Product name: CD Focal Tools (.wav files)
Manufacturer: FOCAL-JMLAB - France
Cost: free download at the Focal Tools page
Reviewer: Lucio Cadeddu - TNT Italy
Reviewed: December, 2021
There are many test CDs in the market, and even YouTube videos with a collection of nicely recorded music. Nevertheless, this “gift” from the guys at Focal/JM Lab is particularly welcomed, and for several reasons.
First of all, it is free to download! You can choose to download the .wav files, as a single .zip archive, or individually, and store them on your hard disk (and play from there), or decide to build/burn a blank CD-R. If this is not enough, Focal gives you both the CD cover and the CD sticker to print (in .pdf format), so you can build a nice looking CD-R.
The recording has been done by Frédéric Finand of Oreilles Délicates (Delicate Ears), a recording/mastering studio located in Sonnay, Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes, France. He has also created AudioGram Pro, an app for testing your hearing via smartphone. Finally, he teaches mixing techniques and Master Pro Musical application to visual arts at the Lyon 2 University.
As usual, test CDs contain both signals and music tracks. Here, the tracks seem meant to test subwoofers, but actually they are fine for general purpose performance testing (dynamics, 3D imaging, realism). Here's a list of what the free offering from Focal contains:
The technical tracks, especially with the aid of a sound level meter, help detecting faults in your HiFi system/listening room. Thanks to the 31 different sine-wave frequencies available, you can find exactly which frequency might need a boost or not. Besides the ubiquitous L/R channel test, I've found particularly useful the polarity checker test, and the interference test: thanks to the perfect digital silence you can detect whether there are interferences in your system, or measure the noise floor accurately.
The tracks that contain music/noise are interesting, as well.
The single cylinder motorcycle is a brutal test for bass frequencies depth and control, and a good realism test as well. It should sound as a nasty motorcycle is comimg into your listening room!
The surdo track is devoted to the surdo drum. Please refer to this YouTube video for some surdo playing techniques. It is important to know the size of the drum to understand how it should sound on our system. The surdo is a large bass drum used in many kinds of Brazilian music, such as samba, where it plays the lower parts from a percussion section. Surdo sizes normally vary between 40 cm (16 in) and 65 cm (26 in) diameter, with some as large as 73 cm (29 in). This means the surdo can play very low bass notes, especially when played open.
The walking cello track contains 36 seconds of a cello played with fingers. You should be able to hear the lowest notes, as well as the crisp and highly dynamic sound of the fingers hitting the strings, and the strings hitting the fingerboard. The 3D image of the instrument should appear between the loudspeakers in a very realistic way.
The muffled track contains the lowest vibrations of a very large drum, recorded at distance. You'll be able to detect the lowest frequencies only if your system has a well extended bass response. Otherwise you'll just see the woofers dance.
The four short tracks are excellently recorded! If Focal/JM Lab engineers use these tracks for testing their designs, I'm sure you can conveniently use these as well :-)
Warning!: these tracks contain extremely low and powerful bass frequencies, be careful with that volume knob, especially if you are using small loudspeakers! Your woofers will bottom out quite easily. Play at a very moderate level first, then turn the volume up gently.
There are many test CDs out there, but this Focal collection of .wav files is free and extremely well done. It contains 4 excellent music/noise tracks that can be useful for testing the realism of your HiFi system, plus a huge amount of test signals that, with the aid of a sound level meter, can be extremely useful for fine-tuning your stereo system. Another must-have!
© Copyright 2021 Lucio Cadeddu - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.tnt-audio.com