Prices listed in CA$.
When owner of retailer EQ Audio Video Ed O’herlihy told me he and his team had painstakingly set up the Focal Grande Utopias EM EVO ($359,998) better than they’d ever been set up at a show, I believed him. Why? Because I recognized that glint of confidence in his eye that said he knew what he had. I’ve visited Ed’s demos over the years — he usually has 5 or 6 going on at a show, playing in turns — and I don’t know anyone who works harder than Ed and his team to try to give visitors an unforgettable listening experience. It’s what they feed on. Wowing people is their drug. It makes them giddy.
And Ed was right; the giant Focal Grande Utopias EVO — which stood like Norse gods in their snazzy White Carrara finish — sounded the best I’d heard them sound. Of course, even Grande Utopias, as grand as they may be, can’t make music on their own. It takes a supporting cast of components that can bring out the best from the Focals, and that’s what we had, namely the mighty Naim Statement pairing of a NAC S1 preamplifier and two NAP S1 mono power amplifiers ($390,000), a Naim ND555 Media Player streamer ($29,899) with its PSU NAPS 555-DR power supply ($17,849). Cables used were Naim’s Super Lumina, while accessories included IsoAcoustics Gaia Titan Cronos speaker isolation feet ($1,799.99 / 4 pack), Naim Fraim equipment stands ($various), and Vicoustic room treatment panels ($various).
On music streamed from a tablet, the sound from this combination was spectacular and, at certain times, seemed to deliver concert-level sound pressure into our large space. The Focals filled up the room with music that sounded so substantial and physically present I could practically see it. I was completely immersed in it, trying to take it all in. Rather than list the system’s sonic qualities the way I typically do, I’ll resort to copying the notes I scribbled down during my audition: “Dynamic beasts”, “Huge soundstage”, “Exciting”, “Wrap-around”, “Incredible imaging”, “Endless reverb”, “Tremendous bass”, “Super definition”, “Harmonic threads everywhere”, and, somewhat curiously, “Absurd sound, and when I say absurd, I mean incredible!” I think you get the gist.
The second system I listened to in EQ Audio Video’s partitioned exhibit space sounded just as excellent as the Focal-fronted one, but in a different, less “majestic” way. Speakers used were Monitor Audio’s new Hyphn model ($120,000/pair), which looked sharp in its satin white finish. Feeding the Hyphns were a Rotel MICHI P5 Series 2 preamplifier ($6500), a pair of 1080W Rotel MICHI M8 monoblocs ($9999 each), a Roksan Xerxes turntable ($7299) fitted with a Roksan Shiraz cartridge ($6398), along with a medley of Audience cables ($various), an Audience Adept Response AR-6 power conditioner ($7100), Vicoustic room treatment panels ($various), and Solid Tech Hybrid stands ($various).
First off, I want to say that I’ve heard the Rotel MICHI amps and preamp before, and to these ears they never sounded as good as they did here, powering the Hyphn. On streamed music, the sound was open, transparent, effortlessly dynamic, and rich. It sounded pure and vivid, with vocals so clearly, explicitly, and intimately rendered that I felt myself leaning in to them as if I were being told a secret I didn’t want to miss. Even the tiniest sounds seemed to have substance, color, and texture.
The EQ team did it again. They gave me a listening experience — two of them — I won’t soon forget. Thanks, guys.