Focal Chora 816
Inputs and Features9.2/10
Price / Quality9.4/10
- Balanced mid-range
- Satisfying bass
- Good quality cabinet
- Nice dual color combinations
- They loose a little in overall resolution
- Slightly exciting high end
- Not the most delicate of speakers
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When we are talking about HiFi and home theater speakers there are many players that have offerings under the $2,000 price tag. And with so fierce competition it is becoming increasingly difficult for any of them to present us something unique and new. Here comes Focal with their new Chora series that was developed to replace the Chorus lineup as the new affordable HiFi series in the French manufacturer portfolio. And today in our Focal Chora 816 review we will be looking into the smaller of the two floorstanders being offered in the new series.
The new generation Focal Chora series has been developed and manufactured inhouse in Focal’s French facility and offer a complete set of affordable HiFi speakers either for music or home theater setups. Counting a total of 6 speakers with two floorstanders, the Chora 826 and 816, one bookshelf, the Chora 806, a Dolby Atmos enabled floorstander the Chora 826-D, the Chora Center speaker and the Chora Surround the Chora series is certainly not missing in variety.
This new series is particularly interesting as certainly the highlight is no other than the newly developed Slatefiber cones that Focal is heavily promoting and we will analyze in the appropriate section. Also the speakers are front ported as Focal rightfully thought that many that would look for an entry level HiFi model as this don’t have appropriately designed rooms that can accommodate rear ported speakers and that could have a detrimental effect on its performance. Taking into account Focal’s high standards along with the newly developed drivers and cabinet we are curious to see if the Chora 816 can really rise up to the occasion and make Focal proud once again.
Design, Inputs and Features
The 816 may be the smaller floorstander in the series but still packs considerable size and weight indicating that Focal has put a lot into these things. Measuring 40 9/32″ x 11 7/8 x 15 9/32 (102.3 x 30.3 x 38.8 cm) and with a weight of 40.8 lbs (18.5 kg) these are the kind of speakers that will make their presence felt in the room both with their size and overall look.
When you have such big speakers one key element is where the air port is being placed, either at the front or the back. Focal rightfully thought that in this range spaces that these would be placed in would vary greatly so they decided to go for a front mounted one which can result in being able to place the speaker closer to the wall without affecting its performance as much.
The cabinet is made out of MDF, as per usual in this price, but it looks and feels very sturdy and heavy and doesn’t give you a sense of cheap construction. Depending on the color you choose some of them look slightly more premium than the others but in general we would say that the construction is up to Focals standards.
As for its design there is nothing entirely new we have here as the designers went for a boxy look with sharp straight lines giving it a very straight column feel to it. But it’s not so much the design of the cabinet that makes the Chora 816 a very nice speaker but the sum of all of its parts that make it look so good.
First of all we liked Focals decision to go for a dual color variation. Obviously we get the more standard gloss black finish but the other two dual color variants are honestly more delicious to us. The first is a gloss grey front face wrapped around a dark brown faux-wood veneer while the second one is a gloss cream front face wrapped with a light brown faux-wood veneer. And these dual color combinations certainly give a lot of character to the speaker and make it more distinguishable despite it’s uninspiring lines.
And if the color variations is one element that certainly draw some attention the grilles that Focal designed to cover the drivers give extra style with their rounded tops and bottoms while leaving the top tweeter exposed. Also they are attached magnetically to the front baffle which is a major plus in our books as this way Focal avoided the inclusion of any necessary holes that would destroy such an excellent design.
Right below the drivers we get a big air port that is covered in the same color as the rest of the front face and complements the rest of the design amazingly.
And even with such a good overall design Focal went a step further as the included stand is rather unique and not many other floorstanders are using a similar design. The stand is made in such a way in order to tilt the front of the speaker slightly up as you can see in the photos. According to Focal this was made for time alignment and better soundstage with the stand attaching to the cabinet with the included screws. Then you can use either the spikes or rubber feet provided depending on the floor you will place them.
The back of the speaker features only the wire connectors on the lower part inside an inset that is covered by a plastic cap. Having no rear air ports makes positioning of these things such an easier procedure and we are sure that many users will appreciate.
It’s not easy to have a speaker impress you especially when it’s not using any crazy designs lines like some of the more premium Focal offerings as the Utopia III EVO for example. But the Chora 816 is a floorstander that despite its more or less straightforward design will make your eyes fixed on them from the first second. We think this is the result of the overall design decisions Focal took like the dual color variation, the tilted stand, the rounded grilles and certainly the uniquely colored Slatefiber cones that we will talk about shortly making the 816 a great speaker both in looks and cabinet quality.
Focal is known for manufacturing their speakers in house in France and this means not only the cabinet but the drivers also. And for the Chora series they went on and created a new cone that is unique both in looks and construction.
First of all the Chora 816 is using a 2.5-way design with a single inverted dome tweeter at the top, a Slatefiber midbass driver below it and a single Slatefiber woofer sitting just above the air port. While the general design is nothing new the Slatefiber material these cones are made of certainly is. Focal is known for their research and development on new materials that can provide a better acoustic result and we have seen them using various materials in their designs. The Slatefiber cones is their latest breakthrough and just like the Flax, Kevlar and W cones the new Slatefiber cones are entirely manufactured in the Focal workshops located in Saint-Etienne.
The Slatefiber variant is a composite cone comprised of recycled non-woven carbon fibres and thermoplastic polymer. The combination of these two materials results in excellent acoustic performance, in terms of sound velocity as well as rigidity and damping with Focal being the first brand in the audio field to use recycled carbon fibres in its speaker drivers.
The carbon fibres alone provide an extraordinary rigidity. What’s more, as they all oriented in the same direction, these fibres further increase the speaker driver’s rigidity, and therefore enable more bass to be achieved. They are also non-woven to ensure better damping. Thermoplastic polymer is also located within the fibres to provide the bond between them and increase damping.
For its setup the Chora 816 is using a 6 1/2″ (16.5cm) Slatefiber Midbass driver that delivers dynamic and precise mid-range and a single 6 1/2″ (16.5cm) Slatefiber woofer for powerful bass.
For the high frequencies a single 1″ (25mm) TNF Al/Mg inverted dome tweeter is being utilized. For the TNF tweeter, Focal brought two major evolutions to their aluminum /magnesium tweeter. The suspension between the dome and its bracket uses Poron, a material with shape memory. This suspension method is directly derived from the famous Utopia Beryllium tweeter, making it possible to reduce distortion by a factor of three in the 2-3kHz range, where the human ear has very great sensitivity.
The inverted dome’s spatial characteristics and very low directivity compared to the conventional domes used by other manufacturers along with a wave guide that has been developed to further improve this. In a horizontal plane, its frequency response has a variance of +/-0.5dB. This performance guarantees an incredibly stable sound stage which makes the listening position much less critical.
The combination of the inverted aluminum /magnesium tweeter along with the Slatefiber Midbass and the Slatefiber woofer give the Chora 816 a frequency range of 50Hz-28kHz with 8 ohms of nominal impedance, 89.5 dB of sensitivity, with the crossover frequency being set at 270Hz – 2700Hz and a low frequency point of 45Hz. For the Chora 816 Focal is recommending an amplifier in the 40 – 200W range.
The Chora 816 is using high quality binding posts on the lower part of the back face. There is no bi-amp or bi-wire capabilities but the quality of the terminals are pretty good and you can use either bare wires or various types of plugs like spades or banana plugs. For the later you will have to remove the seals as most speakers come with them nowadays.
Initial unpacking and placement of the Chora 816 floorstanders is pretty easy and straightforward and shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes if you have someone to help you with the unpacking. Assembly of the tilted stands is far easier than you may think while we used the rubber feet for our hard floor.
Positioning of the speakers is pretty much the same as we always do with our floorstanders as we placed them about 2 feet from the back wall but as the air port is forward mounted this does not have a huge impact on the acoustic signature. But even as such placing the speakers near a wall will increase its bass output while lowering its overall definition so finding the best balance is always crucial. Distance between the two speakers was around 9 feet while we like to toe-in them to our viewing position for better sound imaging.
The speakers we tested had a few good hours of play time but we were not sure if their break-in period of about 100 hours had been reached. All manufacturers suggest a certain break-in period for new speakers to reach the peak performance and this is certainly a reality as many times he had heard speakers sound much better after their initial run.
Lastly we should mention that for our movies testing we always go for a simple 4.0 channels setup with the pair of Chora 816 at the front main channels and a set of surrounds. In purpose we don’t use either a center speaker or a subwoofer because we want to see how much the two floorstanders can cover these major omissions in a surround audio setup. Obviously having these will increase the overall sound immersion so what we describe here is the absolute base experience you would get for such an occasion. After going through with our Onkyo AV receiver calibration we were ready to begin.
For this review we decided to try a film that we hadn’t seen for a while and this is no other than the Independence Day: Resurgence in its 4K UHD format. The disc comes with a totally flooring Dolby Atmos soundtrack but since we are using a simple 4.0 channels setup our goal was to determine how good the Chora 816 can cover for the missing speakers a full surround system would have.
Independence Day: Resurgence may not be as good as the original film which was a classic and is still considered one of the best destruction films ever made but it is no shy on effects of grand scale and ample of destruction sequences that are exactly what we need in order to determine how the 816 behave with such a wild audio mix.
First of all the speakers can go really loud and they can do so without loosing cohesion under the weight of extreme activity at the front. The front sound stage felt amazingly full and active with the speakers managing to give depth and expansion to all sides. The film has a lot of panning effects with fighter jets and alien ships flying all over the place and the front speakers worked in harmony in order to provide excellent sound imaging and precise channels shifting.
Audio dispersion was so good that the Chora even managed to give us a slight sense of elevation even though there was no Atmos speakers connected. Dialogue was fixed in the center and was kept pretty isolated from the rest of the audio sources. The center channel was rendered so good that it felt like we indeed had a center speaker installed and it never felt like we were missing it. The Chora did an excellent job at covering this particular omission.
Now if there is one thing that the Independence Day: Resurgence is not missing at all is in the bass. LFE activity is constant and at certain scenes you will feel like your house is ready to fall. And while all this can be very achievable with a dedicated subwoofer the Chora 816 were amazingly good at digging deep and providing the necessary base even though they didn’t shake us the way a dedicated subwoofer can and this was totally normal. But for what they are and what they can do the 816 can give you a really satisfying lower end without it feeling muffled or less dynamic.
But the Chora were not only good with the low end as the mid-range area felt also very natural while the high frequencies were handled with care and excitement. And while we couldn’t complain for anything major we did sense that the 816 were trading some of their finesse and resolution for a more all out playful performance. Did that bothered us? Not at all as sound mixes like this one with a lot of effects and all out action benefit a lot from the Chora 816 acoustic signature.
For our second test we always try a few scenes from a Lord of the Rings film so this time we chose the Blu-ray disc of Two Towers with its always amazing DTS-HD Master Audio mix. The film provides an excellent mix of more calm scenes that are dialogue driven, ambient filled sound effects and all out action like the siege of Helm’s Deep. So this was an excellent material to test the Chora in various situations.
First of all the front speakers were amazing at providing clear and distinct dialogue that was kept front and centered while it never overlapped with the rest of the sound effects. Either it was a whisper or shouting the Chora did an excellent job even without a dedicated center speaker. On more delicate moments the front speakers provide enough details and sound information while many scenes that rely on ambient immersion were faithfully recreated due to the excellent portrayal of depth and size. Ambient sounds and echoes traveled across our room and can really give you a sense of area expansion.
On the lower end once again the Chora 816 did great and even without a subwoofer they can create a very satisfying base for the rest of the frequencies to rely on. Bass was deep and satisfying and when the Uruk Hai were storming the Keep you could feel the shaking of the ground while their screams came out menacing and scary. When the wall of Helm’s Deep is breached huge pieces of rock fall in the battlefield and the speakers give a realistic weight and mass to them.
Once again what we saw in this test is what we can say about the Chora in general. These are the kind of speakers that can provide an all out fun performance with great acoustics, great dynamics and plenty of power. The Two Towers was an excellent opportunity in order to prove that the 816 are capable at rendering faithfully many different scenes either it be more silent, dialogue driven, moments, more action oriented scenes like the siege of Helm’s Deep or even impress us when music takes center stage.
For this last one we always like to watch the scene when Treebeard is shocked by the destruction Isengard has caused and calls the last march of the Ents which is followed by an amazing orchestrated score. The Chora 816 did a fabulous job at rendering the full scale of the scene and did that in such a way that almost brought tears to our eyes.
Closing this part there is not much to say about the Focals that we haven’t said above. They are excellent for home theater use and they are not bothered no matter what kind of source material you throw at them. Either it is dialogue, music, ambient filled scenes or all out mayhem the speakers will render everything with good dynamics, nice dimensionality and pleasant tonality.
Moving on to our music testing and for this part we switched to a pure 2.0 channels setup while we chose a few favorite music tracks in FLAC format in order to get the best possible quality from our receiver.
The speakers will immediately impress you with their ability to render the front soundstage so nicely while at the same time expand it in all axis. But it was not only its expansion that was impressive but also its uniformity that put us directly in the middle of it. The speakers do have a pleasing tone to them that we definitely liked and those that look for something more than just a casual audio signature will be exited with these ones.
Stereo imaging was very good and with the expansive area the speakers created we were impressed how easy it was to distinguish every sound source in space. Panning stereo effects felt very precise with no lag visible while audio dispersion was pretty good with the sound keeping its quality and characteristics in various positions without loosing much cohesion.
Once again the higher end was amazing and it shows what great work Focal did with their inverted dome technology. Vocals had a lively tone while they felt very clear and focused. They had a certain dimensionality wrapped to them that made them feel so much more alive and natural.
The lower frequencies were very pleasant, deep and with enough oomph to give the necessary base to each song. We did try a few more demanding songs but we didn’t feel like the Chora 816 was struggling to keep up with the rhythm, on the contrary they felt right at home giving a pretty distinct bass that was never muffled or muddy. It’s not the most deep bass you have ever heard but it was enough to give each song the necessary weight it needed.
Closing this part we can assure you that for an entry level HiFi speaker the Focal Chora 816 is as amazing as it can get in this price. With good balance, nice mid-range, exciting highs and solid lower end if you are a fan of mixed music then these can get through any situation with a straight face. What more you can ask for, huh?
Focal already had a lower tier HiFi series with the Chorus lineup. But the new Chora series shows that Focal is never satisfied and always look after the never reaching perfection in audio speakers. And while the Chora is considered HiFi speakers on a budget the technologies that bring with them are impressive at the very least. Focal never stops to amaze us and the Chora 816 is an excellent speaker for either a home theater setup or a pure audio system and you can enjoy them without having to spend an arm and a leg.
Design is certainly unique and one of the main strengths of the 816 as the dual color combination have mesmerized us while the tilted stand except from the certain acoustic properties it gives to the speaker it also makes it look one of a kind. The cabinet is of good quality for the money while the magnetically attached grilles is not only nice in design with its rounded edges but also keep the front baffle clean from the undesirable holes. The front air port gives certain placement flexibility while the highlight is no other than the newly developed Slatefiber cones that were created specifically for this series and have a very nice look-color to them.
Performance wise the speakers did an amazing job with very balanced and dynamic mid-range while the highs felt exciting and energetic but never to the point of being bothersome or overall tiring. Bass and low end in general was well defined and did adjust accordingly giving the necessary weight and grand size to our movies while kept it’s agility and good rhythms even with more demanding songs.
On the downsides we cannot say that we were particularly disappointed by something. The Chora may not be the most high resolution speakers we have ever heard while the highs may be slightly too much for some tastes. And in general while they handle all kinds of material exceptionally good there are moments that you can sense they are not as delicate as we would like.
Closing we can definitely say that the Focal Chora 816 has become one of our favorite sub-$2,000 floorstanding speakers right now. Their excellent performance for their price along with their intriguing appearance makes them an amazing offering for anyone looking for an entry level HiFi speaker setup. Also their masterful handling of any kind of source material makes them ideal for those that like to use them in a home theater and want to have some high quality music sessions also. In the end how much you enjoy their sound reproduction is what defines a speaker and the Focal Chora 816 has more than proved themselves.
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