What is the Focal Chora?
The Focal Chora range of speakers is designed to offer many of the features found in the company's higher-end Kanta line-up, but at a more affordable price. The range is composed of the Dolby Atmos-certified 826-D, the non-Atmos 826, and the smaller 816 floorstanding speakers, along with the 806 bookshelf speaker. There’s also the CC800 dedicated centre speaker, and the SR800 surround speaker, which is designed to be wall mounted.
The range uses identical 1-inch aluminium/magnesium inverted-dome tweeters, and 6.5-inch Slatefiber midrange drivers, thus ensuring a balanced tonal delivery. In the case of the 826-D, the Atmos reflective speakers are built into the top of the cabinet for immersive audio support (including DTS:X). The system being tested here is composed of a pair of 826-Ds (£1,699), a CC800 (£499), a pair of SR800s (£798), and a SUB 1000F subwoofer (£1,099).
This 5.1.2-channel system might not be considered cheap, with a combined cost of £4,095 as at the time of writing (November 2020), but when you consider all that you're getting, it might still be great value. Let's put this system through its paces and see if Focal's Chora range can elevate the audio in your home cinema.
Focal Chora 826-D Floorstanding Speaker
The Focal Chora 826-D is the new home cinema floorstander in the range, and is largely the same as the existing Chora 826. The design boasts plenty of Gallic flair, with Focal taking certain aesthetic cues from its higher-end Kanta range. This includes a bolt-on plinth that not only provides support but also tilts the speaker for improved time alignment. The build quality is excellent and there's a gorgeous two-tone look, with the option of light wood, dark wood or black finishes.
The 826-D uses a 1-inch aluminium/magnesium inverted-dome tweeter, with a perforated protective cover. Beneath this is a 6.5-inch Slatefiber midrange driver, and two 6.5-inch Slatefiber woofers in a three-way configuration. Slatefiber is a composite cone that combines thermoplastic polymer with recycled non-woven carbon fibres, resulting in the optimal balance between damping, rigidity and lightness. There's a bass port near the bottom, resulting in a claimed frequency response of 48Hz to 28kHz, while the speaker is rated at 8Ω, and has claimed sensitivity of 91dB.
Built into the top of the cabinet is a Dolby Atmos-certified speaker, which uses a 13cm full-range driver composed of a Slatefiber cone and an aluminium/magnesium dome tweeter. Both are housed in a directional baffle designed to fire sounds upwards, bouncing them off the ceiling and down towards the listener – creating the illusion of overhead channels. This sealed unit is rated at 6Ω, has a claimed sensitivity of 91dB and a frequency response of 100Hz to 20kHz.
The Chora 826-D includes a built-in reflective speaker at the top, allowing for support of Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks
It's great that Focal has added a built-in upward-firing driver to support Atmos and DTS:X object-based soundtracks, but while this approach is obviously tidier, there are a few considerations. For a start the effectiveness of any reflective speaker will, as the name suggests, depend on the reflectivity of your ceiling. The lower and flatter it is, the better. Very high or vaulted ceilings aren't well suited to this approach. The other issue is that since the reflective speaker is built-in, you'll need to use a pair of 826-Ds at the rear if you want a 5.1.4-channel system. While this will undoubtedly sound fantastic, such a setup obviously involves greater expense and takes up more space.
The speaker on the top sits behind a magnetic fabric grille that matches the one on the front, which covers the midrange driver and woofers. At the rear are two sets of high-quality binding posts, one for each speaker. The 826-D measures 1053 x 303 x 388mm (WxHxD), and weighs in at 22.2kg.
Focal Chora CC800 Centre Speaker
The Focal Chora CC800 is a dedicated centre speaker that uses a pair of 6.5-inch Slatefiber midrange/bass drivers, which are located either side of a 1-inch aluminium/magnesium inverted-dome tweeter. There are separate round magnetic fabric grilles covering the two midrange/bass drivers, with the central tweeter protected by a perforated cover.
This two-way sealed centre speaker is designed to deliver clear and precise voice reproduction. It also comes with a base for tilting, which is intended to improve the sound imaging and increase the sense of immersion. The build quality is excellent and, like the 826-D, the CC800 comes with a choice of three finishes: black; dark wood; and light wood.
The CC800 has a pair of high-quality binding posts at the rear, and Focal offers an optional stand that sits 45cm high. The speaker is rated at 8Ω, has a claimed sensitivity of 91dB and a frequency response of 59Hz to 28kHz. It measures 210 x 530 x 250mm (HxWxD), and weighs in at 8.9kg.
Focal Chora SR800 Surround Speaker
The Focal Chora SR800 surround speaker is designed for use as a side or back channel. It uses the same 1-inch aluminium/magnesium inverted-dome tweeter and 6.5-inch Slatefiber midrange/bass driver as the other speakers in the range, resulting in greater sonic coherence. The speaker is rated at 8Ω, has a claimed sensitivity of 89dB and a frequency response of 80Hz to 28kHz.
This slim, wall-mounted model comes with a bracket for quick and easy installation, and has high-quality binding posts in a recessed area at the rear. It's well-made, and comes in a single matte black finish that’s intended to blend seamlessly into dedicated home cinemas. There's also a circular magnetic fabric grille that covers the midrange/bass driver, and a perforated cover over the tweeter. The SR800 measures 445 x 320 x 100mm (HxWxD), and weighs in at 5.45kg.
Focal SUB 1000F Subwoofer
The final part of the system is the Focal SUB 1000F, and while not part of the Chora range, it's been designed for use in home cinemas. The 826-D floorstanders can generate a healthy amount of bass on their own, but for those big LFE moments you really need a dedicated sub.
This compact sealed unit is the larger of Focal’s SUB range, and sports a forward-firing 12-inch Flax woofer with dual magnets for improved linearity. There’s a rubber ring around the driver, resulting in no visible screws, and a 1000W of BASH amplification provides all the power. The SUB 1000F has a claimed frequency response of 24Hz to 200Hz, it measures 420 x 400 x 420mm (HxWxD), and weighs in at 21.5kg
The SUB 1000F is extremely well constructed, with a solid cabinet, thick panels and a 40mm front baffle. The subwoofer is finished in a gorgeous combination of a matte black cabinet and a gloss black front baffle. There's a circular magnetic black fabric grille around the driver, and all the controls and connections are at the rear. These are fairly basic, with volume and crossover controls, a 0 to 180˚ phase switch, and an on/auto power mode. The connections consist of stereo line inputs and a direct LFE input.
How was the system tested?
The Focal Chora 5.1.2-channel speaker system was tested in a dedicated home cinema. The Chora 826-D left and right floorstanding speakers were positioned at the front of the room on either side of the projector screen, the Chora CC800 centre speaker was between them beneath the screen, and the SR800 surround speakers were located at the sides and just behind the main listening position. While the front three speakers are aimed at home cinemas, they’ll complement most spaces thanks to their immaculate finish, and are gorgeous with the grilles removed. Finally the SUB 1000F subwoofer was placed at the front, in a location where my room's bass response is known to be balanced.
The testing was done using a mixture of material ranging from Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-rays, CDs, DVD-Audio discs, SACDs and music streaming services. The primary sources were a Panasonic DP-UB9000 4K Blu-ray player, an Oppo UDP-203 4K Blu-ray player, and an Apple TV 4K media player. These were routed through a Lyngdorf MP-60 AV processor, while an Emotiva XPA-11 power amplifier easily handled the seven channels need for the system.
The Focal Chora 5.1.2-channel system impresses right out of the gate, and watching La La Land with its jazz-influenced Dolby Atmos soundtrack is a real treat. The Focals immediately reveal a seamless soundstage that captures the film's opening gridlocked freeway number perfectly. The front three speakers create a dynamic and expansive soundstage, with some impressively wide dispersion from the floorstanders, combined with clear and focused dialogue from the centre.
Despite their size, the 826-Ds handle the higher frequencies with a surprisingly light touch, while the system as a whole works as a single cohesive unit. As a result, the music has an appropriately energetic sensibility, and the surrounds seamlessly blend into the sound field as the camera follows the choreographed action. The floorstanders and sub ensure the drums retain a percussive beat, especially as a band appears in the back of a van.
In order to test the system’s ability to deliver overhead effects, I chose the opening of John Wick: Chapter 3, which begins on the streets of New York during an ominous storm. As thunder rolls overhead and rainfall drenches everything, there’s a very real sense of immersion. The entire soundstage feels energised as the system springs into life, utilising every speaker and creating a tonally balanced sound field thanks to the identical tweeters and woofers.
As I mentioned earlier, the effectiveness of upward-firing drivers largely depends on how reflective your ceiling is, and while this technology is a compromise, it’s considerably less intrusive than cutting holes in your ceiling, and the built-in nature of the upward-firing driver in the 826-D is an elegant solution.
These speakers seamlessly combine to produce a dynamic and detailed soundstage with excellent tonal balance
The climatic shootout in the Continental Hotel provides plenty of opportunity for this system to reveal its ability to create a dynamic sense of scale. The speakers lap up the added power from the Emotiva, giving the gunfire a visceral quality. Ricochets bounce around the room with an exacting precision, there’s a sense of space generated by the echos of the expansive hotel lobby. The subwoofer also plays its part, digging deep and adding a low-end hit to large calibre gunfire.
While the built-in reflective speakers are marketed as Atmos-certified they work equally as well with DTS:X soundtracks. Zombieland: Double Tap comes with suitably jacked-up mix that doesn’t spare the low frequency effects. This is ably demonstrated during the opening credits, as our heroes dispatch swarms of undead to the strains of Metallica’s Master of Puppets. There’s an epic sense of unbridled carnage, with the machine-gun fire and shotgun blasts timed to the music, and the muscular SUB 1000F producing some tight, controlled and responsive bass.
At the climax of the movie, the hippy enclave of Babylon is besieged by an army of zombies our heroes have nicknamed the ’T-800s’ due to their relentless nature. This scene provides an opportunity for the reflective speakers to add channels above the listening position, especially as defenders drop washing machines and other appliances on the zombies from the roof of a tower block. There’s a definite sense of effects emanating from overhead, and these blend seamlessly with the surrounds as an oil tank explodes, engulfing our heroes in a zombie-destroying inferno.
However, these scenes reveal one of the few limitations of this system, these speakers deliver their best when driven at higher volumes. If you turn the dial too low, the sense of space and detail can diminish slightly. Another issue is that since this is a 5.1.2 system, the overhead effects are located at the front of the room. You can obviously address this by adding a second pair of 826-Ds at the back, thus creating rear overhead effects and balancing out the lower frequencies. If you have the space and the budget, it would certainly make for an impressively-specified 5.1.4-channel system.
- Expansive and dynamic soundstage
- Refined and detailed delivery
- Excellent tonal balance
- Seamless integration
- Impressive low-end extension
- Fantastic build quality
- Gorgeous finish
- Produce their best at higher volumes
- Have to use a big floorstander if you want rear heights
Focal Chora 5.1.2 Speaker Package Review
Should I buy one?
The Focal Chora range of speakers may sit towards the lower end of the French manufacturer's line-up, but you'll find that hard to believe. The build quality is excellent, the finishes on the 826-D and CC800 speakers are immaculate, and the technology filtered down from the higher-end Kanta range results in a genuinely impressive performance. In fact, despite their price, these speakers could actually be considered great value.
The floorstanding 826-D delivers a powerful presence, with a clear mid-range, some light and airy higher frequencies, and plenty of solid bass extension. The built-in Dolby Atmos speakers add another arrow to this speaker's quiver, creating overhead effects without the need to attach any other units. The CC800 centre speaker and SR700 surrounds are equally as impressive, ensuring an accomplished overall system.
The speakers combine together to produce an outstanding multichannel performance that blends the overhead effects with a cohesive, balanced and enveloping soundstage. All the speakers are detailed and precise in their delivery, while the SUB 1000F subwoofer plays its part too, adding a deep foundation of low-end heft that gives movies greater impact. The floorstanders shoulder some of the bass burden, and handle music beautifully, helping to make this a fantastic all-round system.
To get the best out of this Chora system you really need to drive it at higher volumes, and if you turn the dial too low, the system's sense of space and detail can diminish slightly. However, that's a minor complaint, and ultimately this elegant and accomplished speaker system will effortlessly add Gallic style, object-based immersion and a barnstorming performance to any aspiring home cinema.
What are my alternatives?
If you like the idea of an immersive audio home cinema speaker package, there are a few alternatives to consider. For a start there's the Klipsch Reference Premiere Series, which delivers scale and poise, resulting in a cohesive soundstage that retains superb levels of detail but also handles extreme dynamic range. Thanks to the horn-loaded tweeters, these speakers are extremely sensitive, ensuring you can drive numerous channels simultaneously without running out of steam, while the use of the same tweeters and woofers results in good tonal balance. The upward-firing Atmos speakers aren't built-in, but they get the job done.
You could also consider Focal's French competitor Elipson, who makes an excellent immersive audio speaker package in the shape of the Prestige Facet Series. The Atmos speakers are once again separate units, but otherwise this is a beautifully engineered system. The speakers retain plenty of neutrality and fidelity, but are also able to create a focused performance that really lends itself to today's multi-channel soundtracks. There's also a dynamism and cohesiveness to the overall system that really immerses you, while the sub delivers plenty of low-end impact. The result is a responsive and forceful performance that's sure to please.
If the idea of built-in Atmos speakers sounds appealing, then the Definitive Technology BP9000 Series is right up your street. The modules slot into the top of the floorstanders, while the speaker cable is connected at the bottom, making for a very tidy solution. These speakers look classy and sound even better, with a wonderful sense of openness and realism. They have built-in subwoofers to generate some superbly balanced bass that adds impact, while never overpowering the rest of the system. If you add the centre speaker to four floorstanders, you get a seamlessly blended and tonally matched immersive audio speaker system.
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