Focal-JMlab Electra 905 Bookshelf speakers
Although relatively new to the UK, JMLab is one of France's leading hi-fi brands. The company built its early reputation as the manufacturer of the highly regarded Focal drivers, and this technology now forms the basis of an enormous line up of complete loudspeakers, organized into some five separate ranges.
The Electras sit one level below the top-of-the-line Utopias, and can therefore be expected to supply something pretty close to the ultimate in performance, at rather less than the ultimate price. This 905 is the baby stand-mount in the Electra range, and at £1,200 is still pretty expensive for a speaker of its size - but then the Mini Utopia costs an extravagant £4,500!
More relevantly, perhaps, the 905 is closely related to the £1,795 Electra 915. Indeed, the 905 is essentially the middle and top sections of the three-way 915, leaving out the bass driver/enclosure elements and using the 915's twin midrange drivers to cover the bass as well as the midband.
Judging by the state of the carton, as well as a fracture on one of the grille frames, our well-travelled samples didn't need any running in! The first surprise was in lugging said carton, as these stand-mounts are packed in pairs, and at 14kg each they're as heavy as some of the floorstanders.
These speakers are no simple box. The side panels are chunky hardwood slabs, with some postforming to soften the edges, while the other four sides are plain black finished, as is the grille, so the net result is sober but classy.
In fact the sides are slightly tapered, slimmer at the top than the base, while the front baffle is a complex affair, arranged so that the lower main driver is tilted slightly backwards. The upper main driver is then mounted on a small sub-baffle which protrudes a couple of centimetres and tilts it downwards a few degrees. This means that the three drivers are not only in a vertical line geometrically, but their diaphragms are also equidistant from the listener. This is, in short, a d'Appolito with added time alignment.
The drivers are very similar to those used in the Utopias. The cone units use the same 'W-sandwich' cones, with a layer of structural foam between woven glassfibre skins, while the tweeter has an inverted, oxide-coated titanium dome.
Both main drivers have cast frames and 90mm cones, while a slot-shaped port provides further low end reinforcement. Connections are made via two pairs of terminals, and the room measurements point firmly towards free space siting.
Well-liked by the listening panel for its refinement and delicacy, the 905 shows a lovely freedom from 'boxiness'. The bass is tight and well controlled, driving on with a measure of power and authority rare in a stand-mount, if a little constrained in air and freedom, and inevitably lacking in bottom octave weight. And if the treble is slightly obvious, it's also notably sweet and clean.
The midband may not be the last word in dynamic expression, and voices do sound slightly 'pinched' but the sound is both smooth and detailed, and the actual dynamic range is very wide, thanks presumably to the negligible box signature.
Under our conditions, this little 905 proved rather more successful than its bigger 915 brother. What it may lack in sheer weight and power handling, it more than makes up for in coherence, subtlety and agility. Amongst top quality stand-mounts, it has few peers.