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As flatscreen TVs have become ever more thin, conventional loudspeakers have come to look ever more fat. The Focal On Wall 301 (and their larger sibling, the On Wall 302) buck that trend with tall but amazingly low-profile cabinets that are just 3.5 inches deep. As their name suggests, these speakers are designed to hang on the wall. If that’s not possible due to the construction of your TV room, Focal offers optional stands—and that’s how this review was conducted.
Focal is offering significant discounts on the On Wall 300-series and the accompanying floor stands through the end of April. The Focal On Wall 301—the topic of this review—have been reduced from $999 each to $799 each; the larger On Wall 302 are going for $1,199 each, reduced from $1,499; and a pair of Focal’s On Wall Stands, which can be used with either set, are offered at $399, a $100 discount.
Speakers haven’t been getting bigger, of course, but designers can only do so much to bend the laws of physics—at least when it comes to bass response. Exotic materials used in the construction of voice coils and cones, more powerful magnets, and less-expensive electronics have all had a part in enabling smaller speakers to produce big sound. Manufacturing in China, meanwhile, helps keep a lid on prices. But woofers need to displace a lot of air to produce deeply satisfying bass, and that dictates using large cabinets—or deploying a boxy subwoofer, which presents its own set of aesthetic challenges.
The designers of the Focal On Wall 301 took an all-of-the-above approach—with one exception: Focal 300-series speakers are built in Focal’s shop in France, not China. The model 301 utilizes a pair of Focal’s 4-inch Flax Sandwich Cone drivers. These mid-bass drivers are fabricated from flax fibers sandwiched between two layers of glass fiber. They’re mounted on either side of a 1-inch aluminum/magnesium inverted dome tweeter.
Focal says this construction results in a rigid diaphragm with high internal damping, resulting in a neutral-sounding driver. The On Wall 301 are rated for frequency response of 53Hz–28kHz (+/- 3dB), with crossover occurring at 2,500Hz. The manufacturer recommends driving these 8-ohm (nominal) speakers with an amplifier ranging from 25 to 130 watts (minimum impedance is 5.5 ohms).
Driver and cabinet configuration
The two mid-bass drivers and the tweeter are mounted in a bass-reflex cabinet—with ports at the top and bottom—that measures 31.5 inches high when mounted vertically (a template and the required mounting hardware are included in the box). Be sure to drill into the studs behind your drywall; each speaker weighs 13 pounds. Alternatively, you can purchase Focal’s beefy floor stands.
The cabinets are 6.125 inches wide (that’s 6.125 inches high if you’re mounting one horizontally as a center channel beneath your TV). But as previously mentioned, they’re just 3.5 inches deep. As such, they shouldn’t block anyone’s sight line to the screen unless they’re sitting so far off axis that they wouldn’t have a good entertainment experience anyway. Cloth grills cover and offer a degree of protection to the drivers, staying in place with the assistance of magnetics. The cabinets Focal sent for review were finished with a gorgeous gloss white; satin black is the other choice.
If you’re looking for a timbre-matched surround-sound configuration, you can set up a second pair of the On Wall 301 on the wall or on stands in the back of your home theater. The stands raise the top of the speakers to a height of 46 inches, which puts the drivers just about level with the ears of a person of average height. For immersive audio with Dolby Atmos or DTS:X soundtracks, the manufacturer recommends installing its Focal 300-series In Wall speakers in your ceiling.
Focal On Wall 300 stands
Focal’s floor stands are extremely stable, with heavy bases measuring just under 14 inches square. The stands are outfitted with the same type of hooks that you mount to the wall, which makes them relatively easy to install. All that said, I can’t say that I’m a fan of the rest of their design. The square shaft that rises from each base hews so closely to the back of the mounted speaker that I had difficulty connecting the QED Reference XT40 speaker cables I wanted to use—there just wasn’t enough room to accommodate the cables’ banana plugs.
The vertical shafts are hollow, and there’s a cutout you can route the cable up and through, hiding the wires until they emerge at the speakers’ binding posts. But the banana plugs wouldn’t fit into the channel. If you do mount these speaker on the wall, I’d recommend installing recessed boxes for your speaker-wire connections.
Using bare speaker wire might have been a better solution in my scenario, but I didn’t want to cut fresh wire just for this review when the cables I already had were otherwise perfectly fine. As you’ll see in the photos, the banana plugs prevented me from attaching the speaker to the stands’ bottom hooks, which caused the speakers to point up ever so slightly. This wasn’t enough to impact the speakers’ performance, but I wouldn’t want to live with them that way. Yes, I’m kvetching here, and my opinion of Focal’s stands don’t factor into my bottom-line opinion of the speakers themselves. But this is something I thought potential buyers would want to know.
Focal On Wall 301 audio performance
I received a pair of the Focal On Wall 301, so I evaluated the speakers with musical selections, not movie or TV entertainment. The equipment used for this review was a Cambridge Audio CXA60 two-channel, 60-watts-per-channel amplifier and a Cambridge Audio CXN V2 network audio streamer. I streamed music, mostly in high-res but in CD quality at a minimum, from the music-streaming service Qobuz.
Given the shallow depth of the On Wall 301’s enclosures, I imagine most people will be wondering about bass performance. For that very reason, the first track I queued up for my listening tests was Paul Thorn’s “Fabio & Liberace,” from the Americana artist’s album Ain’t Love Strange. The kick drum that opens this track has exposed major flaws in severals speakers I’ve reviewed. I played it on a pair of computer speakers many years ago and I thought they were going to shake themselves to pieces. The On Wall 301 had no problem rendering those low frequencies or the electric bass line that soon follows.
I listened to “Don’t Change Horses in the Middle of the Stream” next. This track from Tower of Power’s 1974 album Back to Oakland features the band’s magnificent horn section and David Garibaldi’s frenetically intricate drumming as well as Lenny Williams’ soaring vocals. The On Wall 301 rendered each of these elements distinctly. It was easy to pick out the saxophones from the trumpet and trombones, and I could hear Garibaldi’s drumsticks strike every drumhead and cymbal. Equally important, I could hear the microseconds of silence separating each beat.
A bit of exploration on Qobuz helped me discover a live recording of Weather Report performing “Birdland” on their album The Legendary Live Tapes: 1978-1981. The service offers this stream encoded in in 24-bit/96kHz form and it’s stunning in terms of its raw energy. The band’s stellar lineup included Jaco Pastorius on bass, Wayne Shorter on sax, Peter Erskine on drums, and—of course—Joe Zawinful on keyboards. Here again, listening on the Focal On Wall 301 allowed me to pick out each instrument for closer examination.
I wrapped up my time with the Focal On Wall 301 listening to the husband/wife duo of Watchhouse (formerly Mandolin Orange). I saw this group live in a small venue just last month, and Qobuz offers their self-titled album encoded in 24-bit/96kHz resolution. Listening to the plaintive love song “Lonely Love Affair,” I was moved by the way the speakers produced the couple’s vocals, Emily Frantz’s mournful fiddle, and Andrew Marlin’s masterful work on the mandolin.
Worthy problem solvers
If you’re looking for high-quality speakers that won’t dominate your home theater, the Focal On Wall 301 are a great solution, even if you don’t hang them on the wall. While in-wall speakers will disappear entirely into your home’s environment, installing them is a major undertaking best left to the pros—and that’s going to be a hefty expense all on its own. If you don’t want to hang the On Wall 301, you can mount them to floor stands (yes, I know I complained about those, but the problems I encountered will be less of an issue for anyone setting them up permanently). Either way, these are fine speakers reasonably priced—especially while they’re on sale this month.
Michael is TechHive's lead editor, with 30+ years of experience covering the tech industry, focusing on the smart home, home audio, and home theater. He built his own smart home in 2007 and used it as a real-world test lab for product reviews. Following a relocation to the Pacific Northwest, he is now converting his new home, an 1890 Victorian bungalow, into a modern smart home.