Power, accuracy, beauty, detail… and did we mention the power?
Review by Paul Vnuk Jr.
In April 2015, Recording was invited to a special product launch in Las Vegas at the prestigious Studio at the Palms. It was there that the folks at Audio Plus Services gave us a sneak preview of new products in its distributed lines: a new mic from Lauten Audio, new interface and processing hardware from SPL… and the new Trio6 Be speakers from Focal.
Focal is a French speaker company that makes some of the most popular pro studio monitors on the market today. The company’s lineup ranges from the affordable entry level Alpha series (reviewed December 2014) to the SM6 series with its popular Twin6 Be (reviewed July 2008), to the flagship SM9.
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The Trio6 Be is the new top end of the SM6 series, positioned between the Twin6 Be and the SM9. It’s an active 3-way monitor with an 8” subwoofer, a 5” woofer, and one of Focal’s famous 1” beryllium (Be) inverse dome tweeters.
The insides: brand new, powerful, fast, and toxic
Both of the drivers are a brand new W composite sandwich cone design made specifically for these monitors. A dual glass fiber design, each cone is made up of two thin layers of woven glass fiber sandwiched together onto a structural foam core. According to Focal, this is a more homogenous and flexible design than cones made from Glass Aramid or woven Kevlar.
Focal both pioneered and perfected the beryllium tweeter design. Incredibly light and rigid, beryllium is said to offer a faster, more linear transient response than titanium or aluminum designs. Its only real downside is that it’s poisonous if ingested, so no licking the tweeters… and no, you’re not supposed to touch them, either!
The Trio6 Be is a triamplified active design. There’s a 200 W Class G amp for the 8” driver, a 150 W Class G amp for the 5” driver, and a 100W Class AB amp on the tweeter. The Trio6 Be has a range of 35 Hz to 40 kHz with a 115 dB SPL. In Focus mode (see below), the range is 90 Hz to 20 kHz at 105 dB maximum SPL. Its crossover points are set at 250 Hz and 2500 Hz.
Like other models in the Focal line, the Trio6 Be offers a power saving mode known as Automatic Standby. The cabinets power on in standby, and return to it if no audio signal has passed through them in 15 minutes. Think of it as screen saver/sleep mode for your speakers; when in this mode, power consumption of each monitor is less than 0.5 Watts. When signal is detected, the Trio6 Be wakes back up with a gentle fade in and resumes work.
The outsides: cabinet, connections, and controls
Each cabinet is made from 22mm (0.86”) thick MDF finished in a textured gray. They measure 20 1/2” x 10 15/16” x 14 3/16” inches and weigh 44 lbs. each. The 8” subwoofer is in its own chamber and isolated from the 5” cone and tweeter. Each section has its own front-firing bass ports: there is a large bass port below the 8” woofer, similar to the ones found on other Focal cabinets, and there are two small matched ports flanking the 5” driver. The latter are similar in size to those on the Alpha series monitors.
Input is handled around back by a single electronically balanced 10 kilohm XLR input jack, complete with an input sensitivity switch with settings for –10 dBV or +4 dBU levels. Also on the back are three recessed, screw driver accessed tone shaping controls. Each one offers ±3 dB of attenuation or boost. There is a 35 to 250 Hz Low Shelf, a 4.5 to 40 kHz High Shelf, and a Low Mid bell filter set at 160 Hz with a Q factor of 1.
Also on the rear is a standard IEC power socket, as well as a pair of 1/4” jacks labeled Focus Input and Focus Output.
Sorry, no “Hocus Pocus” jokes
One of the Trio6’s main features is Focus mode, first introduced on the SM9. This mode effectively gives you two sets of monitors for the price of one.
When Focus is engaged, the 8” subwoofer is muted and the Trio6 becomes a compact 2-way box with a more limited frequency response. This is great for checking mixes and hearing how they might sound on smaller consumer-style systems. I found it fantastic for really checking where the bass and kick sit in the mix, as well as zooming in on the mids.
This 2-Way/Focus setting on the Trio6 Be is much fuller and more balanced than a single driver check box, and as such is not even remotely similar in sound or use to the many sealed-single-driver speakers like Auratones, Avantone MixCubes and the like.
Focus mode is activated by plugging in any simple third-party single button foot switch into either speaker’s Focus Input and then daisy chaining one speaker to the other, Output to Input, via an additional instrument cable. (Note that neither is included and there is no way to turn on Focus mode without them.) You can visually tell when Focus mode is activated due to a front-located LED, which sits below a power/clip LED.
Turn, turn, turn
Big Feature Number Two of the Trio6 Be is that it is specially designed to work properly in both vertical or horizontal use. Of course, for better or worse, engineers have been placing vertically-designed speakers horizontally for years, and companies like Focal even offer horizontal-only models. However, few cabinets on the market are purposely built to excel in both positions.
The positional versatility of the Trio6 Be is made possible by a 360º rotating baffle. This section, which holds the tweeter and 5” driver, is held in place by 4 Allen screws. Removing the screws allows you to gently lift out the baffle, rotate it in 90º increments, reseat it, and screw it back in place.
This choice of positioning allows you keep the tweeter above the driver at all times regardless of whether you position the speakers horizontally with the 8” drivers facing out or facing in. Focal recommends placing the tweeter/mid sections on the inside (nearest to each other) in a small room, or the reverse in a larger room, but this choice can also depend on the imaging you are after.
A practical note about the rotation process: it is simple and Focal even includes the Allen wrench, but be careful and take your time! The speaker and tweeter are attached to wires, and this baffle has no retaining clips or rotation track. You do not want to have it fall out or drop it.
Get all of the screws loose (just on the verge of release), hold the section steady (note that the two bass ports make great finger holders), finish unscrewing the speakers, and then slowly and gently lift the assembly out by about 1/2”, rotate to its desired position, and tighten the screws. Remember, do not touch the tweeter! If you fear tweeter damage or contamination, the Trio6 Be ships with a tweeter guard on it. Leave it in place until after you position the speakers, and save it for when you need to move the speakers or change their orientation..
On the subject of speaker guards, Focal also includes a set of stylish snap-on speaker covers. These give you more protection for the woofer and subwoofer if needed… if, for example, your room is likely to contain kids, pets, or drummers.
Unlike many monitor reviews I have done, where I rarely get to hear them outside my own personal listening environments, it was great to get my first taste of the Trio6 Be with two pairs set up in both rooms at the Studio At The Palms. The Focal crew gave us all a lot of time and freedom to audition songs ranging from the stellar soundtrack work of film composer Armand Amar all the way to AC/DC’s classic “Back In Black”, with various EDM, Hip-Hop, Classical, and Jazz tracks thrown in as well. We also got to hear them in a simple vocal/acoustic guitar tracking session when demoing Lauten’s new Eden mics (review forthcoming) with producer Fab Dupont and singer / songwriter Will Knox.
The monitors easily held their own in these large, professionally treated spaces, with fantastic wide imaging, full and natural low end, and stupid amounts of headroom and volume. This makes sense, of course, as the Trio6 Be is a 3-way design with a pro-studio build, pedigree, and price tag. It was that volume and low-end fullness, however, that made me wonder how they would fare in smaller project rooms, home studios and such.
My mix room at Moss Garden Music measures 12.5’ x 15.5’. It is fully trapped and treated, but it is still a converted office space and just a tad larger than many bedroom studios I have used. I set up the Trio6 Be, did 48 hours of continuous burn-in, and came back two days later, fearing that these speakers would simply pack too much power for my room, as 3-way monitors often can….
The Trio6 Be can and will get loud! Thanks to their headroom, even without the clip protection it is quite difficult to feed these speakers a signal so loud that they will distort (or worse yet, fart out on the lows) like so many less expensive monitors.
One of my mix setups for over seven years has been a set of 2-way 8” KRK E8b monitors with the matching 12sHO subwoofer, so I am used to and love a solid bottom end. Surprisingly the Trio6 Be monitors held their own in every way—no sub needed or wanted, and the sound was more focused and direct than one often gets with a satellite/sub rig.
Unless you want to level buildings, I see zero reason why you would need a sub with the Trio6 Be. It has low end for days—and that low end is usable low end. It is a full and gently focused bass response that sounds impressive to clients when cranked, but natural and honest at low levels for mixing.
High yet clear
The tweeters in my older KRK monitors are also of the inverse dome beryllium variety. They are clear and open, but they do have more than a touch of that “things are brighter in the mirror than they are in reality” studio monitor sheen to them. I assumed that I would hear something similar from the Focal tweeters. Well, I was half right… clear and open, very much so, but worryingly bright? Not so much.
The Trio6 Be uses the same TB872 tweeter as the more expensive SM9, and it shows. This tweeter is still clear and open, but it is noticeably less edgy than some. I would say these hint at a studio monitor brightness but are much easier on the ears, especially for long periods of mix time. Bright ’90s guitar rock, trumpet-based jazz and the like will not take your head off when played on the Trio6 Be.
If I had to distill the sound of these monitors down to 3 words, it would be powerful, even, and full. The mids are very smooth, being neither scooped sounding or too pushed forward. The one word I would not use is “punchy”; they don’t sound hyped or in your face. For all of their power and volume, they are well balanced and very pleasant to work on, even in my relatively small room.
As I’d done at the studio in Vegas, I spent quite a bit of time listening to music and mixes that I know well. I was pleased to hear that there is no style of music the Trio6 Be can’t handle, either when cranked or at moderate listening levels.
With all of this pleasant impressive sound, I was a tad worried how mixes would translate. Would I overmix the highs to maintain the studio brightness I was used to? Would I undermix the bass since these monitors were so sub-like?
I jumped in and mixed a song I just finished tracking with multiple passes of classic rock guitars, vintage Slingerland 4-piece drums, miked bass cabinet, male vocals, and real Hammond B3. For “trial by fire” purposes, I did not do any mix checks or tweaks with my second and third sets of monitors, although I did use Focus mode often.
After a few hours of mix time, the final mix I heard in my studio sounded almost spot-on in my car, on my iPhone, on my wife’s Bose Bluetooth speaker, and more. I did overmix the vocals a bit, but that was an easy and quick fix. I am not saying that I don’t expect a bit of a readjustment and learning curve as I do more tracking and mixing on them, but for a quick mix right out of the gate, I was quite satisfied with the results.
What a Trio!
The more I mix on these monitors, the more I appreciate their versatility, their evenness of tone, and of course their bass output, which can “give good client” one minute and provide accurate clarity for mixing the next.
As expected, being at the top end of the SM6 line means the Trio6 Be monitors are not cheap. But real quality rarely is. If you are ready for a pair of uncompromisingly high-end 3-way monitors that work great at any volume and translate beautifully, these are well worth taking out for a spin.
Price: $2795 each ($5590/pair)
The Editor gives special thanks to the staff at Audio Plus Services for making Paul Vnuk Jr. welcome at its product premiere event in Las Vegas.