As French as a baguette jambon/beurre…
By Roy Gregory
There are certain things that are unmistakably, indeed quintessentially French: the Eiffel tower, Dior’s “New-Line”, Pinot Noir with a four-figure price tag, the Citroen DS – and Focal’s Kanta No.1 loudspeaker. An American might well respond, “You cannot be serious!” but take one look at this compact, stand-mounted loudspeaker and there really is no mistaking its origins: origins that run far more than just skin deep. Like its illustrious forebears, what’s beneath the surface is just as important as what you can see, so for Dior’s tailored pleats, luxury linings and volume, or the Citroen DS’s hydro-pneumatic suspension, disc brakes and steering headlights, instead consider the Kanta’s innovative clamshell construction, flax-cored sandwich driver and mixed materials cabinet. Throw in the extensive range of striking, two-tone finishes, with their contrasting colours and textures and the Kanta No.1 couldn’t be more French if it came out of its box playing the Marseillaise.
It’s a heritage that is as important as it is obvious, reflecting both the nature and inclinations of the company that created it. Let’s not forget that Focal started out as a producer of drive units, drivers that were as different in approach and choice of materials as they were popular amongst many of the most ambitious high-end speaker designers. To this day, Focal remains an engineering company, a company that designs and builds its own drive units, not just for domestic and pro audio systems but also the challenging ICE segment and latterly, headphones too. It owns it own cabinet facility and applies innovative materials and techniques to loudspeaker enclosures just as enthusiastically as it does to its distinctive drive units. Take a look at the various elements that go into the Kanta 1 (as I’ll call it from now on) and you’ll begin to see what I mean
Starting with the drivers, the 27mm IAL3 tweeter uses Focal’s trademark inverted Beryllium dome, while the 165mm bass/mid driver sports a patented flax-sandwich construction that combines new, natural materials with the company’s unique, tuneable composite construction. The Beryllium diaphragm might not have the inherent stiffness of diamond, but it’s considerably lighter, offers better self damping and the inverted dome construction employs a smaller diameter voice-coil (similar to a conventional cone driver) that is again lighter than a peripheral voice-coil and also braces and stiffens the dome. The sandwich construction of the bass/mid cone combines stiff skins with the natural damping of the flax fibers, allowing the engineers to precisely tune the individual elements and thus the complete cone’s mass and mechanical behaviour. Along the way, that also reduces the designer’s reliance on the crossover to mate the drivers and deal with out-of-band nastiness. Passive crossovers are referred to as subtractive designs for a reason and it would be a mistake to underestimate the part this plays in the Kantas’ engaging, communicative delivery. But Focal’s quest for performance doesn’t stop at the unusual cone or dome materials and construction that it employs. The bass driver’s motor benefits from the company’s patented Neutral Inductance Circuitry while the spider employs Mass Tuned Damping to improve both the magnetic and mechanical linearity of the motor system, with measurements showing a significant drop in distortion.
The drivers are bolted into a time-aligned baffle moulded from a solid block of high-density polymer material that delivers optimum profiling around the drivers and baffle edge along with much greater mass as well as a worthwhile improvement in stiffness and self-damping when compared to the MDF equivalent. The baffle laps over and around the one-piece moulded plywood rear shell, creating an incredibly stiff and inherently self-damped construct, closed with machined MDF plates top and bottom. The top plate is laminated with glass, while the bottom carries threads for the matching stand. The resulting cabinet is an essentially inert combination of four distinct materials (HDP, plywood, MDF/glass laminate and MDF), carefully combined and shaped inside and out to spread resonance and minimize acoustic anomalies. The cabinet rear is home to a massive, flared reflex port and a single pair of five-way binding posts. The clam-shell construction adds significantly to the cabinet’s stiffness, as does the massive HDP baffle, naturally aided by the Kanta 1’s diminutive dimensions. Even so, each speaker weighs in at a surprising (when you pick them up) 13 kg or a shade over 28lbs.