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Focal Theva No.1 Bookshelf Loudspeaker Review

by March 11, 2024
Focal Theva No.1

Focal Theva No.1

  • Product Name: Theva No.1 Bookshelf Speaker
  • Manufacturer: Focal
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStarhalf-star
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarStarStar
  • Review Date: March 11, 2024 00:30
  • MSRP: $ 1,000/pair
  • Design: 2-way bookshelf speaker, bass reflex
  • Tweeter: 1” aluminum/magnesium inverted dome TNF tweeter
  • Midrange:6.5" Slatefiber Cone
  • Recommended Amplifier Power: 25 - 100 watts
  • Frequency Response: 58 Hz - 28kHz
  • Sensitivity: 89dB
  • Crossover Frequency: 3,000Hz
  • Dimensions: 15 3/8” H x 8 ⅜” W x 10 1/4” D
  • Weight: 15.4 lbs. (7.1kg)
  • Finish Options: Black High Gloss, Light Wood, Dark Wood

Pros

  • Overall balanced tonality
  • Good dynamic range for class
  • Benign impedance load
  • Above average sensitivity

Cons

  • Low angles suffer on vertical axis

 

Focal Theva No.1 Introduction

Having reviewed a host of Focal loudspeakers, I have yet to encounter one that I did not like. However, they have all been somewhat pricey, and shoppers should expect a major loudspeaker manufacturer to deliver the goods at those price points. But can Focal sustain that high quality at a much lower pricing? Enter the new Theva series of loudspeakers by Focal. These new replacements for their Chora line are their least expensive home audio loudspeakers and serve as an entry-level into the Focal brand. How well do they maintain Focal’s reputation for high-fidelity sound? That’s what we intend to find out in today’s review of the Theva No.1, the most modest offering in the Theva line. One question we will ask is how much of the technology from Focal’s higher-end speakers can trickle down intact at such a lower sticker price? Let’s dig in to find out…

Focal Theva No.1 Appearance

Theva pair4   Theva pair17


Focal has always been good at making their loudspeakers look stylish, and the Thevas are no exception. They don’t do fancy cabinet curvature on these models, but the finishes and color choices give them a tasteful appearance. I received my pair in the ‘Light Wood’ finish, which uses an alabaster-type off-white color in a satin finish on the front baffle and a light oak vinyl veneer on the side panels. The edges are not rounded at all, so the speaker does have a somewhat boxy appearance. With the grille on, the Theva No.1s have a fairly minimal look as the front baffle is turned into a blank surface aside from the exposed Focal logo at the bottom. With the grille removed, the drivers are revealed, giving these speakers more character. Focal’s Slatefiber cone has an interesting fibrous texture, and it is surrounded by an metallic trim ring that hides the mounting screws. The tweeter dome is an inverted metallic button surrounded by an elliptical waveguide. The grille uses magnetic adhesion, so there are no visible grille guides, which gives the speakers that much cleaner appearance. I think the No.1s look better without the grilles, but the grille might be a good idea to use in instances where pets or children (or irresponsible adults) might damage the drivers.

Focal Theva No.1 Design Analysis

Theva tweeterThe Theva No.1 is a typical 2-way bookshelf speaker that has been given some usual Focal touches. Let’s start a discussion of the details of its design analysis by talking about the tweeter, another inverted 1” dome that is the norm for Focal. They term this tweeter the TNF tweeter, which is Focal’s Aluminum/Magnesium dome plus a couple extra touches. One touch is the use of Poron, a material with shape memory, as the surround. Focal claims that the Poron surround reduces distortion in the 2-3kHz range by a factor of three. That is where distortion would be highest for the tweeter given the crossover frequency in the Theva No.1s, so this element should be beneficial. Focal has also given the TNF tweeter a waveguide that optimizes its horizontal directivity. Focal claims the inverted dome shape already has a lower directivity than normal convex domes, and Focal enhances this on the horizontal plane with a shallow waveguide that has some mild shaping on the vertical plane.

 Theva cone

The woofer is a 6 ½” cone that uses Focal’s Slatefiber cone material that was developed for the Chora loudspeakers that the Theva series now replaces. Slatefiber is a composite of non-woven carbon fibers with a thermoplastic polymer. It offers a good combination of rigidity and damping, and this should enable the cone to hold a uniform shape up to high frequencies.

Theva rearThe tweeter crosses over to the woofer at 3kHz, which is a somewhat high crossover frequency for a 6 ½” woofer. However, if the woofer is well-engineered, it may be able to take those upper frequencies without hitting bending modes in an audible manner. It’s probably not an ideal frequency for a perfect directivity match with a 1” dome tweeter, but the directivity mismatch may be too mild to matter, and other factors will have an effect here as well. Such a high crossover frequency will benefit dynamic range by lifting the tweeter’s bandwidth above frequency ranges that it would struggle in. A 6 ½” woofer barely has to move at all to reproduce anything above 2kHz loudly, but for that same range, a 1” dome would be heavily taxed at loud levels. Focal has moved the tweeter’s bandwidth into a very comfortable range, so the Theva No.1 should be able to play nice’n’loud. I would expect its dynamic range to be limited mainly by the low end of the woofer’s bandwidth.

I wasn’t able to get a look inside the enclosure of the No.1s because I wasn’t sure that I could access it without damaging the speaker. It’s an MDF construction, and the side panels look to be ⅝” thick with the front baffle adding a quarter-inch on top of that. It feels like a reasonably solid bookshelf speaker, but it doesn’t feel as boulder-ish as some other pricier bookshelf speakers. The feet are some half-dome rubber pieces that should do well in damping vibrations from affecting the resting surface. These feet are optional to install, and you can just leave them off. The binding posts are just a simple 5-way pair that is set in a terminal cup. Thankfully, Focal has opted for sanity and only has one set of posts per speaker, so there is no bi-wiring or bi-amping with the Theva No1s, and that is a good thing. 

Much of the success of the Theva No.1 will depend on how the drivers behave and how well the crossover circuit controls them, and these aren’t something that can be seen but rather heard and measured. So then let’s take them for a spin to see how they sound…

Focal Theva No.1 Listening Sessions

In my 24’ by 13’ (approximately) listening room, I set up the speakers with a few feet of stand-off distances between the back wall and sidewall and equal distance between the speakers and listening position. I angled the speakers to face the listening position. The listening distance from the speakers was about 9 feet. Processing was handled by a Marantz 7705, and amplification was handled by the Monoprice Monolith 5x200. The speaker stands were some Monoprice Monolith 24-inch Steel Stands. Subwoofers were not used unless otherwise noted.

Music Listening

The strings on this recording were exquisitely rendered on the Theva speakers.

Continuing my current mania for the music of Vaughan Williams, I listened to a superb 2014 album that is centered around Symphony #3 titled “Vaughan Williams: Pastoral Symphony.” This gorgeous recording was performed by the Halle Orchestra, which is based in Manchester, and was released by their label Halle Concerts Society. It was led by Sir Mark Elder who is credited with revitalizing the orchestra as Halle’s Music Director. It was recorded in the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, Halle Orchestra’s home. This is regarded as an acoustical marvel on account of its soundproofed construction, which isolates the main auditorium on hundreds of massive springs. Symphony #3 is often called Williams’ “Pastoral Symphony,” but it is no portrait of a calm landscape but rather a somber depiction of World War I, in which the composer had fought. I listened to this album on Qobuz in a 96kHz/24bit resolution.   

Vaughan tends to be string-heavy, and the pieces in this album are no exception. The strings on this recording were exquisitely rendered on the Theva speakers. They were given a detailed account and sounded vibrant and realistic. The soundstage presented was clearly recorded at a close proximity to the performers, and it sounded as if I had a front-row seat to the performance. With such a close mic’d recording, I didn’t get a great sense of the acoustic space, but this is an attribute of the recording, not the speakers. The low end was given muscular support, and the bass violins resonated effortlessly on the Thevas, a surprise that such small speakers could sound like such large instruments. As with many symphonic recordings, the instrument sections were rather spread out and so didn’t localize with any precision, but the occasional lead instrument was given a good level of exactitude in imaging. The soundstage had a width and depth that seemed to defy the speakers’ placement. These two bookshelf speakers could deliver the scale of the recording terrifically. The crescendos in the third movement of “Symphony No.3” didn’t seem dynamically constrained at all. The fourth movement started with some kettle drums that were rolled for a continuous rumble, and if there was any missing bass extension from the speakers here, I wasn’t noticing it. These modestly sized bookshelf speakers gave a very satisfying execution of this album, and lovers of classical music who want a simple standmount system in this price range have a great option in the Theva No.1s.

Vaughen Williams Pastoral Symphony   night of the Worm Moon

The Focal Thevas exhibited remarkable imaging.

For something that emphasizes a sole vocalist, I listened to a delightful album entitled “Night of the Worm Moon” by Shana Cleveland. I recently discovered Cleveland in sifting through Qobuz’s Discover feature, which highlights artists with new releases. This 2019 album is not a brand-new release, but it has an elegant production worthy of any hi-fi audio system. Cleveland is a tremendously talented singer who has been involved with indie rock bands in the Los Angeles area but also has a remarkable slew of solo releases. “Night of the Worm Moon” belongs in the folk/Americana realm of music, and has a simple and not over-produced sound that is great for placing a spotlight on her voice and guitar work. I also streamed this album from Qobuz in a hi-rez 96kHz/24bit resolution.

The first aspect that I noticed from the Thevas in this album was their remarkable imaging. The speakers’ anchored Cleveland’s voice dead center of the soundstage. An acoustic guitar, presumably hers, also occupied center stage. A bass guitar hung just to the right of center, and various bits of percussion straddled the stage from left to right. Bass was unexpectedly good. Some tracks featured a bowed double bass that was given some real muscle. An electric bass guitar provided the foundation for track 7, “The Fireball,” and it was powerfully relayed by the Thevas. I didn’t miss subwoofers at all and didn’t think they could have added a lot on top of what these speakers could already do. All of the instruments were beautifully articulated by the Thevas, and they were given a natural detail without relying on elevated treble. Indeed, all of the instruments and vocals sounded tonally balanced, and I didn’t notice anything standing out or off-kilter. Some tracks gave Cleveland a slight choral effect that made her sound a bit unearthly, and the effect was clearly translated illustrated by the Thevas. There wasn’t anything lacking in their presentation of this album, and I enjoyed listening to “Night of the Worm Moon.” They delivered the music without any interference or opinions of their own.

All of the instruments were beautifully articulated by the Thevas,

To see what the Thevas could do with music of complete studio artifice, I once again turned to Death’s Dynamic Shroud, and this time I listened to an album titled “Transcendence Bot.” It’s difficult to categorize the type of music that Death’s Dynamic Shroud produces, and I suppose that is inevitable when something is truly original, but I would call it ‘fractured pop,’ since it shatters traditional pop music conventions and reassembles them into bizarre new creations. Synthesizers, samplers, and highly distorted acoustic instrumentals and vocals are the components that make up this album but the arrangement of these elements is unique to Death’s Dynamic Shroud. It is a strange and experimental flavor that isn’t for everyone, but they do a lot with soundstaging and effects processing that makes it a wild listen on a high-fidelity sound system.

The album really kicks into second gear after an intro track where a slow but steady percussive build-up culminates into a driving rhythm in which synths swirl around a vocal chanting the word “human.” The vocal was imaged squarely in the center and the synths danced across the soundstage, and it was all kept very coherent by the Theva speakers. Many of these tracks used sampled or distorted vocals that found themselves at all angles of the soundstage, yet all of which had well-defined placement. There were also a multitude of tracks that laid into a rock-style bass, and again I was surprised at how much bass these bookshelf speakers could produce. My listening room is a bit over 4,000 cubic feet with openings to other rooms, so it does not get much room gain, but the Thevas were providing a strong extension to just above 50Hz, which is very good considering their size and product class. Death’s Dynamic Shroud brought in a rock inflection into other aspects of this album, including the use of electric guitars, a different flare for them but one which I thought worked nicely. This rock sound gave the album a thick, full sound, and the Thevas delivered it all without much compromise that I could hear. It's possible that the inclusion of subwoofers might have rounded out the lowest notes a bit more, but I didn’t miss it. “Transcendence Bot” was a strange yet fun listen, made all the more enjoyable by these very capable speakers. Anyone looking for a unique musical experience ought to give it a try on speakers this good if possible.

Transcendence Bot    Chronicle

I was surprised at how much bass these bookshelf speakers could produce.

For something that can serve as a stress test, I threw on the EP “Chronicle” by Agressor Bunx, which is the band name of two Ukrainian brothers, Nikolay and Alexandr Vyunitsky. This is a rowdy new drum’n’bass release on the amusingly named EatBrain label. It’s brutal and loud music that hits the full scale of the recording’s dynamic range and stays there for the entire running time. It is spectrally dense music that is naturally heavy on bass but doesn’t leave any frequency band untouched for long. At loud levels, it would make any sound system sweat, but dynamic range has always been a strong suit of Focal’s speakers, so I set out to see how the Thevas would fare in this musical beatdown.

The Thevas were certainly able to get loud, and at my approximately 9-foot listening distance, they could get louder than I could bear, at least in midrange and treble frequencies. They did compress low frequencies after a certain point, not surprising since these 6.5” woofers were tasked with trying to reproduce a huge amount of bass, so the bass could not keep up with higher frequencies when these speakers were cranked hard. Bringing in a subwoofer and high-pass filtering the speaker enabled it to get louder in a more linear manner. I didn’t attempt to see the limits once a subwoofer was brought in, because I didn’t want to damage the speakers (or my hearing for that matter), but I think that few buyers of the Thevas would ever push them that hard. As for the music itself, the Thevas gave a surprisingly dynamic presentation; kick drums punched, hi-hats and cymbals sizzled, and the synths ripped. It was rowdy, busy music, but the speakers gave it a clarity that kept it from becoming an ill-defined cacophony, especially after a subwoofer was employed. I noted that they could get pretty loud at a relatively low level on my receiver’s gain, at least with respect to most other bookshelf speakers I have used. These are spec’d by Focal to have an 89dB sensitivity, and although they don’t give any context to that value (2.83v? 1 watt?), they do seem to be more sensitive than normal for this product class. With a 50Hz extension and a not large size, to also have an above-average sensitivity is a minor miracle for bookshelf speakers.

Movie Watching

One movie that I watched using the Theva speakers was David Cronenberg’s latest opus, “Crimes of the Future.” This 2022 science-fiction film is right down Cronenberg’s alley on account of its strong body horror element. Its setting is the future and involves a performance artist whose exhibitions involve the removal of organs produced by evolution guided by technology. He gets caught in the crossfire between a government body that wants stronger regulation over transhumanist evolution and a cult that wants to supercharge it with a hidden agenda. As far as strange movies go, it’s in the middle of the pack for Cronenberg but that puts it at absolutely bizarre with respect to typical Hollywood fare. Its sound mix is a combination of grotesque effects sounds and Howard Shore’s gorgeous music score.

The movie opens with a deep grinding noise that the Thevas admirably attempted to reproduce but immediately revealed their limitations with deep bass. The speakers could convey what was supposed to be heard, but they could not deliver it fully on account of their lack of bass below 50Hz. Many of the odd contraptions that cropped up in the movie were also shorn of their deeper bass component, but asking for deeper bass from a pair of normal-sized bookshelf speakers was too much. Outside of deep bass, the sound of the movie was recreated with aplomb. The dialogue was all very clear, even with so many lines being delivered in whispers and moans. This is a movie with many surgery scenes, and the effects sounds were graphically relayed in all of their icky glory by the speakers. The highlight was Howard Shore’s outstanding score. This is his 18th collaboration with Cronenberg, and I think it may be his best. It is a largely orchestral score abetted with some electronic atmospherics. It is a morose yet mysterious work that the Theva speakers expressed with crispness and clarity, and their realization of this score left me wanting for nothing. In the end, the Thevas gave a fine presentation of the sound mix for “Crimes of the Future” on their own, but they are not really full-range speakers and so do miss some aspects of the movie. If possible, add a subwoofer for movies such as this.  

Crimes of the Future    White House Down

To see what the Theva speakers could for a typical action movie, I decided to watch the 2013's “White House Down.” I don’t remember having watched it before, and it looked really dopey, but I tend to enjoy the schlocky outings by its director, disaster auteur Roland Emmerich. Emmerich is the author of preposterous films such as “2012” and “The Day After Tomorrow,” and the key to enjoying his movies is to take them about as seriously as he does (in other words, not very seriously at all). “White House Down” is about a capital police officer, played by Channing Tatum, who must save the president from a terrorist attack that takes over the White House (so “Die Hard” in the White House). The huge-budget movie promises lots of spectacle, in both the visual and aural domains, and it should prove to be a good demonstration of a sound system’s ability to tackle an action film sound mix.  

Dementia must be kicking in early for me, because about a quarter of the way through watching “White House Down,” I realized had seen it before. I am hoping that it is because it is a forgettable movie more than I am a forgetful person. Nonetheless, it still serves as a good test of action movie dynamics since there is no shortage of action scenes. The real fireworks kick off when the Capital Building gets blown up by someone planting a bomb in the middle of the dome. The Thevas gave this scene some oomph but not the rumble that either a full-range speaker or a subwoofer would have, and it was at this point that I brought in a subwoofer since I figured that few people buying these speakers for home theater would do so without adding a sub. Other notable scenes included a brutal fistfight in a kitchen, a car chase on the white house lawn, and a shoot-out between heavily armed mercenaries on the white house roof against some military helicopters. The Theva speakers were able to give all of these scenes the liveliness and energy demanded by the sound mix. The orchestral score was fairly conventional for an action movie but was clearly communicated even under the din of all the chaotic action. Dialogue intelligibility was good throughout, although half the lines were shouted rather than spoken. The Thevas did a great job of projecting the sound of “White House Down” and hopefully their presentation will leave enough of an impression that I won’t accidentally watch this movie again. 

Focal Theva No.1 Bookshelf Loudspeaker Measurements

The Focal Theva No.1 speakers were measured in free air at a height of 7.5 feet at a 1-meter distance from the microphone, and the measurements were gated at an 11-millisecond delay. In this time window, some resolution is lost below 250 Hz and accuracy is completely lost below 110 Hz. Measurements have been smoothed at a 1/24 octave resolution. 

Theva spin o rama 

The above graph shows the direct-axis frequency response and other curves that describe the Theva’s amplitude response in a number of ways. For more information about the meaning of these curves, please refer to our article Understanding Loudspeaker Measurements Part 1.  The measured response here is good overall. The on-axis response has a few rises and dips, particularly at 4kHz and above, but the listening window curve, a far more important metric, is smooth all the way up to nearly the top end of the speaker’s bandwidth. Likewise, the early reflections curve is also quite linear, and that means the sound reflected off of in-room surfaces from this speaker will have a balanced tonality (so long as the surface absorption response is even). In other words, this speaker is friendly to a wide variety of acoustic situations and does not need any special acoustic treatments to sound good in normal rooms. The directivity indexes are also fairly even, and this indicates that the sound radiating outward at all angles is very uniform. That makes the Thevas especially amenable to equalization.

Theva 3D waterfall response2 

Theva 2D waterfall response 

The above graphs depict the speaker’s lateral responses out to 90 degrees in five-degree increments. More information about how to interpret these graphs can be read in this article: Understanding Loudspeaker Review Measurements Part II. In these graphs, we get a better look at how the on-axis response and nearby angles compare to the off-axis responses. We can see how the on-axis response is a bit more rugged than the off-axis responses, which overall are fairly even. One interesting feature is the very slight elevated region from 5kHz to about 8kHz in some of the further off-axis responses. We also see the high treble response shoots up a bit above 12kHz near the on-axis angles but has almost an inverted response at off-axis angles. At around the 20 to 30-degree angles, this all levels out, and you get a nicely flat treble response in that region. The most even response for all angles occurs at around the 20 to 30-degree angle range, and this is about where a listener would be if seated in an equidistant triangle position with the speakers facing straight ahead in a parallel direction. I listened with the speakers facing straight toward me and thought they sounded fine, but the best response for most listeners would probably be had with no toe-in. The bottom line is that the Thevas provides a nicely flat response for most listening angles, especially in the all-important midrange, which is extremely neutral.

Theva Polar Map 

The above polar map graphs show the same information that the preceding graphs do, but they depict it in a way that can offer new insight regarding these speakers’ behavior. Instead of using individual raised lines to illustrate amplitude, these polar maps use color to portray amplitude, and this allows the use of a purely angle/frequency axis perspective. The advantage of these graphs is that they can let us see broader trends in the speaker’s behavior more easily. For more information about the meaning of these graphs, we again refer the reader to Understanding Loudspeaker Review Measurements Part II.

The evenness of the dispersion be the Thevas is very impressive. It’s not perfect, but the flaws do more to highlight the strengths than call out defects. The beamwidth hovers around 60 degrees with some deviations. There seems to be a bit of excess dispersed energy from 5kHz to 8kHz, as we saw before, and some slight waistbanding around 2kHz. These don’t occur in large amounts, so I don’t expect them to seriously skewer the in-room response. One remarkable aspect of these measurements is how the tweeter behaves above 5kHz. Most 1” dome tweeters start to collapse their dispersion at around this point, but Focal’s inverted dome tweeter doesn’t even start to beam until above 11kHz. That means this speaker will hold a very full sound out to a wide angle, so there is a lot of flexibility where listeners can be positioned without losing much in the way of balanced tonality. If you want to get hit with high treble, you should probably be seated within a 30-degree angle of the front-facing direction of the speaker. The bottom line for this graph is that the flaws of this speaker’s dispersion are minor but the strengths are major.

Theva 3D vertical waterfall

The above graph shows the Theva’s response behavior along its vertical axis where zero degrees is directly in front of the tweeter, negative degree values are below the tweeter, and positive degree values are above the tweeter. The crossover nulls where the woofer and tweeter start fighting don’t take very long to happen as we move off-axis on the vertical axis. For a balanced sound, listeners should be seated within a 5-degree angle below the tweeter to a 15-degree angle above the tweeter. Interestingly, the flattest response actually occurs just above the on-axis angle, at a 5 to 10-degree rise. That means that the most neutral sound from the Thevas happens just above the tweeter’s height. Those who are using these as front left/right pairs should opt for a shorter speaker stand, not a tall one. If you can just barely see the top of the Theva enclosure, you are probably listening around the optimum angle. Make sure you are not listening at lower angles than the tweeter as the crossover cancellation is already taking a big bite out of the midrange at 10 degrees down.

Focal Theva LF Response

The above graphs show the Theva’s low-frequency responses that I captured using groundplane measurements (where the speaker and microphone are on the ground in a wide-open area). There is pretty much just good news here unless you are looking for low-frequency extension. This knee of the response is right below 80Hz, but it is a very gradual decline, almost like what we would see from a sealed loudspeaker. I imagine that this speaker is a bit underported so as not to have too much of a bass boost at port tuning, a fact for which I am grateful since I don’t care for the sound of small speakers that make up for low-frequency extension with lots of port output. As I stated before, I managed to get a good response down to nearly 50Hz with these speakers, and I would attribute that to the gradual slope of the roll-off. I would expect other users to get a bit more than that because my room doesn’t get a lot of low-frequency gain. The response down to the knee is beautifully flat and neutral. This is an excellent bass response for a bookshelf speaker, and there is not much else to say.

theva imp 

The above graph shows the electrical behavior of the Focal Theva No.1s.  Focal specifies this speaker as being 8-ohm nominal with a 4.6-ohm minimum, and I largely agree with that. This is an extremely benign electrical load. The impedance minima almost but not quite touches 4 ohms at about 200Hz and then shoots up to 35 ohms at 2kHz. Any amplifier, even very inexpensive ones, could handle these speakers with no problems. We can see from the dip in the low-frequency saddle that the port tuning is just above 50Hz. We can also see from the peaks in the saddle that the resonant frequency of the enclosure is well-matched with the resonant frequency of the bass driver. This impedance and phase response is nearly ideal for a two-way bookshelf speaker.

I measured sensitivity to be 88.5dB for 2.83v at 1 meter which is a touch below Focal’s sensitivity specification of 90dB, but they don’t specify watts or volts or any other criteria for their measurement. Despite the ambiguity of their sensitivity spec, we have good agreement, so I would imagine that the standards by which we are reporting are very similar. The Thevas have an unusually high sensitivity given their size and low-frequency extension, especially given their nominal impedance. It doesn’t take much for an amplifier to get these things loud, and the Thevas don’t take a major toll on the amp to do so as well. Focal is pushing Hoffman’s Iron Law to the limit here, and this engineering is excellent!

Focal Theva No.1 Conclusion

Theva pair19Before bringing this review to a close, I will quickly go over the strengths and weaknesses of the product under evaluation, and I will start with the weaknesses. The Focal Theva No.1s don’t have many weaknesses to speak of, a good thing considering their $1k/pair pricing. While we have reviewed bookshelf speakers plenty more expensive than $1k/pair, it is still not a sum that most people can spend on a whim. So it’s good to see that those who spend their hard-earned cash are rewarded be something that is so well-rounded.

So are there any flaws? If I am being really nit-picky, I would say that the asymmetry of the phase coherence of their vertical lobe can be a slight problem for anyone listening under the tweeter axis. That can be a problem with tall bookshelf speaker stands for front left/right or raised wall mounts for surrounds. These speakers should be listened to at or just above the tweeter’s height. Another very minor nitpick would be that they don’t feel as substantial as some other speakers in their price class when you pick them up or handle them. I would have expected speakers of this pricing to have a bit more heft, although weight or mass doesn’t necessarily translate into better sound quality. The finish is OK, but I would rather have had a solid painted color rather than an imitation wood vinyl veneer at this pricing. However, these are all small matters, and I don’t have any complaints of real substance against the Theva No.1s.

Moving on to their strengths, their best attribute is their sound quality. They have an accurate sound that doesn’t do much to color the recording, so listeners get a balanced presentation of the source content. This even sound character extends over a wide horizontal angle, so the speakers have a good level of coverage over a broad area. In other words, there isn’t a bad seat in the house with these speakers (within reason). They have a good level of dynamic range for such reasonably sized bookshelf speakers as well, and they can get louder than would be expected for their size/price class. The bass extension is good for this category although not extraordinary. The low 50Hz range is about what would be hoped for and that is fine for most acoustic music but for deep bass, users should add a subwoofer.

One surprising aspect is their relatively high sensitivity yet easy electrical impedance load. That means these speakers will work great with just about any amplifier out there. They are a great candidate for a surround sound system all running off of a mid-tier AVR amp, because you could put a lot of these speakers on the amp without causing strain, a real advantage in an era of shrinking power supplies and growing channel counts. Many smaller speakers achieve higher sensitivity through low impedance but not the Theva No.1s. Remarkably, they manage to pull off such a feat yet still retain decent bass extension.

Aesthetically, they are fine, and with the finish options available, there should be something from the Thevas that fits well in a wide variety of interior decors. Their reasonable size is a real bonus too to get a passing grade in spouse approval. While they are not tiny speakers, they aren’t large ones either, and they pack a lot of punch for their size.

 Theva pair18

As with many other products that I have reviewed from Focal, the Theva’s are an eminently competent design and are sure to please. There are no significant missteps with these speakers, and they have aspects where they really shine. For many regular folks, $1k is a lot of dough for a pair of bookshelf speakers, but the Theva No.1s have earned their pricing. Were I looking for a pair of bookshelf speakers in this price class, I would strongly consider them.

The Score Card

The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:

Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating

Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.

Audioholics Rating Scale

  • StarStarStarStarStar — Excellent
  • StarStarStarStar — Very Good
  • StarStarStar — Good
  • StarStar — Fair
  • Star — Poor
MetricRating
Build QualityStarStarStarStar
AppearanceStarStarStarStar
Treble ExtensionStarStarStarStar
Treble SmoothnessStarStarStarStar
Midrange AccuracyStarStarStarStarStar
Bass ExtensionStarStarStarStar
Bass AccuracyStarStarStarStarStar
ImagingStarStarStarStarStar
Dynamic RangeStarStarStarStar
Fit and FinishStarStarStarStar
PerformanceStarStarStarStarhalf-star
ValueStarStarStarStarStar
About the author:
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James Larson is Audioholics' primary loudspeaker and subwoofer reviewer on account of his deep knowledge of loudspeaker functioning and performance and also his overall enthusiasm toward moving the state of audio science forward.

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