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Focal Professional CMS 65 Quick Pick Review

2/19/2010

With a 6.5-inch polyglass woofer and an inverted-dome tweeter, the Focal CMS 65 is well-suited for near-field mixing in project studios.

With a 6.5-inch polyglass woofer and an inverted-dome tweeter, the Focal CMS 65 is well-suited for near-field mixing in project studios.

Focal Professional is known for its unique driver designs used by several pro audio speaker manufacturers, as well as its own audiophile mixing and mastering monitors, whose inverted-tweeter design is highly regarded. The new CMS 65 ($850 each) shares many of the same design innovations and pristine audio standards as the SM6 and SM11 lines in a package affordable to project studios and professionals alike. A smaller and slightly less-powered version is available in the CMS 50, and the new CMS SUB subwoofer rounds out the CMS line.

Inside the Box
The CMS 65 has an innovative 6.5-inch woofer with a thin layer of glass micro-balls over a cellulose paper cone (called polyglass technology). This combines the self-damping properties of paper with the rigidity of glass, resulting in improved transient response and lower distortion, according to the manufacturer. Focal also says that the proprietary inverted-dome tweeter improves imaging and phase accuracy, a claim that holds up well in the field. The two Class-A/B amps power 100W to the 4Ω woofer and 60W to the 4Ω tweeter.

Although properly tuned with its neutral settings, the CMS 65 allows you to address any room problems with four rear panel filter trim pots. Highpass filtering is 12dB/octave, selectable at 45Hz, 60Hz, or 90Hz. LF and HF shelving are fixed at 450Hz (with settings of +2dB, flat, -2dB, -4dB, and -6dB) and 4.5kHz (+2dB, flat, -2dB, and -4dB). A notch filter set at 160Hz (-2dB, -4dB, and -6dB, with a 3/4-octave Q) is supposed to minimize desktop or console reflections.

Input connections are balanced XLR or unbalanced RCA only, with no provisions for ¼-inch inputs, one of the only slight drawbacks of the CMS line. Front panel mute buttons and a 66dB rotary attenuator are handy additions. Each speaker comes with a rubber mat and rubber wedges to both decouple each cabinet from furniture and adjust the listening angle, if desired.

Outside the Box
It is important to follow the setup instructions and not judge the speakers until you do, as the difference between before and after setup and break-in is remarkable. The imaging and clarity improves immediately by removing the metal grille and inserting the phase-plug over the tweeter, as recommended. After a night of iTunes running on shuffle at a moderate volume level, the top end smoothed out noticeably and the whole system sounded tonally balanced, without the subtle harshness in the upper midrange I heard when I first set them up.

However, my first mixes on a collection of guitar, piano, and voice demos came out a little darker than normal when I played them back on other systems, leading me to think the CMS 65s were translating too brightly in my studio. In general, I am sensitive to high-end frequencies, so I trimmed the HF shelving to -2dB and continued mixing. Later in the day, I checked these newer mixes on my other systems (including my car), and the mixes were now speaking with a little too much top end. I reset the HF filters back to flat, and the resulting mixes were finally tonally balanced.

I think the monitors simply needed more time to break in properly. (Focal recommends 20 hours.) Proper imaging and phase can also be perceived as brightness, and it probably took me a full day to adjust to how well the CMS 65 handles transients, imaging, and phase accuracy.

Although the low end does not sound overly huge, I have consistently been able to get the bottom end right on full-range mixes without a subwoofer. I would love to hear the complete system, but I have no qualms at all mixing without a sub.

The sweet spot for me is the midrange, where I believe all great mixes live and die. In my experience, the CMS 65''s lifelike detail and clarity is unsurpassed for speakers in this price range, and mixes seem to expand beyond the edges of the speakers. You will have no problems hearing flaws in your own mixes—and in many of your favorite recordings—that you never noticed before.

In addition to all that the CMS 65s do well, they don''t fatigue the ears during long stretches of time. These are great monitors worthy of your consideration with little to criticize, and they are well-suited for serious professionals at all levels.

Overall rating (1 through 5): 4
Focal CMS 65 product page

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