By Don Lindich
Week 52, 2019
Q. I’m adding speakers to a mid-size mancave (26×15 feet) to replacing my college-era Large Advent speakers. My stereo dealer let me take two pairs of speakers home to try in my room. I was stunned (in a good way) when I heard the $999 Focal Aria 906 bookshelf speakers and the way they easily fill the room with plenty of bass, even without a subwoofer. I also considered a step up to the more expensive $1,499 Focal Electra 1008BE, but I thought the Aria 906 speakers sounded more realistic than the 1008Bes and their dominating bass.
I want to be sure I am making the right decision and am concerned I preferred the less expensive model. Have you reviewed these speakers, and do you have a favorite between the two models?
-J.L., Upper St. Clair, PA
A. French manufacturer Focal (pronounced folk-al, not focal as in optics) is one of the world’s most respected audio manufacturers. While I have not formally reviewed any Focal speakers before, I have heard them at trade shows and liked them. One Focal product I have reviewed is their Sphear wired earphones, and they quickly became some of my very favorites.
Price is not always an indicator of sound quality within a speaker company, and there are lots of examples where I preferred a less expensive speaker from the same manufacturer, sometimes even within a model line. A great example of this is Polk’s original LSi speakers, which were Polk’s first foray into creating a high-end product that could compete with the very best. All of the LSi models were very good, but the very best of these was the LSi9, a large, heavy stand-mount model. The LSi9 was $1,039 per pair and was second up in the LSi pecking order (LSi7, LSi9, LSi15, and LSi25.) They really nailed it with the sound quality and sonic balance of the LSi9 and I (and many others) preferred it to the more expensive towers within the series.
The way you describe the bass of the Electra 1008BE speakers makes me wonder if there was an issue with placement that caused them to react with the room in an unfavorable way, spiking the bass response. You seem very knowledgeable so I think this is unlikely. Given how smitten you seem to be with them, I would just go ahead and buy the Aria 906 and enjoy them. Maybe you can use the savings for some other new gear!
Q. Apparently cassette decks are getting hard to find. The local audio stores don’t carry them and tell me they are not being manufactured much anymore. I would like a nice deck, not an entry-level model, to be connected to my home audio system. Can you provide any advice on cassette decks?
-T.H., Minneapolis, MN
A. To get quality you have to buy a vintage model. Revox and Nakamichi made the best cassette decks money could buy. I had a Revox B215 and still have a Nakamichi LX-3. Back then, Revox equipment was made by Studer-Revox, the Swiss company known for pro audio recording equipment. (For example, Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” was recorded on Studer equipment.)
The Revox decks were built like tanks and automatically set the bias for each individual tape you recorded on. Unfortunately when they do need fixed parts can be hard to come by. Nakamichi decks need maintained and mine has been serviced several times. If you get one use it, do not let it sit! Sound quality on both is as good as it gets, and will vary by the model of Nakamichi you compare to the Revox.