Review: FOCAL ARIA 936 K2- Long ago, the French loudspeaker brand Focal, then still under the name JMlab, released loudspeakers with a very distinctive yellow cone. A Kevlar cone made from a sandwich of aramid fibers. Recently, due to the 40th anniversary of Focal, a Spectral anniversary model was put on the market in a limited edition of 400 pairs, now a limited edition model with kevlar cone material appears again under the name Aria 936 K2. Based entirely on the Aria 936 that has been on the market for a few years.
Different cone material means a different filter and a limited edition custom color scheme taken from the Utopia line. When Focal introduces such a model, it always has something special, so very curious about this creation, the Aria 936 K2 was put down, connected and listened to. Unfortunately not at home due to a renovation planned by my dear wife, but at my second home base where I have access to a variety of resources to allow the Aria 936 K2 to perform optimally.
Plenty of choice
I’ve been thinking about it for a while: what kind of equipment do you use with the Focal Aria 936 K2? Because on the one hand I think it is a loudspeaker that will mainly appeal to the youth, where the budget for an amplifier and streamer may not be too big. Then NAD or Rotel quickly springs to mind. On the other hand, it is a serious transducer of which you already know that a good amplifier can grow the set, which makes the case for PrimaLuna, Cambridge Audio Edge or Hegel.
The best choice is perhaps the brand that Focal owns, the English Naim Audio. For that reason, a Naim NAIT XS 3 amplifier and a Naim ND5 XS 2 streamer / dac were chosen. Partly because I highly appreciate both devices and know their performance. The NAIT XS 3 with a price of € 2,925 and the ND5 XS 2 with a price of € 2,795 are of course not the cheapest, the quality has now been amply proven, just like the lifespan and the money that they will later buy with a still worth an upgrade.
A cheaper alternative is a Naim Uniti Atom, but I do not estimate that it is very popular with the target group for the Focal Aria 936 K2. The number of variables has been reduced to one for me with NAIT and ND5, namely the reproducers. Also not entirely unimportant.
FOCAL ARIA 936 K2: Inside and outside
Uninhibited and without prejudice listening is guaranteed, I don’t know anything about this speaker at the time except what I can see. A metal dome tweeter, underneath a mid-tone unit with phase plug and three woofers. Two reflex ports on the front and one in the bottom help the woofers to give an efficiency boost in the low tones. Because there is a reflex port in the bottom of the housing, the Aria 936 K2 stands on a metal base in which spikes can be found. The nice thing is that the spikes can be turned out from the top, so you don’t have to roll over the floor. If you do not turn the spikes out, put the base of the speaker on rubber rings.
Most notable behind the included fronts is the Kevlar cone material of the midrange and woofers. Which of course is immediately reminiscent of the Focal Spectral 40th Anniversary loudspeaker and the earlier times when Kevlar was an important woofer material. Focal calls it “K2” material. The front and rear of the speakers are matt black leather look, the top glossy black, the side walls Focal Utopia high-gloss gray, the base is finished in matt dark gray.
Anyone who finds the yellow of the K2 material too intense can use the supplied black fronts. Dark aluminum rings are placed around the woofers and the midrange, unobtrusive yet very chic. On which is hardly visible at some distance: “Aria K2 Limited Edition” and “Focal – Made in France”. I would have preferred to continue the French touch with “Fabriqué en France” and “Édition limitée”, but that is nitpicking. All in all, it has undeniably become a Focal loudspeaker that can attract quite a lot of attention.
After a long time of “listening in” we go for difficult music by Rachelle Ferrell and her CD “First instrument”. Difficult given the great voice of the singer, the often bold low and the amount of details known from experience that I would like to hear back. The first thing I can and want to say about the reproducers is how easily the Focal’s let go of the music from the cabinet. Music is created in space, over and over again and with every piece of music so far. I know the two Naim devices contribute to that, but the reproducers have to make that heard. You don’t even have to close your eyes. The stereo image is realistic in size, has so far been located within the arrangement of the reproducers and has depth and height, but not to a very intense degree.
Rachelle has a huge range in her voice and can make tweeting very difficult. Focal used to have the reputation of playing sharply and (too) clearly, that has been completely outdated for years. The Aria 936 K2 could even be a bit brighter from me. Some more pointed with percussion, hissing in the cymbals. The reproduction is now on the quiet side of the line, so that the volume can be increased without problems. This makes the dynamics seem a bit smaller than that of a more expressive model, don’t worry, the dynamics are fine, Ferrell says.
Compared to a strictly neutral display on the Aria 936 K2, the display is on the dark side, a bit old-fashioned that does appeal to me. Not that excessive pushing of tones, often caused by resonance peaks or a too bright tuning. This calmer character listens more pleasantly and makes long listening possible. There is nothing wrong with the internal damping of the Aria 936 K2, no coloring from that angle can be heard on the voice, at the same time the voice is also not inhibited by an excess of damping that can seriously damage details and dynamics.
The character in the low tones means that they are not among the tightest in the expected price range. Three ports and two woofers can go deep, the resolving power has suffered a bit. Or have I become too spoiled and used to tight woofers from a high-quality two-way system.
I would like to be able to distinguish the bass lines a bit better from the bass drum. What I get in change is a bass reproduction that is above average in depth and strength. A right choice if the Aria 936 K2 is not only used for music reproduction but also needs to fill the room for an exciting series or spectacle film.
Triggered by the lively and powerful piano notes on the Ferrell CD, I like to give Marietta Petkova the opportunity to play four piano sonatas, composed by Joseph Anton Steffan, via Tidal. The sound of the classical piano is not disappointing at all. The instrument used solo has a lively sound, with striking high notes and a wide sustain of the sound of the fuselage. The woofers take care of that. The middle can be called a bit mechanical and not as pleasant as other systems sometimes are.
What’s very positive is the power of the instrument, something that comes out very well. The game is lively, the tones could take a bit longer to die out. It is and remains an instrument that exposes all aspects of a loudspeaker and the better the recording, the more merciless the criticism. Within the price range, the Aria 936 K2 should drop a stitch here and there. In higher price ranges, Focal has a lot more to offer to make the piano play “real”. You already get so much for the money with this system.
If I’m honest (and I like to be a lot) then I think the “Arnold Overtures” performed by Malcolm Arnold & The London Philharmonic Orchestra on Reference Recordings is terrible. However, they put the loudspeaker to the test in dynamics, the overwhelming position of the orchestra, the holding of the brass instruments and the bang of the percussion from cymbals to timpani. It’s all there, in the dynamic range of 22 indicated by Roon software! The WAV 176.4kHz / 24bit file puts the Naim ND5 XS 2 under considerable pressure and drives the amplifier into the power consumption. With the high efficiency of the Focal, this is no problem for the NAIT XS 3, it can handle it easily. Nowhere does the music close, solo instruments are released, the orchestra forms the basis against which the soloist can oppose.
FOCAL ARIA 936 K2: Fold-out woofers
Infected Mushroom is great on the Aria 936 K2, how hard it can be and it goes deep. Some sounds do stick to the baffles, nothing can be changed with a different location of the speaker or turning it in more or less. What happens between the speakers can scare the neighbors a lot, the three cones of the woofers beat out considerably and that is all possible with this system. Fans of Infected Mushroom will definitely blush here. It’s fast, loud, intense, fundamentally good.
The ears are less irritating is music by Laura Marling, guitar and vocals with some vague accompaniment in the background. Just rest and relax with this lady. “Little love caster” shows that a quiet song can also make an impression. The attention remains constant on Marling’s music and vocals. Her words are perfectly intelligible, the instruments used are enough of the voice not to merge too much, which can make the reproduction messy. The atmosphere is dark, the Focal’s maintain that atmosphere well. Mary Black is recommended for those who like to hear the Irish traditionals. Her CD “The holy ground” is full of it. The Aria 936 K2 takes it off as if Ireland is now part of France. Wonderful how the voice can take you across the Irish countryside, take you into the pub, where singing and playing are part of Irish life every night. Second voices remain separated, a soft guitar completes without sinking into the voices or the accordion. Here you can come for the day while enjoying a pint of Guinness.
Character of wine
I would also like to know to what extent the calm character of the Aria 936 K2 influences jazz music. Scandinavian jazz in particular can be full of dark sounds and the Aria tends to be more on the dark side than light-footed. Too many heavy Bordeaux wines were drunk in St. Etienne instead of a lighter and happier Italian Bardolino. Let’s start with some “Modules” from Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin. The sound is indeed dark, but with clear percussion that manages to maintain a strong rhythm.
The distinction between the bass and the low notes of the piano sometimes blends too much with the drum beats of Nik’s musicians, I would like to have more distinction there. What it did very well with Infected Mushroom, the power and intensity, is a bit lost with the more subtle music of Bärtsch.
“Quiet winter night: an acoustic jazz project” by the Hoff Ensemble is less bothered by it. The atmosphere here is correct, supplemented with singing by various people. Also some more instruments where the Focal does its best to let the listener discover them. Harmonious and pure, never disturbing, suitable for long listening. Wind instruments beautifully lit, piano runs clear and playful, bass not too bold, just enough to emphasize the atmosphere.
Every loudspeaker remains a compromise, so also the Focal Aria 936 K2 Limited Edition as it is called in full, just like all living rooms where we would like to listen to music. With the jazz of Hoff a very pleasant compromise, with Infected Mushroom a power compromise, with voices like Rachelle Ferrell or Mary Black a lively compromise. Is it your compromise then? Listen for yourself, preferably on your own amplifier and source.
Eventually spec’s and description become available and I can tell you some extras about the Aria 936 K2. As the eye has already noticed, it is a 3-way system, according to Focal suitable for spaces from 25m2. The tweeter is a Focal TNF inverse dome formed from aluminum and magnesium alloy suspended in Poron. A urethane plate has been placed around the tweeter for better radiation behavior. The woofers and midrange are all 16.5 cm or 6.5 inches. The cone is always a sandwich of aramid fibers, trade name Kevlar. The housing is made of MDF, with no parallel walls in the cabinet. The base plate is made of cast aluminum. The price for the Focal Aria 936 K2 is € 1,999 each.
Some technical data at a glance:
- 3-way bass reflex system
- 3 woofers 6.5 “
- midrange 6.5 “
- Al / Mg TNF inverted dome tweeter
- Frequency Response: (+/- 3dB) 39Hz – 28kHz
- -6 dB Point: 32Hz
- Efficiency: 92dB
- Nominal Impedance: 8?
- Minimum impedance: 2.8?
- Recommended amplifier power: 50 – 300W
- Crossover frequencies: 260 / 3100Hz
- Dimensions: 1150x294x371mm
- Weight: 29kg
The ears are filled with music, the specifications are saved on paper and so it is time for a summary of what I could listen to. The term final judgment or conclusion is actually overloaded in this. After all, a loudspeaker performs as well as the surrounding acoustics allows and performance partly depends on the source and amplification that is used. I’m not worried about source and amplification, that’s fine for each other. Nor does the acoustics give cause for complaint, although I am less familiar with that than my own living room.
Let me start with the cone material that most brands are getting rid of and that gives Focal new life. Well, there is nothing negative about it compared to the flax cone in the normal Aria series. Kevlar is said to have colors and a hard sound, the Aria 936 K2 is more “sweet” than “hard”. With its light dark color, the reproduction is far from aggressive, which results in the possibility to listen to music intensively for a long time without the music getting tired.
The Aria 936 K2 is widely applicable, from classical to electro pop, with the high efficiency ensuring that pop can be played loud to very loud. Classical with the very great dynamics of a symphony orchestra therefore does not experience any obstacles. The Focal will have to rely on its performance in the musical field, because although the appearance is neatly finished with a beautiful color scheme, it is and remains a large loudspeaker that will stand out in the listening room without fronts for the yellow cones and that is not something everyone’s preference.
The ease with which the Focal plays and can be controlled makes it widely applicable for stereo and for home cinema applications. In a home cinema setup, the 936 K2 can of course be combined with other Aria models with a Flex cone. Let me conclude by saying that the Focal Aria 936 K2 can at least be called remarkable with the Kevlar application. It could just become a cult model that will be loved and cherished over the years.
The Aria 936 K2 is widely applicable, from classical to electro pop, with the high efficiency ensuring that pop can be played loud to very loud. Classical with the very great dynamics of a symphony orchestra therefore does not experience any obstacles. The Focal will have to rely on its performance in the musical field, because although the appearance is neatly finished with a beautiful color scheme, it is and will remain a large loudspeaker that will stand out in the listening room without fronts for the yellow cones.
FOCAL ARIA 936 K2: PLUS POINTS
- Suitable for a lot of music
- Plays very loudly if desired
- High efficiency
- Suitable for stereo playback and home cinema
- Can become a cult model
- Affordable with a high price-quality ratio
- Widely applicable to many amplifiers
- Heavy construction
FOCAL ARIA 936 K2: MINUSES
- Available in only one color scheme
- Very striking in the listening room
- Fronts adequate but simple
- Low-pitched reproduction not always transparent