It wasn’t long ago that a five-liter V8 engine generated 225 horsepower. Today, technology allows 260 horsepower from a much smaller four-cylinder engine – and the fuel economy is far superior. Well-designed bookshelf loudspeakers from a reputable manufacturer like Focal remind me of this same performance jump.
It wasn’t that long ago when you needed a speaker driver over eight inches to get bass below 50 Hz or a super tweeter to extend much past 15,000 Hz. Yet here we are, looking at the disruptive Focal Chora 806 speakers at $600 per pair (buy at Amazon) and jaws are dropping. Moving beyond numbers, the Chora 806 is a stark reminder that decades of experience in loudspeaker design from a company like Focal, who has always been on the cutting edge of loudspeaker technology (drivers in the past and full-range speakers today), cannot be easily replaced. Especially regarding the design of a budget loudspeaker, and that is what we are looking at here with the Focal Chora 806.
What Makes the Focal Chora 806 Loudspeakers So Special?
- The Chora 806 has proprietary driver technology which isn’t always the case at these price points. The drivers are designed and built by Focal. The 6.5-inch Slatefiber woofer is a non-woven orientated carbon fiber encapsulated in a thermoplastic polymer.
- This woofer hits the big three design aspects that make a great driver: it’s lightweight, rigid, and self-dampening.
- The one-inch inverted dome aluminum/magnesium tweeter is no slouch either. The surround is made from a special elastomeric material called Poron, which prevents resonances and reduces distortion in the 2,000 Hz to 3,000 Hz range where our ears are most sensitive. This technology has been trickled-down from their flagship Utopia line of loudspeakers. It is, frankly, one of the best budget tweeters I have ever auditioned. Smooth, extended, extremely low distortion, and natural. This tweeter is reminiscent of the well-regarded Vifa/Scanspeak tweeters of the 1990s. However, it is a metal dome tweeter, so you also get the apparent speed and top-end air that can be missing with soft dome tweeters.
- Great industrial design makes the Chora 806 easy on the eyes, and that’s no small compliment. Many times, we listen with our eyes first, and the little 806 just oozes as much quality in its appearance as it does in its drivers.
- Available matching stands round out the slick look of the Focal Chora 806 loudspeakersand help solidify their performance, especially in the bass. Matching stands are hard to come by with stand-mount loudspeakers costing $2,000 per pair, and at $600 per pair, it is pretty much unheard of.
Why Should You Care About the Focal Chora 806 Loudspeakers?
The Focal Chora 806 represents four decades of loudspeaker design refinement at the highest levels. For $600 per pair, the Chora 806 is a true, high-fidelity loudspeaker for those who can’t pop for a reference pair of Focal Sopra 1s. Extremely well-balanced tonality is matched with low-distortion sound, and a soundstage as large as the finest loudspeakers is matched by a surprising amount of dynamic capability for an entry-level loudspeaker.
Some Things You Might Not Like About the Focal Chora 806 Loudspeakers
- The Chora 806 is a small loudspeaker. Try as we may, we cannot beat the laws of physics. As dynamic as the Chora 806 is, it is too small to produce large scale, realistic dynamics in well-recorded orchestral pieces. However, they do sort out the complexity well, and handle big music with grace. A quality subwoofer would go a long way to solving this quandary.
- To my ears, it seems the Chora 806 suffers from a little congestion in the mid-bass. Many budget loudspeakers suffer this ill and it is normally due to the cabinet construction. It is a careful balance when developing a budget loudspeaker. All ills must be those of omission. If a stuffy sounding cabinet is the sin paid for the remaining abilities of Chora 806, it was a smart choice, especially because entry-level electronics can lack control in the mid-bass. Electronics with a little less control in the mid-bass will cause this weakness to be an advantage, since it will help the music sound full instead of lean.
Listening to the Focal Chora 806 Loudspeakers…
Who doesn’t love cheesy 1980s pop? Daryl Hall and John Oates encompass this genre with perfection in their 1982 release “Maneater” off their Billboard Top 200 album H2O (CD resolution – 1440 AIFF) (buy at Amazon). Watch out, as this song explodes onto the scene with a typically compressed, 1980s pop drum beat and a quick bass line to match. I was taken aback by the presence and resolution of this foundation since the Chora 806 is a small loudspeaker recommended for rooms up to 215 square feet. My listening space is more than double the recommended size. The ambient synthesizer was gigantic in the soundstage and set the smoky feel for the predator that is stalking in the night. The shiny saxophone was fun, light, and unoffensive. Hall’s vocals come across purposeful and relaxed in the soundstage, bouncing with the finger-snap pace of this track.
The Chora 806 did a lovely job placing things where they should be, while resolving all the little embellishments this song has to offer. Overall, the presentation was delicate. While some of the deepest details were not there, they were not missed, and the overall sophistication of the sound was truly high fidelity. Pair a modest subwoofer to the Chora 806 to cement in the authority, and it may be a very long time before the upgrade bug bites.
Let’s rewind four years to 1978 when The Little River Band wrote a number three Billboard Hot 100 hit “Reminiscing.” (buy at Amazon) This smooth and groovy tune comes off their fourth album Sleeper Catcher. Not all remasters are created equally, however I happened across a 24/96 remaster of this song on Qobuz that was done very well. This pop song carries a wonderful 1970s groove that the Chora 806 paces nicely. It is surprisingly complex, with a multitude of instruments darting in and out, as well as a background chorus that is as wide as it is deep. The Chora 806 completely disappeared with this song and had enough meat on the bottom end to be filling. There also was enough extension on the top end to be as magical as walking through the park, reminiscing. Cheesy, yes, but what was not cheesy about late 1970s era pop?
Does the Focal Chora 806 Have Any Resale Value?
The Chora 806 will have a similar fate to the Schiit Mani 2 phono preamp. If the user is not moving them to another room or secondary system, they are inexpensive enough to gift away. That said: This is the kind of speaker where a decade from now, they may retain value and be desirable in the vintage market, keeping 40 percent to 50 percent of their original selling price.
Who Is the Competition For The Focal Chora 806?
This price point is a congested market to be polite. Pluses and minuses aside, at the price-point of the Chora 806 there may be shades of “different” from other reputable brands, not necessarily worse or better. If high-fidelity on a budget is the overarching goal, system synergy becomes an important aspect to consider. This is where other similar loudspeakers may find the edge in performance over the Chora 806, however this is very system dependent. In that spirit, here are three bookshelf loudspeakers that have a similar form/fit/function, that may provide some competition for the Chora 806.
- Klipsch RP-600MII: (buy at Amazon) Through the early 2000s, Klipsch was a little lost. Their speakers were blast-boxes with all boom and lots of sizzle up top. Great for a frat party but not so much for high fidelity. Recently, Klipsch has changed their sound-outlook and have been putting out some remarkable loudspeakers at all levels. If a budget low-powered tube (less than 20 watts) system is your cup of tea, the $749 RP-600MII may provide better dynamics with its higher efficiency design.
- Polk Audio R200: (buy at Amazon) Polk Audio has always made great sounding loudspeakers dating back to the 1980s. Today, they continue to produce neutral-sounding loudspeakers with strong technology and sound engineering. The $749 R200 may have an advantage in the low bass department over the Chora 806.
- JBL L52 Classic: (buy at Crutchfield) JBL has been reintroducing many of its classic loudspeakers, updated with modern technology. Despite a smaller woofer, I would audition these since they have an adjustable tweeter that may make tuning to the room a little easier. Further, the published bass extension of the $700 L52 classic is similar to that of the Chora 806, even though it may have less presence because the woofer is smaller.
Final Thoughts on the Focal Chora 806 Loudspeakers
The Focal Chora 806 is a $600 per pair loudspeaker (buy at Amazon) that can be classified as truly high-fidelity. Receiving the benefit of trickle-down technology from 40 years of loudspeaker excellence, they are a great buy-once option if looking to build a budget, high-fidelity listening system. The listening experience of the Chora 806 is sophisticated yet forgiving, with some of the best spatial imaging and high-frequency performance I have heard in a budget loudspeaker.
The Chora 806 hides its sins well, without committing any glaring wrongs, which is all that can be asked for at this budget level. Typically, I would recommend starting the high-fidelity journey with a high-quality source, however picking up a pair of Chora 806, and throwing them on even a modest receiver would be a great place to dip a toe into the world of high-quality musical enjoyment, highly recommended.
I have personally been designing and building loudspeakers for over 25 years now. While my most elaborate (and high cost) designs are competitive, it is nearly impossible to design, build, test, and perfect a budget loudspeaker anymore when speakers like the Chora 806 exist. I have found the big brands to be doing excellent work on the entry-level in recent years. With the flood of entry-level equipment, small boutique internet experts, even the wave of “Chi-Fi” (Chinese hi-fi that appeals to many of us), I urge all readers who are looking to buy-once-cry-once to stick with known brands that have a history of performance like Focal. These speakers are really, really good.
You say ‘It wasn’t that long ago when you needed a speaker driver over eight inches to get bass below 50 Hz or a super tweeter to extend much past 15,000 Hz.’
But you don’t say how much further below 50hz they can can go. (Assuming you are even referring to these speakers, since it’s not quite clear.)
50hz is a pretty common crossover frequency for subwoofers (and what Dolby themselves recommend) so if these can’t go much further below it then people like myself would still want to pair them with a sub.
Bob – thanks for the comments. I hope you like the new site.
I am with Mike on this review. I simply CAN NOT BELIEVE what Focal (a fav of mine) was able to do in a $600 speaker in terms of performance AND look.
I would ABSOLUTELY match this with a sub. Perhaps an SVS SB-1000 (review pending) or something modest.
I had a fancy version of this setup in my old office with Focal Diablo Utopias on stands, powered by Pass Labs class-A amp and an SVS sub. My office neighbor HATED ME even with “double drywall” and ripped up jeans packed in the wall between us. Screw him! 🙂
Thank you for the reply. Bass is such a finicky minx thanks to its room dependency. Full disclaimer: I am not a bass head, and I would rather have a little less extension for the tradeoff of timbre, speed, and integrated quality to the bass. I did not measure them in-room. I usually only break out the measurement rig if I feel something is wrong and needs and explanation.
I also do not believe that listening to test tones, pink noise, etc is always a good way to find issues with loudspeakers. Again, the room adds a very complex element, as well as our own physiological challenges such as the Fletcher-Munson curves and hearing related transfer functions.
Ok, time to answer your question… First of all, the lower one can cross a subwoofer, the better. I like that Dolby is recommending 50Hz. Low “E” on a bass guitar is 42Hz, and listening to blues that use big Gibsons, and Fender P-basses, I never felt the low end lacked anything. More importantly, I could tell the tonal difference between the two! To my ears, the extension was a real 50Hz, in room, and rolled off from there to about 40Hz. Focal seems to “rate” their speakers fairly.