We've spent the past ten years or so recalibrating our expectations for what a thousand-dollar floorstanding speaker can and should sound like, largely as a result of high-performance, low-cost wunderkinds like GoldenEar's Triton Five, Bowers & Wilkins' 603, and Monitor Audio's Silver 300, just to name a few. With the latter in particular, though, we've recently had to start recalibrating our expectations for what a thousand-dollar floorstanding tower speaker can and should look like.
Still, I'm not sure I was quite ready for Focal's Chora 826, at least not aesthetically. Borrowing some finish cues from the much more expensive Kanta line, all of the new Chora speakers sport a distinctive two-tone finish, with your choice of either dark wood paired with a cool blue-gray façade, light wood with a creamy front baffle, or a simpler gloss/flat black combo for those feeling a little less adventurous.
No matter which finish combination you opt for, the Chora 826 features a one-inch aluminum/magnesium inverted-dome tweeter (with a perforated protective cover), a 6.5-inch Slatefiber midrange driver, and two 6.5-inch Slatefiber bass drivers in a three-way configuration, with crossovers set at 2,700 Hz and 270 Hz. A front-facing reflex port beneath the bottom bass driver brings low frequency response down to a very respectable 48Hz (-3dB), with extension down to 39 Hz at -6dB. Not even remotely shabby for a speaker that measures just 41.5 inches high by 15.25 inches deep and just shy of 12 inches wide.
"Hangonaminute," I can hear some of you saying, "what's all this 'Slatefiber' business?" Fair question. It's a new material developed by Focal and manufactured in France that the company describes as a composite of recycled non-woven carbon fibers and a thermoplastic polymer. Focal unsurprisingly lauds the rigidity, lightness, and superior damping of this new material, and I can't disagree with any of that. But speaking purely aesthetically, I'm so smitten by its lovely and organic marbled look that I'm honestly torn between displaying the speakers with grilles on or in the altogether.
The decision is made a bit tougher by the fact that the magnetic grilles don't cover the tweeter (or port, obvs), but slip right over the top of the midrange and bass drivers, and as such have practically no impact on the voice of the speakers. After a few weeks of fussing, I eventually settled on a grilles-on look for the Dark Wood pair provided for preview, as it gives the speakers a somewhat more elegant look. Swap these for the Light Wood finish, though, and I have a feeling I would lean toward the birthday-suit approach, just for the enhanced visual pop.
No matter your preference for grilles on/grilles off, the aesthetic design of the speaker is aided by its included plinth, which bolts onto the bottom using an included Allen wrench and serves dual purposes. Functionally, it gives the speaker a bit of a tilt back of roughly five degrees, which helps aim the tweeter toward the listener, given the relatively short stature of the speaker cabinet itself (38.25 inches sans plinth). It also provides a wider, more stable base that makes the speaker harder to tip over.
Aesthetically, it gives the Chora 826 a bit of a floating look, since the plinth doesn't extend as far forward as the façade of the speaker cabinet itself.
I'm devoting so many words to all of this rather than just pointing at the pictures scattered throughout this review because I honestly feel that images just don't do the speaker justice. It's true, on closer inspection it's a little more obvious that the wood is a veneer. But taken as a whole, even if you don't focus on its budget price, the Chora 826 is simply a lovely little speaker--so lovely as to be a bit distracting until you're used to it.
Since the Chora 826 is relatively small and reasonably lightweight for a three-way tower speaker, unboxing is easier than you might expect. The packaging for the speaker opens along the front instead of the top or bottom, which means you may need a little more room than expected to pull it out of the box and unwrap it, but it's still most certainly a one-person job.
Sitting atop the speaker within the box you'll find another box containing the plinth, as well as connecting hardware, an Allen wrench, and carpet spikes, should you need them. The capsule-shaped magnetic speaker grille is also housed in its own separate sub-package.
Each Chora 826 sports one pair of binding posts, so bi-wiring isn't accommodated. Overall, I really love the quality of the binding posts, as they're easy to loosen and tighten and look quite lovely. If I have one concern, it's that tightly fitted black and red caps will need to be removed if you intend to use banana plugs (as I always do), and these caps do put up a good bit of a fight. I had to end up resorting to needle-nosed pliers to extract them, and it felt a bit like pulling a tooth. By the time I had them out, the caps were more than a bit mangled.
From there, though, setup is a breeze. Due to the front-ported design of the speaker, you don't have to be quite as concerned with distance from rear boundaries. In my relatively small two-channel listening room, this is a blessing. Being able to position a pair of speakers six inches from the wall rather than eighteen definitely leaves me with more breathing room and affords a wider soundstage, since there's more distance between me and the speakers.
I began my evaluation of the Chora 826s by connecting them to Denon's PMA-150H Integrated Network Amplifier as I wrapped up that review, then swapped in my much more powerful Peachtree Nova220SE integrated amp. Both were connected to the speakers by way of pre-terminated ELAC Sensible Speaker Cables, and my primary source for the duration of the review was my Maingear Vybe media center and gaming PC.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...