Focal Diablo Utopia Colour EVO Speaker Review.

Focal Diablo Utopia Colour EVO Speaker Review.

By Steve Huff

This is not my first experience with Focal speakers. Back when they were first released I bought a pair of Focal Sopra #2’s and enjoyed them for a while. In the end though, what made me move on from them was the bass performance in my then very small 12X13 room. Maybe it was indeed the room but I could not coax enough low end or even mid bass from the larger towers. While I adored the airy and expansive highs from the beautiful and extended beryllium tweeter I just couldn’t shake the leaner sound from these large speakers after extended listening.

They sure are gorgeous looking though and my guess is back then it was a room issue as these speakers went on to become one of the more popular speakers from Focal.

The Focal Sopra Series was and is a big success for Focal

My very first experience with Focal goes back much further still. Back in the later 90’s I visited a HiFi shop and I heard the most awful sounds coming from my left. I walked over and saw two Focal speakers (mid range models, do not remember the model name) on stands playing music.

I thought they were broken and thought there was something wrong with the bass. It just wasn’t there. I remember hearing just highs and mids with a very surgical detailed presentation. 

I asked the dealer about the speakers playing in the room and he said “oh, those are the new Focal’s” I said “They sound very thin, is something wrong with them”? He said “Ive been burning them in all week”.

Hmmm. I do believe in some slight changes during burn in of speakers but I have never in my life experienced such a change with burn in that it transformed the character of the speaker entirely. So away I went wondering why on earth anyone would like a sound where the foundation (the bass) was stripped away.

I remember telling myself “never buy FOCAL” which was silly of me of course. I later in life heard other speakers in the focal line and again, thought they were a bit lean. It seemed to be the brands house sound. Fast, detailed, airy, dynamic, transparent and with a transparency to the vocals that was quite unique.

When the Sopra speakers came out I was hearing buzz online that this was a new sound for Focal. More balls and more beef. I can confirm that this was true but most Focal speakers I have heard are still not beefy sounding speakers. They seem to be all about dynamics, transparency and bringing an open sound that is sort of light footed but very beautiful indeed.

Once set up and with proper power behind them, Focal speakers have a sound that is so much different from other speakers. Some say that Focal makes some of the best speakers in the world. 

One big time audio dealer even has the $300K set of Utopias in his home as his reference. Focal is a brand loved by many and some have said once they have heard this “sound” there was no going back.

Ive heard and owned the Sopra 2’s and also had a short stint with the Sopra 1’s (above) and enjoyed them more than the 2’s. For me the No 1’s had an even more special midrange and the treble seemed to blend so well (better than Focal’s I have heard in the past) with the mid driver. Oddly enough I thought they put out a nice quality and even quantity of bass for a two way speaker.I did not own the No1’s but did have a week or so with them. I really enjoyed them.

Before these Diablo speakers the best Focal sound I have personally heard under $25k outside of a dealer showroom was indeed from the Sopra No1 two way, but I have a thing for smaller two way speakers.

Silk is one word that comes to mind. Beauty is another. The Sopra 1’s had something about them that drew me in to the music more so than any of the other Focal speakers I have heard. I also really enjoy the styling of them as well as the colors that are offered.

The Two Way 

So why have I always preferred two way smaller speakers vs large behemoths? Well, they are smaller, sometimes they look cooler and they almost always disappear in the room with ease compared to larger speakers. I also rarely ever have room loading issues with two ways.

I have always found two way speakers to just have something special about them. Maybe it is my fond memories of the Sonus Faber Guarneri’s I owned. Those were large sounding with a warm midrange and fantastic treble. Musical as all get out and they disappeared with ease.

The Diablo Utopia III that preceded the newer EVO model. 

THE FOCAL DIABLO are $24,000 with stands. 

The Diablo is not a new speaker. In fact it has been out for well over a decade and seems to keep going up in cost. It has gone through changes and upgrades along the way and it is now called the “Diablo Utopia III EVO Colour”.  From what I can gather, there were slight changes made to the crossover and the colors but it is still considered pretty much the same speaker as it was when it was launched.

Focal has said the bass has improved over the years. With their “Power Flower” magnets and super cool design I have always wanted to hear these speakers in my space but I never would (or could) spend the money required to get them here.

Let’s face it. These are expensive speakers. $24k new retail with stands, and believe me my friends, the proper stands are needed with these for them to look and sound their best. The speakers literally screw into the stands for stability and solidity. These are not “small” two way speakers though they are smaller than the very large Fleetwood Deville’s I have had here for well over a year now.

In todays 2023 world nothing really shocks me when it comes to price. My mind has grown numb to these insane prices and it just is what it is. High end audio is well, HIGH END and it will set you back a pretty penny if you decide to go down the rabbit hole. Be warned though, once inside it may be hard to escape! (many of you will know what I mean).

Who would spend this kind of money on Audio? 

I know someone is reading this and asking this question. To those who feel it is crazy to spend so much on audio remember that some people spend 6 figures on boats, jewelry and cars. Some spend on lavish vacations and trips. I know a guy who has spent over $100k on a safe room with over 50 weapons inside out of fear of the future. A bit overkill IMO. I know sone who have $50k in their camera and lenses and yet photography is a hobby for them, not a business.

There is no shortage of things to blow our cash on in this world and some choose to spend it on audio to create a beautiful system that not only sounds heavenly but looks the part. We are as humans after all hardwired to enjoy music and to allow music to communicate with our senses. I listen to music daily yet I do not drive daily so yes, my system cost a little more than my vehicle did brand new.

I may put 6k miles per year on my car but I put thousands of hours on my audio system each year. So which brings me more enjoyment in life? The Audio of course. I have traveled to many parts of the world and am done with that part of life. I have no interest in boats, fancy watches or clothing. I spend money on what brings me peace, serenity, happiness and joy. I suggest we all do this in life. Spend on what makes you happy, noting more, nothing less.

The question I always used to have is this: Are more expensive speakers worth the money if you listen to your system daily? 

That is not an easy question to answer. In my experience with speakers ranging from $50 to $50k I can say that what we normally see in the high end big $$$ products is a much more exotic build, much better parts, sexier and cooler designs and normally a much more refined and detailed clarity to the sound.

The Bass is not big and flabby in high end speakers but rather, super controlled and tight. Tuneful yet Truthful. We get to hear every detail and instrument in their own space within a soundstage. We hear a 3 dimensional presentation with a well setup system that is noise and buzz free.

I even prefer listening to live recordings on my reference system VS going to a live performance these days. I have been to over 80 concerts in life and what do I remember most? The beer being spilled on me, the weed smell from the guy 3 rows back, the pushiness, the ear ringing and even the traffic in the lot at the end of the show. Dealing with nonsense. The last show I went to a few years ago, I was robbed. True story.

So as I sit in my room with this audio system it takes me to another place and without any of the nonsense. But let’s get back to cost vs performance.

Can or do I enjoy a set of $300 speakers as much as a $25k set? Sure, sometimes. Depends on what my goal is. 

I use a bluetooth speaker in my garage and outside for summer hangouts. That speaker is perfect for this use. It exaggerates the bass and sounds pleasing for background music. 

When I am in the shower I have this bluetooth speaker pumping tunes or maybe even a podcast. There is no better solution for this scenario. 

When I have a gathering at the house, I may have a small system playing background music quietly. I enjoy it as the sound is full and nice even at low volume. If we have a larger gathering I may move this outside and set up a nice playlist. 

When I want to sit in my music room for hours and just soak it all in I enjoy a much more refined experience. This is when I want to be encased in the music with a walk in soundstage that has zero noise or flaws. I like to hear the separation of each instrument with clarity and body. I enjoy hearing the vocals dead center into the room sone with a 3D presentation and natural imaging. 

In this case, yes indeed you will have to spend more money to get this (though not “silly money”).

I remember when I had a $5k system many years ago and I was saying “it can’t get any better”! Yet as the years moved on it did get SO MUCH better as I learned more about all of this audio stuff. The system I have today sounds so much better than I ever thought an audio system could sound. As good as it sounds now, it can get better still! What is better though? Well, that all depends on YOU!

With that said, we do not have to buy $20k speakers to enjoy these special qualities. I get it with the little Buchardt S400 MKII’s as well, just in a smaller and lesser way.

When I was setting up the Focal Diablo EVO I was remembering my past experience with Focal speakers (and that lean sound) but I had a feeling that the Diablos would be on another level. I hoped so as these are in the famed Utopia line. Focal’s top of the range line yet the Diablo is the starter set in that lineup. Yep, $24k for a starter set of speakers with the Utopia name.

I love the looks of the Diablo and have for many years. I was hoping that with my REL S/510 Sub I would be able to enjoy the world class treble and mids that these deliver to their fullest, without any kind of lean sound that some models in the Focal lineup are known for.

I first hooked up the Billie MKII Integrated to the Diablos. This is a $2k integrated amp with a class A tubed preamp mated to a powerful Class D power amp. It’s the first class D amp I truly have enjoyed so much that I bought one to use for a while until I found THE integrated amp I have been hoping for (light, powerful, sleek, impact and dynamics, warmth and an all in one with high quality DAC and Phono INSIDE).  

The Billie MKII has a warmth to the mids than can bring more soul and drive to a lean speaker. It’s musical rather than lean and hyper detailed yet it offers plenty of detail, precise imaging and has punch to it.

To be clear, I use my DCS DAC and CLOCK with the Billie and bypass the internal built in DAC as I feel the source is what makes all of the magic. With the DCS DAC even lower cost amps sound like a million bucks. What goes into the amp (source) is so important as to what comes out as the amp is simply amplifying your source signal. The better the source signal, the better the sound. With a cheap source and expensive amp all one is doing is amplifying the cheaper source. : ) This is why in my book, Source is King. See my video here about this. 

I also tested the Focal Diablo EVO with a T+A DAC 200 and a Aavik U-150 Integrated w/DAC and Phono. The T+A DAC 200 is stunning but the other two are no slouches.

First Run with the Diablo

When I played some familiar music I instantly heard that amazing airy and transparent treble slowly pour out of the Diablo cabinets. Cymbals sounded exactly like live and very real tangible cymbals, acoustic guitar sounded absolutely beautiful, thick, fluid and snappy. Vocals sounded just a hair thinner than they did with my Deville SQ’s but they were very silky, smooth, transparent and scary realistic. The clarity on these beauties was really impressive and in fact the best I have heard when it comes to instrument separation, imaging and having a wide open crystal clean window to the sound.

The bass with the sub off was much better than I expected and bested the Sopra 2 floor standers I once had (though today I have a much better room so take that for what it is worth). The bass was more muscular compared to the bass output of the Fleetwood Deville SQ’s but it was faster, quicker, tighter. The Devilles do not have loose bass so the Focal was about as tuneful and tight as I have heard a speakers bass in 35 years of doing this stuff. The bass was not going really low but the speakers sounded big, muscular and tight.

The bass that is there is incredibly well done, it just will not shake you from your seat or go very low so if you are used to that low rumble you will need a sub to get there with the Diablo.

The mid bass was not as present as I am used to and this is what I feel makes many Focal speakers sound leaner IMO. They do not pump in the mid bass to flesh voices out. Rather they go for a more natural and realistic vocal presentation, and after a few days I was really enjoying this as it really did sound more realistic and authentic than what I was used to though I admit, I was missing the big chesty vocals.

The flip side is that transparency within the vocals allowed me to hear deeper into the recording and it was becoming addicting the longer I listened. I was listening with my DCS Lina DAC/Clock streaming Tidal HiFi as well as playing some vinyl with a Pure Fidelity Harmony turntable (which is gorgeous).

Realism was the word I kept using. It did take me a couple of weeks to get used to this different presentation but once I did I knew it would be tough to go back…or remove these Diablos from my system. I was becoming addicted to that treble as it was just grain free as can be while being more extended than most I have heard. Smooth and silky but incredibly revealing.

Going back to the Bass… it is actually very nice with the Focal Diablo. Considering this is the starter speaker in the Utopia Range and the flagship goes for $300K, I was surprised at how good they were in the bass. Still, I wanted more.

With rock songs they needed more oomph. With metal, they needed that kick in the gut.

With classical, opera, jazz, vocals or acoustic music they were mesmerizing and among the very best speakers I have heard in my life even without the subwoofer. 

I decided to set up my REL sub with them and it was pretty easy to integrate. Once I did this the Diablos sounded very much like the insanely bigger Utopia models (I have heard the $150k model at a Dealer). They were complete from top to the lowest registers without flab or boom. This is when I started to really sit up and take notice.

With the sub dialed in and on it was a HOLY WOW moment. This was such a wonderful hypnotic sound. The clarity was there but with the sub crossed over at around 60-70hz and the volume at just a few notches up from 0 on the S/510 the sound was rock solid and fully blended to where the speakers sounded as one.

Song after song I noticed similar things. These beauties were not as warm in the mids or treble as my Deville’s or even the Buchardt S400 II. The Focal Diablo EVO were about clarity, perfection, dynamics, refinement and allowing us to hear everything within a recording.

With the Sopra 2’s I remember this character as well but the treble with the Diablos is nicer to these ears. Never ever rough, ragged, dry or hard. 100% Grain Free. The treble here from the special Beryllium tweeter Focal uses is super extended but super gentle at the same time. It’s refined, smooth and present but airy as all get out.

This is where we hear true three dimensional notes hang in the air, the natural reverb decay from the studio, vocals that are present and clean, and imaging that will blow your mind. It’s quite the sound and for a guy who is allergic to lean analytical speakers and I was enjoying the heck out of the Diablos.

I was not hearing hard, lean or analytical at all when powered by the Billie MKII, DCS Lina DAC and CLOCK and using the REL S/510 Sub. I was instead hearing a grand scale, lifelike vocals and instruments, reverb decays from the studio and a seductive sweet smoothness. Soundstage was wide but not cavernous (this is good) and it had depth and height as well.

I was never a big Class D fan but this amp blows my mind…it’s so good. Effortless, Silent, Liquid, Powerful and oh so sweet. The Phono and DAC here are THE BEST I have EVER heard in an integrated (and some separates). The built in MC Phono Stage bests the $5k Pass Labs XP-17 I have here in every way but especially noise (there is none with the Aavik when using high gain for low output MC carts and quite a bit with the Pass) and the bass. 

With an Aavik U-150 integrated (which is now an older model that sold for $20k plus loaded like this one) sounded absolutely insanely magical with the Focal. I was told by Tyler at Next Level HiFi in Wayne, IL I would be pleased with the U-150 and these speakers. He was not kidding, I will have more on this amp below.

Overall, with the sub this was one of the best sounding combos I have heard in my life, without question and I have heard a ton of systems.

Without the sub they sounded fantastic as well in my 13X18 room but there were times I wished for more oomph. Without the Sub there were times when the music sounded a touch lean. Then again, if Focal tuned these for more powerful bass output I feel the mids and treble would be negatively affected. Maybe they designed these to be used with a high quality sub because when the sub is on, these are pure magic and refinement.

Sounds kind of silly to say $24k speakers sound best with a $2800 sub but if you are spending this much, and much less than the larger Utopia speakers then adding a sub or two will well worth it. With two REL S/510’s and the Diablo’s you will spend much less than going to a Large Utopia yet have 90%+ of the sound and magic.

I sometimes wished for this extra oomph with the ($20k) Devilles or even the ($16k) Klipsch LaScala as well so the Diablos are not unique in this area. Any high end smaller speakers will do better with a nice quality subwoofer.

Without a sub you can expect a big muscular detailed and crisp sound with the tightest most tuneful bass you have heard from the Diablo. These do well up to about 50-60hz when they start fading in the bass but what is there is powerful, impactful and dynamic.

UPDATE: I will say that the bass was much improved with the U-150 Integrated. So much so I could turn OFF the sub and be happy. Using the U-150’s built in DAC with the EVO speakers was a remarkable experience. A perfect mate to the Diablos and it is not a giant heavy monstrosity nor does it run warm or hot. It stays cool and doesn’t raise my electric bill. All while sounding extremely powerful, smooth and liquid. I never heard a built in Phono or DAC as good these these either as usually they aren more of an afterthought with most integrated amps. 

You can coax even more bass from the Diablo depending on room and placement but once I heard them with the REL Sub there was no going back for me.

What sets the Diablos apart from other speakers is indeed the treble and to some extent the midrange. The fact that Focal makes all of their drivers in house is remarkable. Other big name brand speakers use Focal drivers in many designs. They know their stuff. The speakers are also overbuilt and the stands are ridiculously good, well made and perfect for the speakers.

Large, heavy, stable, filled with sand from the factory. The speakers screw into them for perfect placement and balance. The spikes are large, polished and they are magnetized so the metal bases still to them when you move the speakers. With stands these weigh in at around 85lbs each.

Sometimes I have speakers in here that are light and wobbly. The Focal Diablos will not move unless you want them to be moved. Again, top of the heap build and design.

The Diablos are also front ported which is fantastic. If using a ported speaker I much prefer them to be ported from the bottom or front. This allows for much easier room placement as the bass is not pumping out of the back, reflecting off of the wall behind it. I always find front ported speakers to be the easiest of all to place within a room.

As I write this I am listening to a track from Taylor Swift and The National called “Coney Island”. The sub is off and I am appreciating the bass line which I hear so well defined and with a clarity that is rare. The guitar notes pop in with a density and clarity that is remarkable. Vocals are blended naturally and are filling the room with magic. These do not sound bright, analytical or lean. The soundstage is wide but realistic at the same time, as if I was watching them on a large stage in my room.

This goodness could be due to my DAC or even the Billie Amp and its tubes. Heck, even the speaker cables will make a difference here, especially with speakers as revealing as these. Let’s try an amp higher up the ladder.

The Big Guns. PASS LABS Separates Go in. 

I decided to remove the Billie MKII and place in the big boys. The nearly 100lb Pass Labs X250.8 and XP22 pre. When I do this the sound becomes more open, more alive and  offers up a smooth crystalline experience. I hear more clarity within the mids and more spaciousness as well. There are more details and even more of a tangible beauty but the mid bass is a little leaner.

I was really digging the Billie MKII with the Focal but the Pass allows them to do what they do even better and if you want all of what these speakers can offer, the Pass Labs just brought out more of everything. The soundstage widens, gets taller and the 3D presentation is even more 3D. This setup is heavenly but these pieces are large, unruly and expensive.

Pass Labs is a lifetime brand. It’s a brand I always have on hand and always come back to for comparisons or even my winter months. See the video below for more thoughts on Pass Labs…

Keep in mind that the Pass setup retails for around $30k. The Billie MKII is $2k, The Billie MKII sounds wonderful with the Diablos and warms them up a bit in the mids while still allowing the treble to shine but the sound is not the most refined or smooth. Being Class D there is a hint of that Class D sound but those tubes really help the Billie with the Class A preamp section.

The Pass just opens it all up even more. Do not underestimate that Billie though, especially if using a great outboard DAC.

The Pass Labs XP22 is a wonderful Preamp. One of the best I have heard (when used with a Pass Labs amp) but I have not heard a ton of preamps in my life. It’s transparent, has that inner shine and glow as the amps do and it is a low gain design. It’s quiet and with a very silent black background. I do feel that the traditional preamp is sort of going out of style a bit. After living with both varieties for years, I honestly prefer a great integrated and in the Pass line the INT25, INT60 and INT250 are remarkable pieces of audio gear that would do well with the Diablo. Less cables, less heft and less heat are things I am finding myself drifting towards these days.

THE AAVIK U-150 INTEGRATED

I have seen this model selling used (with DAC) go for under $6800. Heck there is one for sale as I write this on Audiogon for $6700. I have a U-150 here with the DAC and Phono and I have to say that this is the absolute winner for power with the EVO’s. Smooth, liquid, 100% grain and hardness free, a bit of warmth, bigger tighter bass, and a magical midrange. THIS IS A killer combo and I am not sure I have heard a nicer sound from ANY Integrated amp but I do think there is a nice synergy with the Diablos. This amp would be a touch too warm for the Devilles IMO.

This is the first Aavik product I have heard, and this sole product has literally made me a serious fan of Class D amplification. Started with the Billie MKII and the U-150 takes it up ten levels in sound, build, feel and operation. It runs cool, sounds smooth and fluid while throwing a huge tall and wide soundstage with beautiful imaging. The DAC in this thing is special as well and as good as some $5k external DACs I have heard. Big, powerful, deep and the mids fill out some. I LOVE THIS AMP with the Focal speakers as it brings some warmth, effortless sense of power and beautiful shades of tonal colors to these speakers that CAN sound analytical with some amps. It’s a great match indeed.

CONS

What are the cons of the Diablo Evo Colour?

The price is high but after weeks with these speakers I have decided these are the first speakers that have come through here that I prefer to my beloved Fleetwood Deville SQ. The Devilles are $20k+ speakers and are also end game, life long pieces of musical art. I’ve heard speakers from Tannoy, Magico, Wilson and Magnepan that could not best the Devilles for my ears yet the Diablo’s have which is very surprising, even to myself.

While I am loving the Diablo speakers for what THEY bring to the table they do not have a SOUL like the Fleetwood speakers do. The Deville’s have that big juicy midrange with vocals that just live and breath. Magic lies in the mids with the SQ’s but comparing the two shows the slight coloration from the Devilles. For me, it’s a great color though.

The Diablo’s for me sound just as big and just as powerful if not more so. They have quite a bit more detail on tap but remain smooth and realistic. The midrange of the Diablo is leaner but cleaner. With a single Rel S/510 the Diablos just kick into high gear and go beyond what I am used to. The sub is great with the Devilles as well but the Diablos just mesh so well with the REL they are seamless 100%.

UPDATE: I now have TWO REL Subs in and this made such a gorgeous improvement to the depth, solidity and lower mids of the Diablos. A true HOLY WOW moment. 

The Diablos bring me more goosebumps and also have some body and warmth with the right setup of amp, DAC and cables. (Again, the Aavik U-150 is a GREAT match).

Even so, $24k is a lot of coin for bookshelf speakers.. What about the equally as beautiful Sopra No1?

If I were buying and funds were sketchy I would probably buy the Sopra 1 for half the price even though that yes, the Diablo will offer everything the Sopra does and even more. The Sopra 1 is a flat out gorgeous speaker with a similar sound character but with slightly more bass. They are ever so slightly less refined and the treble may not be as smooth and extended but it is close.

The Sopra No 1’s are gorgeous but they do not beat the Diablo for all out muscularity, tightness, dynamics and wow factor. The Diablo are indeed in the Utopia line for a reason. They have been around for over a decade for a reason. They cost what they do for a reason.

The treble in the Diablo doesn’t even have a hint of grain within my room and that was my biggest fear when I was placing them in.

For those with the money and those who want that UTOPIA sound, the Diablos do deliver magic but be warned! Pair these with the wrong amp or DAC and you may hear an analytical presentation. When I placed a budget EMOTIVA integrated amp along with a Bluesound node to these they sounded flat, lean and well, hard to listen to. It’s not that the Emotiva is a bad amp but rather it is not a good match for these speakers nor is a lower end DAC as they can sound hard at times.

The Diablo will reward you greatly when driven with the right kind of amp and setup perfectly in a nice space. They do very well with Pass Labs gear and even the $2k the Billie MKII (especially if using a smooth sounding outboard DAC). They truly excel with the Aavik U-150 which is a high end Class D powerhouse that changed my opinion of Class D and what it could do. The good thing is this amp has been out for years, and can be found used at much better pricing than new.

I ended up buying the U-150 for my Integrated amp as for my ears it easily bested the best Integrated amps I have heard from big brands. This is a special piece and it proves this in the design, build and most important…sound. I almost bought the MICHI X3 but didn’t. I almost bought the Naim SN3 but didnt in the end. I almost was tempted by the HiFi Rose RA180 but held out. The Pass Labs INT-250 is stunning but 100lbs, runs hot and I am getting older and weaker. With the Aavik I can truly scale down, save some money and enjoy my system as much or more than before. The DAC inside the Aavik doesn’t beat the T+A DAC 200 or DCS Lina (for my tastes) but it sounds damn good and damn good enough to allow me to hear and feel the emotion in the music.

I do not feel the EVOs would sound great with amps that are described as “fast” IMO as this will bring out that analytical nature that some do indeed  hear with Focal speakers. Some say tubes work well with these and others say they do not.

I placed a 30WPC tube amp in and they did well but they were not as “alive” as they were with the other options and I even noticed a harder sound. These speakers are not a hard drive at 8 ohms and 89DB efficient.

WHO ARE THESE FOR?

These are for the person who has a healthy budget for speakers. For those who want bookshelf speakers without compromise. For those who want the best treble performance you can just about get in a speaker for less than $50k. For those who value tight detailed bass where every pluck of bass can be heard with ease. No boom, no mush, no coloration. For someone who wants world class in a small room.

These are for audio perfectionists. For those who want to build a system in a small to medium to large room that will bring magic, holographic imaging and realism to said system. They are some of the best speakers I have ever heard in my lifetime but for me they do not really sound complete with all music until a quality sub (or two) is placed with them and set up just right. The Fleetwood Devilles sound as large, are lager and are works of USA handmade art but once I heard the Diablos with the REL Sub and Aavik amp there was no taking them out. Sometimes I have a chance to upgrade when something comes along that bests what I own. If I can swap without loss, I go for it. I am able to do this because I can hear so many pieces of wonderful audio gear (because I review it).

Are the Diablo musical?

Yes, they can be very musical (U-150 makes music pour from them with a liquid flow).

It did take me two weeks to set them up properly until I was getting the most from them, so setup and placement is KEY! Experiment with toe in, distance, and spacing and when you find the right spot you will know it.

PURE is a great word to describe these Focal Diablo EVO speakers. They give you what is on the recording. Nothing more, nothing less. They do this in a unique way where your brain says “wow, this is so revealing” but at the same time you are also feeling the magic and musical nature of these speakers.

Within my setup these can actually sound full and warm with almost all music yet the detail and air is astonishing.

The Diablo also do not butcher bad recordings. I am happily listening to some albums (on vinyl and streaming) that I used to not listen to much due to sub par sound quality. They sound darn good on the Diablos. Playing vinyl on the Pure Fidelity Harmony turntable and Stratos MC cart (in for review) is heavenly with the Diablo.

I do highly recommend a subwoofer with these, a quality one that can keep up with them. Dual subs are even better and allow for much easier blending and integration.

CONCLUSION

These speakers demand proper system matching. Do not throw an AVR or cheap-o integrated on these and expect to hear what these can do. I also would not use a lean sounding amp with the Diablos as they can indeed sound lean with the wrong power behind them. I also would consider the room they are going in. They like space from walls and mine are pulled out 3 feet from the back wall, two from the sides and about 8 feet apart. I sit 8 feet from them with a toe in as Focal suggests. I toe them in slightly and not fully towards my ears as this widens the soundstage and ensures there is no hardness.

I have never heard a better tweeter than the one here in the Diablo. Focal are famous for their beryllium tweeters. I have never heard a midrange quite like this either. It’s smooth and real and it becomes addicting the more you hear it though I admit I may love the midrange more from the Fleetwood Deville’s (but those have a soul) : )

The bass is nice though not explosive or super prevalent. It’s tight, muscular and fast as I have heard. Slop, chuffing and overload is something these will never do when it comes to bass. With the REL sub I use these sound more like the $150k Utopias and that is no joke.

These are some of the most impressive speakers I have heard though I find the price to be on the high side. I’m sorry, it just is. When I place in my Buchardt S400 II SE I also love the sound I hear in this system. They sound smaller, not as dense, not as solid, crystal clear or locked in but damn… those little speakers are musical as can be. They are not to the level of the Diablo but at $2800 vs $24,000 the Diablo is a tough sell for most folks who do not look for all of what these Diablos can do.

I will say that the Focal Diablo Utopia Color EVO are among the best speakers I have heard in my life. 

The Deville SQ’s have a little bit more soul than the Diablo, end of story. The SQ’s are $20k but are larger yet lighter. Those Devilles have a lot of magic within their wooden bones.

The Diablos are more what you think a high end speaker would sound and look like. Crystaline airy highs, smooth realistic mids and tuneful tight as all get out bass. No coloration or extra beauty added. The Devilles have more warmth in the mids which brings a more romantic sound. The treble is softer and not as prevalent and the bass is looser (but it is not loose). This brings a sound that touches the heart more and what you like may be just that.

These Diablo EVO speakers are the real deal, for those serious about their music. They do not come cheap and will blow you away when you add a quality musical sub that can keep up with them. Absolutely world class but they will take patience for a perfect set up. Once that happens it will be hard to stop listening. Debby calls these Diablos “Angelic”..,”Like Music from the Gods” but doesn’t Diablo mean “The Devil” in Spanish? Hmmmm.

The Devil made me do it, LOL.

It took me weeks to dial them in just right but now that I have them setup as good as they can be in my space. I have found that I now enjoy this presentation as it brings me more detail, air, decay, spatial qualities and richness but without the analytical nature some associate with Focal.

These are world class bookshelf speakers but they may not be for everyone. Yes, this is the first speaker that I liked more than my Deville SQ’s that I swore I would never sell. Yes, these have indeed replaced my Deville as of March 2023 and I will live with these for a long while until I find something else I enjoy more.

It’s interesting but I feel that the Diablo’s may have made me appreciate a more detailed and airy sound. They just do it so well and without that hardness and brightness that can sometimes creep in when speakers try to go this route.

Of all of the gear I have here for amplification and DAC the EVO sounded best for me with the Aavik U-150 Integrated amp. The built in DAC and Phono stage blew my mind at how good they were. The DAC is a touch warm and brings density and muscle to the EVOs more so than the Pass Labs and Heaven 11 options. While those sound lovely with the Diablo EVO, the Aavik is a match made in heaven.

As for a DAC, I have The DCS Lina and T+A DAC 200 here and have to say the little DAC 200 bested my DCS here as well for decay, spatial qualities and bloom, which also surprised me. I will have more on that soon in my DAC 200 review. : )

 

This set of Focal Diablo EVO’s came from Next Level HiFi in Wayne, IL  

 

 

 

 

12 Comments

  1. Hello Steve,

    quite a surprising choice, as the Focals sound entirely different from the Fleetwood Devilles.

    As anything else in the world of highend audio this is a matter of personal opinion, but I do believe that nobody can beat the laws of physics. The Focal Diablos are bookshelf speakers, so compared to floorstanders, their ability to create a three-dimensional soundstage and instrument separation must be somewhat limited.

    I had them under consideration as well at some point, but in my room and for my ears, the Diablos were easily beaten by my Ayon Black Heron floorstanders that sell in a similar price range. I‘ve had the Ayons for a few years now and I still haven‘t heard anything I like better, regardless of price. Looks like these are going to be my personal endgame speakers. That said, it‘ll be interesting to see how long the Focals will last with you… 😉

    Cheers,

    Helmut

    • They really do not sound that much different when set up with really good front end gear. The biggest difference is the highs of the Focal are airier, gentler, and have more information. The bass is close and the mids of the Focal are smoother but a touch recessed vs the Deville which is fuller in the mids. Build quality is superior with the Focal without question. With that said the sound in my room is more similar than different as I power the Focal so they sound more to my liking. In my room they are warm, full, holographic and have plenty of body and zero fatigue or brightness. Much like the Deville. The Focal are bookshelf, the Devilles are 3X larger than most bookshelf speakers and I would not classify them as that at all. I have heard the Ayon speakers and many of their amps. For me, there are many speakers that sound phenomenal, more so than those that sound bad or off putting. In my system it is the source and DAC that make the most changes and I feel the DAC is the heart of my system, then the amp, then the speakers. I can interchange a number of speakers from $2400 to $25,000 and have sound I love and can enjoy. Can’t say the same for DACs and Amps. A subpar DAV can kill the sound of a high end system, same with the amp (synergy). With audio, all that matters really is that one is happy with the sound they get. Right now I have a set of Alexandria Audio Monitors in that cost $6500 and they are very close to the Focal sound but with a better mid-range, less smooth treble and better bass. No sub needed (they really are with the Focal). They are gorgeous and I could live with them until death. Same with many others. I move on and try new things because its what I do, I review audio gear. Nothing stays the same for more than a year around here really, unless I just can not live without it. Right now I have only one piece that will never leave, regardless of what changes. That is my Puritan 156. Speakers, amps, dacs, cables come and go and when I get something in that bests what I had before it, and I can grab it with no loss I do it. I am lucky that way, as I get to hear a ton of gear in my own space each and every week. Anyway, that was a rambling answer…lol. Bottom line, when using top tier power and dac that synergies well most speakers will sound fantastic.

  2. Hello Steve, great channel, I can share my experiences with Diablo’s having had them since 2010. I’ve always loved their clarity and transparency and enjoyed them previously with a Resolution Audio Cantata/C50 combo, but more recently a Linn Selekt/Karma/power amp module combo that was a temporary solution until I could carry on upgrading, starting with the amp. I’d heard great things of Gryphon and auditioned both 120 and 300 models in store, but not with the Diablos, but having bought a used 300 I was shocked to find it sounds absolutely dire… harsh presence band and unlistenable high female vocals. I borrowed current spec Colour Evo’s and they were exactly the same. Substitution with a PrimaLuna 300 Floyd and audio bliss ensued… so it’s essential, as you say to get the right amplification.

    • Really interesting and in-depth review.

      I have owned Utopia Diablos for about 9 years now and to start with they were horrible. So why did I buy them? Well, the mid range was stunning and only matched by Quad ESLs. Secondly, they were said to need massive burn in time and it wasn’t until they had had this that they started to sound better. Strongly though, it wasn’t until I took them to distortion (amp is an Accuphase E450), that the bass suddenly freed up and started to work. After all this time with them, I can’t think that anything could replace them. Maybe the Quads would be the closest, but I just don’t have the space for them.

      Curious thing about the Diablos though is that they suddenly have a sweet spot. Let me expand on that. As you turn them up, suddenly they will sound ‘right’. They always sound great, but at a certain volume they will suddenly sound perfect. Pump more power into them and they lose it. Still sound wonderful, but not in the same way. If you have a pair that are burnt in, you will know exactly what I mean.

      I also record music and the Focal’s are great for enjoying my own recordings. And they show me where I went wrong! Please check out my own recording of a local jazz band at the following address : https://soundcloud.com/gsjag/sets/steam-city-jazz-band-live-at-the-rbl-west-hill-devon

      Recorded with 2 x AKG 414 XLS and a Nagra LB. I hope that if you connect you enjoy the music and the recording.

  3. I own the EVO and these stopped the upgrade train for me. I read with enjoyment because I use an Aavik integrated as well (U-300). Mine will be with me for life. Great review.

  4. Hi Steve
    Very thorough as usual. I have never used a sub myself, but have heard them well set-up and badly set-up. The latter is ruinous, and the former remarkably effective yet discreet. Your article about the room being the most consequential part of the HiFi chain is right, and of course only the speaker interacts directly with the room…$25k is hefty, as you say, but it is good to hear that up in this rarefied price-point performance is such that value is achievable.

  5. Nice! I’m waiting for an email from my local dealer to audition them alongside Sopra 1 & 2 with Boulder 866 that I have.

    I’ve listened to them a lot (the previous version) but on T+A equipment at my friend’s studio (he used to be my customer when I was in HiFi trade in the late 90s and early 2000s). Sopra 1 are special, more forgiving in comparison with Diablo – previous version – and might be a bit warmer so it depends on the amp one might want to use. Another friend just got his Sopra 1 but they need good 300 hours before they start to play (also former colleague and now works in the same studio).

    I’d love to own Utopia Scala but that’s way out of my budget. I really like them and how they sound. Something tells me that I’ll end up with Sopra 1 and maybe a pair of SVS woofers unless the double price for Diablo is really worth it.

    • Very simple, buy a used pair of Diablos. They do come up now and then. I’ve had both the Sopra 1s and the 2s and I can tell you properly set up, they are simply amazing paired with 2 quality subs like the REL or JL Audio. I’ve since moved on to a pair of Wilson Audio speakers, but in some cases, the Sopras beat the Wilson’s. Especially the tweeter!

      • Thank you, Diablos here in the UK hardly ever come up for sale, only the old ones. There are few Scalas but again the old versions there were fairly quickly replaced by Focal. I ended up buying Sopra 1 + stands and am waiting for IsoAcoustics GAIA feet now. So far it sounds great with supplied spikes but I know that GAIAs will improve the sound even further. Am missing a bit at the bottom frequencies (my old speakers are Davone Ray and they’re rated at 38Hz at -3dB) but will wait for GAIAs before investigating subwoofer options – will be probably the same REL Steve uses unless I could get away with SVS 1000 Pro – I need high level input as my amp doesn’t have pre-out or sub-out connections). I can imagine my partner won’t be very happy with another box or two in the living room 🙂 Cat would love it though, another place to sit on.

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