Focal CHORA 826 Review: Focal hero

Introducing the new entry-level range with innovative cone material, Focal CHORA 826. David Vivian reckons it’s something to sing about.

Like many of you, I’ve been craving the life-affirming feeling you only get from live performances. But with no concerts on the horizon, I’ve turned my attention to ensuring I get the best from my hi-fi.

focal chora 826 in front, both speakers

A DAC will transform your sound in ways you couldn’t have imagined

Sitting in the ‘sweet spot’ between two speakers is the closest you can get to the best seats in the house. Make sure they’re at least 15cm away from the wall and sit level with your ears when seated. It’s also worth experimenting with the angle of the speakers, as even a few degrees can make a huge difference in experiencing a full orchestral sound.

Rearranging the furniture to prioritize your speakers may be too far, but good amplifiers have software to help compensate for less-than-ideal positioning. Arcam uses the excellent Dirac Live Room Correction technology, while Sonos cleverly uses the microphone in your smartphone.

Ideally, you need an amplifier and speakers with enough power to recreate the feeling of the orchestra moving the air around you. A powerful amplifier will effortlessly drive your loudspeakers, enhancing the excitement of the music – as a rule, more amp power means more control and less distortion.

focal chora 826 Review

If big speakers aren’t practical, you can still immerse yourself in a live recording with a pair of over-ear headphones from a respected brand like Sennheiser or Audio Technica. Ideally, you should pair them with a DAC like the sublime Chord Mojo, transforming your sound in ways you couldn’t have imagined.

The better quality the music file, the more detail you’ll hear: the tap of a baton, the breath of a pianist, and the buzz of an audience can all be lost on a poor-quality MP3 file, so seek out better-than-CD quality (16-bit/44.1kHz).

Listening to and watching classical performances are very different experiences, but with the right TV sound system, you’ll be surprised how immersive it can be. The best way to enjoy concert recordings is through Dolby Atmos, which projects sound up and around the room.

French loudspeaker maker Focal pours much time and money into R&D – probably more than most of its competitors. Originally known as Focal-JMLab, the company was founded in 1979 in Saint-Etienne by the engineer and hi-fi journalist Jacques Mahul. From the beginning, a restless desire to stay ahead of the curve fuelled innovation. The mission could easily be subtitled “.. .and the search for the perfect driver diaphragm”. It’s a continuing (and presumably never-ending) quest, but Focal’s track record thus far in bringing new materials and composites to market is impressive. Since the early eighties, these have included titanium, titanium dioxide, poly Kevlar, poly glass, flax, and, for its premium lines, beryllium and the mysteriously named ‘W’ composite.

Now slatefiber makes its debut, not as a state-of-the-art proposition later to be trickled down to more mainstream fare, but a ready-to-roll game changer at ground level or – as described by Focal – “a new standard in affordable loudspeaker design and performance”. In practical terms, it means that Chorus, its long-established entry-level speaker range, is replaced by Chora with the new and unique slatefiber drivers, more on which in a moment.

It projects a spacious soundstage with a strong sense of height and depth

It’s a clever strategy, neatly tying together Focal’s notional pre-eminence in driver innovation and a price point where its benefit will be for the many and not the few, to borrow a recent political slogan. This sort of thing tends to drum up a bit of excitement in a highly competitive sector, traditionally teaming with players angling for an edge by any means possible.

Unlike the sprawling Chorus range it supplants, the Chora family, for now, has just three members, all solidly constructed bass-reflex designs. The 806 is a two-way stand mount and is joined by a brace of floor standers, the three-driver, 2.5-way 816, and the four-driver, three-way Focal CHORA 826 on review here.

The lineup will start to expand next year (see Q&A). First up, however, is the flagship tower, which I’m particularly glad about as large-ish three-way floor standers selling for around £ have been doing great things in my listening rooms recently. The Focal CHORA 826 comes hard on the heels of the Bowers & Wilkins 603 and the only slightly pricier KLH Kendall – both guilty of nudging the bar and daring any newcomer to do better.

Secret to its success

They might be on shaky ground with the Focal CHORA 826. Focal notes that its aim has always been to make high-quality accessible and cites the popularity and acclaim afforded Chorus as a measure of its success. It suggests Chora is on another level altogether. Its objective with the new range has been to capture something of the sonic character and visual appeal of its most advanced and expensive speakers for the keenest price possible. If accomplished, that’s quite some prospect.

Mid and bass drivers built around slate fiber cones (the name refers to the attractive slate-grey color, not an ingredient) seem to be the key. The Focal CHORA 826, being a three-way design, has a 165mm unit dedicated to the midrange and two 165mm bass drivers, low-frequency output augmented by a large, aerodynamically profiled, front-facing port to help the system reach down to 48Hz at ±3dB and 39Hz at -6dB.

The challenge to optimize lightness, rigidity, and damping is the same as for any speaker cone material. Still, as with Focal’s previous ‘solutions’, this one comes at the problem from a slightly different angle. After the woven flax fiber and glass fiber sandwich used in the drivers of its Aria and Kanta models, slate fiber teams thermoplastic polymer with unwoven non-recycled carbon, again as a layered composite.

The front-facing bass port helps the focal chora 826 achieve impressively low frequencies

The front-facing bass port helps the Chora achieve impressively low frequencies

The upshot of having all the carbon fibres point in the same direction, according to Focal, is truly exceptional damping, lightness and rigidity resulting in superb efficiency a spacious soundstage and midband with minimal colouration, unfettered dynamic expression and rich, textured tonality.

The TNF tweeter, set in a shallow waveguide, is unusual, too. As well as sporting an inverted 25mm aluminium/magnesium dome (concave rather than convex to make it less directional), the suspension between the dome and its bracket incorporates Poron, a material with what Focal refers to as ‘shape memory’. It’s a similar arrangement to the one Focal employs for the famous beryllium tweeter in its high-end Utopia range. The benefit of this suspension, claims the company, is that it makes it possible to reduce distortion by a factor of three to around 2.5kHz, where the human ear is at its most sensitive, but the 28kHz frequency ceiling is impressive, too.

With so much effort and ingenuity devoted to the drivers, finding evidence of cost-paring elsewhere wouldn’t be too terrible. True, the Chora aesthetic isn’t a conversation piece like the Kanta, Sopra, or Utopia ranges would be, but it is smart and stylishly finished (in black with piano gloss baffle, light wood with cream baffle or dark wood with grey baffle) and holds its own with the more expensive Focal Aria line, positioned one tier up.

focal chora 826 Review

A magnetically attached grille covers the mid and two bass drivers, leaving the tweeter (protected by a gleaming steel mesh cap) and reflex port on show. But I reckon Focal is right, the slatefiber drivers look too good to hide away. If you agree, you’ll notice that the midrange driver has a conical dust cap, while on the bass drivers, it’s flattened out over a greater surface

The music ebbs and flows with a fluency and cohesion that makes it easy to relax in the area of the cones. The reason is that they have different functions. On the midrange driver, it is shaped to put the squeeze on interference and so reduce distortion, but on the bass drivers caps are flattened to enhance cone rigidity and improve definition and impact at the bottom end.

Normally, I steer clear of screw-on plastic plinths as, while undoubtedly increasing the stability of the loudspeakers to which they’re attached should a Great Dane or over-excited toddler rugby tackle them, I find they usually inflict some harm on the sound. Those supplied with the Chora would have been treated no differently but for the fact that as well as locating the Focal CHORA 826 more securely, they also tilt the enclosures back by a few degrees to time-align the drivers – essential for properly focused imaging, says Focal.

Focal CHORA 826 TECH SPECS

ORIGINFrance
TYPE3-way floorstanding loudspeaker
WEIGHT21kg
DIMENSIONS (WxHxD)303 x 1,053 x 388mm
FEATURES• 1x 25mm TNF Al/Mg inverted dome tweeter
• 1x 165mm slate fiber midrange driver
• 2x 165mm slate fiber bass drivers
•  Quoted sensitivity: 91dB/1W/1m
DISTRIBUTORFocal-JMlab UK Ltd.
TELEPHONE0845 6602680
WEBSITE focal.com/uk

Sound quality

I wish I could claim that I undertake extensive plinth on/off comparisons to hear the effect, but the speaker sounds so good with them fitted that I don’t feel inclined to doubt Focal’s word on the matter. Any experimentation that does take place is confined to discovering whether the tall and slightly tilted-back Chora prefers my small or large listening room (surprisingly, it works equally well in both without the need to be pulled especially far away from boundaries) and how it fares with a selection of classy integrated amps.

Again, the Focal remains coolly agnostic, effortlessly and enjoyably revealing the differing abilities of a Cambridge Audio CXA61 and a Hegel H90, despite their nominally identical 2x 60W power outputs, which, even in the larger room, proves more than enough to drive the sensitive Focal CHORA 826 (rated at 91dB) to very healthy levels.

Focal CHORA 826 Review
Slatefiber is named after its color, not its properties

As has become increasingly clear with my recent reviews of the B&W 603 and KLH Kendall, there are some things a well-designed and engineered three-way floorstander of a certain size can do that are simply beyond even the best stand mounts or smaller floor standers with fewer drivers. It’s a kind of easy-going generosity that unpacks a recording more completely for appreciation. The B&W excels through the midrange and treble with stunning clarity, resolution, and openness, while the KLH has a warmer tonal balance and deeper bass without being quite so transparent. Both exhibit that appealing three-way, unconstrained largess.

If anything, it’s even more apparent with the Focal CHORA 826. For instance, that lovely walking double bass that introduces Simply Red’s Sad Old Red breathes rather than feeling as if it’s being squeezed out of a constriction. Sarah Jane Morris singing John Martyn’s Sweet Little Mystery happens on a soundstage with believable scale and solidity, her soul-drenched huskiness portrayed with a richness and depth that tugs hard on the emotions. No, the Focal isn’t quite as resolute as the B&W or as tonally warm as the KLH, but it does chart a very comfortable path between the two that, straight away, gives it fabulous listenability.

Also, better than both those speakers is the Focal’s ability to project an extraordinarily huge and spacious soundstage with a strong sense of height and depth – which may result from that backward tilt. It works to stunning effect when I cue up jazz pianist and composer Chick Corea’s latest live set with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade on the album Trilogy 2, capturing not just the electricity of the performance but more than an inkling of venue space and ambiance.

The Chora repeatedly displays a knack for handling heavy duty with a light touch. At dazzling full tilt, the Corea trio gives any speaker much to think about and organize, but the Focal CHORA 826 neither blurs the detail nor labors the action. The sense of realism over exaggeration is stunningly impressive.

The same applies equally to Van Morrison’s latest album, Dark Night Of The Soul, which sounds gloriously rich and unprocessed, Van the man’s voice in fine, growly fettle. The music ebbs and flows with a fluency and cohesion that’s easy to relax into. The feeling of textural shading, the finely graded palette of tonal colors, and the sumptuous yet effortlessly deep and supple bass are a simple joy to behold.

INSIGHT

  1. 25mm TNF Al/Mg tweeter
  2. Single-wire binding posts
  3. Forward-facing bass port
  4. 2x 165mm slate fiber bass drivers
  5. 165mm slate fiber midrange driver
A DRIVING FORCE
In Focal’s quest to create the best drive units for its various speaker lines, many new materials have been introduced, including titanium, titanium dioxide, and even beryllium, used for the tweeters of its Utopia speakers.
In the mid-eighties, the French company developed a poly Kevlar sandwich cone for its midrange and bass drivers. This was constructed from two layers of aramid fibers placed on either side of a hollow micro-ball structure. This design optimized the cone’s weight, rigidity, and damping ratio in pursuit of improved driver responsiveness.
In 2015, it introduced flax cone drivers (previously the preserve of the more expensive Kanta) for its more affordable Aria speaker range. This sandwich cone features a thin layer of flax linen between two fiberglass layers. Flax was chosen for its mechanical properties, the hollow fiber combining neutrality and lightness while it’s low elasticity and high rigidity are similar to that of carbon and Kevlar.
COMPETITORS
As already mentioned, B&W’s 603 and KLH’s Kendall, while sounding quite different, set a sizzling sonic standard at the £ price point. Still, in some ways, the Chora Focal CHORA 826 jumps on both, rivaling the B&W for sheer transparency but delivering it with a richer balance and more sumptuous bass. It’s certainly the one I’d go for.

Verdict

The Chora 826 swiftly resolves any debate about whether to go for a stand mount or floor stander, and it’s bad news for the stand mount. That it can deliver the myriad advantages of a three-way tower in a small room makes it all but irresistible.

Focal CHORA 826 Review
10 Total Score
Recommended Focal CHORA 826 Review

This is Focal right on top of its game. The Chora 826 isn't just fine value, but a great speaker full stop

PROS
  • Exceptional sound
  • style
  • unfussy about placement and partnering equipment
CONS
  • Nothing at the price
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Focal CHORA 826: Price Comparison

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$1,398.00
in stock
as of May 22, 2024 7:01 am
Amazon.com
£1,299.00
in stock
Amazon.co.uk
$1,798.00
in stock
as of May 22, 2024 7:01 am
Amazon.com

CONTACT DETAILS

WEBSITES naimaudio.com focal.com

Q&A

Megane Montabonel, Product manager, Focal

DV: How do the properties of a slatefiber cone differ from flax?

MM: Slatefiber is made of recycled carbon fibers and thermoplastic polymer and has some very interesting acoustic properties: good rigidity, high damping (close to flax and ‘W’ membranes), and extremely lightweight. The upshot of this is that the sound characteristic of slate fiber offers excellent clarity in the midrange, representing a huge performance upgrade over the previous poly glass technology used in the Chorus. At Focal, we tend to find our speakers have a “Focal sound signature,” and slate fiber delivers a sound characteristic that we feel is reminiscent of our more premium models.

How did the slate fiber cone material come about?

The idea behind slate fiber was to create a new cone-material technology exclusive to Focal for our entry-level range of speakers. Historically, we have used a poly glass cone. For Chora, we wanted to have a product that was developed and made in France, so we created a new industrial tool (a semi-automated machine to make the cones) to be able to produce slate fiber cones in our factory at Saint-Etienne yet remain competitive.

Are any further models likely to be introduced to the Chora range?

In 2020, we’ll introduce some exciting new Chora family members to cater to a range of multichannel setups. Watch this space!

Review: Focal Chora 826-D Floorstanding Speakers

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4 Comments
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  1. hello! i have the opportunity to buy the CHORA 826 or the BW 603 what would be your choice or they are really close?
    thank you!

  2. I listened the Aria 906 with Naim uniti Atom and i really loved the sound, I am looking to buy a new system and I am wondering if the chora 826 are better than Aria 906?
    I also wonder if Naim uniti Atom really worth the price in comparison with Marantz PM7000N, I dont have the opportynity to listen Marantz PM7000N.

  3. Just got my Chora 826 …Chora center,
    hooked up to the Denon 8500… awesome speakers for music and movies,no regrets! ????

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