There’s lots to like about the way the Focal Vestia No.1 sound – but they don’t quite have the all-court game to match the best of their rivals.
- Expansive, refined and detailed sound
- Complex and effective tweeter arrangement
- Mildly unconventional looks
- Far from the most exciting listen
- Short of sonic energy
- Mildly unconventional looks
- Frequency rangeGoes as low 56Hz, and as high as 30kHz
- Driver configurationFeatures a 165mm slatefiber mid/bass, and a 25mm aluminium/magnesium inverted dome tweeter
- Three finishesBlack, Dark wood and light wood finishes
French loudspeaker savant Focal has never been one to follow the herd – and the Vestia No.1 standmounter is just the latest demonstration of that fact.
At a glance it looks exactly as you might expect – but you don’t have to look all that closely, for all that long, to realise the company has brought its individualistic thinking to bear. Individual is one thing, though… good is quite another. Is the Vestia No.1 more or less than the sum of its parts?
The Focal Vestia No.1 are on sale, and in the United Kingdom they sell for no more than £799 a pair. In the United States they’re yours for around $1199, while in Australia you’ll need to part with AU$1749 or thereabouts.
It hardly needs saying that this is considerable money for a pair of standmounting loudspeakers, and Focal are up against considerable competition as a consequence. The likes of Bowers & Wilkins, KEF and Sonus Faber (to name but three) all have similarly priced alternatives with which to tempt you…
- Three finishes
- Magnetic grilles
- Combination of materials
First things first: the Vestia No.1 are properly made and smoothly finished – and in this respect at least, they are well up to the sort of standard you’re entitled to expect when spending this sort of money on what are, after all, quite compact loudspeakers at 387 x 219 x 260 (HxWxD, mm).
The cosmetic treatment Focal has decided on for the speaker cabinets is – to my eyes, at least – a slightly more qualified success. The Vestia No.1 are available in three different finishes: high-gloss black, dark wood or the white of this review sample.
The white finish, as you can see, is wrapped across its front, back, top, and bottom surfaces in white leather-effect vinyl; the side panels, which are just slightly larger in every direction than the surfaces they meet, are finished in a type of grained wood-effect material that wouldn’t look out of place if used as flooring.
The other two finishes have black, rather than white, leather-effect vinyl as their design flourish. The appearance of the front baffle, at least, can be altered thanks to magnetically attached acoustic grilles.
- Two-way, bass reflex design
- Aluminium/magnesium tweeter
- Slatefiber mid/bass driver
There are chunky speaker-binding posts at the rear of the Vestia No.1 cabinet, which are able to accept bare wire, spade or 4mm banana plugs. But other that that, all of the Focal action is up front.
Towards the top of the front baffle there’s a quite complex tweeter arrangement. Inside a urethane waveguide sits a 25mm aluminium/magnesium M-shaped inverted dome TAM tweeter that’s good, according to Focal, for high-frequency extension up to a giddy (and inaudible) 30kHz. It’s the first time Focal has fitted this complex (and visually quite arresting) tweeter to a domestic loudspeaker range.
Below it, there’s a 165mm mid/bass driver. You can tell it’s made from Focal’s recycled carbon-fibre slatefiber material, because the driver surround says so in quite assertive lettering (the surround also carries the message “FOCAL – Made in France”). This driver arrangement delivers a frequency response, according to Focal, of 56Hz – 30kHz.
At the bottom of the front baffle there’s a circular bass reflex port that’s tuned to help reinforce the speaker’s low-frequency response. Because it faces forwards, the odds are that the Vestia No.1 will be a little more relaxed about their position relative to a rear wall than they otherwise might be.
Standmounting speakers, of course, are designed to be used on stands. Focal has developed some stands for use with the Vestia No.1: they’re 55cm high, finished in black, and feature a tilted top-plate in an attempt to optimise the time-alignment of the speaker’s sound.
At £199 per pair, they’re priced to compete with some very well-regarded stands from some very well-regarded specialist manufacturers – although to be fair, none of the alternatives I have in mind feature a tilted top-plate…
- Plenty of scale, detail, and refinement
- Organised and dynamic
- Sound short of both energy and excitement
I may as well get right to it: there’s good news and there’s bad news regarding the way the Focal Vestia No.1 perform. The good news outweighs the bad, though, so let’s start there…
Given a big high-resolution file of I Got The… by Labi Siffre to deal with, the Vestia No.1 take next-to-no time to reveal themselves as a big, organised and very refined listen. Their overall presentation is mature and highly polished, with barely a rough edge or a sharp corner to be heard. If the idea of sonic sophistication, along with plenty of scale and heft, appeals, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here.
Low frequencies are deep, textured, detail-heavy and are confidently varied in terms of both timbre and attack. There’s finesse and attack in equal measure down at the bottom of the frequency range, and the sort of control that keeps rhythmic expression convincing. The Vestia No.1 punch with determination, but they never lose the run of themselves and bass information stays well clear of the midrange.
The midrange itself is as clean and detailed as the bottom end, and the Focal have plenty of worthwhile observations to make about a singer’s tone and technique. It’s not especially easy to allow the midrange enough space in which a vocalist can properly express themselves while ensure it’s integrated smoothly into the presentation as a whole, but the Focal achieve it almost casually. The soundstage these speakers create is large and persuasive, and it’s laid out explicitly. As a consequence, even a fairly dense and busy recording like this one is is gratifyingly easy to follow.
The top of the frequency range is similar in both tone and characteristics – treble sounds are detailed and bright, but never coarse or overblown even if you like to listen at significant volume. The fairly complex tweeter arrangement delivers substance and subtlety in equal measure, and there’s no hint of hardness to the top end.
Dynamic headroom is considerable, so the differences in intensity throughout the recording are given good expression. And the Vestia No.1 are quite attentive to harmonic variations at the same time, even if they’re quite minor – context is everything, and the Focal manage to contextualise transient occurrences in a recording quite skilfully.
Switching to a similarly information-rich digital file of The Fall’s Paranoia Man in Cheap Shit Room exposes some weaknesses in the Focal’s overall attitude, though. For all their powers of resolution, these speakers are far from the most energetic – there’s a kind of matter of fact-ness to the way they present what should be a rather hectic and exhilarating recording.
They seem unwilling or unable to get caught up in the queasy headrush of the song’s instrumentation and performance, attempting in the most inappropriate manner to smooth it off and damp it down. Fun is an important element in a loudspeaker’s performance, but the Vestia No.1 seem to regard the idea as rather childish. In an effort to impose their maturity and sophistication on a recording that is resistant to it, the result is a power struggle that’s resolved to no one’s satisfaction.
Should you buy it?
You enjoy a high-sheen, sophisticated sound
The Vestia No.1 have the gloss you want
You value energy and/or excitement in your music
These speakers are simply not interested in getting either ‘down’ or ‘dirty’
I’m all for investigating the road less travelled, and Focal can always be relied upon to do things its own way. As someone who revels in an adolescent thrash of sound as much as the expensively produced and tasteful alternative, though, the Vestia No.1 are a bit too grown-up for my liking.
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Tested over several days
Tested with real world use
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No, the stands are an optional extra for the Focal Vestia No.1