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Focal Chora 806 Loudspeaker

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. 

 

On the subject of compact monitors and low bass, designers of this class of loudspeakers make choices which balance sensitivity and amplifier power demands with ultimate bass extension and port behavior. To that end, Chora was easy to drive, was appreciative of high-quality amplification, and not demanding of huge amounts of power. Focal didn’t press the 806 to dive deeper than it could comfortably manage. Nor did it bump up the mid and upper bass for effect. Rather, in my view, Focal opted for an evenness in the quality of bass—one that balances pitch and punch in roughly equal amounts. Sure, the 806s might’ve gone lower, but the typical result in other speakers is usually an overworked and chatty port, plus a foot-dragging heaviness that verges on plodding. I think Focal made the right choices. It’s a winning strategy that makes it that much easier to smoothly integrate a subwoofer, should you be interested in doing so down the road. 

Soundstaging and imaging were very good. The 806 was unobtrusive in the room and effectively disappeared during all but the most high-output playback. Instruments were focused and spread out naturally across a dimensional stage. The defined space and ambience between images made it easy to take a virtual tour around and through the orchestra. Smaller jazz combos and vocals could be reproduced with a realistic sense of scale, but overall scale and foundational weight were reduced somewhat (compared with how I imagine the 806’s floorstanding siblings, the 816 and 826 would perform). But that’s the nature of small two-way compacts. For the most part there were no obvious colorations, though on occasion the enclosure hinted at a slight hollowness—a sense, at times, of images not able to fully escape the cabinet.

Low-level resolving power was excellent, particularly in the way Chora reproduced a softly strummed acoustic guitar. Piano reproduction was also very good. Still, as I listened to Debussy’s “Claire du Lune,” I encountered hints of veiling during pianissimos—an opacity that added a thin blanket over the note. 

During Rutter’s Requiem my attention turned to the resolution of the Turtle Creek Chorale—the individuation of voices and the ability of the Chora 806 to distinguish volume gradients and tiny dynamic swings. Chora was sensitive to these delicate modulations. At the other extreme, when the 806 was pushed to higher volumes, as in the middle portion of the Manhattan Jazz Quintet’s cover of “Autumn Leaves,” the high-octane trumpet solo began to lose its luster and a hint of dryness accompanied some of the player’s bigger blasts.

It’s not always a given that multi-driver loudspeakers sing with a common voice. Even modest two-way compacts have inter-driver coherence issues and suckouts in critical bandwidths. And, frankly, as enthusiasts the last thing we want to hear are drivers going rogue—a tweeter off by itself singing coloratura soprano with the mid/bass driver doing bass-baritone, and nothing much else in between. This, thankfully, is not the way of the Chora 806—it spoke with one concise voice throughout my evaluation.

As this review wound down I found my admiration for the Chora 806 increasing by the hour. It struck me as a loudspeaker that didn’t attempt to win over ears based on a couple of strong attributes. Rather, it’s an efficiently well-rounded package of solidly engineered performance that touches a multitude of sonic bases and serves the music and the listener well—a fitting reminder that even in 2020, there’s still a lot of life left in the little two-way compact monitor. I can’t imagine any compact enthusiast with $799 to spend being anything but thrilled with the Chora 806. 

Specs & Pricing

Type: Two-way, bass reflex, stand-mount
Drivers: One-inch inverted dome tweeter, six-inch Slatefiber mid/bass
Frequency response: 58Hz–28kHz
Sensitivity: 89dB
Nominal impedance: 8 ohms (4.6 ohms minimum)
Dimensions: 8.25″ x 17.9″ x 10.6″
Weight: 16.2 lbs.
Price: $990/pr. (dedicated 806 stands, $299/pr.)


FOCAL-NAIM AMERICA
313 Rue Marion
Repentigny, QC J5Z 4W8, Canada
(866) 271-5689

Associated Equipment
Analog front end: SOTA Cosmos Series IV turntable, SME V tonearm, Clearaudio Charisma and Sumiko Palo Santos cartridges; Parasound JC 3+ and Pass Labs XP-17 phonostages
Digital front end: dCS Bartok DAC, dCS Puccini (SACD), Lumin S1 Music Player, Synology NAS, MacBook Pro/Pure Music
Electronics: Aesthetix Mimas and MBL Corona C51 integrated amplifiers; Pass Labs XP-12 preamplifier  
Cables and power cords: Wireworld Silver Eclipse 8 interconnect and speaker cable, Audience Au24SX cables and power cords, Synergistic Atmosphere Level Four and Shunyata Venom NR power cords. 
Digital cables: Audience USB, AudioQuest Carbon FireWire; Wireworld Starlight Cat 8 Ethernet
Power conditioners: Audience aR6-T4 and Shunyata Hydra
Accessories: VooDoo Cable Iso-Pod

By Neil Gader

Writer

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