Focal Sopra N°1 Bookshelf & Center Speaker Review

Alex2507

Alex2507

Audioholic Slumlord
You didn't even support this company with your purchase. You bought it second hand. That basically puts you up there in the 'el-cheapo' seats as some sort of clinger-on.
A little off topic but that describes me to a T with Salk.

Then when I fried a ribbon they fixed it for 50 bucks. In the middle of Covid.

Just in case anybody needs to hear that before Jim retires.
 
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MrMustard

Audiophyte
As far as I'm concerned, and if It was not for how you support them, I would buy a pair of Sopra centers. You get a 3-way pair with more base extension for 2k$ less. I don't get how they come up with their pricing.
I kindly disagree with the bi-amping option. Here's an examle; I use a good class D amp. for my woofer and a high end-low power pure class A amp. for my midrange & tweeter. That's where you can optimize such a set-up
 
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Hubbard32

Audioholic Intern
As far as I'm concerned, and if It was not for how you support them, I would buy a pair of Sopra centers. You get a 3-way pair with more base extension for 2k$ less. I don't get how they come up with their pricing.
I kindly disagree with the bi-amping option. Here's an examle; I use a good class D amp. for my woofer and a high end-low power pure class A amp. for my midrange & tweeter. That's where you can optimize such a set-up
I'll admit, it would be interesting to hear three of the Sopra centers across the front to see what that sounds like..
If anyone ever takes this on, I'd love to know if the results were positive.
 
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shadyJ

Speaker of the House
Staff member
As far as I'm concerned, and if It was not for how you support them, I would buy a pair of Sopra centers. You get a 3-way pair with more base extension for 2k$ less. I don't get how they come up with their pricing.
I kindly disagree with the bi-amping option. Here's an examle; I use a good class D amp. for my woofer and a high end-low power pure class A amp. for my midrange & tweeter. That's where you can optimize such a set-up
The Sopra Centers are not quite as overbuilt as the Sopra bookshelf speakers. The Sopra Centers do not have the aluminum compartment that eliminates the backwaves from the tweeter. The Center doesn't have the glass top either. The weight between the center and the bookshelf speaker is about the same. The center's only advantage is greater dynamic range owed to the three-way design and two woofers. In every other way, the Sopra No1 is the better speaker. Not to say the center is a bad speaker, it's a good speaker, and a front stage of three of them would be a nice setup indeed.

As for bi-amping, you are more likely to screw things up than improve anything. You would need some pretty careful measurements to level match the tweeter to the woofer. Do you have the measurement gear and expertise to do that? Do you know what that would look like as an in-room measurement? It might not be as obvious as you think. Also, Class A's advantages over Class D is long gone with the advent of newer class D topologies. No class A amp can match the accuracy of Benchmark's AHB2 or Purifi's modules. Class A's main advantage is savings on heating bills in colder climate living.
 
ryanosaur

ryanosaur

Audioholic Warlord
As far as I'm concerned, and if It was not for how you support them, I would buy a pair of Sopra centers. You get a 3-way pair with more base extension for 2k$ less. I don't get how they come up with their pricing.
I kindly disagree with the bi-amping option. Here's an examle; I use a good class D amp. for my woofer and a high end-low power pure class A amp. for my midrange & tweeter. That's where you can optimize such a set-up
I would not be too keen on spreading 6 Mid woofers out on the horizontal plane across my front wall, much less using Center Speakers with their limited F3 as mains. All of this points toward various performance concerns that just aren't worth the effort to deal with, IMO.
Not even trying to get into the Cost v. Performance conversation here, even though I feel strongly that high-quality, high-performance speakers can be had for less which will also function better in a room than risking a setup like that.
;)
 
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MrMustard

Audiophyte
Food for thoughts.
For the bi-amping, I just relied on the fact that both my amplifiers have the same gain (28dB).
However I agree with you since I recently bought a NAD M28 and it's great.
I still own my old Accuphase A-30, so I decided to keep on after trying both set-ups (perhaps just for a subtle touch of richness in the higher frequecies).
For the heat dissipation of class A amp, considering I live in canada, and mostly listen to music in colder temperature, it's not really an issue.
 
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Hubbard32

Audioholic Intern
Now a few months into having the Sopra 1's and Sopra Center dialed in I'm very happy with the investment. I had the JL Audio subs tuned to match using the miniDSP2x4HD and the results are great. Also ran DIRAC after the set up was complete. So now I have a setting specifically for 2Ch and another for Movies. The addition of the Kanta 1's for the rear surrounds was also a great move, as they blend very well and create a perfect surround experience. For now I think I'm done. I feel that I've extracted as much as possible from this set up.
 
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DavidParis

Enthusiast
So, I can also confirm that an Accuphase E480 is a total disaster with these impossibly useless speakers. Maybe 10 million times too bright?
I am also now testing a McIntosh MA352 based on atleast 10 dealers indicating this would be a "marriage made in heaven". It's even worse than the Accuphase.
The best possible advice you can get, that is, if you like music...is to NOT purchase these speakers under any circumstances. If you DO NOT care about proper musical reproduction, then they may represent a conversation piece in your room. Just don't attempt to play music with them. Sorry, but the truth sometimes hurts.
 
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Hubbard32

Audioholic Intern
So, I can also confirm that an Accuphase E480 is a total disaster with these impossibly useless speakers. Maybe 10 million times too bright?
I am also now testing a McIntosh MA352 based on atleast 10 dealers indicating this would be a "marriage made in heaven". It's even worse than the Accuphase.
The best possible advice you can get, that is, if you like music...is to NOT purchase these speakers under any circumstances. If you DO NOT care about proper musical reproduction, then they may represent a conversation piece in your room. Just don't attempt to play music with them. Sorry, but the truth sometimes hurts.
Okay, as someone who owns these same speakers, I will admit there are certain types of music that these speakers do not work well. I have noticed that they are brutal in their treatment of poorly recorded music, anything that's resembles 80's pop music is a pretty bad experience and some well recorded rock, like Tool will not be reproduced to showcase what's in the music. In most cases I'm very impressed with these speakers, but every once in a while I have found myself shocked by the brightness exposed in a song, to the point of advancing to a new track.
I do admit that there are now certain types of music I avoid when I sit down to enjoy some listening time.
 
Pogre

Pogre

Audioholic Overlord
Okay, as someone who owns these same speakers, I will admit there are certain types of music that these speakers do not work well. I have noticed that they are brutal in their treatment of poorly recorded music, anything that's resembles 80's pop music is a pretty bad experience and some well recorded rock, like Tool will not be reproduced to showcase what's in the music. In most cases I'm very impressed with these speakers, but every once in a while I have found myself shocked by the brightness exposed in a song, to the point of advancing to a new track.
I do admit that there are now certain types of music I avoid when I sit down to enjoy some listening time.
This kinda makes sense in regard to a very revealing, accurate speaker. Flaws in poor recordings are magnified.

A note about Tool, there's some clipping in a few songs on their Fear Inoculum album that some can hear more than others. Fortunately my old ears don't pick it up, but there were some articles and anecdotal forum posts about it.
 
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shadyJ

Speaker of the House
Staff member
Okay, as someone who owns these same speakers, I will admit there are certain types of music that these speakers do not work well. I have noticed that they are brutal in their treatment of poorly recorded music, anything that's resembles 80's pop music is a pretty bad experience and some well recorded rock, like Tool will not be reproduced to showcase what's in the music. In most cases I'm very impressed with these speakers, but every once in a while I have found myself shocked by the brightness exposed in a song, to the point of advancing to a new track.
I do admit that there are now certain types of music I avoid when I sit down to enjoy some listening time.
For all of their flash, these speakers just reproduce the source signal accurately, so garbage in = garbage out. It takes a faulty speaker to hide the flaws of a faulty recording. Any speaker that can make a bad recording sound good is a problematic speaker. And listening to bad recordings on the Sopra speakers is like driving a Porsche on a crappy road; they are meant for the track so they won't do well on crap roads.
 
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Hubbard32

Audioholic Intern
For all of their flash, these speakers just reproduce the source signal accurately, so garbage in = garbage out. It takes a faulty speaker to hide the flaws of a faulty recording. Any speaker that can make a bad recording sound good is a problematic speaker. And listening to bad recordings on the Sopra speakers is like driving a Porsche on a crappy road; they are meant for the track so they won't do well on crap roads.
Yep, that's what I tell myself every time I skip a poorly recorded track. Just too bad that some good music is produced so poorly.
 
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DavidParis

Enthusiast
Fully agree with the latest posts here in October 2021. To be somewhat more objective, the Sopras, to me, have a very nice build quality and look good in my room. They're sturdy and heavy and look like they could really produce some music. The problem is having to pick and choose which music you can tolerate. These speakers perform well indeed on some classical works, jazz trios and other genres with bass-light, uncongested musical messages.
Once you dip into your youth-time favourites from the 80s and 90s and even earlier, you risk bleeding ears. Worse yet, since much of today's modern music is "better recorded" but mixed for portable devices, radio and internet streaming...once you have a revealing speaker you risk massive disappointment. This just isn't acceptable.

What is the point of having a speaker, or an entire system, that is calling the shots on what you can listen to or not? I'm guilty of enjoying Tool, Rush, Led Zeppelin, The War on Drugs, etc. on frequent occasions. The Sopras clearly say "sorry but you can't listen to that, how about Barry Manilow?"

As much as I like the Sopras visually, they have not performed well using Naim, Accuphase and now McIntosh. What's left? A Chinese Class D for 50 bucks?

They will have to go and now I must find a suitable speaker for the McIntosh MA352. First area of investigation is the latest Sonus faber Olympica Nova II which is a floorstander. We'll see...
 
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DavidParis

Enthusiast
For all of their flash, these speakers just reproduce the source signal accurately, so garbage in = garbage out. It takes a faulty speaker to hide the flaws of a faulty recording. Any speaker that can make a bad recording sound good is a problematic speaker. And listening to bad recordings on the Sopra speakers is like driving a Porsche on a crappy road; they are meant for the track so they won't do well on crap roads.
Sorry, but I disagree on the expected outcome. The objective of listening to music in this case needs to be reexamined. If for some it's a forensic exercise in dissecting the musical composition, the instruments used, how they're tuned, the recording equipment, the mix and production quality and for just listening "to the system" rather than the music, then a "revealing" speaker or system may be interesting.

For others, including myself, the silly stereo system is simply a tool by which I aspire to reconnect with emotions, colors, memories, dreams, psychedelic geometrical formations and other existential considerations through music. Sure, I like the boxes, the cables, the tech and so forth and I'm a massive tweaker. But the desired outcome is always to have a satisfactory musical experience.

I recall my best memories of incredibly gratifying listening sessions were with Sonus faber and Jadis seperates I had in the late 1990s. Tell me that wasn't "colored". It most certainly was! It was also a wonderful direct window into the music and into myself that I've never, ever recovered since.

Everyone is different of course and this is just my take. I may be wrong but I know what I like and what I dislike.
Part of our daily struggle as music listeners is to decide which type we are; audiophiles or music lovers? These two roles can cause much confusion and frustration in this hobby. Brgds.
 
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Rich47

Audiophyte
Hi David, I suspect I think about music the same way that you do. i just want to set and forget but, unlike you, I don’t like the tweaking process because it detracts from the music. I have a pair of Sopra1s and in my 40+ years of enjoying audio, it was the worst sound I ever heard when I played them with my Naim Uniti Nova for 18 months. Bright in the extreme. I don’t know what Focal were thinking. I blamed the speakers and blamed the dealer for selling me this combination. They sounded so amazing in the store that I was taken in. The reality set in when I took them home and they were unlistenable. This was supposed to be my end system but it felt like I was back to square one. As an experiment I purchased a second hand NAD c658 which has tone controls and dialled the treble down a fair bit. Wow, the fire had gone from the treble. But being old and non technical I couldn’t get the Dirac to work so after consulting the dealer he pleaded with me to try a Lyngdorf 3400 and see how that went. In the meantime I had bought a pair of second hand Vienna Acoustics bookshelf speaker to give me some peace. They are lovely and I can just listen to the music all day without having to worry about what the speaker is doing. Anyway I took the Lyngdorf home and played with the Room Perfect and dialled in the default tone settings and tweaked them even further manually. Well it has taken me 3 months to dial in the settings to my Liking and now they sound superb. I was on the verge of selling the Sopras but didn’t want to lose a packet on them. But I’m happy I didn’t sell them. They now sound great with no brightness. Just clear and detailed without the brightness. i am listening to them now and haven’t once looked up at the speakers in agitation. Now when I play the Viennas I still love them but it’s almost like there is a thin veil across them compared with the Sopras. The Sopras don’t sound bright at all and if you have the tone controls dialled in they sound lush and detailed. I hope my experience has helped and if I can assist in any way don’t hesitate to reach out.
 
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shadyJ

Speaker of the House
Staff member
Sorry, but I disagree on the expected outcome. The objective of listening to music in this case needs to be reexamined. If for some it's a forensic exercise in dissecting the musical composition, the instruments used, how they're tuned, the recording equipment, the mix and production quality and for just listening "to the system" rather than the music, then a "revealing" speaker or system may be interesting.

For others, including myself, the silly stereo system is simply a tool by which I aspire to reconnect with emotions, colors, memories, dreams, psychedelic geometrical formations and other existential considerations through music. Sure, I like the boxes, the cables, the tech and so forth and I'm a massive tweaker. But the desired outcome is always to have a satisfactory musical experience.

I recall my best memories of incredibly gratifying listening sessions were with Sonus faber and Jadis seperates I had in the late 1990s. Tell me that wasn't "colored". It most certainly was! It was also a wonderful direct window into the music and into myself that I've never, ever recovered since.

Everyone is different of course and this is just my take. I may be wrong but I know what I like and what I dislike.
Part of our daily struggle as music listeners is to decide which type we are; audiophiles or music lovers? These two roles can cause much confusion and frustration in this hobby. Brgds.
I get what you are saying, but your frustrations are aimed in the wrong direction. It should be aimed at poor recording techniques. A lot of those albums you cite, rock from the 80's and 90's, were mixed on subpar monitors (A lot of Yamaha NS and JBL "west coast" sound boxes) by sound engineers who were already well into high-frequency hearing loss. The result was often a recording with elevated upper-mids, and that can sound harsh on accurate loudspeakers. The solution isn't to modify the speakers to make these recordings sound good, because if you do that, you now screw up the sound of anything that was competently recorded. The solution is to have an easy-to-use equalizer handy that can tame the sound of harsh recordings. The nice thing about accurate loudspeakers is that they can be equalized predictably so that the input correlates to the output. With an inaccurate speaker, depending on the nature of the inaccuracy, changes to the input may not scale as expected to the output.
 
Pogre

Pogre

Audioholic Overlord
I get what you are saying, but your frustrations are aimed in the wrong direction. It should be aimed at poor recording techniques. A lot of those albums you cite, rock from the 80's and 90's, were mixed on subpar monitors (A lot of Yamaha NS and JBL "west coast" sound boxes) by sound engineers who were already well into high-frequency hearing loss. The result was often a recording with elevated upper-mids, and that can sound harsh on accurate loudspeakers. The solution isn't to modify the speakers to make these recordings sound good, because if you do that, you now screw up the sound of anything that was competently recorded. The solution is to have an easy-to-use equalizer handy that can tame the sound of harsh recordings. The nice thing about accurate loudspeakers is that they can be equalized predictably so that the input correlates to the output. With an inaccurate speaker, depending on the nature of the inaccuracy, changes to the input may not scale as expected to the output.
I agree with this. You can't fault an accurate, revealing speaker for exposing bad recordings. It's like saying "I want a less revealing, inaccurate speaker that hides the faults in my crappy recordings". Well... lower your budget and expectations if that's what you want.

A side note, trying to "fix" it by using different amplification almost certainly isn't the answer either. That's a waste of time and money. Much better (and cost effective) to employ a little eq for the poorer quality recordings and enjoy the good ones as they're meant to be.
 
Pogre

Pogre

Audioholic Overlord
I agree with this. You can't fault an accurate, revealing speaker for exposing bad recordings. It's like saying "I want a less revealing, inaccurate speaker that hides the faults in my crappy recordings". Well... lower your budget and expectations if that's what you want.

A side note, trying to "fix" it by using different amplification almost certainly isn't the answer either. That's a waste of time and money. Much better (and cost effective) to employ a little eq for the poorer quality recordings and enjoy the good ones as they're meant to be.
To use another analogy it'd be like having bad eyesight and blaming your glasses or contacts because you don't like the way someone looks...
 
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DavidParis

Enthusiast
I get what you are saying, but your frustrations are aimed in the wrong direction...
Yes, I understand that and it certainly isn't our fault that some recordings are difficult to properly re-transcribe on our modern equipment. I also understand the EQ business as I have succussfully used Dirac via a MiniDSP and also convolution filters implemented through Roon. I agree that these work to some degree. However, there is some little demon in my mind that abhors and despises EQ as it equates to signal manipulation. It may be futile, but I would like everything I play to sound pleasing to me irrespective of the recording technique and equipment used. So I kind of hate EQing things. You may notice that the McIntosh MA352 has a 5 band EQ that you can activate and deactivate by remote control from your listening position. Sometimes I test it and it works (somewhat) but I dislike engaging it because I am once again altering and changing the recording "because my equipment makes it sound like crap..." And then, can you imagine EQing your listening sessions for hours on end and for each song or album? It just bothers me. Anyway, thanks for your suggestions and replies. I am considering a new career in Competitive Basket Weaving instead of wasting time sitting between my two speakers.
 
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DavidParis

Enthusiast
To use another analogy it'd be like having bad eyesight and blaming your glasses or contacts because you don't like the way someone looks...
I am fully capable of doing that. It's a form of reverse beer goggles.
 
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