Focal Electra 1028 Be Speaker System
Price: $21,480 At A Glance: Highs to die for, uncolored midrange, tight bass • Cinematic soundstage • Flawless build quality
Going for the Beryllium
Focal first became a household audio name in the 1980s. Located in Saint-Etienne, France, the company furnished driver units for a number of well-known speaker manufacturers, among them Wilson Audio Specialties. Wilson continues to use an exclusive version of a Focal inverted titanium-dome tweeter. With that exception, Focal has long since kept all of its driver production in-house for its own complete lineup of loudspeakers for the consumer, professional, automotive, and multimedia markets.
In 2002, after an extended R&D effort, Focal introduced a major renovation of its premier Utopia speaker range. A key ingredient in that redesign was a new tweeter with an inverted dome of pure beryllium. One of the stiffest and lightest materials known, beryllium promised a significant leap in performance, but at a cost. The Utopia range was priced deep into most audiophiles’ sticker-shock range.
It wasn’t long before a beryllium tweeter found its way into Focal’s somewhat more affordable Electra models. Now, with the second generation of both Utopia and Electra 1000 Be speakers, Focal has further refined these models, including upgrades to the beryllium tweeter itself.
All That Glitters Is Not Beryllium
There’s a lot more than beryllium tweeters in the Electra DNA, but we may as well start with that marquee attraction. Many of today’s high-end speakers are designed to extend their response to well above 20 kilohertz, including these Focals. While humans can’t hear much above that (and few can hear even that high), Focal argues that extension into the ultrasonic region can have a positive effect on a speaker’s audible transient response.
To achieve such extended response, it helps to use a material that’s extremely light and rigid. Pure beryllium (not alloyed or vapor-deposited) has a density 2.5 times lower than titanium and rigidity three times higher. For optimizing crossover design, the tweeter’s bottom-end extension is also significant. To that end, Focal loads the back of the tweeter into a damped rear chamber, which Focal calls IAL (Infinite Acoustic Loading).
Beryllium is not just expensive relative to other diaphragm materials; it’s also toxic, but only in its unrefined dust form. While this demands considerable care in manufacture, it’s not something the consumer needs to be concerned about. In the event a dome is damaged, Focal asks that it be returned for recycling.
The bass and midrange drivers all employ Focal’s W cones, which consist of woven glass tissue bonded to both sides of a thin foam core. Focal claims that this sandwich is far more rigid than other widely used cone materials.
The Electras are manufactured in France. Solidly built, they are available in a range of standard and optional finishes so silky smooth in both feel and appearance that at first touch they don’t seem quite real.
Getting It Together
Two 6.5-inch W-cone drivers provide the bass in the Electra 1028 Be, assisted by ports that fire out the rear and bottom. Focal includes foam bungs to block the rear port if the bass sounds excessive, but I didn’t need them. Above 350 hertz, a 6.5-inch midrange driver takes over. The beryllium tweeter, which operates above 2.2 kHz, is mounted below the midrange on a solid, curved aluminum billet to minimize vibration. The crossovers in the 1028 Be and the other full-range models are all fourth order.