Focal Chora 806 Stand-Mounted Loudspeakers
At a retail price of £600, or a sub-£400 street price on eBay, Focal's new Chora 806 two-way bookshelf speaker is an intriguing package. Engineered and built by the French manufacturer in the same facility at Saint-Étienne that makes the £130,000 Focal Grande Utopia III Evo, the Chora 806 is intended, says Focal, as an uber-affordable first rung on the audio ladder.
The visual cues offered by the 806 speakers say 'stand mounter,' but it is a mistake to ignore the word 'bookshelf' in the product name. Positioned away from room boundaries the 806s sound unbalanced, but on a shelf or a stand, right in the room boundary pressure zone with their backs 19 cm or so from the wall, they deliver much more agreeable results.
The Chora 806 is a square-edged MDF enclosure 431 (H) x 210 (W) x 245 mm (D) weighing 7.35 kg. It has a 25 mm tweeter, a 165 mm mid-woofer and a 50 mm port on the baffle plane. Both drivers are designed and manufactured by Focal, the tweeter an inverted dome of aluminium and magnesium and the mid-woofer using a cone that is a composite of carbon strands and thermoplastic. The crossover frequency is 3 kHz. A single pair of upwards-angled binding posts is on the rear. The review samples were finished to a flawless standard in a gloss grey to the front, with wood-effect vinyl wrap elsewhere. As Focal suggests, it is a very fashionable look. Internally the 806s have one brace, and liberal use is made of acoustic wadding. Nominal impedance is 8 Ohms over a bandwidth of 58 Hz to 28 kHz (+/-3 dB). Focal says the 806s have an efficiency of 89 dB and can be driven by amplifiers with a minimum of 25 Watt output.
I spent some four weeks listening to the 806s using mostly a Marantz PM8006 solid state integrated amplifier (circa 70 Watts for £1000) with the aim of pairing the Chora 806s with a quality of amplification representative of that likely to be used by perhaps some buyers. Sources were an FM tuner, CD and vinyl.
Not only were the 806s easily driven by the tubes, but the little Focals showed a monitor-like, forensic side to their character by revealing quite plainly the differences between the respective dynamic, tonality and timing abilities of the tubes versus the Marantz solid state amplification. After this brief dalliance with gross system imbalance — the Tomei retails around £35,000 the last time I looked - I used the Marantz amplification for the remainder of the four weeks.
Focal speakers that I have heard previously, all much more costly than the 806s, have sounded for my tastes over-bright and assertive. Focal uses the words silky, soft and precise to describe the tweeter of the 806s, and so I had hopes of being able to report a departure from what I assumed to be the house sound.
That was not to be. While I heard no offensive hardness — so Focal is correct in drawing attention to that aspect of performance — the top-end of the 806s is still assertive. It can be mitigated to an extent by patient adjustment of positioning in relation to the front wall, but even when thus optimised, in my room the 806s still gave brushed snare drum too much tssshhssssh, cymbals too much tizz, and generally overplayed their hand in transcribing the higher reaches of the audio band.
On-axis measurement confirmed that while the 806s are commendably flat through the midrange, they rise by 7 dB over the last two octaves to 20 kHz. This lift is itself then enhanced by the average listening room, resulting in a bright, toppy presentation. Focal is among a sizeable grouping of its industry peers in voicing its products to sound this way, but membership of a herd doesn't make the practice right. Neither does it make the resulting style of presentation accurate — indeed I think we should instead call it out for what it is; unnatural, and clearly a colouration intended to wow audio showroom visitors.
I am bound to accept though, even as I wince in disapproval, that I am in a curmudgeonly minority in wanting less tizz and sizzle with my treble. Clearly, a lot of potential buyers of the 806s and other speakers of their sonic ilk will beg to differ, and approve of the upper octaves rise.
I reacted much more positively to the way the Focals behaved elsewhere in the audio band. Paired with the Marantz - and even more so with the Tomei - they gave a performance with natural recorded sources such as human voice and cello that leaned pleasingly towards the high end, with subjectively low distortion, reasonable dynamic agility and a fair helping of tonal density. I'd have liked more weight and a little more warmth, but on the up-side the 165 mm mid-woofer exhibits notably less cuppiness than some alternative speakers using similarly sized drivers. Voices are pleasingly open and free of the box and Focal's designers deserve kudos for that achievement. With the -6 dB point at 49 Hz the Chora 806s are never going to be bass-masters, but thoughtfully positioned they give enough information about what is going on below 200 Hz to make life interesting. What bass there is, as should be expected from a competent 165 mm driver, is relatively agile and tonally informative. Overall the effect of this undoubtedly deliberate balance is to throw the sonic spotlight on the midrange.
Of course, not all types of programme material necessarily requires speakers able to plumb the sonic depths. Sometimes, depending upon what we choose to listen to, a satisfactory illusion of musical performance can be sustained by less than full-range reproduction. Placed on stands away from the room boundary the 806s image in an exemplary manner. Moving them to a shelf or a stand close to the front wall in order to achieve a better sonic balance robs imaging of depth and subjective spatial accuracy, but not to the same gross degree that might be assumed. Whether this is a happy coincidence or a result of knowing design by Focal I cannot say.
Nonetheless, Focal is clear about who its intended buyers for the Chora 806s are: millennials who might be tempted onto the bottom of the audio ladder. I wrote in an earlier issue of HIFICRITIC about how the entire audio industry needs to wake up and recognise that it will wither and die unless it can attract and then up-sell to new generations of customers. Entry-level products need to be affordable and deliver a genuine taste of all-round high-end performance.
Focal should be applauded for understanding this market dynamic and for trying to respond positively to it.
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