Highly regarded in professional audio circles, French company Focal’s affordable Alpha series is made in China and comprises three models. Huw Price checks out the Alpha 50 and Alpha 80 from the bottom and top of the range…
Several of Focal’s international distributors have been asking for an affordable monitor line for quite some time, but it was never going to be a case of knocking something up and shipping it out. In fact, Focal’s UK distributor had almost given up hope when they were invited over to the Focal factory to assess the Alpha series.
Both the Alpha 50 and Alpha 80 have polyglass cone woofers and 1in (25mm) inverted dome tweeters. These look very similar to the inverted dome tweeter that’s used in Focal’s CMS models and the Passport, and you’d be forgiven for thinking they were the same, but these are made from pure aluminium rather than the aluminium magnesium alloy used for the more expensive monitors.
Amplification is Class AB, but power levels differ. The 50 has 20W for the tweeter and 35W for the woofer, but this is upped to 40W and 100W for the Alpha 80. At 35Hz, the 80’s low frequency response reaches 10Hz below the Alpha 50’s.
Almost invariably, monitor on/off switches are located on the back panel near the mains input. The Alpha model switches may be around the back – but there are two good reasons we’re not complaining. Firstly, the switches are located near the top corner, so they’re really easy to get at. Secondly, auto standby switching features throughout the range.
The controls are kept to a minimum with a simple Sensitivity switch. The two settings are 0dB for normal use and +6dB for occasions when sheer volume is the main priority. High and low frequency shelving is provided too with plus and minus 3dB adjustment at 300Hz and 4.5KHz.
Regular MusicTech readers may have noticed that review speakers are often compared to our in-house Focal CMS 40s. In this case it seems more appropriate than ever, and the family resemblance between the Alpha 50 and CMS 40 is striking. Bearing in mind that this was a set of brand new speakers next to a well played in set, the upper midrange and soft but transparent treble were almost identical.
With the equalisation set flat the Alpha 50 produced more thump and width in the lows. In small rooms or close to walls you may find the port assisted lift a bit too much, but notching the bass down by about 2dB tightened the 50’s lows and brought the overall sound characteristic closer to the CMS 40.
Our favourite thing about the CMS 40 is the sense of acoustic depth and realism in the soundstage and, once again, the 50 comes extremely close. It’s not quite as smooth or forward in the vocal region of the midrange but the lack of colouration and natural quality of the sound is completely in line with our expectations of Focal monitors.
So how does the big brother compare? Well for starters it’s much more powerful and will fill small to medium sized rooms with sound quite effortlessly. Given the enclosure size you’d expect bigger bass too, but instead you get a bass response that’s deeper and more even across the range with no obvious tip up around the 50Hz -100Hz mark.
For the most part this aspect of the Alpha 80’s performance is enjoyable, however it does sound very slightly sluggish when challenged by fast bass lines containing very low frequency content. The midrange also has a different quality to the Alpha 50, being slightly less forward. So vocals and guitars sound a bit recessed into the mix – almost as if there’s an area in the upper mids that isn’t quite filled out.
There are those occasions when you need loud monitors with lots of bass to vibe up a room and the Alpha 80 delivers that in spades. However, to also have the option to switch to another set of monitors for critical listening would be preferable, and this is where the Alpha 50 really wins out. The clarity, accuracy and sheer audio quality this monitor provides is rare indeed at this price point.