Sometimes we just get a good feeling about a product. That’s what happened when we first heard the Focal Electra 1038Bes making up the front left and right channels in a 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos surround speaker package.
We liked what we heard enough to hold onto these floorstanders for a dedicated review, and we’re glad we did. These speakers are great. A price tag of £7700 is hardly pocket change, but these towers give more than a taste of Focal’s top-end Utopia models – ones that cost around the same as a well-specified Bentley.
The Electra range is one down from the Utopia but still packs in a full dose of Focal’s range of technologies. The most obvious example is the Beryllium inverted dome. While the use of Beryllium will quite rightly grab the headlines – combining, as it does, rigidity and relatively low mass – the effect of the inverted dome shouldn’t be underestimated either.
Focal has been refining such designs for many years now, and has got them working very well indeed.
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Design and build
Focal has long majored on drive unit engineering. The company makes all its drivers in-house, allowing the engineers to fine-tune the units for a specific model.
Even if the drive units appear identical in specification you can bet the company has tinkered to optimise performance.
Both the 16.5-cm midrange and trio of 18-cm bass drivers use specifically engineered composite cones, which are optimised in terms of mass, rigidity and damping to suit the job at hand.
These drive units are well supported by the cabinet. It’s tall (at 125cm high), feels immensely rigid (with 50mm thick MDF in places) and damped, yet there’s enough style about the box to keep most people happy.
There are five standard finish options for the side panels – Basalt, Champagne or Mahogany, plus Black or White lacquer – meaning it should suit any home environment.
The front panel comes in metallic Slate Grey gloss, which looks suitably classy.
These are big speakers with a trio of dedicated bass drivers, and it’s no surprise that they deliver a huge amount of bass. You’re going to need a large room to get these to work properly and avoid that bass from dominating things.
We found the 1038Bes to be most at home well out into our test room, with a slight angling towards the listening position. These are tall speakers, and the Beryllium dome tweeter is positioned fairly high up the baffle, so make sure you listen broadly on-axis with the tweeter.
Don’t skimp on the amplifier either. These towers really thrive on the end of something with a strong current delivery. Our usual 300W-per-channel Bryston BP26/4B SST2 combination sounded great, but the jump in quality to Mark Levinson’s 326S/532H was clear.
Our usual reference sources – Naim’s NDS/555PS streamer and Clearaudio’s Innovation Wood turntable package – serve the Focals well.
Once up and running there’s plenty to like here. There are things we expect from speakers of this size and price and the Electra 1038Bes are happy to oblige. Given a suitable amplifier they go loud and deep.
Play Where We’re Going from the Interstellar OST at high volume and these Focals have no trouble. There’s plenty of composure and large-scale dynamics are delivered impressively, with the ever-building intensity of this piece tracked effortlessly.
Bass? There’s loads of it. It’s deep, punchy and surprisingly articulate. We like the way the low frequencies stay taut even at high levels. More surprising is the finesse on show.
The track’s haunting melody is rendered with an impressive degree of texture and delicateness.
We switch over to a high-resolution recording (24bit/176.4kHz) in the form of Alison Krauss and Union Station’s When You Say Nothing At All, and we’re impressed by the 1038Be’s midrange performance.
It’s fluid and insightful, sounding wonderfully natural in the way nuances are rendered. There’s real transparency here and top-class precision.
We’re most pleased by the way these speakers deliver masses of detail but avoid sounding clinical. The information is there if you want to analyse the recording or deconstruct the production process, but the speaker’s natural tendency is to let you just sit back and enjoy.
They’re not overly fussy about recordings either. Give them something hard and bright such as Bruce Springsteen’s Terry’s Song, and they’ll reveal the limitations of the recording, but that Beryllium dome has enough smoothness and refinement to keep things in check.
It never overstates the flaws, keeping recording such as this, enjoyable.
There’s a lot to admire with the Electra 1038Bes. They’re wonderfully polished performers that work well with all types of music.
Give them a decently large room and a suitably talented system and we have no doubt you’ll enjoy the results.
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