Focal Bird 2.1 System
Audio Marketing, www.audiomarketing.com.au
Stunning sound; almost faultless Kleer wireless transmission from iOS devices
$1399 (transmitter $149)
The people at France’s Focal- JMLab have made a real name for themselves in the field of small bookshelf speakers over the past three decades, but also make excellent in-wall, multimedia and floorstanding speakers.
Principle among the latter is the Grande Utopia EM – a monolith of a loudspeaker which is widely seen as the world’s best and will set you back about $180,000 a pair.
We personally run a 5.1-channel set of high-end (but much cheaper!) made-in-France Focal D me satellites and subwoofer in our home theatre, and couldn’t be happier.
So we were very keen to try out one of the Bird systems, which could be seen as an entry point to the world of high-end audio.
There are three flavours of Bird in the Focal deli – all use the Power Bird amplifier/DAC with integrated subwoofer, but have different left and right speakers.
The least expensive model, at $1199, comes with a set of Little Bird speakers housing an aluminium dome tweeter and a 4in polyflex cone mid- bass driver.
This is followed at $200 increments by the Bird, whose mid-bass drivers are upped in size to 5.5in, and the Super Bird – which have the same drivers as the Bird but augment them with a 5.5in polyflex cone passive radiator.
The frequency response for all three speakers tops out at 25kHz, but gets lower – from 89Hz to 70Hz and 55Hz – as the speakers get bigger and better. The downward-firing subwoofer integrated into the amplifier has a 6.5in driver which takes things down to 42Hz. The units come in black or white gloss.
Aussie distributors Audio Marketing sent us down a middle-of-the-range Bird system, which we set up in a 4m x 5m loungeroom.
The Power Bird amp is a standard AV component size, with simple controls on the front – a Volume knob and a single Source button, flanked by a set of lights showing which source is in use.
On the back are some high-quality, spring-loaded speaker wire pegs and a set of inputs for wiring in traditional audio sources such as DVD and CD players: two RCA analogues, a 3.5mm Aux jack and RCA and optical digitals.
You can also stream music wirelessly from an iOS device by plugging Focal’s $149 iTransmitter into its dock connector. This creates its own Kleer wireless network. It’s not the most elegant solution in these days of built-in AirPlay technology, but the quality of the transmission can’t be faulted. Both the amp and the speakers look great, screaming high-end design.
Ultimately, though, it’s about the audio quality, and the Bird sings oh so sweetly. This is a seriously sophisticated system for the price and size, delivering clean, focused and natural sound from top to bottom.
High volumes? No problem from the amp, but the Bird speakers lost a bit of clarity and became strident when pushed too far, showing why you’d spend a bit more for the Super Birds in larger spaces.
Macworld Australia’s buying advice.
Overall a really top-quality offering from Focal. The audio quality through the Kleer transmitter is excellent, but the need to use a docking transmitter isn’t as elegant as AirPlay.