Focal-JMlab Diva Utopia Be Surround Speaker System Page 3
One last change I made was perhaps even more interesting. I had planned all along to try out the Micro Utopia Bes, now residing as surround speakers, as the left and right fronts. One could make the argument that, as fine as the Divas are, when you add a subwoofer that responds up to 80Hz you aren't making much use of their two 8-inch woofers, which cross over at 100Hz—or, for that matter, of the large, heavy, expensive cabinet that supports the operation of these woofers. Would using Micro Utopias provide much the same performance, with a subwoofer, as the Divas? With a possible system saving of about $4000, it was a question that demanded an answer.
With 2-channel music, Micros plus subwoofer (still the Revel) did produce a remarkable sound. Percussion was tight and resounding; I've never heard the drums on the Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World CD (Decca B0001574-02) sound more savagely primal, or the higher-frequency percussive overtones exhibit such a seemingly contradictory combination of sparkle and sweetness. The midrange was every bit as clean as with the Divas. The bass blend with the Revel sub was superb; I was almost never conscious of bass when it shouldn't have been there, or too much bass when it should. The only downside was a little leanness—the opposite of the slight richness of the combination of Diva Utopia Be and Sub Utopia. But this depended to a large extent on the equipment used to drive the system and the program material. When I switched back to the Sony STR-DA9000ES receiver, some of the warmth returned, though in trade I lost just a little of that translucent top-end sparkle.
In short, the Utopia Be speakers reviewed here, both Diva and Micro, are exceptionally revealing products. They will reflect the quality of both the source material and the equipment used to drive them.
A Little Interpolation Music, Please
One last test remained. I was so impressed by the Micro Utopia Be that I wondered how it might work in a full surround system. While I had only two of them, I already knew that they functioned exceptionally well as main fronts and surrounds. What about the center channel? Obviously, a Micro will look a little odd perched atop a big-screen TV—but so does the Center Utopia Be! Most buyers in the market for Utopia Be speakers are likely already using—or planning for—a big screen and projector combination.
Used as a center-channel, with the Divas back at the left and right for timbral balance, a Micro Utopia Be performed well. Its bass balance was such that, even positioned below my projection screen and closer to the floor than was optimal, well-recorded male dialog rarely sounded boomy or chesty. It sounded more consistent, on- and off-axis, than the larger, more expensive Utopia Center Be. Guests seated to the left and right of you on a couch will get nearly the same balance from the center-channel as you will seated dead center.
But when used as a center-channel, for some reason the Micro Utopia Be did not jell quite as well with the Divas to its left and right as had the Center Utopia Be. Even from a slightly-left-of-center listening position, the soundstage was smoother and more coherent with the Center Utopia Be in position. There was also a greater ease to the sound; I suspect this may have had something to do with the Center's greater power handling.
We Have a Winner
The Diva Utopia Be is a superb speaker, but with music it didn't blend in my room with the Sub Utopia Be as well as I had hoped for; I had better luck with the much less expensive Revel B15. The Sub Utopia Be did provide generous, solid bass that was clean and deep enough to do justice in my room to anything I threw at it. But at this price level I'd like a little more effective extension into the 20Hz region. If the Sub Utopia Be offered some sort of onboard bass equalization, it would be an easier recommendation. It's still a fine subwoofer, just an expensive one up against fierce competition—some of it at much lower prices.
Even with that concern, the complete Diva Utopia system provided superb performance overall, with a big, deep, expansive soundstage, low coloration, powerful and extended bass, and sparkling yet natural highs from that revolutionary beryllium tweeter. It's an exceptional system.
But for the second time this year (the previous being my review of the PSB Platinum M2 in the February 2004 issue of SGHT), I've reviewed a system and was blown away just as much or more by the speakers provided for use as surrounds as by those intended for the main fronts. The Micro Utopia Be is a spectacularly good stand-mounted design. While I had only two of them on hand, a little interpolation and a lot of prior experience tell me that five or seven of these speakers, along with a good subwoofer, will make an outstanding system for listening to any program source—film soundtracks or music, the latter in 2 channels or many.
The Center Utopia Be will provide a slightly stronger anchor to movie soundtracks than will a Micro used as a center-channel speaker (at the cost of some off-axis balance aberrations). But three Micros across the front with a good subwoofer will provide you with 80% of the movie sound of the combination of Diva Utopias and Center Utopia. And a pair of Micros with a good, properly positioned subwoofer, in my room, arguably outperformed a pair of Divas used full-range with 2-channel music. The Micro Utopia Be is a pricey little speaker, but in build quality, appearance, and, most of all, sound, it's worth every penny—it's clearly the "bargain" of the Focal-JMlab Utopia Be line. I can't recommend them highly enough.
Highs and Lows
• Clean, open, detailed sound
• Airy, almost ethereal top end
• Unsurpassed workmanship; built like a tank, looks like a dream
• Top end can be unforgiving of bright material
• Subwoofer extension not as deep as some less expensive models
• Center Utopia Be configuration compromises off-axis response