The Focal Kanta no.1 speakers A Great Place to Start Your Focal Journey

By Jeff Dorgay

The horns from the Afro-Peruvian Jazz Orchestra jumped right out of the Kanta no.1s into my modest listening 13 x 15 foot listening room, and if I didn’t know better, I’d swear that a pair of Kanta no.3s were playing. That’s the sheer beauty of the Focal approach.

All of their speakers are created with a family approach, with each built around an identical tweeter, so they speak in the same voice. Going up or down the range, gives you the ability to play louder, and get more low frequency output, but the overall character remains unchanged, offering the Focal fan a substantial range of possibilities.

Having spent a lot of time with the Kanta, Sopra, and Utopia speakers, each has their strengths. The Kanta lineup doesn’t have the last bit of delination as the Sopra and Utopia do, but Focal’s core virtues of high dynamic range, tonal neutrality, and ultra low distortion are in full effect. If we are talking fine details, the Kantas have always been the slightest bit warmer, or more tonally saturated than the Sopra, which makes them slightly easier to match with a wider range of amplification than the Sopra.

At $6,590 a pair, sans stands, the smallest of the Kanta range is absolutely lovely. Thanks to the natural room gain from a smaller room, unless you’re playing a lot of music with subterranean bass lines, you won’t even notice. And if you need it, Focal does offer their own subwoofer solutions.

The star of the show

Listening begins with the Naim UnitiStar, which is an integrated amplifier, streamer, and high quality CD player all on one chassis. Think of it as a supersized UnitiAtom. Twice the physical size, and a much bigger amplifier. Suffice to say that if you don’t have to spin vinyl (and we won’t dismiss you in the least if you choose not to express yourself this way), add one of these to the shopping cart ($5,990), add some speaker cables and call it a day. While your neurotic audiophile buddies are freaking out about the molecular differences between mains cables (just buy the Naim one), you’ll be sipping mint juleps on the veranda, digging the music. Yep, it’s Roon, and everything else compatible.

What would normally set you back about $14k with some speaker cables is now available as a “bundle” from your favorite Naim/Focal dealer, (complete with Naim speaker cables) for $8,990. This is a killer value. At this price, you could add a Naim Stageline phono, a nice turntable/cartridge combo, and come in under what these two pieces alone would have cost you. Putting a high quality music system together couldn’t be easier. If you know where you’re going to put the Star and the speakers, you should be able to unbox and set the whole system up in under 30 min. Awesome. And you know you always buy yourself the best holiday gifts, right?

I don’t want to dwell too much on the vinyl aspect of the Kanta/Uniti combo, because that’s not the central focus here, but suffice to say, we did use our Stageline MC phonostage, with Technics SL-1200 and Denon 103r cartridge to great result. Tracking through some of the recent Blue Note re-issues clearly illustrates the big soundfield the Kantas can paint in a room. The synergy between the Stageline and the UnitiStar feels like a much more expensive combination (the Stageline is only about $700) and a nice turntable/cart in the $1,000 – $3,000 range will feel just right here.

Focus: Kanta no.1

Thanks to the same basic cabinet design as the Kanta no.2 and no.3,  Focal’s patented IAL3 inverted dome beryllium tweeter, and their Flax cone woofer (they call it a bass – midrange driver here) Kanta no. 1, these are compact speakers that deliver big speaker sonics. As with every stand mount speaker, great stands are essential to get everything they are capable of, especially in the lower bass region. You can of course, just get the matching Focal stands – again, we suggest just walking out of your Naim/Focal dealer with everything so you can get to the listening, but if you have a good pair of high mass stands, you should be ok.

All of our listening was done with a pair of sand filled, 24-inch Sound Anchor stands. This put the tweeters at the proper listening height, and with a few spots of blu-tack between speaker and stand to maximize the interface, we were moving right along. The Focal tweeters have great vertical and horizontal dispersion, so they aren’t super critical to get you to about 90% of what the speakers are capable of delivering. This is where the Focal stands will make your job easier. Based on past experience with the larger Kanta and Sopra models, getting the last 10% or so of performance – maximizing the width and depth of the soundfield will take a little bit of careful adjustment of rake angle (tilt of the speakers) and the Focal stands make this incredibly easy.

Again, the beauty of these speakers, even with modest skills you can get satisfactory results. However, if you take a few hours or two, and make incremental adjustments, the final setup will have you thinking you’ve spent way more on speakers than the modest price of the Kanta no.1. Even if you are new to the audio game, here’s a short cut – if your Kantas sound slightly harsh, bright, or too forward, you have them set up wrong. Follow the instructions in the well written manual as a guide. They will get you very close, though the manual concentrates more on getting good low frequency balance. Once that is achieved, make the adjustments on the rake angle to bring the speakers into focus. At this point the perceived harshness simple disappears.

The tremendous dynamic swing, and ability to reproduce the instant acceleration of drums and percussion instruments that the Kantas provide makes for an exhiliarating experience. Revisiting Peter Gabriel’s Security is an immersive experience through these speakers. They do an excellent job with the big drum sound that pervades the record. Going back to some Blue Note and re-examining bop, only this time streaming high res files via Roon again shows off how convincing these speakers reproduce the immediacy of a big tenor sax blast, or the delicacy of some vibes. Hitting up the Ella Fitzgerald catalog demonstrates the Kantas ability to carefully extract every bit of delicacy and power in her voice. Start with a few of your favorite tracks, you’ll be amazed at how well these small speakers project like large speakers.


If you are only interested in the Kantas, and not the entire bundle, rest assured that the Kanta no.1s (actually the entire Kanta lineup) are easy to match with other amplification choices, tube or solid-state. After hundreds of hours with the UnitiStar, about nine other amplifiers were tried, all with excellent luck. The Kantas are resolving enough, yet easy enough to drive, the characteristics of whatever amplifier you are using will pass straight through.

With issue 105 of TONE being a roundup of integrated amplifiers, we had quite a few different variations on the theme. The UnityStar is a top choice, but those wanting a slightly mellower approach will do well to pair the Kantas with a vacuum tube amplifier. Between the PrimaLuna, Octave, and VAC amplifiers, all were the essence of smooth. For some this will be lacking in pace compared to the Naim electronics, but know that if you are a mix and match audiophile, you can build a great system around them. The Kantas have a nominal impedance close to 4 ohms, so start with the 4 ohm tap on your amplifier and explore from there.

The same can be said for the UnitiStar. It also plays well with others, and after pairing up to everything from a pair of vintage Quad ESLs to the Sopra 3s, this is a great amplifier in its own right. The overall musicality and resolution available from the UnitiStar, combined with the 92db/1 watt sensitivity of the Sopra 3s makes for an incredibly formidable single box solution.