Loudspeakers have steadily improved over the past 20 years, particularly those costing less than $1000. A number of factors have contributed to this welcome trend: Designers have ready access to sophisticated computer-based measurement tools; materials technology has improved dramatically, resulting in better-performing drivers; and several audiophile-oriented companies have grown in size, enabling them to bring the economies of large-scale manufacturing to high-end designs.
A perfect example of just how good entry-level loudspeakers have become is the Focal Chorus 706V. Priced at just $595 per pair, the French-made 706V offers many of the sonic qualities once only heard in mid-level floorstanding speakers.
The second up from the bottom of Focal’s new 700V line, the 706V mates a 6.5" Polyglass mid/bass driver with a 1" aluminum-magnesium inverteddome tweeter. The mid/bass driver is a refinement of a Focal design (in production for 15 years) that uses a coating of tiny hollow glass spheres on the surface of the cellulose-fiber (paper) cone—increasing stiffness while only marginally increasing cone mass. Similarly, the tweeter is a refined version of Focal’s inverted-dome unit, featuring a new suspension and magnet structure that reportedly reduces distortion at the crossover frequency by a factor of six.
The 706V’s enclosure construction is truly impressive for a loudspeaker of this price. Cabinet rigidity is usually given short-shrift in entry-level products, but not in the 706V. All six walls are made from 1"-thick MDF with internal bracing. The “V”-shaped enclosure (which gives the series its name) means that the sidewalls are not parallel, reducing standing waves inside the box. The cabinet is significantly larger than that of a traditional minimonitor, though still small enough for bookshelf mounting (if you must).
The crossover point is at 3kHz, with fourth-order (24dB/octave) slopes, realized with second-order electrical filters combined with second-order acoustic roll-offs. A single pair of binding posts is provided. The eight-ohm impedance and high sensitivity of 90dB (high for a small speaker) suggest that the 706V can be driven to loud levels with moderately powered amplifiers.
I auditioned the 706V in my reference system, as well as with a Simaudio Moon i-7 integrated amplifier and Esoteric SZ-1 CD/SACD player, connected with Kimber Hero interconnects and Kimber 4TC speaker cable. The pair of stands (not included) put the 706V’s tweeters exactly at ear level, and a moderate amount of toe-in produced the best tonal balance and image focus.
The 706 had a distinctive sonic character that wasn’t what I expected from a monitor-sized loudspeaker. Instead of limited bass extension, muted dynamics, and a focused intimacy, the 706V had a big, robust, and dynamic presentation that reminded me of a moderately sized floorstander.
Starting with the bottom end, I was floored by the 706’s bass dynamics, impact, and punch. This speaker will play loudly, go low, and do both at the same time. Consequently, music had a lively, upbeat, visceral quality, which served rock, electric blues, and some jazz particularly well. The 706V beautifully conveyed the energetic live feel of Traffic, the hybrid CD/SACD release of guitarist Larry Coryell, bassist Victor Bailey, and drummer Lenny White. This live jam session bristles with energetic musicmaking, and the 706V’s combination of qualities was perfectly suited to conveying the spontaneous high-octane playing. Lenny White always seems to get a massive, deep, and dynamic tom-tom sound (most famously on “Sorceress” from Return to Forever’s Romantic Warrior, or more recently, on the eponymous CD from the band Vertú). Where small speakers often turn a big tom into a sound like pencils on an oatmeal container, the 706V had real weight, impact, dynamics, and bass heft on White’s kit, even at fairly loud listening levels. Moreover, the bass was tuneful and taut, and had good pitch articulation.
I was also impressed by the 706V’s lack of cabinet colorations and congestion at high playback levels. Many speakers at this price have a “howl” at certain frequencies caused by cabinet resonance, and tend to congeal the sound into a raucous mess during complex passages. By contrast, the 706V maintained its composure well at satisfyingly loud listening levels. I attribute these qualities partially to the 706V’s outstanding cabinet rigidity, which is uncommon in a $595 loudspeaker. (A simple and interesting test of enclosure resonance is to play a swept sinewave from a test CD at a moderate volume with your hand on the cabinet sides and feel how much the cabinet vibrates, and at what frequencies.)
Concomitant with the 706V’s big and assertive bottom end, the midrange was forward and incisive, and had a palpability that projected instrumental and vocal images far forward of the loudspeakers. Vocals had a vivid immediacy that was startling, though some listeners might find the 706V’s mids a bit pushy. The entire presence region seemed elevated, in contrast with the “Gundry Dip” (a broad and shallow attenuation in the midrange) often engineered into British mini-monitors. The result was akin to sitting closer to the musical performance. Diana Krall’s voice from Love Scenes, for example, seemed to extend well forward of the loudspeaker plane and nearly to the listening seat. This characteristic might not be attributable to a deviation from flat response in the midrange—the mids were remarkably open and uncolored—but to the presence and palpability that were the 706V’s most salient sonic signatures.
I also noted an occasional glare on violins played in a certain register and, less often, on vocals. I attribute this to either a hardness at a certain frequency or a peak in the response curve. That I heard this only occasionally suggests that whatever is causing it is confined to a narrow frequency band. Overall, the treble was extremely clean, free from hardness and grain, and well integrated with the music.
The 706V had a large and spacious presentation, with images that tended to be a bit billowy and diffuse rather than tightly focused.