Focal Chora Speaker Series Review
Audio Advice has been a fan of Focal headphones ever since we brought them into our stores a few years ago. Focal has a heritage of designing everything in France to exacting standards, plus they make raw speaker drivers used by many speaker companies around the world.
When we first saw and heard the new Chora series from Focal we were pretty impressed but felt they needed a few more models to round out the series for home theater systems and to be able to deliver Dolby Atmos. With the recent introduction of three new models and a sub landing here soon, Focal has made the Chora series a wonderful home theater solution with some great options to get Dolby Atmos into almost any room. Plus with their great audio heritage, they deliver incredible sound for music, making the system not only an awesome home theater solution, but a powerful competitor in the two-channel stereo realm as well.
If you like to follow and dream about the world’s ultimate speaker systems, you’ve probably come across Focal’s Grand Utopia EM Evo. This is Focal’s flagship speaker selling for just shy of $250,000 a pair! While we do not carry this series at Audio Advice, there is no doubt it is one of the contenders for that rare person who can think about a $1m music system. The cool part about the new Chora series is Focal has taken what they learned about cabinets, crossover, and speaker components while making their Utopia series and filtered some of that tech into the Chora line up. Their drive to come up with better speaker driver materials actually led them to develop an entirely new type of cone material they used first in the Chora line up.
Focal Chora Overview
When the Chora models first arrived, the series consisted of a pair of bookshelf speakers and two tower speakers. Obviously this shows their dedication to great sounding speakers for music but left some big holes if you wanted a home theater system. With the addition of a center channel, a new tower with Dolby Atmos elevation speakers built-in, an on-wall surround speaker, and a powered subwoofer, Focal has given us all the tools needed to put together some great home theater packages that also hold true to the music.
Focal, with their French heritage, has always realized you will need more than a basic black option to help a larger speaker blend into a home environment and has offered some pretty cool color choices over the years in their speakers. The Chora series continues that tradition with three cool finish options on all of the models except the surround model and subwoofer. First, instead of a basic black, they have a high gloss black option with a gloss black front face as well. Next, there is a light wood option and in a touch of style, the face of the speaker is a beige color that compliments the light wood. Finally, you’ll have what looks like a walnut wood option (Focal calls it dark wood) and with these, you get a grey face for the front of the speaker. The grills also have some style in that they do not cover the entire speaker, only covering the bass and if present, midrange drivers. These definitely do not look like typical speaker colors and especially with the grills off can add some style to a room.
The new Chora series is packed with a lot of new speaker technology so we will first go over what they all share and then get into the differences in the speaker models.
When you are putting together a home theater speaker system if you had no room or budget limitations, the ultimate system would have the same speakers everywhere. Of course, this is not practical, so the next best would be if all of the speakers shared the same speaker components. This would get you to having really well-matched sound as the effects whirled around the room which adds another level of realism. All of the new Chora speakers share the exact same tweeter and all of them also use Focal’s new Slate driver for the midrange and woofers. That is pretty cool!
The tweeter used in the Chora is what Focal calls their TNF tweeter. You’ll find this same tweeter used in some of the more expensive Focal models as well. Focal has always been an advocate of the inverted dome tweeter design. At Audio Advice we can’t say there is a right way or a wrong way, but what we do know is when a company puts a lot of engineering into something over time, it usually comes out really good. Focal has over 20 years of history working on their inverted dome design and it’s gotten really good over time. They recently took some learnings from designing the tweeter for the Grand Utopia series and implemented them into the TNF tweeter. They started using a material called Poron as the suspension between the dome and its bracket. Poron is a material that has shape memory. Focal found that by using Poron here, they were able to reduce distortion in the 2-3K range by a factor of three!
Focal has also invested a lot in improving the waveguide used with the TNF tweeter. Their 20+ years of development has lead to a design that provides extremely linear response over a wide area. This type of design is great for home theater where you are probably going to have more than one person in the room and should provide consistent sound at almost any seating position.
While the TNF tweeter is pretty cool by itself, the new Slatefiber driver Focal has come up with for the midrange and bass drivers is really interesting. Over 20 years ago, Focal started working on cones that used a combination of materials. Today, many audio companies have found the same thing, that usually the right combination gives you something special. About four years ago, Focal started working on an idea they pulled from aviation. They started working on a combination of carbon fiber and plastics. After much experimentation, they came up with recycled carbon fiber strands held together with a thermoplastic polymer. One unique part about this is instead of weaving the carbon fiber strands as had normally been done in the past, they just had them all going in the same direction with the polymer holding them in place. They developed several special machines to manufacture this unique driver material with every step of the design all the way through to final assembly taking place in their plant in France.
Due to the random nature of non-woven fibers, the new material actually looks a lot like slate, thus the name for the new driver. This new Slatefiber material is super light, yet rigid, and highly damped, all great properties for a midrange or bass speaker driver. And not only do they perform well, but they also look really cool as no two are exactly the same in external appearance.
Focal Chora 806
The Focal Chora 806 is the bookshelf model in the series. It uses a 6 ½” version of the Slatefiber driver with the TNF tweeter. Focal uses a port on the front side to improve efficiency. The 806 is a pretty good sized bookshelf speaker being a little over 16” tall, around 10” deep and 8” wide. Their sensitivity comes in at 89db, which is pretty decent for a bookshelf speaker. The top end of this entire series has a very smooth sound, yet with an effortless sense to its extension. Bass response is really good on the bookshelf, reaching down to 49hz as its 6db down point. Focal makes a specific stand for the 806 which is quite solid. They even tilt the speaker back a bit for better time alignment of the drivers.
Focal Chora 816
The 816 is the entry floor-standing model. It uses a 2 ½ way design. You’ll have the TNF tweeter, a 6 ½” midrange/bass driver, and a 6 ½” bass driver. In a 2 ½ way design, both drivers cover the deep bass to give more surface area while the lower bass only driver cuts out at 270 Hz. They stand at about 40” tall and 11” wide. These will get down lower than the bookshelf with a 6 dB down point of 45 Hz and have a sensitivity of 89.5 dB. Focal includes a cool little bass unit that actually tilts the speaker back at a 15-degree angle to time align the drivers.
Focal Chora 826
The 826 is the larger floorstander in the Chora series. You’ll find the exact same TNF tweeter paired with a 6 ½” Slatefiber midrange and two 6 ½” Slatefiber woofers. Like the other two models, there is a front-firing tuned port. These guys have some pretty serious deep bass, reaching down to 39 Hz as their 6db down point. Sensitivity is also getting into the higher range at 91 dB. While they can reach down pretty deep into the bass range, these are not huge tower speakers, standing at only 41” tall and 11” wide. Just like the 816, there is a supplied stand that tilts the speaker back about 15 degrees to time align the drivers. We recommend you use these stands not only for better sound, but they also just look cool! We think this speaker is going to be tough to beat in the very competitive tower speaker world in this price range. It has a sweet extended top end with a warmth to the bass that makes listening a lot of fun. We really think for the extra $400 you should get these over the 816. They are almost the exact same size and to our ears sound more alive.
Those cover the three models aimed at either two-channel stereo or home theater. The remaining models allow you to take these great audio speakers and put together a perfectly matched home theater system.
Focal Chora 826D
The 826D gives you the exact same sonic presentation as the 826 with the addition of a top firing Dolby Atmos speaker system. On the top of the speaker, you’ll notice an oval grill cloth. This hides a 5" full-range speaker driver Slatefiber cone with an aluminum/magnesium dome. It’s angled to bounce those Dolby Atmos effects off the ceiling. This is a great solution for most rooms as it keeps you from having to run wires in your ceiling and add another pair of speakers for Dolby Atmos.
Focal Chora Center
The Focal Chora center channel uses the TNF tweeter with two of the 6 ½” Slatefiber midrange/midbass drivers. This is a fairly large center channel at 8 ½” tall and over 20” wide which means it is going to be able to handle all of the dynamics some movies throw at the center channel. Focal supplies an optional stand for it, but we suspect in most systems it will wind up sitting on top of a cabinet. The Center comes with a cabinet stand that will tip it up to both time align it and better aim it at your ears if its on a low cabinet unit.
Focal Chora Surround
These are just really cool. We love the design of the Surround! It has an angled cabinet with a magnetic grill to hide the same 6 ½” Slatefiber midrange/bass driver with the TNF tweeter. Figuring out how to mount these for your surrounds is a snap. You attach a small bracket to the wall and the screws for this bracket will be the exact height the tweeter winds up at (which should be close to your ear level). Then you just put some little feet on the speaker, connect the cable and pop it onto the bracket. If you wish a more custom look you could snake the speaker wire down inside your wall. The fact that the surround speakers have the exact same speaker drivers as your mains and center is really awesome!
Dolby Atmos Home Theater Options
One really great home theater system would be to use the 826D’s with the Chora Center and Chora Surrounds for a 5.0.2 Dolby Atmos system. You could add a sub or wait on Focals upcoming Sub 600 (which looks like it will be pretty good) to go 5.1.2. This system can easily go in just about any room. If you put the Surround on your side walls at ear level, we think you will find this to be a system that tracks effects really well due to the fact you have identical drivers all around. This would be a little over $4,000 less a subwoofer
Another more flushed out option would be to use this same rig with another pair of Chora Surrounds as your rears. That set up would be just over $5,000.
However, if you really wanted to get a fully immersive surround, we are big fans of a 7.1.4 layout where you have rear speakers, side surrounds, and 4 Atmos speakers. This would be 2 pairs of the 826D, the Center, and one pair of Surround. Using the 826D for both fronts and rears is going to put a lot of impact into the room, plus you’ll get 4 Atmos speakers. This setup would run about $7,000 without a subwoofer and fill up a very large space.
At Audio Advice, we have always felt if a speaker system sounded good on music, and is capable of reproducing great dynamics, it’s also going to be a winner in the home theater world.
We brought out a pair of the 826 for testing and set them up on a Cambridge stack to run through some of our favorite music demo material. We used the Cambridge Azur integrated amp (120 watts per channel) and streamer, which felt like a good match for a pair of speakers in this general price range.
Setting them up out of the box requires an extra step compared to most speakers as you’ll want to attach the angled base to the bottom. Focal includes some large, solid allen screws and it only took a couple of minutes per speaker to get them done. We do have one gripe on the EU banana insert plugs. These are required to be on any speaker sold in the EU as banana plugs are spaced like their electrical plugs. Speakers come with these little hard rubber inserts pushed inside the banana plug. Most of these come out pretty easily but we needed a sharp pair of wire cutters to extract these, our normal fingernail efforts were futile. But, you just have to do this once.
We did our testing with Tidal streaming from the Azur 851N and cued up Bird On A Wire from Jennifer Warnes. From the first few seconds we were grinning. Our immediate reaction was, wow, these are big and fast! Her voice was dead center and on top of the musical instruments and the percussion was super quick with tons of fast impact. What was really interesting to us was how well the 826 images. We had not even gotten out our tape measure to make sure they were equidistant and they were producing a great soundstage. It turned out one was 2” off and when we adjusted for that, the image went way outside the speakers. We suspect this has a lot to do with the time alignment the tilted base provides. Time aligned speakers have always presented a big soundstage. Just for grins we switched over to a more expensive speaker that happened to be sitting right next to them in our demo room. They sounded collapsed and flat in comparison.
After rocking out to Bird On A Wire, we dialed the volume back for a more laid back song to see how they performed at low volume levels. We started up the Power of Two by the Indigo Girls from 1200 Curfews. On a lot of speakers the soundstage will collapse at low levels, but this was not happening here. The harmonics of the vocal harmonies were very clear with good separation and the guitars had a great delicate sound. The 826 easily passed the low volume quality test in our opinion.
We bounced back to a more involved rock cut, Mr Blue Sky by ELO. This one really got us excited. Not only was the bass guitar impact fast and deep, they play around the the phase on some synthesizers here which extended the image way outside the speakers while Jeff Lynne’s voice was dead center. Keeping in a similar vein we moved to Your Latest Trick from Dire Straits. Here we did find the revealing nature of the Focal tweeter to show this recording is a bit too emphasized on the top end. It has sounded the same way on other revealing speakers which was no surprise. Just bear in mind these speakers will show you what the source is really like.
Our last track was Stravinsky's Firebird Suite Infernal Dance of King Kastchei. Here the sound of the large hall was readily apparent and the parts where the brass sections come in just exploded in front of us. And once again, a huge stereo image.
If the 826 is any indication of how the rest of the speakers sound, Focal has a real winner with this new line up. The soundstage and dynamics they present will make home theater a lot of fun with a big, room filling, dynamic sound. You’ll want a good home theater receiver with some power reserves to bring out the best of them though, so don’t scrimp on your power if you go with these. And to top things off, they just look really cool with better style than most speakers around.
High Tech Materials
With their new Slate driver and TMF inverted dome tweeter, you get a technology that has filtered down from some much more expensive Focal speakers.
Time Aligned Bliss
The time aligned feature shows itself off with a huge wide and deep soundstage that will really pull you into the music.
While you can get these in black, we love the style of the light wood version. They don’t look like your typical speaker and can add a sense of style to your room.
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