Review: Focal Alpha 80 EVO Studio Monitors
Focal Alpha 80 EVO Studio Monitors…
Studio monitors may not be the first category that jumps to mind when thinking about gear reviews here at Bass Musician Magazine. However, consider this: How many of you are increasingly recording your own parts in your home studio? How many of you are listening to and making notes on mixes of your bands’ songs, albums, etc.? Heck, how many of you like to listen to your favorite music and really hear what’s going on with the recordings, especially the all-important bass guitar and upright bass?
I would argue that more and more, bass players and musicians in general are required to take an increasingly active role in the recording and mixing of the music they play. Personally, remote recording sessions have become the norm for me, as the industry has pivoted and technology has allowed simple home studios to get the job done admirably. These days, electric bassists with a great DI/preamp and a solid interface can get some fantastic sounds at home, and it sure helps the bottom line when deciding what you truly need expensive studio hours for, vs what can be done at home.
As you’re probably aware, studio monitors range from a hundred bucks for the pair, all the way up to stratospheric costs that rival exotic cars. I’ve long been searching for a great-sounding pair of studio monitors that sound phenomenal, without costing a phenomenal amount of money. While tracking some bass in a friend’s home studio, I was shocked by how great my bass sounded through a pair of his Focal Alpha 50 (5”) studio monitors. The detail, the impact, the low end (even through 5” drivers!), were all remarkable. So, naturally, I thought “I gotta check out the bigger ones!”.
Focal sent me their new Alpha 80 EVO monitors to check out, which are the 8” big brothers to the 5” Alpha 50 EVO’s and 6.5” Alpha 65 EVO’s and boast the highest wattage 80W + 15W bi-amped to the 8-inch woofer and 1-inch aluminum tweeter) and richest low-frequency extension (38Hz–22kHz (+/- 3dB) of the family.
The EVO series comes as an update to the earlier Focal Alpha family and feature some interesting revisions that improve upon the already stellar performance: “Slate Fiber” non-woven woofers, made in France from recycled carbon fiber for rigidity; enhanced connectivity via a ¼” TRS input (in addition to XLR and RCA); Class-D amplifiers; enhanced cabinet structural rigidity and laminar porting for precise low-end definition. In addition, the Alpha 80 EVO features an automatic standby mode and integrated mount points for wall or ceiling mounting.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that my studio room is not perfect. Not even close.
And most engineers will be quick to tell you the importance of investing in room treatments to set yourself up for success with accurate monitoring. But in my humble, “way less than ideal but what I got” home studio/home office, the Alpha 80’s immediately impressed me when I toggled them with the 8” monitors I was previously using. I won’t name names, but I did a ton of research, and bought a very highly regarded set of 8” powered monitors for my mixing and listening at my desk. I even bought the matching sub to give the low-end some oomph. All that together was in the price ballpark of the of Alpha 80’s, which come in at around $1,000 for the pair. Upon firing up the Focal’s I was immediately struck with the detail, clarity, depth, and low-frequency extension of these monitors. Mixes came alive, recordings sounded clearer and more nuanced, and the bass sounded deep and accurate (I actually prefer the low end on this to the previous system, which utilized a 1000w subwoofer rated down to 23hZ). These monitors have extremely low noise floor with almost no audible hiss or noise when idle, which is quite nice.
In terms of EQ, the Alpha 80 EVO’s offer controls for shelving +/- 6 dB below 250 Hz and +/- 3 dB above 4.5 kHz to help calibrate the speakers to your room, or your preferences. Focal does have a subwoofer, the Sub One, but I never found the low end lacking for my purposes, as one who admittedly likes a little extra low-end kick.
The only thing I could possibly be critical of with the Alpha 80 EVO’s has to do with the automatic standby mode. Occasionally, when listening at very low levels, one of the speakers would enter standby mode, and I’d have to goose the volume up to get it to turn back on. It should be noted that the automatic standby mode is defeatable, via a switch on the rear panel, which defaults to master on/off switch.
To me, a professional bassist needs an interesting arsenal of tools to be effective at their job. For many of us, that includes the ability to mix, or make mixing notes for the recordings we are part of. Finding a great-sounding pair of studio monitors that honestly and accurately delivers the sound of your bass and shows you not just what is working, but what isn’t, is more and more necessary in keeping with the trends in the business. To that end, for the price point, I think the Focal Alpha EVO’s are a very strong contender, and they descend from a strong lineage of top-shelf pro audio speakers.
For more info, visit Focal online at focal.com/en/pro-audio