After a very positive experience with Focal’s Solo6 Be monitors, and particularly Focal’s Beryllium tweeter, I was eager to try out a full 5.1 system of Focal speakers in my home theater. Focal generously agreed to send me a system built from their mid upper-range Kanta series, which included the following:
- 2 x Focal Kanta N°2 Floor standing Towers $9999/Pair
- 1 x Focal Kanta Center $3495
- 1 x Focal SUB 1000 F $1990
- 2 x Focal Kanta N°1 Bookshelves with stands $6590/Pair
The Kanta series is Focal’s answer to a conundrum faced by many companies in our industry:
How do you develop a product line that caters to those who want top tier sound and build quality in an elegant package, without being so expensive as to be unaffordable?
The Kanta series is certainly not priced for the everyman, with the 5.1 system as configured here coming in at a whopping $19,074 MSRP, but it sits squarely in the ballpark of what most of us would consider the price of an aspirational end-game system.
A Short Sermon on Financing Our Hobby
Before some of you become irate that we are even reviewing such an expensive product line, I’d like to make a quick detour and explain my rationale behind buying more expensive gear for my home theater system.
Home theater and audio are not generally cheap or affordable hobbies. They are hobbies that can be enjoyed on a budget by making sacrifices, but by and large we all must accept that this is not a pursuit one can fully embrace without being willing to invest in your system, content or most often – both. That means that most of us have saved up, made sacrifices and been willing to give up things in other parts of our lives to afford our hobby.
Most of us have probably purchased at least one car in our lifetimes. Why bring that up? It is an investment of a similar amount of money to the Focal Kanta system I’m reviewing here. Many of us also paid that car off over a number of years, and kept driving it afterwards to be fiscally responsible. Now, let’s pivot to your home theater. A room you and your family probably spend a lot more time in than your car, a room that lets you escape the real world and enjoy fantastical environs from the comfort of your recliner.
Let’s assume for argument’s sake that you decide (like I have) to keep driving an old car. Why not repurpose those funds to save for your home theater, putting a moderate amount of money aside on a monthly basis with the expectation that eventually you’ll be upgrading or replacing gear. At a savings rate of $300/month, you’d be able to afford an end-game system like this after only five and a half years. Expensive? Surely. Unattainable? Definitely not.
In fact, this is exactly what I did to eventually purchase my current system that cost a similar amount. It took me several years to save up for, but I have zero regrets. And yes, I’m still driving the same old sedan while I eye my next step.
Kanta Packaging, Fit & Finish
The entire system was shipped freight due to its size, and arrived on a pallet, beautifully protected and with nary a box dent to be seen. The Kanta N°2’s ship in boxes that are meant to be kept horizontal, which is not only a first for me, but a great way to protect the speaker in transit.
Opening up the box was a very simple procedure, with an outer and inner cardboard carton protecting the speakers themselves, which are wrapped in plastic and sit inside closed cell foam. Once the box is tilted into an upright position, the speaker and foam slide out of the box relatively easily. At this point, it’s a simple matter of rocking the speaker to the side to release the plastic and slowly pull it up, exposing the X shaped base. The base of each Kanta N°2 is made of Zamac, a Zinc-Aluminum alloy. The base has a rubber foot on each corner for those with hardwood or tile floors, and includes optional spikes that can be threaded through each corner from the top for precise adjustment and leveling on carpet or rugs.
Removing the plastic fully, you are greeted with what I consider a gorgeous example of French industrial design. The Kanta series front face is made entirely of a piece of high-density polymer, a form of plastic that is 70% more dense than MDF, 15% more rigid and 25% better at damping vibration. The edges are rounded and flare out slightly wider than the cabinet, further improving distortion.
The cabinet itself is topped with glass, and the sides are coated in a lovely walnut wood veneer over a dense Moulded Multi-Ply cabinet material, though Focal offers gloss white and black finishes as well. On the front and rear Focal includes a port that is designed to improve bass response, and finishes things up with a solid single pair of binding posts.
It’s immediately apparent upon looking at the Kanta that you are seeing some trickle-down engineering from the Sopra and Utopia series, speakers which fit squarely into the unaffordable category for most of us. These speakers are all clean lines, shiny surfaces and simply look “high end”. My wife immediately commented that they looked a lot better than “the ugly panels you had in here before”. What else can you ask for?
The remainder of the system was relatively easy to unpack, with the same type of double carton packaging and plastic protecting the speakers inside high density foam.
The included SUB 1000 F was covered by Sam Posten in his review of the Chora 826D system, so I’ll simply state that like most subs it requires hefting the box to the destination and using gravity to do most of the work.
Setup & Calibration
I was able to move the Kanta N°2’s into position very quickly on my floor thanks to the included rubber feet on the Zamac bases which make walking the speakers into position quite easy. The Kanta Center fit neatly on top of the AV stand, and matched nicely with the left and right channels, not taking up an excessive amount of space. I placed the left and right surrounds (Kanta N°1’s) at 30 degrees off axis and about 6 feet behind the listening position, while I hid the SUB 1000 F behind our seat, a spot with decent frequency response where my wife was least offended by its presence.
A 10-position measurement was run in ARC Genesis, and I applied my usual curve editor preferences before exporting to my AVM60 processor.
I tested with the Kanta N°2’s crossed over at both 40 and 80Hz, to get a feel for how well they handle low frequency content and was impressed by their low-end heft. As a result of the way my room is set up, I achieved the best results using the SUB 1000 F below 80Hz, though I ran the Kanta N°2’s full-range for music.
Kanta System Performance – Movies & TV
I began my time with the Focal Kanta system by watching Season 3 of Amazon’s The Expanse. From the clunk of mag boots walking on deck plating to the ballistic effects during shootouts or space battles, The Expanse is a tour de force in sound design and a challenging piece of content to reproduce accurately. The Kanta N°2’s anchored the system extremely well here, remaining clear and unmuddied even at relatively high listening levels approaching reference level (85 dB SPL average with 105 dB peaks).
It was apparent from the start that the N°2’s excel at imaging and present an extremely large sound stage. This is a great attribute for cinematic content where you can benefit from speakers capable of making the room seem larger than it is.
In particularly busy scenes with a great deal of on-screen action, the Kanta N°2’s never became muddy or showed any loss of detail, with the Beryllium tweeters doing a superb job of reproducing high frequency effects like shattering glass.
The Kanta center channel was a perfect timbre match for the N°2’s and reproduced dialogue cleanly and with authority. While many center channels can struggle with particularly deep male voices, the Kanta Center did not exhibit any of these issues, remaining clear and intelligible regardless of listening level.
The Kanta N°1 bookshelves made shockingly good surrounds, with their imaging capability enabling a very impressive surround experience that stretched a full 180 degrees behind my listening position during tests.
Moving on to movies in order to give the SUB 1000 F a bit of a workout, I ran through a list of my favorite bass test scenes, including the opening battle of Pacific Rim, the beach landing in Saving Private Ryan, and the entirety of Alita: Battle Angel. The SUB 1000 F acquitted itself well here, reproducing deep bass with authority and heft, and was particularly well articulated in the mid-bass and upper bass regions with musical content. For bass heads, it is important to state that the SUB 1000 F is clearly limited below 25Hz where a single one of my Seaton SubMersive subs annihilated the Focal in every respect. Given the price of the SUB 1000 F ($1990), and what competing subwoofers from other well-known companies can achieve at a similar price point – I’ll simply state that unless you want a cosmetic match to the Kanta system, you’re best served going elsewhere for your sub. Sorry Focal!
Kanta System Performance – Music
The Kanta N°2 is clearly a speaker that was bred for music, and this is the area where I found myself most surprised. Given their relatively modest dimensions, I was not expecting the Kanta N°2’s to be able to handle full-range content as well as they did. With the subwoofer off and running in 2 channel mode (with EQ disengaged), the Kanta N°2’s dug deep and had meaningful output all the way down to approximately 30Hz.
This was particularly noticeable and appreciated when listening to a few demo tracks I picked up after AXPONA 2018, such as Tower of Power’s Diggin’ On James Brown, a raucous soul/funk track that incorporates baritone saxophone for a walking bass line that sounds absolutely fabulous on good speakers.
Moving on to some other favorite bass test tracks, I listened to Birds of Paradise Flight Patterns album in its entirety, enjoying every moment as the Kanta N°2’s handled complex synths and pans. While the imaging was not quite as holographic as my personal reference Legacy Focus SE’s, the Kanta N°2’s did have a marvelous ability to disappear and let the music come through without imparting any color or character of their own. This is also important to note because the Kanta N°2 is a physically much smaller speaker than the Focus SE and more likely to receive the seal of wife approval.
Massive Attack’s track Angel from the album Mezzanine was a treat on the N°2’s, with the deep bassline and slowly increasing percussion perfectly complementing the haunting vocal.
The flax woofers Focal has designed for this latest generation of loudspeakers have a natural timbre that truly shines with strings and vocals. When I moved on to the late Chris Jones’ Roadhouses & Automobiles, I was immediately struck by the ability of the N°2’s to reproduce Jones’ guitar on the track Thank You (R.J. Reynolds). Each subtle move of Jones’ fingers on the strings, or tap of the pick against string as he strums was perfectly reproduced and was one of the best reproductions of this song I’ve heard.
What does $19000 dollars buy you? In the case of Focal’s Kanta home theater system, excellent audio performance married to gorgeous French industrial design.
With the exception of the SUB 1000 F, which I personally found quite underwhelming for its price, the remainder of this system was impressive from start to finish. It is clear that each and every detail on the Kanta series has been considered and carefully refined, resulting in a speaker that is both beautiful and functional. Whether you spend your time listening exclusively to hip-hop and watching films with deep bass, or enjoy a meander down the classical aisle listening to concertos and symphonies, the Kanta series is clearly up to the challenge.
A speaker whose sonic capabilities defy its modest size, the Kanta N°2 may be the best speaker I’ve heard that my wife would accept in the living room. The center channel and N°1 surrounds both impressed with their performance and looks while being modest enough in size to work in any room.
While I’m personally sad to see the Kanta system go, I’ll always remember my French connection during the COVID pandemic. As an audiophile, I couldn’t have asked for better company. Recommended.
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