If you want a serious sound for serious money, the Focal Aria 905s are just the ticket.
Their ability to deliver each thread of sound with the utmost competency is commendable – even if it comes at the cost of a little bit of fun.
Crisp, clear and precise, the Focal 905s are a hugely accomplished pair of speakers. Detail is abundant, and delivered with unerring control.
The stops and starts of notes are punctual. The staccato, electronic-sounding drum beats in the intro to Radiohead’s 15 Step are organised and hit their mark, while the Aria 905s confidently handle the dynamic shift into the more melodic, soothing guitar strums. The tinkling xylophone in Alt-J’s Ms sounds sweet but also has a bite to it, while the taut bassline does a great job keeping in time with the nimble rhythm.
The Focals are ruthlessly efficient – they know exactly how each instrument should sound, how to convey a vocal nuance, how far the dynamics are allowed to soar, and how tightly controlled the entire rhythm needs to be. We just wish they would let loose and have some fun.
Next to the unbridled power and gleeful punch of the B&W 685 S2s, for example, the Focals sound a little too controlled and serious. The Award-winning B&W speakers plunge ahead and have fun playing whatever you throw at them; they don’t shy away from digging up grungy, crunchy textures around a bassline.
The nasal twang in Stevie Nicks’ voice on You Can’t Fix This is politely subdued through the Focals.
Build and design
Placing the Aria 905s close to a wall adds some much-needed heft to the sound. The Focals’ mature presentation is admirable, but a touch more heart and emotion would make it a truly engaging performance.
Wood, glass, leather and metal – there’s a lot happening with the Focal speakers’ design. The various materials and panels are fitted together expertly, and the solid, sturdy build shows how much work has been put into these £600 speakers. You get the choice of a high-gloss black or walnut finish too.
Some may find the design a bit too hectic, especially when compared with the simpler, more elegant designs of the Triangle Esprit Titus EZs or the B&W 685 S2s. Focal’s signature inverted-dome tweeter adds a distinctive touch, however, while the 13cm flax cone’s well-damped character ensures the 905s’ precise nature.
The finish isn’t faultless. The leather base of our review sample was easily damaged by Blu-Tack (which we often use to fix speakers to stands), and the glass top is a fingerprint magnet.
The Focal Aria 905s have all the right ingredients, but they lack the spice and zest of their closest rivals. Confidence and competence are excellent qualities – and for some, just what they’re looking for – but we want speakers that enjoy playing music as much as we enjoy listening to it.
These are talented speakers, but it wouldn’t hurt the Focals to let their hair down and have more fun.
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