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Bookshelf Speakers

Can the Focus Audio Model 68 Best the Mighty Tannoy Arden?

Can the $2,150 Focus Audio Model 68 dethrone the mighty Tannoy Arden? There is much to admire here with these Canadian-made speakers.

Focus Audio Model 68 Bookshelf Speakers Black Pair on Stands

I’ve felt listless and experienced a strong feeling of melancholy with my Focus Audio Model 68 speakers for months not having a purpose for them. They will be heading out soon to a new owner but I wanted to give them a final listen before they depart. My reference system including the wonderful Tannoy Arden made them unnecessary but was I about to experience some form of regret not giving them a proper chance during their stay?

Focus Audio Model 68 Bookshelf Speaker Black
Focus Audio Model 68

Focus Audio is a well known Canadian speaker manufacturer based in Markham, Ontario; those who live within the GTA have certainly seen them in local high-end audio stores. Americans definitely have to look a lot harder to find them.

Their website needs modernization, but let’s not judge the sound on that because there is a lot going on in regard to the Model 68s and they are definitely a pair of loudspeakers that have been flying under the radar for far too long.

Focus Audio Signature68LE Bookshelf Speakers
The newest version of this Model 68 is the Signature68LE

The newest version of this speaker is the Signature68LE with a retail price of $2,150 USD. The Model 68 which are the focus of this article are very similar. Focus Audio uses custom-made drivers and each speaker is handmade. I’ve heard comparisons to ProAc in regards to the aesthetics but that might be pushing it.

The cabinet is very inert and is finished with Cardas binding posts, Litz internal wiring and performance crossover filters. The piano gloss finish looks even better than the images convey.

First Impressions

I’m awestruck by the manner in which small speakers can magically disappear; the Model 68s do that exceptionally well. What stands out most is radiance; the sense that the music is wrapping around the speaker.

You don’t have to be in the sweet spot to experience that with these speakers.  As I play Art Blakey’s Moanin’ in native DSD64, I look directly at the left then right speakers and find that the image specificity is superb.

The 68s create a full soundstage making my room feel larger than it is. I hear instruments and sounds around my room when the recording presents it. Even when I stand behind the speakers, the soundstage is present.

The Paul McGowan Debate: What is More Important, Speakers or Amplifier? 

As B-room speakers, the Model 68s did not perform to my satisfaction with either the Hegel H90 (60 watt/channel) or the NAD C368 (80 WPC) integrated amplifiers.

However, when paired with reference gear including the 250 watts per channel NAD M22 power amp, Sonic Frontiers Line 1 Linestage and exaSound e62 DAC — the results were dramatically different.

In my opinion, in the current marketplace, amplifiers and input sources are more important because on a dollar-for-dollar basis, your equivalent performing front end is going to cost more. There are some excellent speakers today that are not going to break the bank, like the Dali Oberon 5, or KLH Model 5, but great amps and DACs will cost more. This example proves to me that the front end is more important to make great speakers perform at the highest possible level.

Focus Audio Model 68 Bookshelf Speakers Black on Stand
Focus Audio Model 68 on Skylan stands paired with the NAD M22 power amp, Sonic Frontiers Line 1 tube preamp and exaSound e62 DAC

Design Compromises

At 85 dB/W/m, the Model 68s need power. Why are most high-end bookshelf loudspeakers so inefficient? Unlike the massive 600 watt capabilities of the Arden, I didn’t want to overdrive the Model 68s, but I didn’t expect to create as much sound as they do at normal listening levels.

The Model 68s were lacking with Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick,” — you simply cannot compete with the attack and power created with the Ardens on huge drum solos. 

So Smooth it Makes Bad Music Sound Good

With soft dome tweeters, the 68s are never harsh sounding. People hate when audiophiles use the phrase “musical,” because nobody really seems to know what that means, but the Focus Audio 68s are very enjoyable to listen to and are one of the least fatiguing loudspeakers that I’ve ever had the opportunity to try at home.

Compared to the Tannoy Arden, they definitely sound more “hi-fi” and that’s perfectly fine. The Tannoy have a very different tonal balance and they don’t image in the same pinpoint manner.

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Comparisons: Focus Audio Model 68s, ELAC Carina BS243.4 and Dali Oberon 1

ELAC Carina BS243.4, Dali Oberon 1 and Focus Audio Model 68 Loudspeakers Compared
Comparing the ELAC Carina BS243.4, Dali Oberon 1 and Focus Audio Model 68 at The Audio Room, Calgary AB, Canada

I spent an entire Saturday at The Audio Room authenticating the Model 68s in order to get a different perspective about their sound quality. The differences became rather apparent; the 68s excel at width, depth, and left-right coupling; it’s as if the side walls are wider and the front wall is pushed back.

The ELACs deliver a similar sounding soundstage with their JET Folded air motion transformer tweeters. The Dali Oberon 1 deliver a very different presentation; everything feels more forward and I would suggest that they sound more similar to Focal loudspeakers than the Focus Audio.

In this comparison, I noticed high frequency roll-off in the 68s and ELACs, the crashing of symbols is relaxed. Like ice cream, speakers come in many different flavors, sometimes you want smooth and other times cotton candy, or tiger tail. 

Music

Justice, Justice (2007)


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I’m a virgin Justice fan drawn in by their graphic design and fun music. Justice is a French electronic duo that meshes vintage funk, disco, and house foundations, along with some prog, metal, new wave, and indie music.

The Model 68s combined with a JL subwoofer delivered a very full sounding presentation with an expansive soundstage. The music extended well beyond the outer edges of each speaker and this combination could have filled an even larger listening space.

The Last Dance & Pearl Jam, No Code


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The Model 68s are great with television programming and movies; the 10 episode series focused on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls had moments of great intimacy and also larger than life moments that would definitely get lost listening through lesser loudspeakers.

The tenth episode featured Pearl Jam’s “Present Tense” from No Code and the Focus 68s reproduced Eddie Vedder’s voice with both texture and a wonderful degree of smoothness. Mike McCready’s guitar had the perfect degree of distortion and the music enveloped the entire space in a manner that one would not expect from such a small loudspeaker.

Lakou Mizik & Joseph Ray, Leave the Bones (2021)


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Courtesy of Marcos at The Audio Room in Calgary, I got exposed to the song “Ogou.” The atmospherics on this track which is an African rain forest celebration were downright spooky. The louder I played the track through the Focus speakers, the greater the impact and sensation of listening in more than just two channels of music.

Focus Audio Model 68 Bookshelf Speakers Black Pair on Stands Low Angle
Focus Audio Model 68

Conclusion

I really enjoyed the Focus Audio Model 68s in my reference system; so much that I didn’t want to take them out.

I didn’t expect to enjoy the Model 68s because I didn’t expect them to have the ability to energize my listening space in a way that was comparable to the Tannoy Arden. I was very wrong about that.

I also made the mistake of listening to them in my secondary system and concluding that there wasn’t much left in the tank; a simple swap into a more demanding system with a superior power amplifier and source changed my impression in a very dramatic way. Feeding these speakers with better amplification is almost mandatory.

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Never judge a loudspeaker by its size is definitely one of the lessons here. The Focus 68 loudspeakers made everything sound smoother and larger which might not be the most accurate presentation but it was one that had me listening well into the night.

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