Focal are a well known, French loudspeaker manufacturer and as such will need little introduction here but they do have a philosophy which I really like in that they produce a range of loudspeakers to suit most pockets and are keen to bring audiophile reproduction to the masses.
Focal build their own drivers at the facility in St Etienne, France and they use these drivers as the foundation upon which they build the rest of the speaker – I like this approach as it means less concessions have to be made with the crossovers.
The Aria 906 we have here is a new loudspeaker that uses the company’s 6.5” flax sandwich mid/bass driver which is essentially flax fibres sandwiched between two sheets of fibre glass (see close up photograph). The concept here is that the driver is stiff and very light, another Focal philosophical standpoint. We visited the Focal factory a few months ago and found that the quality control on the production line is high with each driver being checked by ear before being released.
The inverted dome tweeter is a magnesium/aluminium alloy and again this is designed to be both light and very rigid.
These are a front-ported, two-way, largish standmount that looks quite smart with its glass top, leather front baffle and non-parallel side panels. Looking around the back of the Arias there’s a single pair of binding posts and these are of a high quality and accommodated the bare wires of our chosen 4mm cables easily. Finish on the speakers is good as you would expect for a speaker costing £758.
Throughout the review process we used high quality FLAC files from a computer feeding an inexpensive DAC and a Clones i25 amplifier. Cables used were 4mm Van Damme Blue and Gotham interconnects. I wanted to put these loudspeakers into a system that would be indicative of something someone in the real world might use and the system, including the loudspeakers, comes in at around £1500, which I would suggest is pretty much “entry level” and certainly not an exorbitant sum to spend on music reproduction.
I was also very careful to place the speakers in what I consider a realistic living space with them set around 2.5m apart and well away from walls. In fact, they were placed either side of a settee and firing across the room at a second settee about 3m away. The Arias were placed on modified, 50cm Target stands which put the tweeters at ear height when in the main listening position.
Getting away from the speaker specifics I have to say I was really surprised what this little system could do with the Focals out front. I know the amp and DAC well enough but was certainly not expecting to have the speakers elevate the whole to something I’d certainly be more than happy to live with. I found myself really enjoying listening to music and this is proof that you do not need to spend a King’s ransom to put together a system that plays music really well.
The ubiquitous Random Access Memories by Daft Punk is presented with really good extension to the lower frequencies with the bass being fairly well controlled and fast/tight. Top end frequencies come together nicely to give an overall feeling of “rightness” to the music. In some circles Focal have a reputation for producing loudspeakers that sound overly bright but I’m clearly missing something completely in this regard!
The soundstage thrown by the Arias is within the speakers and so not exceptionally wide, but there is good front to back depth with height that is really rather pleasing. What stand out with these speakers is a sense of tonal balance that doesn’t over emphasise any particular frequency and this makes for an easy listening experience that isn’t at all fatiguing. In comparison to the Q Acoustics Concept 20s which are a couple of hundred quid or so cheaper when their stands are factored in, the 906 goes lower and is overall a bigger and more dynamic listen which I preferred.
In absolute terms there’s a sense of something missing in refinement but then that’s when comparing to speakers costing many times the asking price of the Arias and so like comparing apples with oranges. However, crank up the volume to high levels with the Arias and things can get a little much with the speakers not feeling fully in control of the music, but let’s face it, these speakers are designed for relatively small spaces – when we did put them in the main rig and firing down the large living room they were a little out of their depth I think and if you do have a bigger room you should perhaps be looking at the larger floorstanders.
Playing Ti-an-guis’ eponymous album on Snip Records there’s good reproduction of the acoustic instruments and a solid feeling of the recording space. Instruments don’t necessarily have the air around them as when using the Roksan Darius S1s but then the Darius are six times the asking price and in reality there’s little to moan about at this price point. Female vocals are reproduced with clarity and there is good snap to percussion instruments.
I’ve found myself listening to loads of music on this little system with the Focals being the main event and they don’t seem to favour one kind of music over another which is a good thing to have a broad appeal in the market.
At low to medium volumes they really do deliver and I believe they do punch above their relatively modest asking price.
However, the Aria 906 is not a high-end loudspeaker (and to be fair, at this price it was never going to be) but what it does offer is an unpretentious, good value introduction to proper high fidelity reproduction of music around which to build a modestly priced playback system for the music lover uninterested in getting involved with all the audiophile malarkey.
The Focals look pretty conventional but aren’t unpleasing to look at and they should find favour with those looking for a loudspeaker that doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb in the domestic environment. They’re not the smallest of standmounters (certainly bigger than the Q Acoustic Concept 20s in dimensions) but then I find that standmounts tend to take up a similar amount of floorspace to one another anyway!
There’s an even-handedness with these speakers and whilst I wouldn’t suggest that they are absolutely neutral in their reproduction of music they are a thoroughly enjoyable loudspeaker. High-end on a budget? I don’t think so, but partner with a good budget electronics and you will have a system that you can enjoy for years to come without feeling the need to upgrade or change if listening to music is your main priority.
Focal should be applauded for the Aria 906, it’s a good value, good sounding loudspeaker that is well finished. It offers music lovers a product that is well thought out and designed from the ground up and delivers musically. Focal’s philosophy of getting the drivers right and building a loudspeaker around them certainly seems to have paid off.
Build Quality – 8
Sound Quality – 8
Value For Money – 9
Overall – 8.3
Recommended for those looking for a good value loudspeaker around which to build a modestly priced system that plays music very well.
Price as reviewed £758