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OnSight: Focal

  • Saint-Étienne in the (almost) south of France is where we find the headquarters of Focal, manufacturers of high-end loudspeakers and, during the past four years, headphones.

    All Focal drivers are designed and handmade on-site in Saint-Étienne with our tour guides being quite particular about what can (and cannot) be filmed. “No close-ups” is the general rule. The Beryllium tweeter forming process is strictly off-limits to visitors and co-workers, visible only through a window where a machine operator presses Beryllium pieces into shape whilst wearing a full-body isolation suit and breathing apparatus. Filming the lab-coated staff who assemble headphones behind glass walls was also strictly verboten.

    If you’re thinking there’d be not much else to see, you’d be wrong. This same HQ/factory is where the drivers are tested – every single one – and fitted to the loudspeaker cabinets.

    However, the cabinets aren’t made in Saint-Étienne but at a factory a two-hour drive away in the country town of Bourbon-Lancy. Two cabinet shipments a week make their way from the country to the city.

    Why the external supply? This once third-party cabinet manufacturer was acquired by Focal soon after their 2011 merger with Naim Audio.

    Focal’s loudspeaker cabinets start life as pieces of MDF (or HDF). They are cut by one machine and shaped by another, after which real wood veneer is applied by a form press. Pieces that aren’t veneered are painted. Whatever the finish, all pieces are sanded, lacquered and polished — all by hand. The cabinet’s internal structure also comes together by hand, each piece glued into place and set with tape and, later, clamps.

    In other words, Focal’s loudspeaker manufacturing process is a tale of two factories:

    Further information: Focal

    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

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