SOME MAY see France’s Focal as a maker of $100,000-plus speakers and $4,000 headphones. But while the company does maintain a high profile in the high-end through products like its Utopia towers, the reality is that Focal makes speakers— and headphones—that cover a wide range of price points. It’s been nearly ten years since Sound & Vision reviewed a full-scale Focal home theater speaker system—a $25,000 rig with beryllium tweeters. This time out we’re looking at the company’s affordable new Chora series, a lineup that notably includes speakers with upfiring drivers to handle Atmos and other immersive formats.
The Chora 826-D ($2,790/ pair) is a 4-way speaker available in black, dark wood, and light wood finishes. As mentioned above, Focal’s tower features a full-range upfiring driver that bounces sound off the ceiling to deliver overhead effects in movie soundtracks. The rest of its driver array consists of a pair of 6.5-inch Slatefiber cone woofers, a 6.5-inch Slatefiber cone midrange, and a 1-inch aluminum/magnesium inverted dome tweeter. Slate what? Slatefiber is a composite material made from recycled non-woven carbon fibers and thermoplastic polymer. According to Focal, the cones, which are designed and manufactured at the company’s facility in Saint Étienne, offer the dual benefits of lightness and rigidity, resulting in “dynamic, rich, and ultra-balanced sound, particularly in the midranges.” As for the tweeter, Focal uses inverted domes throughout its various speaker ranges. Paired with a small-diameter voice coil and suspended in a bracket that uses Poron, a material with “shape memory,” this design is said to yield high frequency output with low directivity (+/-0.5dB response variance in the horizontal plane, according to Focal), along with significantly reduced distortion in the critical 2-3kHz range.
Compared with other Focal speakers, many of which have a curvaceous design, the Chora lineup is somewhat basic and boxy. The company sent me one pair of 826-D towers in dark wood finish and the other in black, and of these the dark wood pair (shown) was the foxier option by a wide margin. A magnetically attached grille covers the bass and midrange drivers on the tower’s front baffle. The bottom is occupied by a large port, while the tweeter is set in a waveguide at top and covered with a non-removable metal protective grille. Two sets of speaker connections are located on the back—one for the main driver array, and the second for the upfiring driver—and both use sturdy binding-post connections that accommodate banana plugs, spade lugs, and bare wire. The tower’s included base angles the speaker slightly back to provide proper time-alignment of the front-facing drivers. While the base is sturdy and does its job well, it also has a plasticky look that I felt detracted somewhat from the tower’s otherwise outstanding cosmetics.
Focal shipped me two sets of 826-D towers to use in the front and rear for a 5.1.4 speaker configuration. Rounding out the rest of the system was the Chora Center ($790), a sealed two-way design with a pair of 6.5-inch Slatefiber cone woofers each covered with a circular magnetically attached grille and sandwiching a 1-inch aluminum/magnesium inverted dome tweeter, and the company’s SUB 1000 F subwoofer ($1,990). While technically not part of the Chora series, the SUB 1000 F’s cube-like dimensions and the circular grille covering its 12-inch flax driver make it a good visual match with an otherwise all-Chora system. (Focal’s latest subwoofer, the $1,290 Sub 600P, would be another good option.) A 1,000- watt BASH amplifier provides plenty of power to drive the 12-inch driver within its sealed-box enclosure. Otherwise, the SUB 1000 F’s feature set is basic: RCA line-level and LFE inputs, volume dial, a 40-160Hz variable crossover, and a 0/180 degrees phase switch.
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