Focal CMS40 Powered Monitors ReviewDESKTOP SPEAKERS WITH SUPERIOR IMAGING AND LOW END 8/18/2010 9:46 AM Eastern
Focal makes automotive, pro audio and audiophile speakers that range from the Grande Utopia EM monitors, which cost as much as a house, to the company’s latest—and most affordable—studio speaker, the CMS40. Each CMS40 unit weighs in at 11 pounds and carries the same look and many features of the rest of the CMS near-field line, including internal magnetic shielding.
The front of the unit provides a large rotary gain control, power switch, 4-inch Polyglass cone woofer, split front-firing bass port and the same 1-inch aluminum/magnesium inverted-dome tweeter found on the the CMS50 and CMS65s. The rear carries a sensitivity switch (+4 dBu, 0, -10 dBv), low-frequency shelving (-2, 0, +2 dB; tunable from 0 to 450 Hz) and high-frequency shelving (-2, 0, +2dB; variable from 4.5k to 20k Hz). Each individual driver is powered by a 25-watt Class-A/B amplifier, and XLR and RCA inputs are included.
IN MY EARS
My first listening test was in a small space with the CMS40s placed on upfiring Primacoustic Recoil Stabilizers nearly three feet apart. I previously had the Focal CMS65s (6.5-inch woofer) set up in the same place, so I wasn’t expecting much when I truly fell in love with the larger speaker’s balance, smooth top end and extended lows. To my surprise, for such a small enclosure, the CMS40’s low end was full, while the top end and midrange were balanced, smooth and never strident.
Sure, they didn’t go as low or as loud as the CMS65s, but in this situation they were musical and perfect for the room. The stereo imaging was spot-on, with the center-panned items seeming to come directly from the wall in front of me. I liked how the speakers “disappeared” when I listened to a variety of source material and raw tracks.
I had the CMS SUB on hand so I decided to find out how the CMS40s would fare in a larger room with the subwoofer. The space I used is a medium-sized control room that houses an SSL 4056 G+ console and has proper acoustics. I set up the system and used Rational Acoustic’s Smaart software to adjust the polarity of the sub so that it was accurate at the listening position.
While listening to a variety of sources, including a live drum recording, I quickly found that the CMS40s’ 25W amps became labored when I tried to gas the system to a point where I’d do critical loud listening, especially during transient peaks. There was some audible distortion as the clip light showed that I was pushing the level above the amp’s comfort level. To be fair, I thought this would be the case but wanted to see what these speakers could do when they were required to perform at high level.
TINY TONE KING
The CMS40s were surprising to me: It was a “wow” moment from the beginning. For starters, they produced an impressive amount of low end for this size of a cabinet. In addition, the CMS40s absolutely mimicked the consistency of mid- and high-end balance and detail that I had grown accustomed to in the CMS65s.
And I was not the only person who felt this way. In the process of a product review, I often like to invite other engineers whose ears I trust to a listening session to make sure my experience is verifiable. I simply put them in the room and step back with my mouth shut and my best “inscrutable reviewer” face on. To the last person, everyone noticed the imaging and the range of the system; some seriously asked me, “Where’s the sub?”
I often get asked the question, “What’s the best pair of monitors for less than $500?” My answer is always: “Save your money for a better pair in a higher price range or else you’ll end up buying your monitors twice.” With this in mind, the CMS40s are a great next affordable step up if you have a small studio space and you need an accurate transducer you can bet your career on.
Kevin Becka is Mix’s technical editor.