Focal ST6 Sub12: What is it?
Bolstering your monitor setup with a subwoofer is still a controversial move that’s certain to spark apocalyptic-like warnings from a vocal minority of nasally inflected naysayers – “I wouldn’t do that if I were you!”. To some, a sub will always be the elephant in the room.
Well, with its new Sub12, Focal has effectively produced a subwoofer the size and heft of a baby elephant. OK, we're exaggerating, but at almost 60cm square and 58kg, this thing’s a bloody big bundle of bass. At £2,149 it’s also insanely expensive, which of course makes it all the more desirable. Should you rush out and buy one? Let’s find out.
Last year, when French premium audio brand Focal updated its pro SM6 range with revised versions of its venerable Twin and Solo monitors it added a brand new sub, the Sub12. Why produce such a behemoth? Firstly, even a superb monitor such as the Focal Twin6, with its secondary woofer primed for bass duty, can only reach lows down to 40Hz. Yet most of us can hear bass down to about 20Hz, and sense it well below that. So, a sub that can get close to 20Hz is vital for mixing some musical genres, and the Sub12 is almost there with its frequency response of 28Hz-400Hz. Secondly, we’re living in an age where immersive sound tech, such as Dolby Atmos, is king and elaborate multi-speaker setups are becoming mandatory in pro studios.
Subs are usually hidden away at floor level, so they’re rarely exciting to look at. The Sub12 bucks this trend with its red burr ash sides, black ported front and huge 33cm (13”) speckled grey composite driver. Thoughtfully, Focal has positioned a carry handle on each side so that two people can manhandle it into place – trust us, it’s not something you’ll want to do very often.
Focal ST6 Sub12: Performance and verdict
That massive driver uses Focal’s premium ‘W’ cone technology. It’s made from a composite of glass and foam, which Focal claims is lighter and more rigid than comparative cones made of Aramid or Kevlar. It has a particularly long excursion (length of travel), and this impressive combination of throw and stiffness enables the Sub12 to excel in speed, articulation, dynamics and lack of distortion. Incredibly, the Sub12’s 600 watts RMS (1,000 watts peak) BASH amp and huge driver can move so much air that Focal’s engineers had to optimise both the internal bracing and port to minimise acoustic noise.
Round the back there’s the usual gamut of XLR inputs and outputs, together with high-pass and low-pass crossover controls. The Sub12 can be bypassed, and the crossover settings disabled, which is handy, but this function does require an additional footswitch.
Focal has included a Low Frequency Effect (LFE) channel input, a welcome addition for engineers mixing movie soundtracks using the aforementioned immersive multi-speaker setups. There’s also a polarity switch and a phase control to compensate for the sub’s position in the room, relative to reflective surfaces and other monitors in your setup.
Clearly, bass isn’t as detailed as the midrange or high end, so we were intrigued to see if our monitor setup would sound significantly different when we swapped our diminutive £500/$500 Yamaha HS8 sub for the bigger, pricier Sub12. Isn’t bass, well, just bass?
Oh boy, what a difference. The Sub12 isn’t inherently louder or bassier (unless you want it to be), instead it has a foundation-like presence, yet one that’s scalpel blade precise and infinitely complex. We hesitate to use the word ‘richer’ because that implies the Sub12 has character, which it doesn’t – it’s very neutral sounding. It’s enveloping, yet never smothering or overbearing; there’s absolutely no flabbiness here, just a huge wallop of very detailed, and extremely revealing, low end.
Ultimately, it’s a bit like comparing fish sandwich paste (sorry Yamaha) with the finest smoked salmon pate. They’re both fishy, and you can spread them on toast, but there the similarities end. The texture and flavour are worlds apart.
If you have a blockbuster-sized budget to spend, it’s possible to include multiple instances of the Sub12 in a multi-speaker setup. Just imagine how glorious such a rig would sound…
MusicRadar verdict: Big on bass, big on price and, just big, the Sub12 will reveal a low-end complexity in your tracks you didn’t even know was there.
Focal ST6 Sub12: Hands-on demos
Focal ST6 Sub12: Specifications
- Frequency response: 28Hz-400Hz
- Maximum SPL: 124.5dB
- Bass amplifier stage: 600W RMS
- Inputs: Balanced XLR LFE 10kΩ, Left & Right 10kΩ
- Outputs: Balanced XLR LFE (in parallel), Left & Right 50Ω
- Driver: 1 x 13in (33cm) with ‘W’ cone
- DIMENSIONS: 60 x 48.7 x 56.8cm
- Weight: 58kg.
- CONTACT: Focal