Chora is the successor to Focal’s lauded Chorus line that included models like the Chorus 705, which garnered more than its share of praise and was repeatedly selected for TAS’ Editors’ Choice award. But time marches on, and the French manufacturer saw opportunities to raise the bar on performance as well as visual appeal. The new Chora line includes the Chora 826 and Chora 816 floorstanding loudspeakers ($2190 and $1790 per pair respectively), and the subject of this evaluation, the Chora 806 bookshelf loudspeaker at $990 per pair.
The three current models share some characteristics. They are bass-reflex models, and feature Focal’s newly developed mid/bass drivers—transducers that sport a unique, in-house-developed cone material. Referred to as Slatefiber—designed and manufactured by Focal in France (not subcontracted out)—these diaphragms are a sandwich of thermoplastic polymer around a core made from non-woven recycled carbon fibers. Focal pioneered the “W Sandwich” cone structure many years ago for its flagship models, and has now trickled down the technology to much lower price points. Focal is justifiably proud of the combination of damping, rigidity, and lightness that Slatefiber yields—a hat-trick of sorts that every manufacturer aims for in designing a high-performance transducer.
Joining the six-inch mid/bass is a Focal signature driver, its TNF aluminium/magnesium inverted dome tweeter. Uniquely, the surround on this tweet was derived from the Focal Utopia’s famous beryllium tweeter. It uses a memory foam material called Poron that reduces distortion by a third between 2kHz and 3kHz—the ear’s high-sensitivity range.
Stylistically, Chora conveys a hip contemporary look, mixing matte surfaces with contrasting baffles and side panels and glossy accents. For the 806, the drivers are arrayed in-line, with the front-firing port located in the bottom-most position on the front baffle. The distinctive graphite shading of the Slatefiber diaphragms is also a cool conversation starter. Rather than softening cabinet edges with a gentle radius, Chora bucks the trend, opting for the sharp corners of many a classic compact. The cabinets are knuckle-rap stiff and nicely finished. Binding posts are five-way, single-wire-only, and angled to ease access. The tweeter dome is protected by a fine mesh screen. The round cloth grilles magnetically affix to the frame surrounding the mid/bass driver—and pull the entire design together nicely. For serious listening, however, I removed them. Chora loudspeakers are available in black, light wood, and dark wood finishes. The entire speaker, from the drivers to the cabinet, is made in France—unusual at this price where Chinese manufacture is the norm. More Chora models are expected in 2020, with the focus on home cinema.
With the Chora 806, consistency and balance were the keys to sonic performance. It projected an even, somewhat mellow sound with a light responsive character. Tonally, it manifested an all-around, conservative approach that didn’t assault the senses or overweight the bottom octaves. Vocals, male and female, were open and relaxed, but generally on the lighter side tonally. They exhibited a little less chest energy and diaphragmatic presence than a full-range monitor would exhibit. But in true compact-monitor fashion, musical details, small and large, were abundant. During the Dixie Chicks’ cover of Stevie Nicks’ “Landslide,” the singers’ harmonies sat on a nice cushion of air, their carefully crafted melodic interplay on full display. Songbird Alison Krauss, whose voice brims with as much purity as any I’ve heard in popular music, gained a hint of sparkle and sibilance during her “You’re Just a Country Boy.” Overall, I concluded that, although there was a slight treble lift, it was a minor, non-fatiguing artifact that didn’t detract from the balanced way in which the 806 went about the serious business of making music.
Bass response was more than respectable for a compact, descending cleanly into the 50-60Hz midbass region and rolling off fairly swiftly from there. The track “Ballad of the Runaway Horse” from Jennifer Warnes’ Famous Blue Raincoat album has a strong repetitive bass line that I usually listen to when attempting to take the measure of a loudspeaker’s low-end performance. The Chora hit these notes spot on with no bloat or port overhang. Similarly, during Sonny Rollins’ Way Out West (MQA on Tidal), bass articulation, pitch, and trailing resonances were convincingly reproduced. In spite of the fact that the 806 lacks the deepest extension and most sustained decay, my impression was one of truthfulness of timbre to the source. Along those lines, there was also a rewardingly tactile presentation of drum kits, a sensation of sticks striking the drum head and of the reverberant bounce and action of the skin.