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

The Chora's beautiful build and styling is outmatched only by its sonic punch.

Focal Chora 806 in darkwood veneer
Focal

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At a Glance
  • Focal Chora 806

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

To that end, the company is joining its sibling brand—Naim Audio—to 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 you’ll also get a 4-meter pair of Naim’s NAC A5 speaker cables and an extended warranty for five years. That’s 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 Chora’s exquisite veneer finish.

Unpacking the Chora 806, I couldn’t help but notice their solid build quality and styling. The Chora’s 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 baffle’s color varies with each veneer.

On my dark-wood review sample, the speaker’s slightly glossy, slate-colored front baffle stands out as a prominent feature. You’d better love the baffle color because unlike most loudspeakers, the Chora 806 grille doesn’t 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 you’re armed with a high-performance loudspeaker you’re 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 beryllium—arguably the best tweeter material available today—on 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 Chora’s 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. Focal’s 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 Chora’s 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 Focal’s 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 couldn’t figure out how to pop the caps off. I stopped short for fear of damaging the connectors.

Detail view of the Focal’s binding post plugs that wouldn’t allow me to connet banana plugs easily. Theo Nicolakis/IDG

A detail view of the Chora 806’s binding post plugs that wouldn’t 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. It’s 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 room—far more finicky than any speaker in recent memory. If you don’t have the wherewithal for this task, have your local Focal dealer set up the speakers for you. You’ll be duly rewarded.

focal tweeter Theo Nicolakis/IDG

The Focal’s inverted dome aluminum/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 Ray’s 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 speakers—that was not here.

The Chora 806 did yeoman’s work rendering piano notes on Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” and Lana Del Rey’s “Mariners Apartment Complex.” Though if I’m allowed to nitpick, the Chora couldn’t quite earn a perfect score reproducing the piano’s definition and body.

focal driver Theo Nicolakis/IDG

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

Bass response was very good for the driver size and frequency response. Focal’s designers clearly focused on the quality and not quantity of bass. The Chora’s 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 Michaelson’s “This is War” and “Wonderful Unknown” were taut, crisp, and well controlled, though audibly curtailed at the lowest frequencies.

On James Blake’s “Limit to your Love” the Chora 806’s bottom-end limits on the song’s 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 McLachlan’s “Love Come [piano version]” and Diana Krall’s “I Remember You,” from her album The Look of Love.

On the downside, the Chora 806 can’t quite transcend a slightly boxy sound—that’s 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 you’ll experience with reference speakers.

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

A taste of the high end

The Focal’s Chora 806 bookshelf speakers are beautifully built, solid performers. The Chora’s 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, you’ll get a superb-sounding, high-tech package in a spouse-friendly footprint for a phenomenal price.

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At a Glance
  • These bookshelf speakers make a great introduction to high-end audio at a very reasonable price.

    Pros

    • A real taste of high-end audio
    • Superb build quality and finish
    • Huge sonic sound stage
    • Sleek styling

    Cons

    • Slightly boxy sound
    • Needs to be paired with subwoofer to deliver deepest bass
    • Difficulty using banana plugs with its binding posts
  
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