-frequency drivers— a 5″ driver on the Alpha 50 Evo, and a 6.5″ on the Alpha 65 Evo. Like a cross between Michelin star chefs and mad scientists, the designers at Focal are restless in their pursuit of new speaker cone materials—W Composite in the SM series, Flax in the Focal Shape line, Polyglass in the original Alpha, and now Slatefiber in the Alpha Evo line.
The Slatefiber cones are made from recycled, non-woven carbon fibers blended with thermoplastic polymer. The result is improved velocity (transient reaction time), better bass (increased rigidity) and better dampening (stray resonance control). In most photographs, the Slatefiber cones give off a bluish hue, but it’s closer to a slate gray in person.
The Alpha Evo series is constructed of vinyl-covered MDF with rounded, molded plastic side panels. A new large internally fluted laminar bass port is on the bottom of each cabinet, proportional in size to that of the Focal SM series. In addition to offering low-end dispersion and venting, this design aids in an extended low-end reach. The Alpha Evo models are a touch wider and bulkier in size than the previous models.
The Alpha 65 Evo on review measures 13.3″ x 10″ x 11.3″ and is relatively lightweight at 16.8 lbs. For reference, the 6.5 Solo6 Be is slimmer yet weighs 24.2 lbs. Each model offers optional metal grille covers for the woofer and tweeter, giving them a sleek and stealthy appearance when installed.
Power and specs
The Alpha Evo models are a bi-amped Class D design with 85W (55/30) on the Alpha 65 Evo and 60W (35/25) on the Alpha 50 Evo. The Alpha 65 Evo puts out maximum peak levels of 104dB SPL/1m, with a frequency response of 40 Hz-22 kHz. I cranked them up to 100dB for a short period, and I noticed zero distortion or break up.
On their backs, Alpha Evo monitors offer a choice of balanced XLR and 1/4” inputs as well as an unbalanced phono in. There’s a switch to toggle the input sensitivity between 0dB and +6dB, as well as a pair of shelving filters (+/- 6dB @ 250 Hz and +/- 3dB @ 4.5 kHz). A switch turns on sleep mode, which powers down the speaker after 15 minutes of inactivity; it’s a good thing that auto-standby is optional—sometimes when listening at really low volumes, these (and other) monitors have a tendency to shut down. The final control is a power switch.
Sound and use
As usual, I set up the Alpha 65 Evo monitors in both my untreated home office and my treated mix room. In both cases, I found it to offer an open and detailed sound with very clear highs, a slightly recessed midrange, and a low end that favored depth and reach over force and punch. In my larger treated room, and with the speakers well away from the wall, I found I could add to the fullness in the low end by turning up the low shelf by 4-6dB with little adverse effect. With the speakers closer to a rear wall at home, I found the bass was better at its zero setting. Sitting up close and personal, I preferred to tame the high end a few dB, especially at louder listening levels and on more aggressive styles of music.
The magic of the Alpha 65 Evo is how well it handles dynamics and transients. Importantly, the dynamics, soundstage and tonal balance remain nicely consistent between 60dB-84dB listening levels; they start to thump nicely at 90dB and above.
I wish I could offer a better comparison to the older models, but seven years is a long time to remember a speaker’s sound. Looking back, I described the Alpha 50 monitors as focused and tight with a smooth midrange. In contrast, the new Alpha 65 Evo is almost the opposite—nothing is harsh or biting, but they are much crisper and more detailed rather than smooth, although once again, the high shelf is very effective at dialing this back to taste.
I also compared the Alpha 65 Evo to the high-end Solo6 Be (reviewed August 2020), my main home listening/editing monitor. The two could not be any more different. Comparatively, the Solo6 Be is more focused and even-sounding from top to bottom, with a low end that is more forward and less far-reaching. Here, it is neutral and focused vs. deep and wide; neither is better or worse; like most monitors, it’s personal preference.
The Alpha 65 Evo is a versatile monitor with a pleasing, expansive sound, and I will say again that the transient detail is pretty spectacular. Both the Alpha Evo 65 and Alpha Evo 50 are competitively priced, and with the advent of the new Slatefiber cones, Focal has done an excellent job of adding another well-built tonal option to its already impressive speaker lineup.
Price: $449 (each)
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