Friday, July 27, 2007

Focal Polyglass 165V2 separates kit: Review

There are plenty of products that are well-loved by people in several circles, a product where its best salesmen are the customers themselves, and have been used by lots of people because of its performance at a price that can’t be beat. One of them is the Focal Polyglass 165V2 separates.

Deeply rooted in Focal’s lineup, the 165V2 is the latest evolution from the long generations of the Polyglass series, and has received a minor tweak last year. It also shares the same name with its little brother, the 165V1. Something that has a long history like that attached to it would certainly give someone a feeling that it has been perfected already, and that’s exactly what I have felt.

Upon receiving the kit, you will be greeted by a moderately-sized gray box bearing the manufacturer’s name, the model and the features of the kit. On one corner of the box, you will see a small “checklist” which lists down the items included in the box and their corresponding quantities. It comes with pictures so that beginners can identify which is which. Very nice.

Opening the box from the side will reveal a huge chunk of Styrofoam, which you pull out from the box to reveal the items. I recommend doing this in a cushioned area (bed, car seats, etc.) as some parts might fall off as you pull the Styrofoam.

The items embedded in the Styrofoam (it’s probably a good idea to use the “checklist” I mentioned earlier) are what one would expect from a speaker kit: woofers, tweeters, crossovers, tweeter mounting cups, screws, tools, and grilles for the speakers. The woofers are what one would recognize from its ancestors, its cone. The Polyglass cone is what has been unchanged for the longest time. Basically a paper cone coated with glass microballs for rigidity, this material promises added rigidity to an already neutral properties of a paper speaker cone.

The motor assembly is also awesome, with chrome top and bottom plates sandwiching a single ferrite magnet on the outside. On the inside, a 1 inch Kapton voice coil with copper wires wound around it is connected to the cone, a proper size for a 6.5 inch cone, as most manufacturers use this coil size as well. The woofer baskets are made out of an alloy called Zamak by Focal for rigidity and being non-magnetic and non-resonant at the same time. The surround is made out of butyl rubber for longer life that its older foam counterparts, and everything is topped off by a black dust cap at the middle of the cone bearing the company’s logo (This is only available in the upgraded V2S version though).

The tweeters are the marquee of this kit, as it has been a joke that when you buy a Focal kit, you simply pay for the tweeters, and everything else is free. The inverted dome tweeter, which is already synonymous to Focal, is quite unorthodox as most manufacturers use an upright dome design. The dome material is made out of a titanium sheet coated with titanium oxide, called Tioxid 5 by Focal, to absorb any resonances and reduce brightness or sharpness associated with metal domes. The tweeter comes with an integrated surround with grooves cut onto it, most likely for additional damping and further reduction of resonances. The motor structure is basically the same as most speaker manufacturers, utilizing a Neodymium magnet, only there are two of them for push and pull. The tweeter also comes with two mounting cups for flush mounting (if you are planning to put the tweeters in sail panels, A-pillars, etc.) and surface mounting (if you are planning to put it on the dashboard) in two variable angles.

The crossovers are nothing much special, but it is sufficient. Encased in a plastic housing covered in a clear black polycarbonate cover, it is quite small, so small that one can put it in almost anywhere in the car, and hide it. Opening the case will reveal a PCB board slightly smaller than the casing and embedded onto it are polypropylene capacitors, ceramic resistors and air-core inductors. Though these materials are generic, they look like they can do the job. The crossovers come with a tweeter level adjustment of 0, -3 and -6dB and has a midrange presence switch for adjustments if the drivers are placed in different locations. Like I said, nothing special, but sufficient.

The supplied manual is basically pieces of glossy white sheets, with languages in both English and French. It’s 14 pages long (7 for each language), and comes with everything, down from installation guidelines to crossover adjustment tips. And if in case you lost yours, you can get it at Focal’s website. Plus, the last two pages (15 and 16) are warranty sheets both in English and French which you fill up and detach.

Power handling is rated at 75 watts @ 4 ohms RMS, and can be hooked up directly on the head unit’s internal amplifier. But of course, the speaker’s full potential can be realized if it’s externally amplified.

THE AUDITION

The test kit that I used is my own, a 165V2S (yes, the upgraded version), that I had installed in my car, a 2005 Honda Civic. It is amplified by a Butler TubeDriver Blue amp and feeding audio signals to it is an Alpine DVA-9965E head unit. The woofers were placed on the doors and tweeters were mounted on the A-pillars, aiming at the rear-view mirror. The doors were deadened using Procon deadening and Cascade Deflex pads located behind the woofer for reduced distortion.

Crossover settings were set at -3dB for the tweeter and “Full” on midrange presence as suggested by the manual. HPF point is set on 63 Hz with a slope of -12 dB/octave. Equalizer settings are nearly flat, except for a dip of 6 steps around 8 kHz and 3 steps on 16 kHz.

Additionally, the speakers were properly broken in for a couple of months so that the speaker’s true behavior can be realized. Now we’re ready to listen.

Get There (Livingston Taylor)

A remake of a popular song a long time ago, I chose this because most of Livingston Taylor’s songs have minimal instruments, thus giving out more attention to his voice. Plus, this particular song is one of my favorites.

At the start of the track, there is a guitar playing on the right hand corner of the stage. I noticed that the guitar is quite weak and lacking in detail, but it is there. Livingston’s vocals on this track sound heavenly, being natural and defined, and quite clear. I definitely attribute this to the Polyglass cone.


Imaging is good, with a good sense of space between the instruments. Also, the "size" of the vocals and the instruments are correct, and everything is in proportion wit the sound stage. However, there is a slight lack of definition, as there is a bit of diffusion around the vocals and the instruments.

On a certain part of the track, there are bamboo chimes being hit on the left side of the stage. They sounded quite dull and lacking in presence, as if it as played very far away, much like the guitar earlier. But overall, this track is exceptional.


Do That to Me One More Time (Jheena Lodwick)

Moving on to female vocals, this track is also one of my favorites, as I don’t exactly prefer Jheena Lodwick’s songs due to sibilance and harshness, but surprisingly, this one is very smooth.

At the beginning, tom-toms are played before Jheena starts to sing. The tom-toms are “airy”, has good attack and the “body” is full. As the song progresses, Jheena’s voice is as heavenly as Livingston’s vocals earlier, if not much more. Her voice was quite accurate, having definition, clarity and being natural. When Jheena pauses, a flute can be heard until she starts to sing again. It’s quite crisp and clean, with no hint of sharpness as the flute reaches high notes. However, there was a hint of dullness, but great overall.


Imaging is a ok, but I had a hard time locating the flute as is is very diffused. But as for the rest of the insruments, it's definitely okay, with good proportions and definition.

I Can See Clearly Now (Holly Cole)

This track is a good test for sibilance and midbass, as this one is definitely full of them. The track will greet you with several rumbles from your midbasses, and Holly will begin to sing in a few moments. Surprisingly, the speakers have exhibited controlled sibilance. It was neither punishing to the ears nor it was ruining the song. It’s there, but it adds naturalness to the vocals. The midbass were exceptionally good as well, rumbling with authority. Loose door components will definitely rattle, as mine did.

Telegraph Road (Dire Straits)

This track is a recorded live performance, with pianos, drums, guitars, and the vocals that should definitely take you to the front seat.

At the beginning, you will be greeted with claps from the audience. I noticed that they are quite dull as well, and can be barely heard. The vocals are also clean, as earlier tracks have exhibited, but also quite dull. Once the vocals stop, cymbals can be heard at the right-hand corner of the stage. I’ve been told that most systems, around 90%, are having a hard time reproducing the cymbals perfectly. In my case, I was part of the statistic. The cymbals were very, very weak and very dull as well. But that made me happy because at least it was there.

Afterglow (Kendra Shank)

This is a Bossa Nova track, with a good test for imaging and sense of space, but we’ll leave that for now. Instead, there is a good test for high-frequency extensions on that track, as a triangle can be head on the right corner of the stage, and the V2 produced that with ease. However, the sound would sometimes turn full, then dull, then full again. I’m not sure if it was part of the track or that the tweeters were already having a hard time reproducing high-frequency extensions. Testing this further in the future would reveal the cause.

CONCLUSION

Overall, the speakers were great, with the midrange being very natural and color-free, and the controlled sibilance means that the tweeters and the woofers blend well to each other. However, I noticed that the tweeters start to roll off slowly further, as evidenced by the dullness of some instruments, lack of detail and high-frequency extensions. That can probably be remedied by facing the tweeters a bit towards the listeners (being a bit on-axis) and additional tuning, but I feel that it’s already the tweeter design in itself that’s causing the lack of detail.

Aside from that, everything else is perfect. This kit can put other higher-priced kits to shame, and will definitely give you a rewarding performance without spending
too much.

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