Focal Kanta No1 Speaker Review

Flax + beryllium= Joy

by Ed Selley
SRP: £4,499.00

What is the Kanta No1?

The Focal Kanta No1 is a two way standmount speaker. It is the most affordable speaker in what is a middle range of speakers for Focal - a company who makes stereo speakers from a few hundred pounds up to over £150,000. It is this place in the overall range, and the combination of technology that results, that makes the Kanta a potentially very interesting speaker indeed.

At the top of Focal’s product range is the Utopia series. With prices starting at nine grand, it should not come as much of a surprise that there are some seriously advanced technical features throughout the design. Combined with flawless engineering and build, the result is an incredibly talented range of speakers. Talented but… at times a little hard to love. I have been treated to some incredible demos of Utopia over the years - Focal really do know their onions in this regard - but there is a slightly matter of fact nature to them which isn’t necessarily my thing. Meanwhile, back on Earth, there is the Aria range of speakers. The Aria 906 was one of my early reviews for AVForums and, as I noted at the time, it had that spark of emotional content to it that engages and makes you want to listen to more music.

The Kanta is a halfway house between these two points. It has elements of both Aria and Utopia in its design and this could mean that it combines some of the attributes of both speakers without the downsides - or, alternatively, it could fail to be as able as either. Is this the perfect balance of Focal’s know how or a slightly odd looking hybrid that just so happens to cost four and a half grand?

Specification and design

Key to what makes the Kanta No1 tick is the tweeter. This is the most affordable Focal stereo speaker to feature a beryllium dome which is an intrinsic part of Focal speaker DNA. Beryllium is not a common metal (it’s apparently formed by the spallation of heavier elements by cosmic rays, which - let’s face it - puts it high on the pub bragging index almost regardless of anything else) and it’s an absolute pig to work with at every point of the process from extraction to purification to turning it into anything other than a poisonous dust.

So why bother? The answer is mass or the lack thereof. Beryllium has an atomic number of 4 making it the lightest solid element there is. If you do cajole beryllium into a tweeter dome - and Focal has spent many years mastering doing just that - the result is absurdly light. If you drop one from height, it flutters to the ground rather than falls. This means that a beryllium tweeter has very little mass which helps it reproduce high frequencies with greater ease as the dome ‘changes direction’ with great ease. At the same time, (I’m told anyway, I spent most of GCSE chemistry staring into space), the structure of beryllium is such that it is very resistant to unwanted resonances, something that apparently titanium - which superficially looks like it would deliver most of beryllium’s advantages without the toxic dust bit - is very prone to.

This tweeter then combines with a Flax fibre cone that is evolved from the original version that debuted in the Aria. The premium Focal models use a composite cone that is a collection of fairly expensive substances that is combined in varying quantities and thicknesses depending on what the application is. This is effective but expensive, so in order to try and achieve the same thing at a more terrestrial price point, a Flax fibre is used instead of the composite with glass fibre, forming a stiff sandwich material - to which end, Focal speakers are the only ones I know of to have ‘Sandwich’ proudly emblazoned on the front of them to confuse casual spectators. 
The levels of technology and engineering finesse that goes into these drivers is faintly mind boggling. Every Focal press conference I’ve ever attended has featured at least one improbably clever and effortlessly multilingual soul pointing at a graph or animated diagram demonstrating that yet another facet of distortion or aberrant behaviour has been eliminated. No part of the surrounds, mounts, magnet and coil hasn’t been picked over in the pursuit of higher performance. They are then mounted in such a way as to ensure natural time alignment.

The cabinet that allows for this is in itself a hybrid of Focal design practise. It is made from three different materials. The sides, base and part of the top are made from ‘integrally moulded wood’ which is a substance that did indeed once start life as a tree but has seen some rather exciting additional processes take place before it becomes a formable and completely consistent substance that is able to offer impressive resonance and damping properties. Impressive they might be but they aren’t sufficient for the front panel and Focal has elected to make this from a high density polymer that is mated to the rest of the cabinet. The third material is glass which forms the outer top of the cabinet and is more of a cosmetic choice although it’s probably fair to assume if its presence was detrimental, it wouldn’t be there.

There are some aspects of the design which are classic Focal calling cards. The Kanta only supports single wiring and the nature of how all Focal speakers are designed is that you dial them in by paying attention to their placement in room rather than plonking them down and hoping for the best. Another aspect of the design that comes from the top down is the moving of the bass port to back of the speaker rather than the front of the more affordable models. This makes them fussier about placement although a hefty bung is supplied to help this.
One area where the Kanta doesn’t really borrow from any other Focal speaker is the looks - it doesn’t really look like any other Focal speaker in current production. The combination of the two different cabinet materials and the angles it uses are rather different from many rivals at the same price and it has to be said that the No1 is by far the most normal of the Kanta family. And do you know what? I absolutely love it. I’m not completely sold on the review samples in their tactically inoffensive grey and wood finish but if you have the courage of your convictions and go for the yellow or blue baffle with gloss black, it looks absolutely brilliant. By the time you are going to be spending £4,500 on a pair of speakers, it has to be assumed that you will be reasonably pleased with your decision so you might as well make them a talking point.

They are also, like everything I’ve ever tested from Focal, superbly made. Discussing the ‘worth’ of Hi-Fi once you sail past two grand or so is largely pointless but when you look at the materials, build and engineering at work here, you can understand where the money has gone. Every point of contact with the Kanta is likely to reinforce this perception of quality. This aspect of their design is far more in keeping with the Sopra and Utopia models - the feeling is of owning something that has been designed by people for whom the idea of ‘sufficient’ isn’t one they’re terribly familiar with. 

  The levels of technology and engineering finesse that goes into these drivers is faintly mind boggling 

How was the Kanta No1 tested?

The Focal has been placed on Soundsyle stands and run with a Naim Supernait 3 connected to an Isotek Evo 3 Aquarius Mains Conditioner. Sources have included the Lindemann Limetree Network, A Chord Electronics Mscaler and Hugo TT2 taking a feed from an SOtM SMS-200 Neo running as a Roon endpoint and an LG 55B7 OLED. A Rega Planar 10/Apheta 3 combination running into a Cyrus Phono stage has also been used. Test material has been FLAC, AIFF, ALAC, DSD, TIDAL, Qobuz broadcast and on demand TV and vinyl. 

Sound Quality

The question posed at the start of this review was that, in combining aspects of Aria and Utopia technology, does the Kanta No1 combine the virtues of both? The answer to that is ‘sort of’ and if that sounds maddeningly inconclusive it shouldn’t and I will do my best to explain why. In many ways, the Kanta No1 behaves like no other Focal speaker I’ve spent any meaningful time with and that’s quite exciting.

First though, many aspects of the behaviour are pure, unadulterated Focal. If you spend a little time ensuring that they are placed with any degree of attention relative to your listening position, they simply vanish. The soundstage is completely even from beyond the outer edges to the centre without the slightest unevenness. Nothing I’ve played on it - and this included spending one Sunday listening to the complete catalogue of The Shamen chronologically, principally because I could - has in any way unsettled this. The Kanta can image like almost nothing else in true Focal fashion.

The tonality is also outstanding. At times the Kanta is almost hyper real - the epic live performance of The Wind That Shakes the Barley by Lisa Gerrard on the 24/88.2 version of Toward the Within is utterly and unambiguously real. Not only does Gerrard sound like a full size adult but the space in which she resides is also perfectly captured. It’s this ability to contextualise that sets the Focal apart from more ordinary speakers. The 24/96 of Emily King’s Disappear is a small and congested recording with plenty of powerful instruments vying for the listener’s attention. The Focal makes this obvious without ever affecting the nature of the recording itself.
In short, if your library gives them the chance to create a three dimensional space where the performers can strut their stuff, the Kanta No1 is exceptional - not good at its lofty price point but a genuine benchmark. The thing is though that Focal has long been exceptional at this - it’s what their demos are all about. Where the Kanta really gets interesting is what else it brings to the party.

First, there’s the bass. The Kanta has to cede absolute bass weight to the identically priced Bowers & Wilkins 805D3 but the Focal is muscular in a way that some of its ancestors never quite managed. The ancient but rather wonderful rework of Moby’s Bodyrock by Hybrid has their textbook layered low end of percussion and synth and here it’s a force you feel as well as hear. This hasn’t been bought at the expense of detail and integration, the Focal is still excellent there too. It simply has more punch than it ever used to.

More importantly - for me anyway - this is a speaker that takes the same attitude to music at the Aria. My testing of the Kanta coincided with the release of Sturgill Simpson’s utterly bonkers Sound & Fury and it proved to be the perfect encapsulation of what the Kanta does slightly differently to Focals of old. The demented bombast of Best Clockmaker on Mars is not going to feature at any carefully curated Focal demo any time soon. It’s a maxed out, hysterical sledgehammer of a record and the Kanta absolutely embraces it. The speed and raw ability they possess is partnered with a willingness to have a really good time and ensure you do too. The Kanta No1 isn’t simply ‘fun’ it’s FUN and happy to tear through the most savage and high fidelity free recording you have and actually sound like it is enjoying itself.
Is it perfect? Some time with the Kanta No1 suggests its vices are commendably limited. It isn’t a shortcut to making an indifferent system great because all it will do is shine a light on the problems further up the chain. Similarly, if you can’t be bothered to experiment with their positioning, it is highly unlikely they’ll ever reveal their true abilities - they are not plonk and play and make no apologies for this. Above everything, this is not a cosseting speaker. I have heard it on the end of a giant Italian valve amp - the sort of product that can be the audio equivalent of a hot bath followed by a lie down on a freshly made bed. Even here, the intensity of the Kanta never wavers. This is not a device for background music. It demands your attention and focus and if this isn’t for you, there’s pretty much nothing you can do to make it do that. Of course, if you are spending £4,500 on something to whisper away in the background, your priorities are rather different to Focal’s. 

  The soundstage is completely even from beyond the outer edges to the centre without the slightest unevenness 

Verdict

8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Exceptionally immediate and expansive sound
  • Easy to drive
  • Beautifully made

Cons

  • Looks won't appeal to all
  • Very revealing
  • Not cheap

Focal Kanta No1 Speaker Review

The Kanta No1 is not a shrinking violet of a product. From the styling to the sheer intensity of the performance, this is a speaker that wants to be the focus of your attention. The good news is that when you do so, you are treated to an uncommonly talented speaker. The Kanta No1 does everything that Focal excels at but mixes this with a sense of urgency and fun that haven’t always been present at the loftier end of the product range. This is the first step on the price ladder that buys you a standmount speaker meaningfully better than the phenomenal Dynaudio Special Forty and the result is a truly outstanding speaker that has to be considered a Best Buy.

Best Buy

Scores

Build Quality

.
9

Connectivity

.
.
.
7

Sound Quality

.
9

Ease of Use

.
.
8

Features

.
.
8

Value for Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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