Focal-JMlab is a French company, which has been designing and selling high-fidelity audio systems since 1979. This Saint-Étienne based company manufactures loudspeakers for the home, speaker drivers for automobiles, headphones and professional monitoring loudspeakers.
Focal’s industrial strategy concentrates on having full control over the entire production process, from the design and manufacturing of the speaker drivers to the assembly of the final product. Its products are entirely designed and developed in France, and most of the production is carried out at the factory in Saint-Étienne (France).
Focal-JMlab generates a €-53-million annual turnover and employs about 200 people at its facility in Saint-Étienne, which groups the production, R&D and management departments at the same site. Its export share is 70%.
Focal-JMlab maintains a regular research and development program in speaker drivers’ technologies. Investments in this field have enabled the company to conceive various innovative concepts. Ten innovations have been patented to date.
Inverted dome tweeter (1981)
An inverted dome tweeter was designed and developed by Focal in 1981. (Inverted dome tweeters appeared at least as early as the late 1960s in the EPI 100 loudspeaker manufactured by EPI/Epicure. It had an inverted paper dome.) One of its main advantages is its low directionality and its high dynamics. The majority of the brand’s tweeters still feature this technology.
K2 cone (1986)
In 1986, the company introduced the Polykevlar sandwich structure. The Poly-K cone is composed of two layers of aramid fibres applied to either side of a hollow-micro-ball structure in order to improve the compromise between weight-rigidity-and damping.
Polyglass cone (1988)
Polyglass technology was introduced by Focal in 1988. This consists in depositing fine glass micro-balls on the surface of a cellulose pulp cone (paper). This combination of glass and paper results in a very rigid material with a low mass, providing excellent damping qualities. The Polyglass cone resulted in a very linear frequency response curve and improved the definition of the midrange.
“W” sandwich cone (1995)
In 1995, Focal improved its sandwich concept with its “W” cone system which consists of two sheets of glass fibres applied to a structural foam core. Unlike the mono-material cones, the “W” sandwich cone optimises the frequency response curve by maximising the mass, rigidity and damping.
Beryllium tweeter (2002)
In 2002, Focal launched another innovation to their product line, the Beryllium Tweeter, which was only the second time a tweeter had ever been manufactured from Beryllium. Yamaha had introduced the Beryllium tweeter and Beryllium mid-range speaker in the NS-1000 back in 1974.
Beryllium is seven times more rigid than titanium (six times more rigid than aluminum), but has the same mass. It enabled Focal to develop a lighter and faster tweeter which provides excellent damping qualities. When associated with the inverted dome concept, the frequency response can be increased to 40 kHz, and more than 5 octaves can be spanned. Being ten times more expensive than gold,Focal only uses the Beryllium Tweeter for the Premium ranges: Utopia, Sopra, and Electra.
Tweeter Al-Mg (2007)
This tweeter was introduced by Focal JMlab in 2007. The use of aluminium increases damping qualities, whereas the use of magnesium increases the rigidity of the dome. This enabled the frequency response of the Al-Mg Tweeter to be increased to 28 kHz. The Al-Mg Tweeter is used on the Chorus range of the Home line and on the CMS and Shape ranges of the Pro line, among others.
Flax membrane cone (2013)
Eighteen years after introducing the “W” sandwich cones, Focal launched the new Made in France “F” Sandwich cone (for Flax). Composed of flax fibres enclosed in two thin layers of glass fibre, this solution offers a natural sound without colouration thanks to light, rigid and damped cones.
Tuned mass damper (2015)
In order to control resonance and to reduce medium speaker driver distortions, the Tuned Mass Damper technology consists of an additional mass that oscillates in opposition to the resonance frequency. The suspension is optimised to avoid distortions and increase the definition.
Infinite horn loading system (2015)
The rear of the Beryllium tweeter is loaded via a small cavity which is connected to the exterior of the enclosure by a horn. The inside is filled with a damping material. Rear wave of the tweeter is gradually absorbed to reduce distortion.
M-shaped inverted dome tweeter (2016)
Tweeters from the K2 Power, renewed in 2016, feature this M-shaped profile. This shape enables to extend the frequency response, a smoother diffusion, and more detailed treble.
Focal M-profile cone (2018)
Utopia M speaker drivers (range launched in 2018) feature a M-profile cone which combines rigidity, damping and lightness for more linear frequency response, reduced harmonic distortion and better sound dispersion.
Focal-JMlab has organised its range of products into five universes: the Home line, the Car line, the Pro line for music industry professionals, the Headphones line since 2012 and finally the Integration line (public address sound systems)
The Home loudspeakers universe represents 59% of the company turnover and is divided into two collections:
- Classic: all the loudspeakers of this collection are designed, developed and manufactured in France and combine all the Focal technological innovations (inverted dome tweeter, « W » and « F » sandwich con, etc.). Among the principal products, there are the Utopia, Sopra, Electra, Aria, Chorus and more recently Kanta lines. In 2013, launches Easya, high-fidelity wireless loudspeakers connectable with multiple sources thanks to built-in Bluetooth® aptX® technology.
The Grande Utopia is the collection’s emblematic loudspeaker. The first generation of the Grande Utopia, born in 1995, is a condensation of all the expertise and experience that Focal had gained since its creation. The second generation, in 2002, had the particularity of featuring pure Beryllium dome tweeters which enable it to receive, the year after, the “Golden Sound” award in Japan.
The third generation, launched in 2008, was a concentration of the best of Focal technologies. Designed by Pineau & Le Porcher, The Grande Utopia EM distinguished itself through its extraordinary dimensions: weighing 570 lbs (260 kg) and standing over 6 ft (2m) high. The cabinets can be customised at the cabinet-making facility in Bourbon-Lancy which is in charge of manufacturing and finishing the cabinets. In 2018, Focal unveiled Grande Utopia EM Evo and Stella Utopia EM Evo, which feature the latest technology of the brand.
- New Media: Since 2008, with the arrival of the Dôme miniature loudspeaker (available with Flax cone since 2014), Focal has adapted its know-how to new modes of music consumption with compact loudspeakers, “Plug and Play”, multimedia and more recently wireless (XS Book Wireless in 2013). In 2013, Focal launched 5.1 Home Cinema Packs in the New Media collection. Since May 2014, Focal entered the soundbar market launching Dimension, a 5.1 soundbar which, associated with its subwoofer, can be used as a sound plate for a flat screen.
The Sib line evolved in 2017 and became Sib Evo featuring Dolby Atmos technology.
At the end of the 1980s the Car Audio department was born and the first car audio products were launched. In 2010, the Car Audio division has been reorganized into three ranges and represents now 30% of the turnover.
- Elite : manufactured in France, the Utopia Be and K2 Power kits enable made-to-measure installations. It is the high-end range of the Focal Car Audio offering. In June 2014, Focal launches the made in France, handmade high-end Ultima kit. This concentrates Focal technologies used in the Grande Utopia EM speaker and in the SM9 monitoring speaker. End of 2018, the Utopia M line joins the Elite range with a new “à la carte” concept which enables to customers to configure their own system.
- Performance : products of this range offer the possibility of creating your own installation thanks to the technical solutions of the Expert, Access and Auditor lines.
- Intégration : This range offers simple and quick to install products, particularly “Plug & Play” kits intended for improving some brands’ original acoustic (BMW, Peugeot 207 and Golf 6, Renault and Toyota) but also the Universal line where each system has a reduced volume and is easy to install.
In 2002, a professional department, “Focal Professional” has been created, offering studio monitors dedicated to recording studios. The range is composed of five lines: SM9, SM6, CMS, Shape and Alpha to which the Listen professional and Clear Professional headphones designed for sound professionals (sound engineers and musicians) were added in 2018. The range now represents 11% of the company turnover.
Since 2007, Focal have offered invisible sound systems, In-Wall and In-Ceiling, in order to add sound to public and private places. In 2018, the brand presents 100 Series and 300 Series which include Outdoor loudspeakers.
Finally, in 2012, Focal expanded into commercializing its first nomad headphone, Spirit One which is replaced by Spirit One S model two years later. The range is completed in 2013 with the Spirit Classic, a headphone intended for a use at home and Spirit Professional. In 2015, Focal launches its very first in-ear headphones named Sphear. In 2016, Focal launches two Made in France high-end headphones hand made in their factory, Elear ad Utopia. Then, in 2017, the Collection is completed with Clear headphones.
Then, in 2017 marks the arrival of a complete line of mobile wired or wireless headphones. 5 models are now available: Listen, Listen Wireless, Spark, Spark Wireless and Sphear S. Focal launches its very first Made in France high-end closed-back headphones in 2018 with Elegia.