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Senior Shackster
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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Legacy Audio Focus SE & Marquis HD Review

MSRP: $13,295
Value: :4.5stars:
Fit & Finish: :5stars:
Home Theater Performance: :5stars:
Music Performance: :5stars:
Overall: :5stars:​

Founded in 1983, Legacy Audio is no newcomer to the audio business. President and founder Bill Dudleston is no lightweight in the world of audio either, with an extensive background in fluid dynamics thanks to his training as a chemical engineer at the University of Illinois. Applying his training to loudspeaker design comes naturally to Dudleston, as he spends a good portion of his time designing some of the finest and most technically advanced drivers in existence for his loudspeakers.

Each and every speaker built by Legacy is assembled here in the USA at their Springfield, Illinois facility. Bill Dudleston designs every component of their loudspeakers in-house, starting with the drivers and crossovers - working with a variety of partners to get the exact specifications he needs. Their high quality furniture grade cabinets are cut, assembled and finished in their facility before the drivers are mounted and the speaker is prepared for final tuning. Dudleston hand tunes the crossover personally on each Focus SE before signing the owner's certificate.

The subject of this review will be the Focus SE and the matching Marquis HD center channel. The Focus SE is a floor-standing full-range loudspeaker measuring 55 inches in height, 14 inches wide and 15.5 inches deep. Weighing in at 195 lbs, the design of the Focus SE makes no compromises about performance. Featuring two 12" subwoofers, two 7" Rohacell Silver Graphite midrange drivers, a 3" dual pole neo Kapton ribbon midrange, and finally a 1" dual pole neo Kapton ribbon tweeter - the Focus SE is in a word, monolithic.

According to Bill Dudleston, FOCUS stands for Field Optimized Convergent Source - the design principle behind the Focus SE. Unlike the majority of high end loudspeakers designed for optimal response in an anechoic chamber, Focus SE is designed with the average listening room in mind. Aware of the tonal shift reflections off the floor can cause, the midrange drivers are spaced in such a way that they interfere most destructively at the floor and most constructively at the listeners ears. Likewise, at the critical upper bass and lower midrange frequencies there are four drivers contributing to the pass-band and working to produce the sound. To paraphrase Dudleston himself – “due to the crossover contour it is next to impossible for the reflections to synchronize and form the typical 150 -300Hz power dip. The woofers are trailing in phase while the mid-woofers are leading in phase through the pass-band, resulting in a flat summation on axis for the listener”.

Another decision made by Dudleston that truly sets the Focus SE apart is the way the frequency response is optimized. I'm sure most of you have at some point or another seen a 1 meter FR plot - these are widely used in marketing materials and are very popular amongst the more esoteric audiophile brands as they all race for the flattest, ruler straight response possible. Aware that with a standard front radiating loudspeaker the response will be quite different at 3 meters (the average position of the listener) than from a microphone at 1 meter, Dudleston designed the Focus SE with far field response and room interaction in mind. The Focus SE is designed to work with your room - rather than against it, with the optimal frequency response measuring at the listener’s head.

Packaging, Fit & Finish

The folks at Legacy were an absolute pleasure to work with; going above and beyond to ensure the speakers arrived when I needed them to. Legacy's carrier of choice arrived at my house in a large truck and unloaded a pallet with two massive 6' tall boxes and a slightly smaller 4' tall box. The boxes arrived in superb condition, free of any dents, dings or shipping scuffs. It took me the better part of 30 minutes with a dolly to get the boxes into the house and inside my home theater. Getting the individual Focus SE's out of the box is fairly easy as they slide out of the front. Each speaker is encased in a velvet bag and protected by 3" of high density polypropylene foam on the sides and 4-5" on the top and bottom, each end cap covered in 1/8" plywood for extra stiffness and protection.

Once the Focus SE's were out of the boxes, I removed the foam and slid the bags down to reveal their gorgeous rosewood finish. The Focus SE feature gorgeous faceted front corners and beautiful cabinetry all around. Setting the speakers up is actually relatively simple - Legacy recommends you gently lay the speaker on its side and install the included chromed brass spikes. This is actually very easy to do, and the spikes include an adjustable leveling washer with vibration isolating pads.

With the Focus SE's ready to move, I turned my attention to the Marquis HD - perhaps the most awesome and ridiculous (in a good way!) center channel I have ever seen. Weighing in at a whopping 116 lbs and measuring 38 inches across, 14 inches tall and 13 inches deep - this is without a doubt the most serious center channel I have ever seen. It took a fair amount of effort to get the Marquis lifted out of its box and onto the stand, but a little back ache is a small price to pay for audio nirvana. With the feet on the Focus SEs installed, it was quite easy to stand the speakers up and move them into position.

Setup & Calibration

Legacy provides excellent documentation with all of their equipment, and the manual for the Focus SE was no exception. A clear guide is provided for speaker placement, recommending a listener position of 5 to 15 degrees off the axis of the baffle. Legacy also provides a sample position assuming a 10 foot listener position, with the speakers 7 feet apart and 1-3 feet from the rear wall. I followed these recommendations, placing the Focus SE's approximately 7.5' apart in my 12' wide room, and about 3' from the rear walls.

I took my time adjusting the toe-in, playing some FLAC loops that I am well acquainted with while steadily adjusting the position of the speakers. I ended up with approximately 2.5" of toe in, which was about 7 degrees off the axis normal of the baffle. The best way to visualize this; if a perpendicular line was drawn from the center of each speakers baffle and extended outward, the point where these two lines intersected was about a half a foot behind my head in the main listening position. This did require moving the seating about 6 inches back, but the results were nothing short of spectacular.

Without any calibration, or even a hint of extra work on my part, quality stereo recordings were already jaw droppingly sweet to listen to. That said, I am a "tweakophile" above all else, and proceeded to see whether I could make things better. I started by re-calibrating the subs I had in the room at that time (The SVS Legato) to ensure a smooth integration. I then ran a full Audyssey calibration (MultiEQ XT32) on the Onkyo 3009 and ran a few REW sweeps. Surprisingly, there wasn't much else I could do to improve the sound, so I sat down and prepared for some listening.

I must admit that I ran into a slight problem with these speakers - they were making me work! I don't mean this in a negative way at all, but you see, my ears clearly indicated that music sounded better without the subs turned on at all and the Focus SE's running full range. This meant that every time I switched between movies or multi-channel sources and stereo music, I had to change my crossover settings on the receiver. A minor gripe, I know - but an important one none the less. It's important for you to understand that these are such incredible speakers they don't even need a sub! True to Legacy's claims, I measured the Focus SE's on their own flat to 21Hz in my room with usable extension all the way down to 18Hz!

Manufacturer's Specifications:

Focus SE

System Type: 6 driver, 4 way
Tweeter: (1) 1" dual pole neo ribbon, folded Kapton diaphram
MIdrange: (1) 3" dual pole neo ribbon, vapor deposited kapton diaphram
Midwoofer: (2) 7" Rohacell reinforced-Silver Graphite, cast frame
Subwoofer: (2) 12" spun aluminum diaphragm, rubber surround, total enclosed neo motor, long throw suspension, with cast frame
Low Frequency Alignment: Assisted 6th order Butterworth, vented
Freq. Response (Hz, +/-2dB): 18-30K
Impedance: 4 Ohm
Sensitivity: (Room, [email protected] 2.83V) 95.4 dB
Recommended Amplification: 10 - 500 Watts
Crossover: 120, 2.8K, 8K
Binding Posts: 2 Pair
Dimensions HxWxD (inches): 55 x 14 x 15.375
Weight: 195 lbs. each
Shipping Dimensions HxWxD (inches): 22 x 22 x 62
Shipping Weight: 198 lbs. each

Marquis HD

System Type: 4 driver, 3 way
Tweeter: (1) 1" dual pole neo ribbon, folded Kapton diaphram
Midrange: N/A
Midwoofer: (1) 7" Rohacell reinforced-Silver Graphite, cast frame
Subwoofer: (2) 12" spun aluminum diaphragm, rubber surround, total enclosed neo motor, long throw suspension, with cast frame
Low Frequency Alignment: 3rd Order Butterworth
Freq. Response (Hz, +/-2dB): 22-25K
Impedance: 4 Ohm
Sensitivity (Room, [email protected] 2.83V): 95 dB
Recommended Amplification: 15 - 400 Watts
Crossover: 250, 4K
Binding Post: 1 Pair
Dimensions HxWxD (inches): 38 x 14 x 13
Weight: 80 lbs.
Shipping Dimensions HxWxD (inches): 46 x 25 17
Shipping Weight: 116 lbs. each

Listening Tests

The Review System:

Interconnects: BlueJeansCable BJC LC-1 Multi-Channel Audio Cables
Pre/Pro: Onkyo TX-NR3009
Power Conditioner:Furman IT-Reference 15i
Amplifier: Wyred4Sound MC3x500,2x250
Sources: Sony Playstation 3, HTPC[/B]

The room used for the review measures in at 12x18 and is treated with SpringTrap bass traps and acoustic panels throughout. The system was calibrated using RoomEQWizard, and Audyssey MultiEQ XT32.

The Sound - Listening Impressions

Music Performance:
  • [CD] Michael Murray - An Organ Blaster (BWV 565)
  • [CD] Acoustic Alchemy - Very Best Of (B00006F1IJ)
  • [FLAC] Above & Beyond & Gareth Emery pres. OceanLab - On A Good Day (Metropolis) - Extended Mix
  • [BluRay] TrondheimSolistene - Divertimenti

Michael Murray - An Organ Blaster

It's well known by my friends that I am an absolute organ music junkie. There are few types of music that can more easily separate the wheat from the chaff. A speaker that isn't capable of great dynamic range, excellent low end extension and sheer output will usually sound quite flat when a quality organ recording is played - especially without a subwoofer. In this case, I stuck to my track of choice - Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor, which is a powerful bombastic track that meanders from the lowest registers of the organ all the way up to the top. When a speaker is capable of truly reproducing the organ, it is a very intense and unforgettable experience. My experience with other speakers (including my daily drivers - Paradigm Studio 100's) had always been enjoyable but to quote Bill Dudleston, gave more of a "they are here experience" than the "you are there" experience.

While previous listening sessions with other speakers had always evoked strong memories of my time in cathedrals in Europe and left me very satisfied - I had never imagined that a loudspeaker was capable of bringing tears to my eyes in the first minute I listened to it. I'm sure most of you have a very personally relevant piece of music that impacts you, whether it's a prom slow dance tune or the song from your wedding. I have several of these - but one of my most visceral and meaningful listening experiences to date has been with the pipe organ playing Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor in a large German cathedral. I was prepared to experience a dynamic and forceful presentation given the sheer displacement on these speakers. What I was totally unprepared for was to have the organ reproduced with such incredibly effortless authority while still sounding absolutely authentic.

True to Bill Dudleston's vision, once I closed my eyes I was no longer in my theater room. I was 30 yards behind Michael Murray in First Congregational Church as he produced a wall of sound, enveloping me in Bach's musical genius. This was not just a pair of speakers reproducing a recording - this was music!

Acoustic Alchemy - The Very Best Of

You've seen this album appear on every review I've done - and for good reason. There are very few pieces of music I'm more intimately familiar with. Listening to this album on the myriad speakers I have had in my room - I have a very good idea of what the best can reproduce and what the worst leave out. Being the creature of habit that I am, I started off with Playing for Time - a track full of typically difficult to reproduce components. There's a lot of cymbal, string bass and close-mic'ed acoustic guitar - all elements that are hard to reproduce. I was particularly interested in this track because many speakers suffer reproducing the string bass or the cymbals, with only the rarest examples doing everything well.

True to my experience with organ music, the sound with Playing for Time was rich, textured and authentic. I was hearing all the details - the sounds of the pick sliding over the string, the plastic impacting the top string on the attack. The ride cymbal is used to great effect in this track and it was amazing to hear the difference the ribbon tweeter on the Focus SE's made fleshing out the sound - the shimmer was more full, extended and authentic. Having spent many hours on a stage right next to the drummer, I'm very accustomed to jazz cymbal - and this was the real thing.

Impressed as I was by the detail of the sound, the mids were full, expansive and about as perfect as I've ever heard in a loudspeaker. The bass line was conveyed with weighty authority but not a hint of muddiness - a truly impressive feat. Most floorstanding loudspeakers by design suffer at least some degradation in bass performance as extension increases, a function of displacement and woofer size - but not so with the Focus SE's. The dual Aura 12" woofers are fantastically controlled - yet still deliver impressive performance all the way down to 21Hz.

Above & Beyond & Gareth Emery pres. OceanLab - On A Good Day (Metropolis) - Extended Mix

I know it may be a cardinal sin to listen to electronic music on high end speakers in some circles, but I believe that certain stuffy publications that focus on classical, light rock, jazz and almost nothing else ignore the listening habits of most music lovers. I have very few acquaintances that are purist audiophiles and listen to nothing but classical SA-CD recordings - that said I have a lot of friends who have diverse musical tastes spanning the entire music industry. Personally, I'm a massive electronic music lover and really enjoy a speaker that is capable of reproducing the massive dynamics these tracks can deliver along with some serious bass.

Once again the Focus SEs did not disappoint. The haunting vocals and pulsating bass in this track accompany a catchy synth melody. The use of spatial effects in trance tracks is a great test of a speaker's ability to image well, and in the case of the Focus SEs - the term holographic truly applies. This is the only stereo loudspeaker I have ever heard that literally caused me to turn my head and check whether the surrounds were active. With the Focus SE's - sound doesn't just come at you, it surrounds you.

TrondheimSolistene - Divertimenti

For those of you reading this from your baby sealskin couch as you sip a 1993 Chateau Latour Pauillac, I apologize for not getting to the classical stuff sooner. I know that my review is utterly invalid without 900 dollar interconnects or at the very least some reference grade tube amps, but please take heart, because this is your sort of music.

In terms of recording quality, it's hard to beat this album. Taking full advantage of Blu-Ray's lossless audio, this is a stellar recording with stereo and surround mixes of each track. I generally listen to the stereo mix as the multichannel places you several feet forward of the conductor - a very involving but less authentic sound. In the case of the stereo mix, the listener is in the prime seats above the orchestra. This is an extremely nuanced orchestral recording that has an incredible amount going on at any given point in time. As anyone who has heard a string orchestra can attest, the string bass played with a bow is a superb sound, though it is often poorly reproduced by most subwoofers. In the case of a full range speaker like the Focus SE, that no longer becomes a concern.

When reproducing difficult instruments like the string bass, contra bassoon, or tuba - a speaker like the Focus SE quickly differentiates itself from the competition. Though lower frequency content is not something I am typically aware of when listening to classical music, as I listened through the Focus SE's I began to appreciate the importance of accurately and naturally reproducing this content. Minute details in the bass drum or string bass that were lost in the bass management process were now easily discernible. The massive soundstage and smooth sibilance-free highs combined with this low frequency authority to once again prove just how much "little stuff" there is in most recordings we don't really appreciate until it is reproduced by a capable system.

Movie Performance:

In the interest of saving my fingers, I'll include the audio portions of my Blu-Ray reviews while the Focus SE's and Marquis HD were in my system before moving on to specific results from the current "reference" title - Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

Blu-Ray Reviews:

Super 8

Yet again it appears that Dolby is doing everything it can to prove that TrueHD is not the inferior codec, and they've made another compelling argument with Super 8. The lossless 7.1 channel track is authoritative from the start, with crystal clear dialogue that is perfectly level matched with the remaining channels regardless of activity. The mains are brilliantly engaged to deliver an extremely deep immersive soundstage with excellent spatial imaging, though perhaps slightly less so than Transformers. Surround activity is ample when called for and well integrated with the mains while LFE content is but substantive and articulate. The train wreck scene in particular features some truly demo worthy material that is sure to make our resident bass-heads rejoice.

Overall this is a superb release that very nearly measures up to Transformers - though it focuses less on action. Comparing the best moments of Transformers to Super 8 I would say that Transformers is marginally better, if only because Super 8 at times exhibited slight sibilance in the high frequencies that wasn't present in Transformers. I doubt that many of you will notice it as it is a very high frequency issue, but take note in the train wreck scene and some later action scenes for some slight harshness in the upper range of your hearing. Surround pans and overall immersiveness is also slightly better in Transformers but make no mistake, this film would easily have been a 5 star reference title prior to our scale changing, and is well worth a listen.

Kung Fu Panda 2

I'm a huge fan of the sweeping, epic oriental scores that accompany Kung Fu Panda films and in this case Hans Zimmer delivers in spades. The score is at times bombastic and dominates the scene and at others is subtle to the point if disappearing - none the less no detail is ever lost. Surround use and activity in this mix is superb with great directionality and spatial detail while low frequency content is authoritative but rarely overbearing. Dialogue is crystal clear and easily intelligible throughout the film. Overall this is a wonderful presentation that deserves high marks for its authenticity.

Critical Listening:

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is the current reference title when it comes to Blu-Ray audio quality. I decided to use this title as I had done extensive listening with my own personal system and had a great frame of reference for making comparisons.

Here's my original review of the disc's audio on my personal system:

I was pleased to note that Transformers: Dark of the Moon features a 7.1 channel Dolby TrueHD lossless surround mix rather than the more typical DTS-HD MA we see so often. Regardless of format, this is one of the most engaging, nuanced and well realized surround experiences I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. The opening seconds as the Paramount logo shows on screen feature an impressive surround pan as a transformer sound effect literally engulfs the room. From this start forward there is nothing imperfect about this mix - surround content is aggressive, superbly positioned and spatially accurate. Action scenes are nothing short of ridiculous with some of the most accurate tight and controlled use of VLF content I've ever witnessed. This is not a boom contest, and this is readily apparent as no one sound drowns out the rest - instead every channel and component of the mix works with the others to create what can only be called a benchmark in surround audio.

Unlike the vast majority of surround mixes where a huge front soundstage is thrown with little respect given to spatial queues in the left and right channels, Transformers: Dark of the Moon features the most spatially immersive audio I have every heard on a Blu-Ray. Not only are sounds localized to the correct channel; they are precisely located in both the y and x axes. What is truly unique about this mix is that depth is clearly given great attention; the precise proximity of any effect whether it be an explosion or the visceral impact of two Transformers is perfectly resolved - objects moving toward the viewer on screen clearly do so sonically as well, and the result is absolutely spectacular. VLF content is precise and authoritative without being boomy or distracting - this is punch you in the gut bass with some serious ULF content as well. However you look at it, this is a reference quality mix that is near impossible to fault - from dialogue to atmospheric content to surround localization there is not a single thing done wrong here. Reference.
Everything stated above still holds true with the Legacy system, there’s just more! More gut wrenching LFE content, better imaging, and flawless dialogue reproduction. It's not about fidelity here folks; it's about dynamic range, imaging and piston area. In the case of the Marquis HD center channel, it's hard to find even a slight complaint. This center channel managed to improve on my already impressive CC-690 by a handy margin, largely I believe because of the dual massive 12" Aura drivers and Legacy's signature Rohacell midrange and neo Kapton ribbon tweeter. The same technology that powers the Focus SE is packed into a center channel that raises the bar substantially above any competitor I have heard. Throughout my listening tests across multiple films, the only flaw I ever noticed was in the mix or recording itself - the Marquis HD reproduced dialogue in a word, flawlessly.

One final note I'd like to make about the Focus SEs and theater performance is the result of a silly mistake on my part. Most of you are probably aware of the really cool surround pan in the beginning of the film as the Paramount studio logo shows and the stars fly in toward the center. I had accidentally set my receiver to stereo mode as this was playing - what surprised me was that I actually heard that sound pan around my head and assumed the surrounds were active. When I noticed the receiver was in stereo mode, I repeated the test with my surrounds disconnected and got the same result. I think that result speaks for itself; the imaging on the Focus SE's is so shockingly good it had me fooled that I was listening in surround with just two speakers. Musical fidelity may not be the ultimate goal in home theater reproduction, but the imaging and dynamic capability of these speakers proved to me once and for all that it is possible to design a speaker that excels at both.

Final Thoughts

After three months and many, many hours, I had become very closely acquainted with the Focus SEs and Marquis HD. In fact, I got pretty attached to these remarkable speakers. I was so proud of the sound that I invited friends over to hear the difference - I even invited neighbors. At one point, Dale and I spent an hour enjoying some metal on the Focus SE's and even he walked away a believer that these were worth the price. It's difficult to describe what makes a speaker great in words without the technical knowledge of someone like Bill Dudleston. It's even more difficult to convince somebody that it is possible to spend close to ten thousand dollars on a pair of speakers and have it be worth every penny. I realize I may not have convinced you that these speakers are as good as I claim. I may not even have convinced you to read through this entire monstrous review. If you'll bear with me however, I'd like to leave you with one inescapable conclusion I reached during my time with the Legacy Audio Focus SE's.

What is it that attracts us all to this hobby, causes us to spend countless hours and dollars in the pursuit of better sound and video? I believe that it is the difference between a cheap seat theater and the IMAX, or the difference between a good home theater, and a great one. Once you’ve heard how good it can be, it’s hard to go back.

These speakers have allowed me to appreciate music, movies, and the sheer joy of listening in an entirely new way. Listening through the Focus SE's is a very simple thing: it’s the difference between listening to a recording, and being there.

Highly Recommended

Please use the Legacy Audio Focus SE & Marquis HD Review: Discussion Thread for Questions and Comments!
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