Focal Car Audio Q&A

Listed below is a selection of questions by existing and potential users of Focal product. If you have any questions specific to you please do not hesitate to contact one of our dealers or us. Even better if you have time call into a Focal dealer and experience for yourself the “Spirit of Sound”.

Can you give me any clues on where to install my speakers for best sound quality?

Try to mount your midrange speakers on a wooden panel if possible, or at least on a solid surface. A lot of good installers cut out MDF panels for every speaker. This ensures a few things: a good air seal for the speaker, it avoids buckled frames, and it addresses the issue of spill. Don’t raise the speaker above the surrounding panel with those little speaker spacer rings if you have the option to make a small MDF mounting panel. This need only be a couple of inches bigger than the speaker.

Don’t use tweeter ‘surface mount pods’ if you can devise a way to recess mount the tweeters into the doors or into a fibreglass or body putty custom mount. I have heard some good results from mounting tweeters at the base of the A pillars. This will involve making up a fibreglass or body-putty moulding on the A pillar. The mirror pods are probably second-best position. The mirror pod is the easier position to mount tweeters on, the A pillar gives better sound quality but will cost more labour.

If you are shaping up a tweeter mount using fibreglass or bog, try to create a flat area extending a centimetre or two around the tweeter. This reflects the ‘spill’ from the tweeter out toward the listener.

The aiming of the tweeters is also important. They should aim across the car at the opposite front seat headrest. In other words the passengers side tweeter should be aimed at the drivers head and vice versa. If you pay attention to these details you will get 100% better sound quality.

When people complain that their tweeters sound bright and intrusive, you can bet they have broken one or all of these installation rules.

Adjust the crossovers at installation, then again two months later. If you have installed tweeters at or above dash level, turn the level down a little with the adjustment switch inside the crossover. The KP and K2P range have eight tweeter level settings inside their crossovers, the other Focal ranges have three, so you should be able to find a setting that suits you.

There is a principle that tweeters and mids should be in the kick panels to get them equidistant from the listener. It sounds great in principle, I can never deny the theory is absolutely correct. The problem in practice is that your legs obstruct the sound. Kick panel mounts sound best if you sit with your feet tucked under you. Another important principle is that woofer and tweeter should be within fifteen inches of each other. Technically correct again, but it’s not always possible without rebuilding the whole door panel, an expensive operation.

Don’t expect to get a carefully planned tweeter and speaker installation for $100, it will take someone half a day to build-out A-pillars or mirror mounts, fit the tweeters and then re-skin the panels in new vinyl. Unless you are a whiz at motor trimming, be prepared to pay for an expert to do this.

Most car radio shops won’t volunteer to do A-pillar installation of tweeters when they sell you the speaker kit because the cost would scare most customers away. If you’re after hi-fi sound, you’ll have to ask for specialist installation, be prepared to pay the money.

Factory tweeter mounting position in many new cars direct the tweeter against the windscreen glass. It’s an absolute no-no in home hi-fi to point your tweeters anywhere near glass and the same applies in your car. Reflected sound off a windscreen is not going to be good.

Focal put a lot of research into designing tweeters with a linear sound output. If you install them right, you’ll reap the benefits.

I have 130V slim speakers in my car as that is all that would fit, I was expecting more bass…

All slimline speakers lose out on the bottom end. It’s a function of the cone shape, a wide angle cone doesn’t play bass as well as a conventional shaped cone. That’s why flat panel speakers never caught on, they play beautiful midrange but little bass.

Limited bass is the price you pay for having to use slimline speakers and it applies to all brands, it’s not peculiar to Focal.
Don’t despair. 5″ speakers play beautiful midrange such as guitars, vocals, saxophone etc. Few people realise that 5’s are vastly superior when reproducing that part of the sound spectrum, compared to the more popular 6″ and 6.5″ speakers.. Everyone is looking for the speaker that does everything, and they overlook the 5’s. In simple terms, the cone of a 5″ is much lighter than that of a 6″, therefore it can change direction easier and it can follow the music more accurately.

There are some cars which just don’t have space in the doors for anything other than a slimline speaker. You might be able to get a good car radio shop to build you custom door pods to hold the full-size speakers 130V2. Many things are possible when the customer is prepared to pay for the time and materials to modify door panels to accommodate better speakers. However some cars are just impossible to fit anything other than a slimline speaker.

Some car manufacturers have strange ideas about speaker locations. Some speakers face forward and down, toward the drivers and passengers ankles. Others face into the laps of the driver and front seat passenger. Other cars have only a fifty millimetre speaker mounting depth. Until car manufacturers wake up and start to think about speaker placement, there will be plenty of work for good car radio shops.

If you have to use slimline speakers it’s a good idea to use a subwoofer.

You might consider an 8″ subwoofer such as 21V2, which will take up minimal boot space and needs only a small amplifier. This will give you excellent sound quality and good bass extension.

Another possibility is 11″ version, the 27V2. This compact sub sounds tight and fast. It’s not a subwoofer to show off with, it’s a subwoofer that you don’t know you have until the music hits a low note and it just takes over the show for a second or two, and people say ‘what the hell was that? I never heard that part of this track before.’

A simple system with 5″ front speakers and a good little subwoofer can be a lot of fun, and it’s a perfect for a small car.

The 33KX will be much more impressive than27KX, they have a much bigger cone area, therefore they play louder than 27KX. Also, they play lowe rby around 5 Hz, which is quite a big measure in subwoofers.

If you face them forward, they will be tighter-sounding and less ‘boomy’ than rear-facing subwoofers. An ideal solution would be to manufacture fiberglass boxes for each back corner of the boot. The extra distance from the listener gives a longer path-length for the bass to develop so it will be deeper and louder. The sound will achieve a boost as it is fired from the back of the vehicle along a ‘passageway’, it’s as if the sound was being fired from a cannon, it’s concentrated toward the front of the vehicle. This installation method will leave you with less vibrations in the boot area, less number-plate rattle, and harder-hitting bass.

The fiberglass boxes should be constructed so that each driver faces forward diagonally, aimed approximately at the opposite passengers door. The boxes themselves should be lined with sound-deadening material such as Dynamat or Road Kill. This makes them more rigid. An extra enhancement to the bass would be to line each sub box with as much Focal Plain Chant as you can afford. It’s expensive but it makes a huge difference inside a sub box. Its purpose is sound absorption. It creates a ‘black hole’ for the sound created by the rear of the subwoofer cone, thereby cancelling reflected sound and standing waves within the sub box.

This is the most expensive installation option but it will give the best bass and leave you with plenty of boot space. If you’ve bought top-quality equipment, don’t cut corners on the installation.

How To – Set-up my Focal Solid Amplifier

[hr]Setting the amplifier gain

Settings are optimised on the Solid car amplifier range. The principle is the same for the majority of Car Audio quality amplifiers. This table explains the simple procedure to follow for optimal amplifier gain setting.

Necessary equipment:

  • Voltmeter (AC setting)
  • Focal Tools or frequency test CD (supplied with all Solid and Focal Power Symmetric line amplifiers).

Procedure to follow

  1. Disconnect your Car Audio amplifier from your speakers.
  2. Adjust the gain to the minimum setting.
  3. Start your engine.
  4. Check whether your car radio is in its original configuration: bass/treble at 0, balance/fader in the centre, equalizer on FLAT and set at three quarters of its maximum volume.
  5. Insert the Focal Tools CD – a. Solid 1: Adjust the cut-off frequency to 150 Hz – Track 14 (50Hz); b. Solid 2 & 4: Set to Full position – Track 27 (1kHz)
  6. Connect the voltmeter to the output terminals that you wish to set.
  7. Gradually increase the gain until you reach the reference value in the following table.
Solid 1 Solid 2 Solid 4
Channel 1 1&2 1&2 3&4
30V 16V 16,5V 16,5V
26V 24V 14,7V 14,7V
Bridgé 4Ω 26V 28,5V 28,5V

I’d like some advice on setting up Focal Kit 7 Active three-way speakers using my old six-channel amplifier in place of the UNIQ crossovers. I’m doing the installation at home to save money, also there isn’t a Focal dealer nearby. Alternatively, I could use the UNIQ crossovers, bridge four of channels on my six channel amp to achieve more power, and have two channels remaining for the rear speakers.

Yes it is possible to use your old amp in a fully-active configuration, however I urge extreme caution. I’d suggest you leave the installation and tuning to an expert installer, even if it means a long drive . There are many subtle design features built into Focal UNIQ crossovers which you will be bypassing if you use active amplification. The failure rate of speakers is much higher when using them without the factory crossover.

I’d draw a parallel to installing an after-market engine-control module into a new car.  The car may perform a little bit better in straight-ahead acceleration but many other functions don’t work as well as the they normally would, for example gear changes will be rougher, the idle will be rougher and the car will chew through fuel and exhaust filters.

The genuine Focal crossovers were carefully designed to restrict the individual speakers to certain frequency bands, compensate for phase shift at the crossover frequencies and balance the outputs of each speaker appropriate to an overall sound. Engineers with years of university education have spent a lot of time designing these things, so to double-guess their design would be a case of hit-and-miss. Bear in mind that should you burn out any of those 6″ Utopia speakers it will cost you $415. There is no warranty on speakers with burnt voice-coils.

Your entire Focal Kit 7 could run quite happily on a good amplifier of 60 watts RMS per channel. Amplifiers with higher power ratings are also okay, a bigger amplifier is probably a wise investment as that amp will be idling, not stressing out. Speakers don’t burn out by themselves, overworked amplifiers tend to pass the stress along to the speakers in the form of clipped signal and it’s clipping which releases the smoke from the speakers. An amplifier with plenty of headroom is always safer than an amplifier too small for the job, and you’ll get better sound quality as a bonus.

Whatever you do, don’t bridge an amplifier onto any speakers other than a subwoofer. The sound quality deteriorates noticeably whenever you bridge an amplifier. Considering the speakers you are using, which are very revealing of any weakness in the system, bridging an amplifier to get more power is a definite no-no.

So when it comes to recycling your old six-channel amplifier in this new car, I’d suggest you start again and buy the right amplifier for the job, an FPS4160 four-channel amplifier. Use two channels to run the Utopias through the UNIQ crossovers, the remaining two to power the rear speakers. Sorry, no matter how high a quality your old amplifier may be, if you have to bridge it to make use of it, you are defeating the purpose of buying excellent speakers.

I have some great sounding (brand X) speakers from my last car. Would these be okay to use in the rear of my new car with my new Focal 165WRC in the front?

No, you should never mix up speaker brands and series within the one car. Always use the same series speakers front and rear. If you use Focal K2 Power in front, you should use Focal K2 Power in rear.

It’s to do with cone mass and magnet material etc. If the speakers front and rear have similar characteristics, they will move in time with each other at all frequencies. If you use speakers of a different series, even if from the same manufacturer, they will be ‘out of phase’ with each other at certain frequencies causing some blurring of the music.

How do I adjust my Focal iBUS20 for the best sound?

We would suggest as a starting point:

  • Subsonic at 35 Hz,
  • Bass Boost at 6
  • Low pass at 80 Hz

What is active configuration?

Active configuration is when each individual speaker, each tweeter, each midbass driver, is powered through a separate amplifier channel.

Why do people consider it is superior?

It’s a bit of a myth promulgated by online chat and blogs, which are usually run by weekend experts. In the hands of a very well educated installer, with a lot of high-end test equipment on hand and the skills to use that gear, you can get sound quality improvements. The level of improvement achievable relates back to how cheap and nasty the factory crossovers were.

With most European speaker brands a lot of design work went into the crossovers so you won’t get a big improvement by second-guessing the manufacturer, trying to do an active system with just an amplifier and the inbuilt crossovers.

In as few words as possible, use the crossovers that came with the speakers. Do not bridge amplifiers onto any speakers other than a subwoofer. These are the two commandments of car audio. Defy them at your own risk.

To do active configuration properly:

  • you need to sell the customer a sound processor (Focal FSP-8 for example: $899 retail)
  • you need to know the design frequency range of each individual speaker
  • you need a machine called a Real Time Analyser (RTA) to analyse the output sound
  • you need an oscilloscope to check for clipping of both input and output signal
  • you need training in which crossover slopes to use in which situations

Customers will come in and try to bluff you into taking their job on, as an active installation.  The risk of damaging one or multiple speakers are great. Best to avoid the job if you don’t have the equipment and training.

A signal processor and an active configuration in a car stereo system can give significant sound improvement because the installer can make compensations for frequency response dips caused by the vehicle interior or various components in the audio system. However selling a processor is fraught with dangers unless you have the above equipment and know what you are doing.

If you really want a noticeable improvement with minimum fuss, sell the customer on sound-absorbing sheets (Focal BAM etc). Don’t confuse sound-absorbing with sound deadening material. Sound absorbing material has a soft rubber surface to absorb sound waves. Sound deadener has a shiny surface and is a reflector for sound waves, so it causes more trouble acoustically than it fixes. Lining the doors with sound-absorbing material will give bigger bang for the buck than wiring speakers active configuration.

Keep it simple. Don’t get talked into active wiring setups. Better to let them go elsewhere if they insist, it’s just going to end in tears.