Dynaudio Focus 50 wireless active HiFi Speaker ft Dirac Live Review
This is a review written by Terry Ellis May 2023.
For my video review please see my YouTube channel link here
If you’re a die-hard or a long in the tooth audiophile, the whole concept of a high-end wireless HiFi speaker system might be a difficult pill to swallow. However, if you are coming from, perhaps, the Sonos world looking to level up your home audio, maybe the idea of wires, boxes and HiFi racks will be equally troublesome to digest. So there lies the quandary, how do you please both people. Dynaudio have tried to solve that problem, and largely succeeded, with their new Focus range of speakers.
I have been reviewing the largest speaker in the range, the Focus 50. Regulars to this channel will likely remember me naming them as my Best HiFi Product of 2022 and the reasons for me choosing them are many but, in a nutshell, they fill a gap and currently sit nicely in this unique space in the market.
At the end of last year, I visited Dynaudio at their factory in Denmark and was able to see the Focus speakers being built. More importantly I spent several days with Dynaudio’s Chief Engineer, Stephen Entwistle, who provided a lot of insight into the Focus design, and I can appreciate them more as a result of that. Some of that insight you will be able to see yourself in the video I made for my visit, linked here.
Dynaudio are a very impressive HiFi manufacturer, and they use the Jupiter speaker measurement system, that is out of this world (pun intended). They also make all their own drivers, cabinets and more. This will certainly appeal to the diehard audiophile, as it appeals to me. Just to explain, the Jupiter speaker measurement system is a giant, hollow cube room, measuring thirteen metres in every dimension and it forms the core of the dedicated Dynaudio Labs building. Jupiter is packed with technology that allows the room to provide infinitesimally small and accurate measurements of every Dynaudio product tested.
I will be the first to admit had the Focus range not featured Dirac Live room correction I would have overlooked them myself and that would have a huge mistake. Being honest it’s the wireless aspect that I would have struggled with. Wireless technology is a huge part of all of our everyday lives, and you are likely reading this using a wireless device, but for a HiFi speaker system I still struggle with this concept. You can connect to and stream music to the Focus speakers wirelessly, and then the Focus 50 speakers connect together wirelessly using WiSA technology, a super low latency and from my testing extremely reliable connection system.
Here is the good news for the diehard audiophile, I would look at the focus 50 more as streaming active speakers, because I didn’t use them wirelessly, well not all the time. There are lots of benefits technically and in terms of usability to having a streaming active speaker that cannot be overlooked.
Description and Build Quality
The Focus 50 are quite large floorstanding speakers in terms of their height but, thanks to quite a small base stand design, their footprint is not very large. Installation of the stand forms part of a very satisfying unboxing experience. At their price point, presently £8,699, your HiFi dealer will likely deliver the Focus 50 and unbox them for you. Personally, I find the ownership appreciation experience starts when you unbox the Focus as their fit, finish, build quality and solidity are immediately evident as you gently remove them from their box.
Installing the four feet for each speaker is a really simple process and kudos to Dynaudio for this. I think the simplicity will be appreciated by the Sonos customer and the 33kg weight each and their solidity will be appreciated more by the diehard audiophile. Visually there is not really too much to talk about here. In white these are very understated looking speakers. They blend modern and traditional well but there is no real visual character to speak of, especially with the grilles on.
Removing the grilles is bound to get the diehard audiophile excited. The speakers each have three-way DSP controlled Dynaudio drivers, a just over one inch Cerotar tweeter, which has Hexis technology for better performance. A dedicated MSP, almost six inch mid-range driver and dual MSP 7 inch bass drivers. Behind the scenes inside the sealed cabinet are three studio grade amplifiers providing 600 watts per speaker. The sealed design likely makes the Focus 50 more flexible for placement which will be great for many potential customers. I think this s another huge benefit for the Sonos customer is the flexibility and ease of use.
The Dynaudio app I really like because it is simple and very easy to understand what everything does. There is no fancy swiping, its a more simple to use app and I liked the simplicity of the menu system. Because I connected to the Focus 50 using a LAN cable everything instead of using their built in WiFi pretty much everything was ready to go straight away, within less than five minutes I had music playing from Tidal using Tidal connect. You can stream music from the Focus in so many ways using Airplay, Bluetooth, Spotify Connect, UPnP, which is great, but for a more feature rich experience a diehard audiophile will appreciate having Roon support. You can connect other sources to the primary of the two speakers. On the rear are connections for digital and an analogue source providing scope to use a turntable maybe. You can also connect devices to the Focus wirelessly using the built in WiSA technology. I didn’t used any other sources with the Focus other than streaming music from the cloud, that was more than enough for me.
One input that is missing here is HDMI, and this will be a big omission for a product of this nature in 2023. A speaker system like this is a great choice for all home media usage, not just two channel music. The Focus 50 would clearly blow away any sound bar. Fortunately you can easily overcome the lack of HDMI using the WiSA wireless technology and a device like a SoundSend, built for wireless multi-channel audio connections. So, while it is not ideal, it is not the end of the world either. It wouldn’t stop me using such a device given the excellent sound quality the Focus can deliver.
One of the big advantages of an active speaker is that an active crossover has technical advantages over a passive crossover, added to that, DSP control means the designer can do more than with a passive speaker. This opens the door to many cool features, such as the speakers can adapt their sound for having the grilles on or off. Speaking to Chief Engineer Stephen Entwistle about this, he told me that there are a lot of very clever things happening in the Focus speakers and they have been designed to allow the drivers to play with the minimal amount of impact or influence from the DSP side of the speaker. The design team paid very close attention to the speakers design, the drivers quality and the cabinet quality so that the Focus would sound like very good HiFi speakers from a spatial imaging point of view. I think this is something that if you’re a Sonos customer, who is new to a high end HiFi sound stage it is likely be a ‘WOW’ moment for you.
The placement of instruments or samples in the sound stage, what I call the image specificity is fantastic from the Focus 50. I have been nothing but impressed with the size, scale and precision of their soundstage.
Listening to one of my favourite albums, Lady Blackbird – Black Acid Soul, streamed from Tidal, showed me some of the real key strengths of the Focus 50s. I loved listening to this album through them because it’s a real experience and that is what high end HiFi is all about – creating a listening experience thats beyond merely listening to sound.
The Focus 50 presentation is a combination of easy going and relaxed but with very good timing and clarity. For me it’s a nice mixture of Dynaudio’s professional studio speaker heritage, the wanting to give you all the information but done so with a pleasing overtone. This makes music in the main sound more relaxed for the better but sometimes I did find myself seeking a little more sonic resolution, a bit more of a cutting sound. I will come back to this. I think many people would think the Focus 50s deliver a very natural sounding presentation because it is that little bit softer and more organic, but this is an interesting one as it highlights another of the benefits of a DSP active speaker. In the app you can adjust the frequency balance of the speakers sound between dark, neutral and bright. I didn’t like the dark option, it rolls off the treble and lifts the bass some and I liked what it did for the bass but not the rest, for me it choked the music’s expression too much. For the majority of music, I preferred the neutral balance, but I also liked the bright option too as it livened things up a bit. However, I didn’t prefer bright for all music, for example Freya Ridings new album Blood Orange its been mastered quite hot in a very modern album sounding way. I preferred listening to this album with the neutral balance. It’s great to be able to make these subtle but noticeable changes without even moving from my seat and they are not tone controls, they are speaker behaviour changes, which is much better.
I liked the treble from the Focus 50 a lot because it is informative, the details are all there, but it doesn’t want to shout them at you. The treble is smooth in the main, but when I found it a little too smooth, in that instance I could use the bright option for a little more energy in the highs. I can see why Dynaudio have gone for a less bright balance for their neutral setting as the bright setting does bring out the roughness or sibilance when it is there in the music. They don’t ever shout this at you it just makes you more aware of it. I think that somewhere between the two modes would be perfect for me as a typical never satisfied audiophile.
An album I use to test vocals is Colter Wall – Songs of the Plains, it is not necessarily the best recorded album but it has a lot of character and spatial information. The spatial bits the Focus 50 do great, the vocals just hang there in the soundstage and they sound big. I like that especially as they have a nicer upper reach to them. The vocals are also super smooth for this album but not flat or boring either, there is subtlety to them and that provides the all-important character. Again, there is not extreme resolution to the vocals, instead they are smoother more intended to be pleasing. I enjoyed the vocal presentation a lot. Switching to some Norah Jones, Freya Ridings or Passenger it is all delivered in that same ilk, very pleasing but not the last word in resolution.
One thing that stands out to me about Dynaudio designed speakers is they recognise the importance of bass, and their speakers seem to give you more bass than you expect and this I really appreciate. This is very true for the dual 7-inch bass drivers in the Focus 50, if you place the speakers correctly in the room they can deliver a lot of bass output with fantastic extension. In the main their bass is tight and controlled and comes across with grace and smoothness but also with some nice tactile kick you ability as well, which I know we all love. Back in the app you can employ some bass management and send the bass to a subwoofer. However, in my room I felt no need to use a subwoofer as the bass output and extension had been easily as satisfying as from any speaker I have had in here for a long time. T the bass has this smooth pleasing bouncy overall delivery but is also fast, nimble and detailed. It is excellent, and I’m a fan.
Coming back to what I said earlier about looking at these as streaming active speakers more than wireless speakers, you can use them wirelessly and they sound great. You don’t ever think about the fact that they are connected wirelessly. There are two different profile modes to choose from in the app for connection at either 48Khz or 96Khz and the processing in the speakers change for both and so there will be some slight difference in sound. If you are putting down nearly £9K for a HiFi system you are likely doing so because you want the best sound quality and the Focus 50s sound noticeably better if you connect the two speakers together with a cable. This will engage the full signal transfer between them of 192Khz which I believe again changes the speakers’ internal processing. Using the cable they sound smoother, bolder, richer, much more well defined in the sound stage. My advice is to run a cable between them if you can, it’s really worth it if you want to hear the Focus 50s at their best.
Talking about hearing them at their best, this is where I get to talk about the feature that excites me the most Dirac Live. Dirac Live, in my biased opinion is the best room correction system available today. The technical details behind it are incredibly impressive. What I like about it is it puts me in control, and I can manage and fine tune the sound of the Focus 50 in my room. It is important to stress what we are controlling here is the speaker room interaction. By that I mean the room itself, its size, its physical make up, where you sit in it, and where the speakers are placed all unavoidably effect the sound you hear. Dynaudio have done an amazing job of making a great speaker that is more room flexible than most, but it will still be influenced by the room due to the laws of physics. Its unavoidable and there is no perfect room, no room has a neutral effect on the sound, every room influences the sound in its own unique way. I have spent a long time finding the best spot in my room, years of testing different spots and measuring and more measuring. I also have more acoustic treatment in my listening room than most studios. Speakers sound awesome when placed in the ‘blue-taped’ area of the room but awesome does not mean perfect, far from perfect actually.
You would be hard-pressed to find anyone more experienced with Dirac Live in the field than me, so what could I do with it? Most notably was in the bass, where I could tidy up the “hot” frequencies significantly so that all bass notes form and then decay in an almost perfect linear fashion. Especially impressive was that the Focus 50 bass stayed audibly “linear” as it changed in frequency and pitch with really smooth transitions. The benefit of Dirac Live reducing the excess ringing bass stopped it masking subtle musical elements which allows for more sound stage space, a less congested sound thats all softer sounding than it should. With Dirac engaged vocals now had more ‘pop’ presence and better edge definition and could be a little more upfront with more bite more how I like it. The treble now was perfect for me too and I didn’t ever need to change the sound modes for any song. The soundstage width was improved, with the wide elements sounding more substantial in tonality, both larger and clearer. The spatial imaging cues were better defined too, and I was able to enrich the vocals, making them sound a little warmer and stronger in tone, again more to my specific exact taste.
Doo remember I have a lot of experience with Dirac Live and know exactly how to use it to achieve the maximum from it. Behind the scenes Dirac Live corrects the impulse response of the system too which is one of the factors that make it special. . I love what Dirac Live does or more importantly what it allows me to do or control with the sound.
To use Dirac Live you do need to buy a Licence, the one off cost and buying the necessary UMIK microphone will cost you less than five percent of the speakers’ total cost. If you get a ten percent sound quality improvement in your room I see it that as great value but it might be possible to do much more. This is such a great feature to have built into speakers. I would buy the Focus over any other streaming active speaker because of what Dirac Live offers.
To wrap things up then the Focus 50 at £8,699 are a big chunk of money but, bear in mind, that is for speakers, multiple DACS, multiple amplifiers, streamer and DSP, app control and more which puts the price more into perspective. I think the Focus 50 offers excellent value for money because of the simplicity of the system, how I could have so much space back in my room without losing out on sound quality. I think in the real world this is extremely appealing when you have young children, limited space and so much work to do there is not always time to go deep into the HiFi system building side of the hobby, but I would still want nothing less than absolute stellar sound quality, and that is where the Focus 50 comes in.
There are some drawbacks and limitations to a system like this, but I think the pros outweigh the cons, the big pro being sound quality, the Focus 50 sound great, not just great for a wireless speaker, but great for any HiFi system. They can appeal to so many different people and this is a future-of-HiFi product that HiFi needs.
A Special Performer Award is Pursuit Perfect Systems highest accolade and is in recognition of exceptional product performance regardless of price
For the full specification of the Dynaudio Focus 50 please see their website linked here