Focal Little Bird PAK 2.1 system: two Little Bird speakers and Power Bird amplifier & woofer ($999). enlarge amp. enlarge speaker. This free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially this link to them at Amazon, when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Thanks! Ken.
Rear, Focal Power Bird amplifier & woofer. enlarge.
Bottom, Focal Power Bird woofer. enlarge.
Included: Two speakers, stands speaker wire, one combined woofer and amplifier module, remote control, wireless transmitter for iPod/iPad/iPhone.
Inputs: Three analog inputs (two RCA pairs and one 3.5mm jack), one TOSLINK or RCA digital input and one wireless input dedicated to the included 30-pin Apple iPod/iPad/iPhone transmitter.
Outputs: One mono 6½" self-powered woofer on bottom, two sets of terminals for speakers.
Power: 100-240V, 50-60 Hz.
Notable: All-in one system with no visible subwoofer. Unusually smooth sound without the boom and tizz of Bose and similar systems. Wireless transmitter for Apple iPod/iPad/iPhone included. Auto power on and off. For an open-class desktop system, use just the two Birds (also sold separately) with a stereo pair of subwoofers and your own active crossover and power amplifier; the Birds sound great on a desk.
Missing: No analog line outputs. No radio: no AM, FM, SW or LW.
The Focal Bird PAK 2.1 system is much better than most small integrated satellite & subwoofer systems. The sound is much smoother than expected, missing the usual midrange peaks and bass boom added to other systems to make them sell faster at the long-gone "retail" stores of old. Likewise, the woofer sounds unusually smooth, deep and tight, and isn't just a 50 Hz boom-box.
This little setup works great for music, or put it around your TV to enjoy movies.
There are many ways to order it. The components are sold separately, and most folks by them as complete three-piece systems. The speakers are sold by themselves, but the Power Bird woofer/amplifier is sold only with pairs of speakers.
On a desk, they sound fantastic, somehow mitigating the usually bad effects of short-term reflections from the desktop. Because of this, they sound good even much further away from your ears then most speakers, like the B&W 2-way 6.5" monitors I usually use. On a desktop, the Birds sound marvelous and smooth for unlimited hours of enjoyment with very little visual clutter.
The Little Bird, as shown and reviewed here, has a 4" woofer and 3/4" aluminum tweeter, rated 89-25,000 Hz ±3 dB with 87 dB sensitivity at 1 watt into 8 Ω. They come with little stands and very flexible ball-and-socket couplings to allow sitting on a desk or screwed to a wall.
Used on my desktop, without the Power Bird, they are much smaller than my reference 6½" two-way B&W monitors, and free up a lot of space. While I crossover to the B&Ws at 40 Hz to reduce my room's influence on the bass response, I have to cross these over at 80 Hz to my two 12" M&K subwoofers since they don't make it to 40 Hz.
At just $300 the pair by themselves, I just might replace my B&Ws with them, continuing to use my existing 12" stereo subwoofers sitting in my corners, which work somewhat better than the little Power Bird sitting on my desk. I demand bass down to 16-20 Hz; I can't miss music's first critical 16-32 Hz octave, but that's just me.
The Little Birds are sold individually if you want a 3, 5 or however-many channel desktop system.
The larger Bird has a 5½" woofer and aluminum dome tweeter, rated 70-25,000 Hz ±3 dB with 89 dB sensitivity at 1 watt into 8 Ω. They also come with little stands and very flexible ball-and-socket couplings to allow sitting on a desk or be screwed to a wall.
The largest Super Bird has a 5½" woofer, 5½" passive radiator and aluminum dome tweeter, rated 55-25,000 Hz ±3 dB with 90 dB sensitivity at 1 watt into 8 Ω. They are intended solely for wall-mounting, and come with what you need for that, but no table stands. Floor stands are optional.
Power Bird (amplifier and woofer)
There is just one Power Bird, which is the controls, amplifiers, and woofer in the same box.
The Power Bird is brilliantly 17" (430mm) wide, the same as most hi-fi and video equipment, so it stacks right on top of your DVR or other equipment, and saves you from having to talk your wife into letting you put even one subwoofer in her nice, clean living room.
Yes, it has a big magnet, and I put it on top of our cable-company DVR, and it didn't erase the hard drive. Our DVRs are provided by the cable company and break all the time on their own, so if it craps out, it's not my problem.
Electronics have gotten so small and efficient the entire control amplifier and three power amplifiers fit in what looks like any other amplifier, but in fact most of it is empty cabinet volume for the bottom-firing woofer. The big grille on the left is the port for the woofer.
The Power Bird houses a 6½" paper woofer and its 80 W amplifier, rated 42 - 120 Hz ±3 dB.
The Power Bird also houses two 35 W amplifiers for the satellite speakers, as well as the input selector and volume control. It has nice, beefy high quality speaker connectors.
The power switch is completely automatic. The system draws 12 watts when running, and 13 watts when played loudly, which is very efficient. It draws only 8.2 watts if you're using headphones, which turn off the amplifiers. It draws 1.25 watts when it's turned itself off. If you want to force it hard OFF, give it a reach around and flip the rear switch.
The Power Bird is very clever: you can use it flat as shown here like a regular hi-fi amplifier, or stick it on the wall with the control panel facing up. If you do, it comes included with a sticker to flip-over the button and LED markings. The Power Bird also has feet on its back to make it easy to stand it up on end against a wall.
When pairs of speakers are sold with the Power Bird, the systems are called PAK 2.1. They include two speakers, wire, stands with the Bird and Little Bird, the amp/woofer, a remote control and a wireless gizmo that pops into the bottom of an iPad, iPod or iPhone to beam audio into the Bird system.
The system reviewed here with the Little Bird speakers is called the Focal Little Bird PAK 2.1, selling for $999 in 2012.
The system with the larger Bird speakers is called the Focal Bird PAK 2.1, selling for $1,199 in 2012.
The system with the largest Super Bird speakers is called the Focal Super Bird PAK 2.1.
Focal is one of the world's best speaker makers, making professional studio and audiophile speakers that sell for as much as six-figures each, and proudly makes them in France.
Unlike most "brands" of exotic speakers who don't actually make speakers at all and just glue other people's speakers into cabinets with their name on it, Focal is actually one of the worlds very few real speaker makers, making all their own drivers from scratch in France.
This inexpensive system is entirely made in China. Tough, if you want to spend more, Focal will gladly sell you different made-in-France speakers for prices up to and beyond what most people earn in a year, per speaker.
Little Bird System
The Focal Bird system (two Little Bird speakers and the Power Bird amplifier & woofer) is as sensitive to placement as any other fine loudspeaker. Your wife may think you can just slap it up and go, but sound quality will vary wildly depending on placement. As with any good speaker, placement of the satellite speakers is critical to sound and imaging, and placement of the Power Bird is critical to getting great bass.
The Bird's claim to fame is that its sound is smooth and neutral, not jacked-up as speakers used to be back when people shopped for them at the old "retail" stores. Today we all buy our equipment online since we always can return it if we don't like it, and this system therefore is designed to sound great when set up and listened to for long periods of time. It's designed to impress long-term at home, not cranked like Bose to impress to make a quick sale in the old-fashioned "retail" stores of olde.
This smooth sound means that there is no midrange emphasis as many speakers have. There's no midrange boost like Bose, which is done to emphasize voices and clarity for fast sale, but gets old fast at home. Likewise, there is no presence (upper midrange) boost, which means that voices and strings sound smooth, warm, detailed and wonderful, and not raspy and harsh after the initial "wow" subsides.
The Focal Bird sounds better the longer you listen to it. Like the "hard, uncomfortable" seats of a $130,000 Mercedes, they are designed to be appreciated by the discerning repeat customer on long interstate drives, not to be comfy for a fast spin around the block with a fast-talking salesman.
The Bird system's timbre reminds me of the astounding Sony RDP-X500iP iPod dock I just reviewed: exceptionally smooth, with actual depth to the orchestra rarely heard on small systems. Likewise, the bass was completely unexpected from these little boxes.
Transient response is excellent, which is exceptional because the Birds aren't boosting the upper midrange as many similar speakers do.
There is a tiny bit of amplifier idle noise you'll hear closer than about a foot to the speakers. With no signal and the volume all the way up, I can hear it a few feet away - but this is under silent conditions not typical in a home or office.
Focal's substantial engineering ability very cleverly integrates the relatively flimsy cabinets' (compared to their $100,000 speakers) leakage as part of the overall sound of the speakers. Instead of box leakage degrading the sound, it sounds as if it's been considered and cleverly designed-in as part of the system.
Bass (Power Bird)
In my case, sitting the Power Bird on top of our cable box DVR below our TV gave astoundingly deep and loud bass loud enough to drive my wife up a wall in another part of the house telling me to turn it down, and this was with the bass control set to the middle.
Used on my desk right in front of my face, it had less deep bass output.
As with all woofers, room placement makes far more of a difference in bass performance than what kind of woofer you buy. Careful experimentation always pays off. Every time I get a new place to set-up, it usually takes me months to find the sweet spots for everything; our ears are far smarter than most people realize when it comes to speaker placement.
I was especially impressed at the flatness and depth of the bass compared to most boomy woofers, like Bose's. If Focal can get this out of a box this small, I'm really curious what they can get out of a proper-sized subwoofer.
The bass hole is on the wrong side; basses stand on the right.
As expected because it all comes from one manufacturer, the main to woofer crossover is smooth and integrated. There are no bumps or suckouts as one usually gets when trying to add subwoofers to existing systems.
Bass response is very smooth.
On my desk, bass was smooth and solid down to 42 Hz.
In my other TV room, bass was astounding, with a peak 68 and then 36 (!) Hz. Most small woofers are lucky to get to 50 Hz, and then just boom away at one frequency.
The Bird's bass is exceptional because it covers an entire range of bass, not just one resonant note.
Used on a desk and played too loud, it will blow air a few feet in front!
Ergonomics (Power Bird)
The volume control is excellent: it's a big easy knob to grab and turn, and the channels track and respond perfectly over a huge control range. There's no need for a mute button; just spin the knob. Bravo!
The headphone jack is a puny, mushy 3.5mm jack, and it doesn't have much output, only about as much as an iPod.
The white front-panel LEDs are too bright. The LEDs ought to be amber, and maybe even color-coded for each input.
I wish each input had its own button; it's a pain to have to push one button repeatedly to select an input.
I gave up on the dedicated remote audio transmitter. All I got was a blinking light on the easily lost made-in-Korea transmitter and a demand to install an App that I never could find on my iPod. No worries, I don't believe in goofy little external transmitters, and this one is analog anyway. I use an Apple AirPort Express and connect it to the Bird's TOSLINK digital input for perfect digital transmission without having anything hanging off the bottom of my iPod.
Power (Power Bird)
The power switch is fully automatic.
When music is playing, it turns on, and when not, it turns off.
It's so smart that if you're using the digital input (I feed the TOSLINK input from my Mac on my desktop), it knows if the audio is silent even if the TOSLINK LED is still lit!
If you're not playing sound out of your Mac, the Power Bird will go to sleep and wake up next time you actually play something. The Bird doesn't wake until something starts to play, even if your Mac wakes up.
This is an inexpensive set, made in China.
The "glossy black finish" is simply black plastic.
The included speaker wire is officially marked "Focal.com BIRD CABLE" zip cord. You can tell the polarity by feel, and they are the perfect length for most installations. Oddly they are stripped, but not tinned on each end, so you audiophiles can use the solder of your choice.
Little Bird speakers (no Power Bird)
Little Bird speakers used alone
I'm a bass player, and these little sealed speakers poop out at 90 Hz as rated, so I wouldn't use them alone. The bottom two or three octaves are the most important, and not present with little speakers like this.
Little Bird speakers used with larger subwoofers
Used in my office system bi-amplified with a ADCOM GFA-535 II with an active crossover at 80 Hz to two Miller & Kreisel 12" subwoofers, these sound much better than most other good to great desktop speakers I've tried.
The Focal Little Bird are neutral and without any midrange emphasis, presence or treble boost. They sound smooth and natural, and more pleasant than the reference B&W Matrix 805 because these Focal Little Birds have much less distortion.
The B&W Matrix 805 have a much tighter central image than these Little Birds or almost any other small speaker, but at arm's length, the Matrix 805's have enough midrange THD even at low levels to drive me up a wall after a while, while these Little Birds are still singing smoothly.
I much prefer the sound of these Little Birds to the B&W Matrix 805 on my desktop, and they take up so much less room!
Watch the bottom unpacking and placing: there is no grille over the woofer so it's difficult not to stick your finger through it.
There is no software and no firmware: just plug and play.
Use only one digital input, RCA or TOSLINK, at a time.
The only gotcha is to be sure the rear red DIP switch is set for your speakers (Little, Bird or Super.) It should be set properly as shipped, but someone had reset the demo unit I borrowed to the wrong setting. No big deal, but it is how the Power Bird's crossover sets its crossover for perfect integration with the speakers in use.
The Focal Bird PAK 2.1 system is a smooth-sounding little all-in-one system; with an invisible subwoofer. It sounds much smoother than Bose systems, and is much better suited to good and classical music. While most Bose systems are designed designed to close sales fast, the Focal Bird system is designed to impress serious music lovers long-term instead.
The smallest Little Bird system reviewed here went loud enough to get me in trouble with Mrs. Rockwell who was in a completely different part of the house — and Ryan and I were simply enjoying Fantasia's Rhapsody in Blue section.
The only advantages to the larger Bird and Super Bird systems is a small rise in sensitivity which will let them play slightly louder, and the ability to raise the woofer crossover point so that the stereo image doesn't fall into mono until a lower frequency. Personally, I always run stereo subwoofers.
If you've found the time and expense I invested in auditioning the Bird and shipping it all over the country helpful, this free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially this link to them at Amazon, when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Thanks! Ken.
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