Focal Questions & Answers

I'm about to purchase a 21 Hyundai i3O N hatch back.......
I’m about to purchase a 21 Hyundai i3O N hatch back. I have a budget of $2,000 – $2,500 for Audio. As such, I wanted to get your recommendation on what I should get (ideally with a sub). I also heard that if the budget is tight, to leave the rear door speakers as factory, and get the installer to “re-tune” them. What do you guys think? And with the Sub, should I get one that is strapped into the boot or install it under the passenger front seat?

…..We don’t have a vehicle-specific speaker kit for Hyundai’s at the moment. We don’t do installation work here at the Australian warehouse and our French head office don’t see any Hyundais (I have never seen one in Europe!). We don’t have first-hand experience of what fits your particular vehicle but if I can line you up with an experienced dealer, they will be better informed.

As for the subwoofer, two come to mind: PSB200 is a sub-in-a-box that is quite small and can be disconnected easily if you need the boot space. We have a new model of subwoofer called ISUB TWIN which has just come out, and one small sub fits under each seat.
These are very good and would be my preferred option for both sound quality and being out of sight. We sold the first batch within a week or two and the next batch arrives in about a month. These are probably going to push your budget at $750 for the pair but they are a long-term purchase as they will be able to be moved from car to car in future. They only need a small amplifier to run them, we recommend our concealable Impulse 4.320, one rear channel to each sub and that leaves you two channels to run your front speakers.
Two words of warning, ISUB TWIN are two ohm each so don’t bridge those rear channels, also allow about ten hours of running before they sound at their best. Most good speakers have a run-in period of between ten and fifty hours.
If you are on a budget, better to buy good front speakers (Flax if you can afford) and leave the back speakers disconnected until you can afford a matching pair of the same series as in the front. We often find that the original rear speakers play out of phase with the new front speakers at certain frequencies, so the system sounds better without them.
How to get the lid off your Focal ES100K crossover.......
It’s simple when you know how:  put one end of the crossover onto a table or bench, press on the indented tab at the other end of the clear lid, and voila!
Here is a photo that might help:
How many hours “Run in Time” before the speakers sound the best?.......
There is no crossover adjustment on these entry-level speaker kits but you might just have to run the system in. The tweeter level decreases and the midbass increases during the first twenty hours of use and in fact right through to fifty hours of playing you will get further improvements. This is due to the suspension within each driver becoming more supple. Home speakers are the same, if you order a good set of home hifi speakers the dealer will unpack them a day or two prior to delivery and ‘burn them in’. You won’t get that sort of service with car audio speakers or lower cost home speakers simply because of the lower margins and the time involved but the principle still applies.
If you are still getting too much treble after the run-in period you might have to solder a 4 Ohm resistor in line with one of the tweeter wires, encase it in heat shrink for insulation. I have never encountered that yet, the tweeters usually quieten down, but that is Plan B
I recently purchased a set of midbox for the 3" and tweeter of 165KX3 kit, but the set seems to be two left-hand midboxes.......
Sometimes they came from the factory assembled like that. The solution is simple:

unscrew the back and front plate of one midbox and reverse them.
Note that the top screws where the 3″ speaker goes need to be about 3mm out from fully tight, so the grille can clip onto them.

I have installed Focal - ES 165KX2 speakers......
We don’t make two channel amplifiers any more so you will need a four-channel amplifier and use the other two channels on a small subwoofer or the rear speakers.

All our speakers are very efficient so you don’t need the more powerful amplifiers unless you play the music very loud or if you want to run a subwoofer on the rear channels. Impulse 4.320 at $419, FDS4.350 at $399, FPX4.400 at $749 or the Sound Quality amplifier FPX4.400SQ would all work. The SQ amp is about 50% larger in physical size than it’s brother FPX4.800, it is using components that dissipate more heat therefore it needs a bigger chassis.

If you have a compact car and don’t have much room for an amplifier, the Impulse 4.320 will be quite adequate and it’s so small that it can be tucked away within the dash or under the console. Being a digital amplifier it runs cool so doesn’t need the ventilation that larger amplifiers require. If your car has ISO plugs in the radio wiring, there is a quick-fit wiring harness that speeds up installation and avoids running wires from the battery etc. I will attach some info on that. The harness is $65.

Building a car stereo using focal components......

I’m in the process of building a car stereo using focal components.

My front stage will be a set PS 165 V1’s and my amplifier is an FXP 5.1200, I do not plan to run rear speakers at the moment. I am also undecided on a sub woofer set up yet. My main question is, the PS 165 V1’s allow for bi-amping which is what I intended to do. Will no-amping give me the best from these speakers? Or would I benefit more from running them purely passive on one channel each and using the other two channels for rear speakers?“

No, the PS165V1 don’t have the option to bi-amp. You can do so if you are using a sound processor (budget $1000 to $2000 for a good one, plus professional help to set it up properly). When you use a sound processor you can control the frequencies assigned to each individual speaker, along with time delay and amplifier gain specific to each particular speaker.

Those PS165V1 sound really good using the factory-designed crossovers, there is little to be gained in bi-amping unless you use a processor.

Bi-amping is a bit of an urban myth. It might be relevant in high-end home speakers which are many tens of thousands of dollars, when used with specific speaker cable that sometimes costs a thousand dollars per metre and amplifiers that also cost tens of thousands of dollars. The story has been passed down from home audio to car audio by keen amateurs and has become a bit of an urban myth on the car audio blogs that it will make your $500 car speakers sound like $1000 speakers. In reality, it’s a wank. You won’t hear any improvement without a processor,. You might think you do if you spend a lot of money and time bi-amping.

If you want to make a major upgrade for minimal outlay, you will get much better results from lining the doors with sound-absorbing material like Focal BAM. Don’t use the commonly-used stuff with aluminium surface, even if a dealer recommends it. You need to use something with a soft rubber surface which will absorb sound. Line the outside of the doors, especially directly behind the speakers. If you can afford it, line the inner door skins too, that will cover many holes in the door and make it into a sealed enclosure that absorbs the sound from the back of the speakers

In short, find better things to do than bi-amping. Line the doors with sound-absorbing Focal BAM or similar. Use matching speakers in the rear doors, probably PC165. Choose a good sub, Flax P25FSE or P25FE might be a nice option. Wire it all up, give it about ten or twenty hours of running-in, and you will have a very sweet system

I am purchasing an ES165KX3 and EC165K

I am purchasing an ES165KX3 and EC165K and already have a peer I sting sub. I don’t want to run multiple amps. Does focal have any 1 amp solutions that can handle the power requirements of the speakers, in particular the ES165KX3?

The ES165KX3 don’t need massive power, like most of our speakers they are very efficient.
I don’t know what a peer 1 sting subwoofer is, I can’t find it on Google. Without understanding the specs of the sub, it’s hard to advise you.

We have a possible candidate, the FPX5.1200

If this is a massive subwoofer, I would like to suggest keeping it on its’ own amplifier. Subwoofers are ‘current-hungry’, especially big ones. If the music includes a lot of bass they tend to suck all the available power from the amplifier and the remaining four channels will be struggling to provide clean sound.

If you want really hifi performance you might consider a special sound-quality amplifier like FPX4.400SQ and a subwoofer amplifier FPX1.1000. The SQ amp will have adequate power for the front three-ways and the rear co-axials and you have the subwoofer isolated on its’ own amplifier. Just a thought . . .

Power two E30KX 12 inch subwoofers

I want to power two E30KX 12 inch subwoofers, should I use a single amp that is rated at 2400 watts into one ohm or two Focal FPX1.1000 amps rated at 700W RMS into two ohms? The cost of one single amp and two Focal amps is similar, around $1400.

I would prefer to see two separate amplifiers since you are running two heavy duty subwoofers. The weakest part of an amplifier is usually the power supply which is a collection of oscillator, transformer and capacitors which collectively raise the voltage from 14 volts to around 70 or 80 volts on the high voltage rail. I think two separate power supplies are preferable, two amplifiers, one dedicated to each subwoofer.

Many amplifiers can put out their rated output for a short burst and therefore can claim massive power output. However when presented with sustained load and asked to produce that output for ten, twenty or thirty seconds, it’s another story. If the voltage on the high voltage rail sags because the power supply can’t keep up, the bass loses some of it’s impact. Two amplifiers would be my choice, rather than one big amplifier working hard.

I have two E30KX subwoofers I am about to instal. What amplifier should I use?

To get those subwoofers to kick hard they should have one amplifier each. Subwoofers are ‘current-hungry’, more than any other speaker they require big surges of power. Sharing one amplifier between two big subwoofers in this category, no matter how big the amplifier, is not going to be as good as having one amp dedicated to each subwoofer.

I would recommend FPX1.1000’s.

The power cabling needs to be heavy duty, not just the positive cable through to the amps but the earth return. The weak spot is the engine-to-chassis earth which regrettably even a lot of professional installers don’t understand. You need a heavy earth cable joining the car chassis to the battery negative terminal. From the factory all cars have a heavy cable to the engine block to carry the current for the starter motor, and a small earth wire from the engine block to the chassis to carry the earth current for the lights, wipers etc. That small cable is not adequate for the current surges demanded by large amplifiers you are adding, which can be above 100 amps.

That’s a side-issue from your original question as to which amps to use, but if you don’t get the cabling right you are restraining the new amplifiers output.

2013 Ford Focus with the factory Ford/Sony head unit

I have a 2013 Ford Focus with the factory Ford/Sony head unit. I currently have a set of old aftermarket speakers playing in front but they are failing. They are rated at 70 watts, what do you think I should replace them with?

Don’t worry about matching the power ratings, Focal speakers are very efficient so don’t need a lot of power to work. But if you want to boost the power with a small amplifier we make a tiny amp that will hide behind the dash called Impulse ($359 retail), plus an ISO cable kit that lets it plug into the car wiring harness without cutting any wires IY Impulse at $55. This will give whatever speakers you choose more mass, tighter bass and clearer vocals etc.

Speakers, 6.5″ is the format so you have a vast range to choose from. I would strongly recommend using the same series of speakers front and rear, it makes a lot of difference. Using the factory speakers in rear doors is a no-no. Even if no-one sits in the back ever, it still matters. They will invariably be out of phase with the front speakers at various frequencies. If you can’t afford to buy matching front and rear speakers, best to disconnect the factory rears, they are interfering with the new front speakers.

Let’s look at the ranges: Auditor is the entry level, Access is two up, Flax is next, then Elite K2.

Matching front component speakers and rear co-axial in each range:
Auditor RSE-165 Auditor RCX-165
Access 165AS  Access 165AC
Flax PS165FX Flax PC165F
Elite ES165KX2  Elite EC165K

Add the amp and its cable kit $414 and you have a pretty good system. Obviously the higher up the speaker ranges you go, the better will be the results, but even a basic Auditor kit front and rear, without the amp, will be an improvement on your old speakers.

If you can afford, lining the doors with a sound-absorbing material like Focal BAM will significantly improve sound quality of any of these speaker ranges. BAM works by absorbing the back-wave from the rear of the speakers which interferes with the sound from the front of the speakers. Don’t confuse it with sound-deadener which has the principal purpose to stop door panel vibrations. BAM does that also, but it has a soft surface that absorbs sound waves.

I hope this helps.

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.

Advice on setting up Focal Kit 7

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

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 165W-XP 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?

Bi-Amping is 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)
  • 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.