Focal-JMlab is a French company, which has been designing and selling high-fidelity audio systems since the early 1980s. This Saint-Étienne based company manufactures loudspeakers for the home, speaker drivers for automobiles, headphones and professional monitoring loudspeakers.
|Jacques Mahul - Chairman and Managing Director|
|Products||home audio, mobile audio, professional audio|
|Revenue||€ 62 million (2012) (42 millions for Focal and 20 millions for Naim)|
|Total assets||Naxicap Partners, Aquasourça, Garibaldi Participations, Société des Managers|
Number of employees
|Parent||Vervent Audio Group|
Focal’s industrial strategy concentrates on having full control over the entire production process, from the design and manufacturing of the speaker drivers to the assembly of the final product. Its products are entirely designed and developed in France, and most of the production is carried out at the factory in Saint-Étienne (France).
Focal-JMlab generates a €-42-million annual turnover and employs about 200 people at its facility in Saint-Étienne, which groups the production, R&D and management departments at the same site. Its export share is 70%.
Focal-JMlab, a research office dedicated to acoustic first was founded in 1979 in Paris by engineer, high-fidelity enthusiast and technology journalist Jacques Mahul. He began making his first speaker drivers in a small workshop in Saint-Etienne, at a precision mechanics company, which belonged to his father. Whilst producing his speaker drivers, Jacques Mahul also launched his own range of loudspeakers under the brand JMlab. His first loudspeaker, the DB13, was a bookshelf loudspeaker, which produced volumes comparable to larger loudspeakers, particularly in bass frequencies. Initially, he only sold his product to acquaintances but the DB13 was soon launched on the market.
In the 1980s, the two brands became established. Focal focused on innovation, producing specialised products such as the Polyglass “V” cone and Polykevlar cone. The materials used on the tweeter evolved from glass fibres to Kevlar, producing a more linear frequency response curve and a smoother and less piercing treble. As for JMlab, the company went from being a manufacturer of small-and medium-sized loudspeakers to a manufacturer of veritable high-end models.
Things rapidly began to pick up speed in 1990 with the arrival of Gérard Chrétien, another high end high fidelity enthusiast and editor-in-chief of the magazine L’Audiophile since 1977. Today, he’s the Managing Director and Marketing Director of Focal-JMlab. By adapting the company’s products to the demands of the consumer, the brand soon earned its role as leader on the French loudspeaker market. The company’s turnover increased from €9 million in 1992 to €26 million in 2000.
It was also in the early 1990s that the company implemented an export strategy for its loudspeakers across Europe, Southeast Asia and North America. The brand’s reputation on the international stage was reinforced by various awards. The JMlab Vega model was voted “Loudspeaker of the Year, 1992” in Japan and in 1996, the Grande Utopia model was praised by the international press.
From 2002, production was relocated in Saint-Etienne where about three-quarters of production still takes place with the aim of equipping every loudspeaker with « Made in France » speaker drivers.
In 2003, the two brands were incorporated under the name Focal-JMlab for Home products, before being renamed as just Focal in 2005 for all product sectors.
2003 was also the year that the company began collaborating with Paris-based design agency Pineau & Le Porcher. By combining sound quality and aesthetics, this move made Focal-JMlab products lifestyle loudspeakers in their own right and also gave the company a brand signature. Thus, Focal and Pineau & Le Porcher worked in close collaboration to come up with a completely new design for various ranges: Profile and Electra (2005), Chorus (2006), Utopia (2008) and Dome (2009).
In 2007, the company bought up the Guy HF cabinet-making facility located in Bourbon-Lancy, Saône-et-Loire.
In 2011, Focal-JMlab merged with Naim Audio Limited, the leading high-end electronics brand in the UK, which mainly designs and manufactures amplifiers and audio streamers. The new holding, Focal & Naim, owns and manages the two brands. However, both brands remain independent with their own specific philosophies and their own respective ranges and products.
The two companies began consolidating their activities in 2013, with their presence on a common stand at the High End Show in Munich.
In 2011, Focal adopted a new visual identity and finally, in 2012, built a showroom and a new auditorium at its site in Saint-Étienne.
In 2014, Focal&Naim Group was taken over by its management team, Naxicap Partners (major shareholder), Aquasourca and Garibaldi Participations. Jacques Mahul remains involved and becomes Focal-JMlab Vice-Président. The same year, Focal is recognized by the French state thanks to The Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant (Living Heritage Company) label. A label delivered under the authority of the French Minister for Economy, Finances and Industry rewarding French firms for the excellence of their traditional and industrial skills
Focal-JMlab maintains a regular research and development program in speaker drivers’ technologies. Investments in this field have enabled the company to conceive various innovative concepts. Ten innovations have been patented to date.
The inverted dome tweeter (1981)Edit
An inverted dome tweeter was designed and developed by Focal in 1981. (Inverted dome tweeters appeared at least as early as the late 1960s in the EPI 100 loudspeaker manufactured by EPI/Epicure. It had an inverted paper dome.) One of its main advantages is its low directionality and its high dynamics. The majority of the brand’s tweeters still feature this technology.
The « K2 » cone (1986)Edit
In 1986, the company introduced the Polykevlar sandwich structure. The Poly-K cone is composed of two layers of aramid fibres applied to either side of a hollow-micro-ball structure in order to improve the compromise between weight-rigidity-and damping.
The Polyglass cone (1988)Edit
Polyglass technology was introduced by Focal in 1988. This consists in depositing fine glass micro-balls on the surface of a cellulose pulp cone (paper). This combination of glass and paper results in a very rigid material with a low mass, providing excellent damping qualities. The Polyglass cone resulted in a very linear frequency response curve and improved the definition of the midrange.
The “W” sandwich cone (1995)Edit
In 1995, Focal improved its sandwich concept with its “W” cone system which consists of two sheets of glass fibres applied to a structural foam core. Unlike the mono-material cones, the “W” sandwich cone optimises the frequency response curve by maximising the mass, rigidity and damping.
The Beryllium Tweeter (2002)Edit
In 2002, Focal launched another innovation to their product line, the Beryllium Tweeter, which was only the second time a tweeter had ever been manufactured from Beryllium. Yamaha had introduced the Beryllium tweeter and Beryllium mid-range speaker in the NS-1000 back in 1974.
Beryllium is seven times more rigid than titanium or aluminium, but has the same mass. It enabled Focal to develop a lighter and faster tweeter which provides excellent damping qualities. When associated with the inverted dome concept, the frequency response can be increased to 40 kHz, and more than 5 octaves can be spanned. Being ten times more expensive than gold,Focal only uses the Beryllium Tweeter for the Premium ranges: Utopia, Sopra, and Electra.
Tweeter Al-Mg (2007)Edit
This tweeter was introduced by Focal JMlab in 2007. The use of aluminium increases damping qualities, whereas the use of magnesium increases the rigidity of the dome. This enabled the frequency response of the Al-Mg Tweeter to be increased to 28 kHz. The Al-Mg Tweeter is used on the Chorus range of the Home line and on the CMS range of the Pro line, among others.
The Flax membrane cone (2013)Edit
Eighteen years after introducing the “W” sandwich cones, Focal launched the new Made in France “F” Sandwich cone (for Flax). Composed of flax fibres enclosed in two thin layers of glass fibre, this solution offers a natural sound without colouration thanks to light, rigid and damped cones.
Tuned Mass Damper (2015)Edit
In order to control resonance and to reduce medium speaker driver distortions, the Tuned Mass Damper technology consists of an additional mass that oscillates in opposition to the resonance frequency. The suspension is optimised to avoid distortions and increase the definition.
Infinite Horn Loading system (2015)Edit
The rear of the Beryllium tweeter is loaded via a small cavity which is connected to the exterior of the enclosure by a horn. The inside is filled with a damping material. Rear wave of the tweeter is gradually absorbed to reduce distortion.
Focal-JMlab has organised its range of products into five universes: the Home line, the Car line, the Pro line for music industry professionals, the Headphones line since 2012 and finally the Integration line (public address sound systems)
The Home loudspeakers universe represents 59% of the company turnover and is divided into two collections:
- Classic: all the loudspeakers of this collection are designed, developed and manufactured in France and combine all the Focal technological innovations (inverted dome tweeter, « W » and « F » sandwich con, etc.). Among the principal products, there are the Utopia, Electra, Aria, Chorus and more recently Sopra lines. In 2013, launches Easya, high-fidelity wireless loudspeakers connectable with multiple sources thanks to built-in Bluetooth® aptX® technology.
The Grande Utopia is the collection’s emblematic loudspeaker. The first generation of the Grande Utopia, born in 1995, is a condensation of all the expertise and experience that Focal had gained since its creation. The second generation, in 2002, had the particularity of featuring pure Beryllium dome tweeters which enable it to receive, the year after, the “Golden Sound” award in Japan. The third generation, launched in 2008, was a concentration of the best of Focal technologies. Designed by Pineau & Le Porcher, The Grande Utopia EM distinguished itself through its extraordinary dimensions: weighing 570 lbs (260 kg) and standing over 6 ft (2m) high. The cabinets can be customised at the cabinet-making facility in Bourbon-Lancy which is in charge of manufacturing and finishing the cabinets.
- New Media: Since 2008, with the arrival of the Dôme miniature loudspeaker (available with Flax cone since 2014), Focal has adapted its know-how to new modes of music consumption with compact loudspeakers, “Plug and Play”, multimedia and more recently wireless (XS Book Wireless in 2013). In 2013, Focal launched 5.1 Home Cinema Packs in the New Media collection. Since May 2014, Focal entered the soundbar market launching Dimension, a 5.1 soundbar which, associated with its subwoofer, can be used as a sound plate for a flat screen.
At the end of the 1980s the Car Audio department was born and the first car audio products were launched. In 2010, the Car Audio division has been reorganised into three ranges and represents now 30% of the turnover.
- Elite : manufactured in France, the Utopia Be and K2 Power kits enable made-to-measure installations. It is the high-end range of the Focal Car Audio offering. In June 2014, Focal launches the made in France, handmade high-end Ultima kit. This concentrates Focal technologies used in the Grande Utopia EM speaker and in the SM9 monitoring speaker.
- Performance : products of this range offer the possibility of creating your own installation thanks to the technical solutions of the Expert, Access and Auditor lines.
- Intégration : This range offers simple and quick to install products, particularly “Plug & Play” kits intended for improving some brands’ original acoustic (BMW, Peugeot 207 and Golf 6, Renault and Toyota) but also the Universal line where each system has a reduced volume and is easy to install.
In 2002, a professional department, “Focal Professional” has been created, offering studio monitors dedicated to recording studios. The range is composed of four lines: SM9, SM6, CMS and Alpha to which the Spirit Professional headphones designed for sound professionals (sound engineers and musicians) were added in 2013. The range now represents 11% of the company turnover.
Since 2007, Focal have offered invisible sound systems, In-Wall and In-Ceiling, in order to add sound to public and private places.
Finally, in 2012, Focal expanded into commercialising its first nomad headphone, Spirit One which is replaced by Spirit One S model two years later. The range is completed in 2013 with the Spirit Classic, a headphone intended for a use at home and Spirit Professional. In 2015, Focal launches its very first in-ear headphones named Sphear.
Focal-JMlab’s turnover for 2012 was €42 million, 70% of which came from exports.
Distribution of turnover per continent in 2012:
- Europe : 57%
- America : 20%
- Middle East and Africa: 2,5%
- Asia/Oceania: 20,5%
The Focal brand is distributed in more than 160 countries worldwide.
Focal-JMlab employs more than 200 people at its 187,292 ft2 (17,400m2) facility in Saint-Étienne, which regroups the production, R&D and management departments at the same site.
Focal is surrounded by music professionals and thus sets several partnerships:
In the framework of the French Festival Jazz à Vienne, Focal is partner of the RéZZo, a jazz springboard dedicated to reveal young French jazz artists. Launched in 2005, this national plan enables the winner to record an album with a record label and to benefit from an artistic and promotional support.
Focal and Irma associated themselves in 2014 at the moment of « Faces » release, the last Irma’s album, young artist revealed by the community label My Major Company. At this occasion, Focal Spirit One headphones appear in « Hear Me Out » video clip
Focal pooled its skills and technologies with the American manufacturer of guitars Fender in the framework if the creation of a portable monitoring speaker, Passport Studio. Launched in 2014, this monitor is equipped with Focal speaker drivers and components.
Acoustic loudspeakers :
Car Audio :
Professional equipments :
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