FOCAL JMlab Scala Utopia


Floorstanding loudspeakers

What the Scalas are superb at is their tonal fidelity and top-to-bottom seamlessness. It is very rare to meet a loudspeaker that does not show off yet it is apparently correct in what it does. Today everyone tries to make an impression, to stun and shock, otherwise no one pays the attention. A listener should jump out of his chair totally excited after two minutes of listening. If he or she does not, the product is commercially damned. And this is basically the essence and the curse of the Utopias – their performance is surprisingly understated.

Function and form

Ease of use

The Focal’s IAL2 beryllium tweeter is among the very finest tweeters on the market. The only relevant competitors come from Scandinavia - Dynaudio’s innovated Esotar2 silk dome tweeter is unbelievable as is Ragnar Lian’s signature tweeter that Sonus Faber use in their loudspeakers – but apart from that I have never heard such delicacy, effortlessness, resolution and total lack of coloration in a single package. The B&W’s diamond nautilus tweeter is another excellent example of superb engineering, yet it sounds a bit less resolved and less delicate compared to the IAL2. The Focal’s highs are more fragile and provide a listener with a higher amount of nuances, whereas the B&W paints a broader sonic picture. Similarly, the Focal’s midrange is very transparent and ‘audiophile’, whereas the B&W’s presentation is more robust and lifelike. If I take vocals as a midrange benchmark then the Scalas focus on subtle shifts in tonality and the interactions of voices with a recording venue’s ambience. The 800 Diamonds provide the same amount of information without highlighting these audiophile elements within the mix and with more stress on harmonies and other complexities to arrive to rendering of interprets behind microphone rather than just voices hovering in the air. I would prefer the 800 Diamonds for the midrange, though it would be very dependent on the program material that would be played back. Where I feel the 800 Diamonds excel is the bass – their Rohacell cones do not reach necessarily deeper but they are less stressed, more accurate and quick as hell, compared to (also) polymer cones of the Scalas which are more reserved and not that convincing. However, it will be very amplifier dependent as explained earlier. Soundstaging is another area of excellence for Bowers & Wilkins – they throw deep, wide and utterly realistic soundstage, whereas the Scalas, though equal in depth, have very limited lateral dispersion. Generally speaking the Focal Scala Utopia is more about HiFi and the Bowers & Wilkins 800 Diamond is more about live music.

Bass management


According to technical specifications the Scala Utopia’s frequency range is 28Hz to 40KHz which is sufficient for any music genre without getting into trouble with ultra low-frequency room modes. In case that you are an organ music lover the Scala Utopia can be complemented with a subwoofer. The Silbermann’s organ in Arlesheim, played by Karl Richter for the Eloquence, was wonderfully rendered by the Scalas in its cathedral environment, the sound was forceful and tuneful, still it did not induced goose bumps for the very lows were only outlined. I am sure that the Grande Utopia EM can do this trick.
Despite the respectable bottom end extension on paper the bass of the Scalas is not forward so it may appear that the speakers are a bit shy. Synthesized electronic bass lines of Cobalt 60 (Twelve) do not show the same throbbing presence as they did through much bigger Ante Supersonic One speakers, for example. Also the recording is not a mastering gem so with increasing volume the music started to be quite sonically aggressive on top, fortunately, I could compensate for this by moving the treble compensation link to -1.5dB and bass compensation link to +1.0dB. The Scala Utopia is a transparent speaker - do not expect any mercy with lesser recordings therefore, yet the sound can be partially adapted to your preferences through the speaker’s settings which is very welcome. It would be great if Focal could provide a remote control to change this electrically rather than mechanically as you’d be able to make compensations on the fly from your listening spot. On the other hand, if you have tone corrections on your preamp then you are done without the necessity to kneel down behind the speakers.

Clarity & delicacy


The soundstage of the Scala Utopia is like an open window. Literally, as the depth of the soundstage is unlimited, the width is confined within the window’s frame. The Scalas were delivering very resolved sound that gave me a great insight into the recorded music. I could pick up any instrument in the mix and follow it throughout the track easily, without losing the tinniest bit of the integrity and wholeness. Let’s take drums, for example. The drum kit was positioned in a finely defined location and the Scalas provided a very credible image of its size, not stretching it over five meters like some speakers tend to do. I liked how the Scalas portrayed the wood of sticks on a drum’s rim as well the textural delicacy of a cymbal’s decay that was among the best – if not the best – I have ever heard. The energy of the kick drum lacks the bottom end extension, yet it is quick, informative and its weight sufficient to feel it with one’s body. The bass guitar had a warm and round quality, the piano could be tracked to the last string including its relative position to the recording microphone. The bottom three octaves are missing so the piano’s rendering did not give the full impression of the real size of the instrument, but this is a minor complaint considering that 99% of speakers cannot do this either. I tried to re-experiment with the crossover compensations to see whether the sound could not be improved, however, I ended up again with the neutral settings.

Tonal accuracy

Temporal resolution

I heard that Focal speakers were not particularly demanding for the placement which proved to be incorrect. The golden rule of hifi – the further from walls the better – holds true in case of Scala Utopia. Getting near a wall means tilting the fantastically flat frequency response, usually for worse. The Scalas require plenty of space around and you have the duty to provide it.

To get the sound from woofers and tweeters blend well at your listening position you have to sit in certain distance. Normally it is a matter of preference – in case of Scala Utopias there is something like optimum distance that eventually can be bigger, but definitely not shorter. Due to the concave array of the Scala´s transducers (not unlike Pioneer-TAD S-1EX and Wilson Audio models practice) there is a single point in space where axes of the woofers and tweeters meet and this is the point. In my case it was the point where I could hardly see top surfaces of the speakers´ cabinets. When I moved myself one feet further the sound´s pitch changed unfavorably, when I moved one feet closer the pink noise suffered from hollow coloration.

The lateral distance is more up to your choice. Considering that the Scala Utopias need to be at least 2.5 feet from side walls and that a standard room is about 14 feet wide, you will end up with both the speakers about 7-8 feet apart. For I was sitting 7 feet away the equidistant triangle principle was fulfilled. One of the very safe options is to place the Scalas along the longer wall (provided that your room is big enough not to sit too close or to have the speakers too close to room boundaries).
As far as imaging was concerned I reached the best results with more than usual toe in so that the axes of speakers crossed in front of my head. In this position the pink noise got perfectly centered and occupied a very narrow spot between the speakers. The sweet spot was very narrow too, however. As a compromise I ended up with more standard toe in that traded off the imaging precision for a wider sweet spot.

The Focal Scala Utopia offers a very interesting feature: at the back of speakers there are two adjustment links on the speaker´s crossover that can be repositioned. From their ´neutral´positions you can either shelve up or down the frequency response under 200Hz by +/-1dB, or adjust roll off from 2kHz by +/-1,5dB. Thus some anomalies of the listening environment (like underdamped or overdamped rooms) can be addressed.

Spatial resolution

Soundstage width
Soundstage depth

Through the Scala Utopias Dick Hyman’s piano (From The Age of Swing, Reference Recordings) rings with wonderful clarity and spatial accuracy, yet with a slight hint of sweetness that is the speaker’s personal addition. The touch of the warmth is heard also on a double bass that acquired round and full quality through the Scalas, yet it was rich in details generated by its body, strings and surrounding ambience. The Hyman’s swinging ensemble was drawn in space and time with pinpoint accuracy and within the limits of the opened window there was no doubt where this or that instrument was placed and how it was played. Outside the window (that is outside the speakers towards the walls) there is a forbidden zone. I believe that this happens partly due to sizeable baffles that are very wide, partly due to the fact that the transducers are a bit recessed in the baffles so their dispersion is limited. The lateral imaging can be helped by increasing the spacing of both speakers, yet it is not like I would like it to be or how other speakers perform. This is the only trade off of the Scalas and they are ready to make up for it with great dynamics that stretches across the whole frequency range.

Price as reviewed:525 000,- Kč

Recommended resellers

SK: Nisel SK, Bratislava, tel. +421 905 203 078

CZ: Excelia HiFi, Chrudim, tel. +420 724 00 77 44

Associated components

  • Sources: Ayon CD
  • Amplifiers: Accuphase A-65, Accuphase E-560, Bryston B-100 SST, Harman Kardon HK 990
  • Interconnects and speaker cables: many different cables from our extensive high-end cabling test



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