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Focal: La Révolution Sonore Vient de Commencer!

Focal and Naim continue to expand building a global high-end audio business that is taking market share from competitors in multiple categories.

Focal Manufacturing

Battre le fer pendant qu’il est chaud.

During the pandemic, Focal and Naim reached out to me and asked if I would be comfortable traveling to Houston to experience one of the first Focal Powered by Naim retail locations. Wendy Knowles, Head of PR, Focal Naim America, knew that I would never turn down the opportunity to schlep down to Houston; world class Vietnamese food, great record stores, and a chance to visit the Astros team store to pick-up a new jersey and collection of hats for my kids.

Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States and it made perfect sense that both brands would select such a huge and growing market for one of its first Focal Powered by Naim locations; there is a lot of money in the region, the music scene is excellent, and people invest a lot of money into their homes in this part of the country.

Focal powered by Naim Houston Front Door Entrance
Focal Powered by Naim Houston Front Entrance

It is also muggy as hell during June and you definitely want to spend time indoors which creates all kinds of opportunities to enjoy music and movies.

Spending an entire day with the team proved to be a very important experience on a few levels; one was able to listen to a huge range of their loudspeakers, electronics and headphones, learn more about forthcoming products, and most importantly — understand where both Focal and Naim were headed.

It should not come as a surprise that Hi-Fi journalists and editors talk to one another about where we think this industry is headed; some of us don’t agree in regard to where the focus needs to be, but there is a growing consensus that there are too many brands and that a consolidation is on the horizon. We have already seen it in the wake of the Sound United and McIntosh Group acquisitions.

It’s not enough to make great products; you have to be able to market them properly on a global level and have the right retail partners to bring in revenue.

Focal Manufacturing Corner View
Focal manufacturing in France

Companies also need to diversify; your products can’t be focused on one market and we have seen that in regard to luxury car audio, marine audio, home theater and multi-room audio, and the personal audio category.

Focal and Naim have taken the long-term approach and there is no question that both brands are better positioned than most for the decade to come which is likely to be transformative for the consumer A/V industry.

We sat down with both companies recently to discuss their marriage, the future of high-end audio, and the development process for all of their products.

Focal’s Marketing Product Manager, Rejean Bedel, joined us on the most recent eCoustics Podcast which is an expanded version of this interview.

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Rejean Bedel, Focal Product Manager
Rejean Bedel, Focal Marketing Product Manager

When did you join Focal and what are your primary responsibilities?

I joined the company 4 years ago after competing my graduate degree in mechanical engineering. My role at Focal is Marketing Product Manager and I’m in charge of several product lines, including in-wall/in-ceiling loudspeakers, and our range of classic loudspeakers for the home.

Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation Wood Edition Wireless Speaker
Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation Wood Edition Wireless Speaker

How has being a part of a much larger company with Naim changed Focal’s approach? Both in terms of design/sound goals, but also how Focal’s products are now marketed and sold.

The marriage between Focal and Naim was a gradual and very calm process. The wedding was in 2011 and the first child was the Muso 2 in 2019, so the two companies took their time to get to know each other. Following this project, the merger accelerated following a simple observation: The combination of electronics and loudspeakers is often very complex. And for our customers, finding the right match is very complicated.

That’s why we gradually merged our sales forces, developed joint distribution networks (Focal Powered by Naim) and today our R&D and marketing are both Focal & Naim. Today, 100% of the products released by Focal or Naim are tuned together, and the companies benefit from each other’s know-how to design the best solutions and ensure that the sound we offer will always be the best.

Naim Audio NAIT 50 Integrated Amplifier Front Top
Naim Audio NAIT 50 Integrated Amplifier

“Vintage Audio” has become very popular again and as we have witnessed from the response to the Naim NAIT 50, there is enormous interest in those types of products. At least 10 legacy high-end loudspeakers brands have reintroduced older models that incorporate new technology. Can we expect the same from Focal?

Vintage audio is very popular with hi-fi nostalgic for many reasons, memories, timelessness, and the revival of iconic products. And what better way, to introduce that kind of product than with an anniversary? That’s why we’ve launched Nait 50, for the 50th anniversary of Naim.

Focal Spectral 40th Anniversary Loudspeaker
Focal Spectral 40th

And if you remember, in 2019 Focal also launched a pair of Neo-Retro speakers, Spectral 40th, which took up the codes of iconic hi-fi speakers (Spectral, Futura Antea and Vega) with a beautiful and powerful membrane made of aramid fibre (Kevlar Cone). This loudspeaker was a great success!

When did Focal make the decision to enter the headphone market? The market reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Was that a surprise?

The first step was in 2012 with the launch of the Spirit, to follow the trend in wired headphones. That was a great success, but the most striking moment was our arrival in home headsets in 2016. It was a huge surprise on the market, and there was a lot of excitement around that time.

Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition with Focal Clear Mg Headphones
Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition with Focal Clear Mg Headphones

Why has Focal succeeded in the headphone market as opposed to the vast majority of loudspeaker brands that have tried and failed?

We went seriously into this market with a radically different approach to our competitors. We entered this market with a very high-end headphone, the Utopia. Our aim was to use the headphone to offer the same sound as the Grande Utopia. We then built up a real range of open and closed headphones with a common design language with a strong personality (such as Stellia, Clear MG and Celestee) and significant technical developments between each range (particularly in terms of the membranes).

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We develop and build our drivers in-house, by our specialist, they benefit from several patents that you can also find in other divisions of the brand.

Focal Littora 200 OD Stone 8 Speakers next to pool
Focal Littora 200 OD Stone 8 Outdoor Garden Speakers next to pool.

There are only a handful of loudspeaker manufacturers that have been successful in the high-end category, CI, home theater, marine, automotive, and headphone categories. What has contributed to Focal’s success in those categories?

I think our greatest strength comes from our ability to design and manufacture loudspeaker and drive units. What has allowed us to have a dominant position in all of these markets is to approach each development with the same state of mind: to reproduce as well as possible and without distortion what the artist wanted to create. And this is what drives the teams at Focal and Naim.

Focal Vestia Loudspeakers 2023 Lifestyle
Focal Vestia Loudspeakers (2023 models)

Focal’s newest loudspeaker lineups (Vestia & Theva) are far more affordable than what we’ve seen from other brands in 2023. Was this intentional and a response to the softer economy?

No, absolutely not. We have very long development times between 2 and 4 years for speakers like Vestia and Theva. We simply wanted to offer speakers made in France at “affordable” prices.

Focal Powered by Naim Newport Beach Listening Room Angle

The “Focal Powered by Naim” retail strategy appears to be a success so far. Why do you think that is and have traditional Focal/Naim dealers pushed back against the concept in markets where the respective brands have sold well with other competitive electronics and loudspeakers?

This strategy is a real success because it allows people to discover the world of hi-fi with the vision of Focal & Naim. This strategy is truly complementary to our traditional network, for two reasons:

  • It makes hi-fi accessible to lifestyle and luxury customers looking for a simple, high-end buying experience. This type of customer who would not necessarily fit into a traditional network.
  • We don’t open stores in our own name. We rely on local partners to open them. This means a different approach for our traditional retailers.
Naim Audio New Classic Series 300 Components in Rack with Focal Speakers
Naim Audio New Classic Series 300 Components in Rack with Focal Scala Utopia Evo Loudspeakers

How has the market changed for Focal? Is the traditional Focal customer still the focus or has the new retail and product strategy (headphones, home theater, CI, wireless) created a new pool that is very different?

Of course! We still take care of our traditional customer. That is why we offer them the possibility to enjoy the Focal sound anywhere they go. This year we launched 2 major ranges, the New Classic 200 and 300 series, which are undoubtedly aimed at our traditional customers.

What makes Focal loudspeakers different? How has the brand managed to keep the loyalty of its base for so many decades?

What makes us different is the passion we put into every product. It’s this passion for high fidelity that drives our teams and shines through in our products. This passion has remained unchanged for over 40 years and continues to drive the company to propose good looking products, with great sound that fit perfectly with the needs of our customers.

Focal Speaker Assembly in France

Focal makes everything (or almost everything) in France. How has the company been able to do that successfully and do well financially when so many of its competitors manufacture their products overseas for a lot less money?

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First, thanks to major investment and a long-term vision.

Secondly, thanks to a huge mastering of our know-how, the design and manufacturing of cones. 

When we developed the Slatefiber membrane, our aim was to develop a membrane with excellent acoustic properties and made in France. That’s why we decided to invest a lot of money in automatization the manufacture of this membrane.

Focal Manufacturing Through Windows
Focal loudspeaker testing in France.

Where do you think Focal is headed as a company? 5 years? 10 years?

We’re already talking about the future in 5 and 10 years. Our research team is always finding new and exciting technologies that will take several years to industrialize and bring to market. 

So Focal is going to continue its development by strengthening synergies and compatibilities with Naim to always offer the best for the customers.

Will we see active Focal loudspeakers powered by Naim electronics in the near future?

We are always looking to improve and collaborate both brands for exciting new products.

Focal Bathys Wireless Active Noise Cancelling Headphones
Focal Bathys noice-cancelling wireless headphones

What are some of your favorite Focal products? Why?

A year ago, I would probably have answered Kanta No. 2 with Uniti Nova, because performance without style doesn’t interest me. And I think the combination of Flax membrane and beryllium tweeter is fantastic.

But now, my current favorite product is the Bathys noise-cancelling wireless headphones, which I use most at least every day, for work, relaxation, and travel. It is a unique combination of style and performance.

Related Podcast: The Focal Revolution: How a French Hi-Fi Manufacturer is Revolutionizing Your Music Listening Experience

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. ORT

    June 29, 2023 at 7:08 pm

    How many Bose stores are still operating in North America?

    I like Focal very much and think well of Naim but appealing primarily to the “High End” seems folly to such as I. To be certain, the wealthy will more than likely remain wealthy but how often will they upgrade to something purportedly “more”?

    As long as their wallet can feed their ego sounds about right. And I have no problem with that. To be honest, why would I? It harms me in no way and fuels competition between marques.

    I just ordered a new “Media Center/Centre” unit by Kenwood for my 2011 Mudstain (my brother’s word for my Mustang!). It was roughly $1,000. It will have the one thing I should have gotten in the previous unit – A CD/DVD player. I ain’t gonna watch movies but I am going to listen to Hartman & Coleman on CD. What is (barely) affordable for me is beyond the reach of some one else and a mere pittance for others. Kenwood has a range of devices for car audio. Sony too. Pioneer? Yup.

    Do Focal & Naim offer a comparable range of products for the home, e.g., entry level on up? It depends upon your level of affordability or as I call it your “Monetary Comfort Zone”.

    I can not afford either a da Vinci or a Piccaso but I know that for me one is a masterpiece and the other is a piece of crap. And both are expensive regardless of whom we prefer.

    For the majority of folk, there exists their own “Monetary Comfort Zone”. A place where “Buyer’s Remorse” does not live. Focal & Naim need to find it or they will close like Bose.

    ORT

    • Ian White

      June 30, 2023 at 2:19 am

      ORT,

      So the two concepts are very different. The Focal Powered by Naim “boutiques” are located inside existing high-end stores. The Bose stores were inside malls where the foot traffic didn’t care at all about overpriced Bose products.

      These stores offer a unique experience to try Naim and Focal products together in different scenarios. Because there is a high-end store attached to it…you can also try the Naim and Focal gear with other brands.

      The staff are trained by both brands and generally know how the equipment performs with other brands in the store.

      IW

  2. Gord M

    June 30, 2023 at 1:24 am

    The Focal/Naim retail stores are in all likelihood a winning formula as far as a business models go, what do I know from retail strategies?
    It did not appear to work out for Sony (which was of course exclusively Sony branded products).
    I would not personally be attracted to browsing at a retail outlet that carries two brands only when there are alternatives in the vicinity that present a variety of brand offerings.

    • Ian White

      June 30, 2023 at 2:15 am

      Gord,

      Except that the Focal Powered by Naim locations operate within existing high-end stores. These are being built inside retail locations that carry dozens of other brands. It’s a boutique and you can compare to the other products.

      The headphone listening stations let you try Naim Uniti Atom HEs with Focal and other headphones brands (if the retailer carries them) or your own.

      Best,

      Ian White

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