Focal speakers and house construction

One of the dealers I’ve come to respect notes that the construction of the house can impact how speakers perform. While any generalization is just that, in my several trips to Britain I’ve seen mostly brick or some large use of stone. In many cases, homes that were literally hundreds of years old. In the United States, the vast majority of homes outside New England use sheet-rock. These different building materials must react to sonic waves differently.

This particular dealer suggested, in turn, that some kit works better in some home construction environments. Like some kit works better with some speakers. Naim plays nicely with Focal by and large. Perhaps less well with Devore Fidelity or Wilson Audio.

There is no perfect match but what has been your experience? Have you considered the ‘sonic’ realities of your physical space vis a vis the electronics / speaker configuration you adopted?

Yes, but only to the extent that (except in lockdown) I always ask for a home demo if I’m paying serious money for a change in the system. But even that doesn’t always avoid mistakes. I fell seriously out of love with the Kudos C20s I purchased after home trial. Perhaps they changed as they bedded in, perhaps I didn’t listen to a wide enough range of music when auditioning them, but they didn’t suit my listening space and had to go.


I was under the impression that in the US the vast majority of houses (as opposed to apartments) are constructed largely of timber - I guess much like British “timber frame”, with insulation and plasterboard (“sheetrock?) internal lining. A lot of more modern British houses are timber frame, though I have no idea of the proportion.

Room treatment is the critical system component frequently ignored - and is relevant regardless of construction, though construction, and tge type of speakers, will significantly affect the room treatment needed for best sound quality.

Of course. Timber (often treated) then sheet-rock, then paint. I’m not arguing with you. As we all know, there are so, so many variables. There are so many speakers that are simply excellent.

I don’t invest my own money but use professionals. I once asked our financial guru if I might do some of the investing myself. He pointed me to two books. I read both and agreed this was over my head. Not complicated so much as dense. Many financial markets really require full time attention.

Similarly, I’ve found that great audio shops have half a dozen professionals who have been in this or related acoustical businesses for so long that they are worth their weight in gold. The type of people I mean are usually not on commission and not trying to move product. They are trying to get you the best fit. And they know from experience that this amp may or may not play nice with this pair of speakers. Or when you explain the type of music you usually play, they direct or redirect you from reviews or specs to a better fit. Such people do ask about house construction. They are conscious of the snake oil that reflects some interconnect and speaker cables but are capable of providing better than simple wire.

I’m on a Naim forum because the Naim Nova paired either with a Kanta 2 or 3 fits my world. I have t quite pulled that trigger yet. One professional thinks the Kanta 3 in a 35x12 foot room will not need a subwoofer. The other professional says the Kanta 2 needs a $3,000 Rel. I’m heading next week to listen to a series of match level comparisons but recognize that the studio in which the listening will take place is not my living room. And it’s a 3 hour drive each way. And this kit is frigging expensive.


Regarding whether a speaker goes deep enough or needs a sub, that depends on how you like your music, and on your choice of music. But this also touches on the fact that speakers are very much a personal decision. What suits one person down to the ground another will find quite unsuitable, even unpleasant sounding. 0f all components in a system the speakers have the greatest effect on the character of the sound you hear - I have happily bought many other things without hearing first, but I would never choose speakers that way - this was brought home to me once when I auditioned 13 different speakers, all having rave reviews, most being the top of their respective manufacturers’ ranges, and all costing the equivalent of £2.5-3k in today’s money. 10, including one or two that are still revered by some people on this forum, didn’t last beyond the first track as they sounded so bad to me. One lasted two or three tracks. The ones I bought were great - and I still think great when I hear them occasionally today.

Room construction indeed has an effect, as does room shape, furnishing, and speaker and listening positions - and one setup even with the same speakers and room size can sound very different from another.

Will the dealer(s) let you make your final decision (e.g. change your mind) after trying at home? That is ideal, and in Britain seems to be well accepted as a principle. Otherwise if you have any speakers you know take them with you to set a baseline for sound in the dealer’s demo room, which can help.

I can see you are ambivalent in your expression. How quaint.

I’ve not heard of any pro retailers allowing in-home demonstrations. Perhaps for those very well endowed indeed. One shop, however, insists on making a three hour trek to set up the simple system to ensure the speakers are well placed and the acoustics suited to the room. On its face, this is impressive.

We will see.

Both professionals are wrong. Your system will sound fine without a 3k REL. Unfortunately it will sound much better with a 3k REL. As a person with a 3k REL, it gives the sound a spaciousness & richness that I wouldn’t want to lose.

Not sure if Kanta 3 + 3k REL makes sense with a Nova. If I had space I’d do stereo subs vs one. If I really hated money I’d get a 3 stack of G1s.

Yes, many Forum members are very conscious of how their set-ups interact with their environments (which includes house construction), and one of the fundamental learnings of this mad hobby is that simply spending more £/$ on kit can mean that the quality of replay goes backwards not forwards e.g. an amplifier which delivers much more bottom-end bass, can create material issues in a room, with boom and in setting off resonant frequencies. Generally, the sturdier the construction of a building the better e.g. concrete block walls.

The trinity of the environment/amplifier/loudspeakers can be a challenging puzzle to solve.

And, as @Innocent_Bystander highlights, these things are wholly subjective (your ears alone) and there are so many variables to consider.

See here for some examples:

The Listening Room Reality - Hi-Fi Corner - Naim Audio - Community

All you can do is engage with people (dealers) who are prepared to give you the most help, which is what you are doing.

There is no yes/no answer as to whether you will like a REL and an educated dealer may suggest other speaker alternatives at the same overall price-point. Of course, going to a dealer and listening to some speakers at the outset should assist in filtering-out some which don’t suit your tastes.

Lastly, the real key in all this is where you sit and the kit is placed in your 35’ x 12’ room. If playing down the length and being far away then you risk getting lots of reflections from the walls (and ceiling) which could (materially) degrade the sound. Akin to photography, there are focal points in a room for speaker set-up and listening position.

That’s the first time I’ve been called quaint! I’m not sure what was ambivalent about what I expressed or how I expressed it - just trying to give as balanced a view as I can, though inevitably based on my own experience/knowledge/understanding. Hopefully the range of contributions you get will help you decide what to do.

And yes, I think the willingness to allow home trial is perhaps more a British thing than elsewhere, sadly for others - but even in Britain it can depend where someone lives, people in remote places having less likelihood. My last speaker buying trip took 2.5 days, more than 800 miles driving plus a return 3.5 hour ferry trip and visiting two dealers and a private seller. As I was not buying new, I didn’t even ask about a home demo, however I took my previous speakers with me, large and heavy though they were, to hear in each demo room to set my baseline. The trip was successful.

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