You can pay quarter of a million bucks plus for a pair of Focal loudspeakers that are widely regarded as among the world’s very best. Yet here the French company delivers a stylish audio system at just $1399, still oozing quality and style. It uses a pair of solid and sizeable satellite speakers plus the clean black (or white) ‘Power Bird’ amplifier unit which incorporates a downfiring subwoofer — hence the system’s full name, the Focal Bird 2.1 Pack.
There are two other Bird systems available, which vary only in their satellite speakers. Reviewed here is the Bird itself, with 2.1kg speakers using one 14cm (5.5-inch) Polyflex mid-bass cone each, with an aluminium dome tweeter. Below this is the Little Bird 2.1 Pack ($1199), with the same Power Bird but smaller speakers with four-inch cones, while above is the Super Bird 2.1 Pack ($1599), with larger oval speakers which add a full-size passive radiator to the Bird’s driver complement.
Wall-mounting is possible for both speakers and amp unit, and two stand types for the speakers come included, allowing vertical adjustment as well as horizontal, while a neat snap-out section on the speakers themselves assists cable management.
The Power Bird amp/sub unit supplies 2 x 35W power for the satellites and another 80W for its own 16.5cm paper-cone downfiring woofer, and it has a total of six inputs. You can attach up to three analogue sources (two RCA socket pairs, one minijack) and two digital (one optical, one electrical).
But the kicker is a built-in ‘Kleer’ wireless receiver to work with the optional but near-essential Apple dongle ($150). Connect this to your iPhone, iPod or iPad of choice, and you can stream your music collection through the air to the Bird system. And because Kleer operates at CD quality, there’s no loss in quality. Welcome to 21st century hi-fi! Focal also intends to make a dedicated app available for additional control, but that hasn’t appeared at the time of writing — as a result you get some false messages when you connect the dongle;
ignore these, or call Audio Marketing for advice on the required button pressing. There’s also a mini remote control for volume and source selection.
How does it sound? Wonderful. The Bird system proved brilliant in both its simplicity and its level of performance. Its greatest strength is the lucid midband and treble from the Bird speakers, which produce a musical response that manages to retain a fair bit of the bite and brightness that many systems will smooth out to avoid harshness, but here sounding open, revealing, fast on its feet, and highly enjoyable without ever offending.
We found that hidden subwoofer under the Bird unit just a little tricky. It’s highly effective, the bass output proving impressive even with the rear adjustment knob only at its halfway position. But the overall quality of this bass is affected enormously by the surfaces and boundaries around the Bird unit, and as we often find with subwoofer systems, the ideal level setting also varies with the material being played. There’s no button on the mini remote for bass adjustment, and unless you have the arms of an orangutan, it’s hard to reach the rear adjustment knob which is on the back of the Bird, behind the extended flanks of the back panel. So we ended up at a compromise setting that was good but not perfect.
You could easily use the Bird system for TV sound, via your TV’s analogue or digital output. Indeed this is a neat solution for chaining any number of video sources through the TV to a single Bird input, if not quite the cleanest way of obtaining their signals. We greatly enjoyed movies and TV through the Bird this way; the clarity of the midrange and treble kept dialogue clear and soundtrack music sweet, with plenty of gain available for quiet sources or to enjoy a bit of big-noise action movie viewing!
And we absolutely loved the Kleer wireless streaming, using the optional Apple-connector dongle to stream to the Bird from our iPad, the low latency of Kleer allowing us to watch ABC catch-up, YouTube or iTunes movies as well as music. An app like TuneIn Radio brings internet radio to the Bird; the new breed of subscription music services will hopefully work just fine. And you can control volume from many apps as well; we did experience some latency and stickiness on touch sliders, but the iPad’s hard buttons worked perfectly, and allowed us to put down the Focal remote, which has volume and mute buttons rather too close to the power switch.
With its combination of inputs both analogue and digital, including built-in Kleer wireless streaming, plus the excellent sound it produces from the satellites and Power Bird’s bass woofer, Focal’s Bird 2.1 system is a beautiful product combining style and class with solid sonics and particularly signal processing. Poor user guide aside, the product itself is highly recommended.
Jez Ford .