Focal Chora 806 bookshelf speaker review: A taste of high-end audio

 techhive.com  10/27/2020 10:00:00   Theo Nicolakis

French audio maker Focal is one of the storied brands in high-end audio. The companys products range from loudspeakers costing upwards of $200,000, to headphones, and automotive audio speakers. Focals Chora 806 bookshelf speakers ($990 per pair) is part of Focals latest speaker lineup that looks to merge modern styling with more down-to-earth prices.

To that end, the company is joining its sibling brandNaim Audioto offer a series of bundle deals from November 1 to December 31, 2020 (while supplies last). Buy the Chora 806 together with a Naim Uniti Atom integrated amplifier for $3,290 and youll also get a 4-meter pair of Naims NAC A5 speaker cables and an extended warranty for five years. Thats like getting the speakers, the cables, and the extended warranty for free.

Superb Fit and finish

The Chora 806 bookshelf speaker is part of the Chora family that includes two tower speaker models, a surround speaker, a center channel, and a subwoofer. The Chora line targets two-channel purists as well as audiophiles looking for full-blown home theater setups.

focal veneer detail Theo Nicolakis/IDG

A detail view of the Choras exquisite veneer finish.

Unpacking the Chora 806, I couldnt help but notice their solid build quality and styling. The Choras satin finish wood-grain veneer is superb. The Chora 806 comes in three finishes to suit your tastes and decor: Light wood (a maple-like finish), dark wood (a walnut-like finish), and black. My review sample came in dark wood. The baffles color varies with each veneer.

On my dark-wood review sample, the speakers slightly glossy, slate-colored front baffle stands out as a prominent feature. Youd better love the baffle color because unlike most loudspeakers, the Chora 806 grille doesnt cover the baffle. Instead, Focal takes a different design aesthetic with the Chora 806.

The inverted dome tweeter sits behind an exposed, perforated metal cover and the front-firing port is visible at all times. Only the 6.5-inch driver gets a magnetic grille. The look a conversation starter that puts visitors on notice that youre armed with a high-performance loudspeaker youre itching to show off.

The circular magnetic grille is finicky, however; it must be exactly dialed in to grab the baffle. In order to get the grille to sit properly, I had to rotate it like a steering wheel until I felt the magnets align.

The Chora 806 is a two-way design. Focal uses berylliumarguably the best tweeter material available todayon its flagship speakers. But that element is very expensive to work with, so Focal opted for a more economical aluminum/magnesium tweeter in the Chora 806. The driver is a Slatefiber cone. Slatefiber is a composite of recycled, non-woven carbon fibers and thermoplastic polymer. Focal says its the first audio brand to use recycled carbon fibers in drivers, and that the combination of these two materials results in excellent acoustic performance as well as rigidity and damping.

Use high-quality amplification

Focal advertises the Chora 806 as an 8-ohm speaker with a sensitivity of 89dB, but the Choras impedance can dip down to 4.6 ohms, presenting a more difficult load for an amplifier. While the Chora should be easy to drive, you should mate them to a high-quality A/V receiver or a dedicated power amplifier that can handle low-impedance loads.

chora806 unitiatom Focal/Naim

If you can act fast, you can pick up the Chora 806 speakers, a Naim Uniti Atom integrated amplifer, NAC A5 speaker cables, and a 5-year extended warranty for the price of the amplifier alone.

I set up the Chora 806 in my basement theater and set them on top of 33-inch solid wood stands. Focal sells a pair of stands specifically designed for the Chora 806 that sell for $290 a pair; alas, Focal did not provide me with a review sample. Focals stands are 21 5/8-inches tall and are fabricated from MDF (medium density fiberboard). The stands are slightly tilted for time alignment and to direct the tweeters toward your ears. The bottom of the Chora 806 come with threaded screw holes that attach to the stands top plate for security.

While I recommend using stands, Focal includes two sets of silicone dots for tabletop placement.

Beautiful, but perplexing binding posts

The Focal Choras binding posts deserve some praise and some criticism. The binding posts sit in a beautifully smooth and curvaceous cavity on the back of the speaker, and they sport rounded fins that make them incredibly easy to tighten and loosen.

focal binding post Theo Nicolakis/IDG

The Focals binding post design makes it easy to tighten and loosen.

The binding posts are also perplexing. The instruction manual shows they can accommodate spades, bare wire, or banana connectors. But good luck trying to use banana connectors. The binding posts come with caps over the traditional banana connector channel. For the life of me I couldnt figure out how to pop the caps off. I stopped short for fear of damaging the connectors.

Detail view of the Focals binding post plugs that wouldnt allow me to connet banana plugs easily. Theo Nicolakis/IDG

A detail view of the Chora 806s binding post plugs that wouldnt allow me to connet banana plugs easily.

Listening

I paired the $990 Focal Chora 806 with a $3,290 Naim Uniti Atom, a high-performance, high-powered network streamer and integrated amplifier in a slick, ultra-compact footprint. Its a Roon-ready device, so I served up source material from my Roon Nucleus server consisting of both hi-res audio files and Tidal streams.

The Chora 806 were unusually finicky to dial into my roomfar more finicky than any speaker in recent memory. If you dont have the wherewithal for this task, have your local Focal dealer set up the speakers for you. Youll be duly rewarded.

focal tweeter Theo Nicolakis/IDG

The Focals inverted domealuminum/magnesium tweeter

When properly dialed in, the Chora 806 are magical for speakers in this price range; they completely disappeared in my room, creating a coherent wall of sound. On the Indigo Girls track Welcome Me, the Focals painted sonic images of Amy Rays and Emily Saliers guitar strokes and vocals in space and time.

The Focal 806 conjured up a ridiculously large sound stage that consistently extended beyond the speakers edges. A miniature sound stage is often a drawback of monitor speakersthat was not here.

The Chora 806 did yeomans work rendering piano notes on Billy Joels Piano Man and Lana Del Reys Mariners Apartment Complex. Though if Im allowed to nitpick, the Chora couldnt quite earn a perfect score reproducing the pianos definition and body.

focal driver Theo Nicolakis/IDG

A detail view of the Chora 806s Slatefiber cone composite woofer.

Bass response was very good for the driver size and frequency response. Focals designers clearly focused on the quality and not quantity of bass. The Choras frequency range is rated at 58Hz to 28kHz, and it delivered satisfying bass lines on Lourdes Royals, pressurizing my listening space with well-controlled, chest-thumping bass. Bass lines on Ingrid Michaelsons This is War and Wonderful Unknown were taut, crisp, and well controlled, though audibly curtailed at the lowest frequencies.

On James Blakes Limit to your Love the Chora 806s bottom-end limits on the songs house-shaking bass lines were abundantly clear. If you truly want deep bass with the Chora 806, pair them with a high-quality subwoofer.

The Chora 806 captivated me at times on songs such as Sarah McLachlans Love Come [piano version] and Diana Kralls I Remember You, from her album The Look of Love.

On the downside, the Chora 806 cant quite transcend a slightly boxy soundthats the sonic tradeoff with speakers and monitors at this price point. While, sound stage, timbre, and dynamics are really good, the texture of notes and the instruments that play them lack the masterful refinement and finesse that youll experience with reference speakers.

For example, switching back and forth between the Focals and myRBH Sound SVTR Signature Tower Speakers (priced at $11,000, thats an unfair match to be sure), the RBH SVTR Signatures eliminated the sensation of bloat and smearing on vocals and instruments. Natalie Merchants vocals on San Andreas Fault snapped into immediate focus in a solidly constructed sense of space and time. Put another way, its the difference between optical and digital zoom at 5x magnification.

A taste of the high end

The Focals Chora 806 bookshelf speakers are beautifully built, solid performers. The Choras build and performance clearly conveys their high-end pedigree and are a solid choice to anyone who wants to devote themselves to a serious audio hobby.

Without breaking the bank, the Chora 806 serve up a taste of what high-performance audio can deliver. Just be sure to pair them with high-quality electronics and amplification. If you can swing the Focal-Naim promotion running through December 31, youll get a superb-sounding, high-tech package in a spouse-friendly footprint for a phenomenal price.

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