Focal JMLab is a French company specializing in the manufacture of high-end loudspeakers. Founded in 1979 by Jacques Mahul, a technical journalist and engineer at Audax, the company manufactures home audio speakers, car speakers, headphones and professional monitors. The company, which celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2019, is one of the last independent French companies in this sector. Now a world leader thanks to its technology and constant innovation, Focal JMLab also relies on Made in France, producing most of its products at its factory in La Talaudière, near Saint-Etienne. In this article, we take a look at the history of this French brand, its evolution over almost half a century, and its international influence in terms of French know-how.
The birth of Focal JMLab
Originally, Focal JMLab was simply a design office dedicated to acoustics. Created in late 1979 in Paris by Jacques Mahul, it enabled him to design his first loudspeakers under the “Focal” brand and launch his own range of loudspeakers under the “JMLab” name. Some time later, Jacques Mahul entrusted the manufacture of his loudspeakers to a small workshop in Saint-Etienne, within a precision engineering company owned by his father. JMLab’s success began in 1982 with the design of the DB 13, a bookshelf loudspeaker whose particularity was to offer a sound volume close to that of larger models, especially in the low register. Initially distributed to his entourage, the DB-13 loudspeaker was soon on sale throughout France. In 1989, Jacques Mahul, who also had a passion for classic cars, wanted to take motorists on a musical journey. Focal then launched its first in-car speaker and amplifier kits. A department called “Car Audio” quickly established itself as a global benchmark for in-car hi-fi.
The history of this Saint-Etienne-based company accelerated in the 1990s with the arrival of Gérard Chrétien, an acoustic engineer and journalist with the magazine “L’Audiophile”. This period also marks the start of Focal JMLab’s international development. The brand’s strategy is to manufacture top-of-the-range products. The company, which has become a leader in the French market, is also looking to expand internationally, building on its core values of research and development, in which it invests heavily. The SME is starting to market its products not only in Europe, but also in Asia and North America. The brand’s many patents and awards have boosted its worldwide reputation. In 1995, Focal JMLab achieved international recognition with the launch of its Utopia range of floor-standing loudspeakers. Acclaimed by the international press and awarded numerous prizes, Utopia has become a benchmark in the world of acoustics.
Focal JMLab in the 2000s
In 2002, almost all production was carried out in Saint-Etienne, enabling the French brand to successfully solve the equation of designing, developing and manufacturing its products on a single site. The same year also saw the creation of a monitoring department for recording studios. The JMLab name disappears and the Focal name is retained for all the brand’s products. But the Saint-Etienne-based company wants to go even further: a partnership with the Parisian design agency Pineau et Le Porcher enables the brand to combine sound quality and aesthetics, transforming its loudspeakers into “art de vivre” objects. The Chorus, Electra, Dôme and Utopia ranges are renewed and redesigned by the Paris-based designer. In 2007, Focal JMLab acquired Guy HF, a cabinetmaker based in Bourbon-Lancy, Burgundy. In the meantime, the “Car Audio” department is expanding rapidly, winning prestigious awards from the specialist press.
Focal & Naim, between passion and complementarity
In 2011, the French company merged with Naim Audio, a British company founded in 1973 that manufactures high-end amplifiers and CD players. Although subsidiaries, the two entities remain independent with their respective product ranges. In 2013, however, the two companies began to forge closer ties and even opted for a joint stand at Munich’s High-End trade show, while also adopting a new visual entity. In 2014, Vervent Audio groupe was created, and its sales will exceed 100 million euros by 2021! In 2014, like Armor-Lux in 2010, Focal was awarded the “Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant” (Living Heritage Company) label, under the authority of the French Ministry of the Economy, Finance and Industry. In 2015, Guy HF became Focal Ébénisterie Bourgogne. In 2022, Focal & Naim will have almost 10,000 international dealers, and will continue to set up their “Focal powered by Naim” boutique concept all over the world, including one in Lyon. Their complementary products make it possible to offer very high-end systems to audiophile customers.
Focal JMLab, a company made in France
For over 40 years, the company has been deploying its expertise in acoustic solutions at its Saint-Etienne plant. Now a world leader in technology and innovation, our products are developed by our engineers in France. Cabinet-making is carried out at the Bourbon-Lancy plant, which manufactures the cabinets for the Sopra and Utopia high-end hi-fi and professional loudspeakers. This French know-how, coupled with the quality of the materials used, contributes to the acoustic performance of Focal products. Innovation, tradition and industrialization resonate here with Made in France to offer the best acoustic solutions to music lovers. Every day, 260 employees work at the brand’s two production sites to deliver an unforgettable experience to high-fidelity enthusiasts. Focal JMLab is a company whose best acoustic technologies have won the hearts of audiophiles the world over, including K2 Power membranes in aramid fiber, and Slatefiber membranes in carbon fiber or Polyglass. The brand is also renowned for its Tuned Mass Damper (TMD) and Infinite Horn Loading systems. Focal has also made history with the following technologies:
- Creation of the dual-coil loudspeaker in 1980, enabling remarkable bass response in small loudspeakers.
- Creation of the inverted dome tweeter in 1981, providing spatialized high frequencies.
- Creation of the Kevlar K2 membrane in 1986, identifiable by its yellow color.
- Creation of the Beryllium tweeter in 2002.
- Creation of the Sandwich Flax linen membrane in 2013.
The brand’s 5 product universes
Focal markets its products through 5 universes:
- The Home universe: this brings together loudspeakers for the home and is divided into 3 collections:
- High-fidelity loudspeakers: including the Utopia, Sopra, Kanta, Aria, Vestia, Theva, Chora and Chorus ranges.
- Home Cinema: with the Dôme, Bb EVO, Aria, Vestia, Theva and Chora ranges.
- Compact, wireless loudspeakers: represented by the Naim, Dôme and Sib EVO ranges.
- The Integration universe: this brings together in-wall loudspeakers designed for home-cinema installations.
- Headphones: divided into 3 collections:
- For Home: audiophile headphones, including the Utopia model.
- For Travel: a range of high-end Hi-Fi headphones,
- For Pro: a range of headphones for sound engineers.
- The Professional Audio world: this world groups together products designed for sound professionals, such as monitor loudspeakers.
- The Car audio universe: divided into 3 collections:
- Hifi-Constructor solutions, such as partnerships with Alpine, Peugeot, DS Automobile…
- Dedicated solutions for all major vehicle brands,
- Speaker kits.
For further information, please visit www.focal.com