The Aria 936 K2 floorstander from Focal that we are reviewing here is something special. It’s brand new, but it’s not. After all, it is an addition to the Aria family that has been on sale for quite some time. In fact, it’s a heavily modified update to the popular 936 near-top model. What is different with this large floorstander? Quite a bit, it turns out.
Focal Aria 936 K2
In this review, we take a look at the Aria 936 K2 speaker. It is a larger floorstander with a design that takes a classic shape and enriches it with luxurious elements, such as a fashionable gray lacquer coating. Due to its size and price, this is a speaker for those who love music and are willing to invest in it. Because it is part of the Aria family, you can in principle expand the K2 with everything needed to build a surround setup. An interesting option for those looking for a higher level of quality when listening to music in stereo, and also want to experience a (smaller or larger) surround experience when watching a movie.
The Aria 936 K2 loudspeaker costs 1,999 euros each, making it an eye-catching challenger to rivals such as the Bowers & Wilkins 702 S2 or the Monitor Audio Gold 200. For that price you get a large floorstander or column speaker with a distinctive premium finish and which is easy to control according to its technical specifications. The Aria 936 K2 does take up a bit more space, but is easier to place than many competitors in terms of impact on sound quality. An interesting feature.
|What||Passive 3-way floorstander|
|Frequency response||39 – 28,000 Hz (+/- 3dB)|
|Dimensions||115 x 29.4 x 37.1 cm, 29 kg (per speaker)|
Paint from the Utopia line
Focal is the largest loudspeaker brand in France and one of the most important names in audio worldwide. Just like competitors such as Bowers & Wilkins and KEF, it usually releases complete loudspeaker families (although Focal dares to do that in stages). The Aria 936 K2 floorstander is therefore an outsider, as it is a solo launch many years after the first introduction of the expanded Aria speaker family. Moreover, so much has changed that it is almost unrecognizable as an original Aria. Maybe you should just think of it as a special edition version, updated with the latest techniques. This speaker is also a bit of a crossover between Focal’s regular speakers and their luxurious high-end products, with the ultimate model for lotto winners like the Focal Grande Utopia EM EVO from 200. 000 euros. Per Unit.
Fortunately, the Aria family is a lot more accessible. At Focal it is the highest ‘conventional’ loudspeaker line. If you aim even higher, you will switch to that luxury segment and you will meet the Kanta, Sopra and Utopia. These are premium speakers that marry high-end technologies (such as expensive beryllium tweeters) with high-profile design and color options. Traditionally, the Aria line (and the cheaper Chora) is a bit more traditional – and therefore also more universally applicable. Well, high-profile design may be beautiful, but it does not always fit in an ordinary interior. That is why the older Aria speakers are nicely finished, but in terms of colors, for example, tend more towards classic wood finishes and black.
With the K2 that we are looking at here it is a bit different. It is a real attention grabber in several areas. The use of an expensive gray lacquer and leather, among other things, makes this speaker a nice bridge to the luxury models of Focal. That also translates to a slightly higher price point. The original 936 is priced a bit lower than this new K2 model, and the K2 edition is even slightly more expensive than the rather burly 948 top model of the Aria family.
That the Aria 936 K2 is different from the familiar Aria models, a Focal connoisseur will not doubt for a second anyway. After all, this new top model does not have the striking woofers with flax cones that characterize Aria, but yellow K2 drivers that stand out against the black baffle or front.
Modern and different
Where many speakers nowadays opting for subtlety in the form of two or three woofers that discretely blend into the housing, Focal opts for a ‘people, I’m here’ philosophy with the K2. As with the original 936, this K2 edition boasts four large 6.5-inch drivers (one midrange driver, three woofers). In this version, however, with striking yellow cones and matte metal outer rings. At the bottom there are two bass ports pointing towards the listener, at the top of the front panel there is an inverted metal tweeter. And that front itself is covered in a black leather, a more subtle than expected design element that also returns to the rear. Now leather on the back may seem a bit unnecessary.
The 938 K2 also looks special from other angles. The side panels are painted in Ash Gray, a gloss lacquer that you normally only see on the most expensive Utopia speakers. The top is made of a scratch-resistant black glass, just like the Kanta and Sopra line. Do you have to dust regularly.
In short, the K2 has a distinctly different, more modern look than what is now the norm. Even so, if you do not place the supplied grids. With the grids applied it becomes a lot tighter.
Not just any yellow
Yellow cones, that stands out. But the yellow of the cones is not just a design thing meant to be controversial. However, it is a big nod to the past of Focal and also another branch of the French brand: in-car audio. After all, Focal is one of the strongholds in aftermarket audio and supplies factory upgrade options for brands such as DS and Peugeot. The K2 Power series is a popular choice in that segment.
The K2 in the speaker name very explicitly refers to the material of the cones, which are made of aramid fibers. That may not mean much to you, but it is the collective name of a group of tough synthetic fibers that include Kevlar (a brand name of DuPont). In the 1980s, Focal (via JMLabs) already introduced this K2 Polykevlar sandwich of two layers of aramid fibers with a layer of hollow microspheres in between. The version used in the updated Aria 936 K2 (and in the limited Spectral 40th and K2 Power line for the automotive industry) is an evolution of this. We will dwell on it for a moment because Focal is one of the few brands that really designs and manufactures speakers from A to Z, including the drivers.
The technical specifications of the Aria 936 K2 (8 Ohm, 92 dB) show that they are easy to control. In theory you don’t need a huge power station from an amplifier, in practice we would still recommend using a slightly better motor. We achieved a good result with a Hegel Röst (now succeeded by the H120), but we suspect that you can work with most amplifiers from the upper middle class. We would only shy away from the more analytical copies, then the result may sound just a bit too bright. Although with these Focals you can ‘tune’ the sound a bit by turning them in more or less. During testing, we also received the Harman Kardon Citation Amp, an affordable multi-room amplifier for 599 euros. Just to experiment, we hang the 936 K2 on this unexpectedly powerful class D device that can squeeze 2 x 125 Watt (RMS, 8 Ohm) out of its body. Even this combination is possible, but because the Citation Amp sounds a bit sharper at higher volumes, you do not have a great result with this Focal.
Not sensitive to placement
Setting up floorstanders from this class always requires some attention. The speaker itself weighs a bit (29 kg) and you really don’t want to damage that beautiful coating. During unpacking it turns out that Focal supplies a solid aluminum base, including spikes and caps in case you want to place the 936 K2 on a softer wood surface. Also typical of Focal is that you don’t just screw the spikes into the base. They protrude through the base and end in a rotary knob so that you can easily position the speaker perfectly straight by turning in and out. In an older house with uneven floors, this is a trick.
When mounting the base, we also discover a third bass port, facing the floor but also with a subtle exit at the front. What’s the idea behind this? A bass port or reflex ensures that a speaker can develop deeper basses and allows the pressure within the housing to drop. Most modern speakers use one bass port at the back, so not with the Aria 938. Yes, that means you have two visible openings in the front. The plus is that this Focal is easier to place. Closer or further away from the wall, it makes a little less difference. This way you can still place this larger speaker in a slightly smaller room. Although you should not exaggerate in that area, they are not speakers to place in a broom cupboard / hobby room.
Focal also states that the use of multiple ports gives the speaker more impact in the low end, something we see confirmed when we see Jean-Michel Jarre’s nervous ‘Equinoxe, Pt.6’ and Four Tet’s ‘Parallel 2’ in our big tap test playlist (with an Auralic Altair LE and Hegel Röst as underlying music system, streaming via Roon). With Jarre’s well-known work, the synthesizer melody is immediately very present in the room. It jumps out of the mix, which is very Focals too. The French like to opt for a slightly more explicit, clear reproduction, which beautifully presents details but also pushes vocals to the fore. Although this Aria 936 K2 is a bit more balanced and more mainstream than the Sopra N ° 2 that we have been in the test room for a few years now. Just like a sports car, it performs better, but it is therefore not suitable for all situations, systems or music. Yet there is enough Focal DNA present so that the 936 K2 speaker delivers exactly what you expect from the French brand. The frisky violin in ‘Foscarini’s Groove’ comes across a bit more natural and catchy with this Aria than with speakers that opt for a dark, warmer sound.
Because of the more balanced (but certainly not neutral) reproduction, you can safely call the Aria K2 genre-universal. For example, the Equinoxe melody is carried by a bed of very low synth sounds with a relatively large amount of body. We also get a nice performance on the Four Tet track. A focus on the mid-highs releases the trip-hop club sounds from the speakers, so you get an experience where music tones float around in the room. If you really want a club experience, you might want to open the bass knob further, because the K2’s go for tight and detail in terms of low tones, not muddy and overwhelming. At the same time, we think the Focal approach in terms of bass reproduction is more authentic and better in the long term, so that a hellish bass track like ‘Angel’ by Massieve Attack retains its tightness and that threatening feeling.
LateNightTales is one of the hottest labels slash album series from London. On the LNT album that Olafur Arnalds curated you will find a catchy song, Ethereal, with Arnalds behind the keys and the group members of the Icelandic Hjaltalin taking care of everything else. It is pre-eminently a song that you would like to hear on the 936 K2, especially if you like to zoom in on the vocals while listening. The same also with Benjamin Clementine’s ‘Winston Churchill’s Boy’: you might recognize the voice of the British singer from a Gorillaz hit, here the 936 K2’s put him in the middle of a big stage, accompanied by piano sounds that (just like a real piano in a small room) sometimes tend towards the sharp. It is a beautiful performance.
We didn’t really listen to the 936 K2s extensively in combination with TV sound, other than a few episodes of the visually impressive ‘His Dark Materials’ HBO series. And that via a Sony TV and the Citation Amp, which, as mentioned, is not entirely suitable for this speaker. One thing that stood out is that those Focal qualities in this scenario contribute to a good representation of dialogues and the positioning of sound effects on a larger plane. That in turn is an advantage of such a large floorstander compared to smaller bookshelf speakers: the soundstage is larger, so that sound effects sound much bigger in the room. In this HBO series, a small musical theme regularly returns; it faded a little too much into the background in favor of dialogues. But as said the Citation Amp in this story was not a star,
Conclusion – Focal Aria 936 K2
Perhaps the Aria 936 K2 will be extraordinary in terms of size and design for some living rooms. However, you cannot deny that this French speaker is very well finished and looks slightly different than most mainstream rivals. Focal fans in particular will be happy that with this Aria 936 K2 they get a speaker that carries a piece of the look of those very expensive Utopia models (200,000 euros? It is possible!). Incidentally, you can transform the speakers into something a lot tighter if you apply the included grilles.
The 936 K2 also really has the focal sound of the high-end models, but then slightly softened so that you get a beautiful, detailed reproduction and great vocals on a large soundstage with almost all music. It is a great speaker for those who like to listen carefully to their music.
Positives of Focal Aria 936 K2
- Easy to place in the room
- Luxurious lacquer and premium finish
- Beautiful vocals, insightful
- Easy to manage
Negatives of Focal Aria 936 K2
- More robust copy
- A little more outspoken in design