Focal Chorus 800 V Speaker System

I'm a big Samuel L. Jackson fan, but I didn't totally buy his performance in Black Snake Moan. Jackson plays a righteous old man who takes in a trashy nymphet (Christina Ricci) to set her straight. I was especially intrigued with the story because Jackson's character was loosely based on R.L. Burnside, who didn't just sing the blues, he lived them. Up to the point where Jackson picked up his guitar, he was perfectly fine. But when he started to sing, his performance didn't ring true. It comes down to authenticity. Acting is one thing; singing with a voice that sounds so rough it bleeds is something else. Come to think of it, I could say the same about great speakers. It's one thing to design a speaker that measures well, but that doesn't necessarily make for a great-sounding speaker.

It's Got the Shape You'll Want to Know Better
Focal's new Chorus 800 V Series speakers replace the S Series models, which had an unusually long run of four years. So sure, the Chorus was due for a complete makeover, and the 800 V models boast all-new drivers, crossover networks, cabinets, and, perhaps most striking of all, gorgeous new styling. Focal is a French company, but the new aesthetic is more Gallic than before. And like some of Focal's other new models, the Chorus 800 V line was designed by the Pineau & le Porcher house in Paris. Ooh la la!

The machined-metal, L-shaped piece that supports the tweeter is finished to a high standard, and the cloth grilles' aggressive V shape adds a dynamic flair. The ingenuity continues on the inside; the sub and speaker cabinets all feature non-parallel internal construction to minimize standing waves that would muddle the sound. Oh, and the 800 V towers and SW 800 V subwoofer come with heavy bases equipped with spiked feet that are easily adjustable by top-mounted knobs. My review system consisted of the 826 V towers ($2,495/pair), CC 800 V center ($595), SR 800 V surrounds ($1,195/pair), and the SW 800 V sub ($995).

Focal's gray Polyglass woofers' surfaces are coated with thousands and thousands of silica micro balls. The little guys are said to increase the speaker diaphragm rigidity without substantially increasing its weight. The 826 V and CC 800 V use 6.5-inch Polyglass drivers, while the slim SR 800 V surround sports 5-inch drivers. If you're not a fan of bipole speakers or just want to save some dough, you can use the 806 V bookshelf speakers as your surrounds. They're $795 per pair.

Focal is known for their titanium and beryllium tweeters, but for the Chorus 800 V models, the engineers tinkered with the recipe and cooked up a new aluminum and magnesium alloy dome. The pewter-colored metal is claimed to be very light and well damped to help minimize the ringing, often equated with a nasty harshness, you can sometimes get with metal-dome tweeters. It is, like all Focal tweeters, inverted, so it curves inward instead of bulging out the way most dome tweeters do. Focal claims the concave design produces lower distortion and wider dispersion.

Because Focal still manufactures all of their own drivers in France, they can fine-tune them for use in each individual speaker model. That makes a lot of sense to me—a specific woofer intended for use in a bookshelf design will perform very differently when used in a tower speaker. Focal can engineer exactly the right driver for each and every speaker model they make. They must be doing something right; ultra-high-end speaker manufacturer Wilson Audio has used Focal drivers for as long as I can remember.

The 350-watt SW 800 V subwoofer has a front-mounted, 11-inch Polyglass woofer and three tiny buttons near the top of the front baffle. The first button, labeled Night, is supposed to boost bass for late-night sessions, but it reduced the sub's volume, which also made sense to me. The middle Subsonic button filters the deepest bass frequencies that can exacerbate acoustic problems in some rooms, and the Boost button increases bass response. One nitpick—I found the sub's blue LEDs to be distractingly bright at night.

Luscious Sound
It's been a while since I've heard a Focal speaker at home, and yet I definitely sensed a change in the brand's signature sound. I liked the new speakers' richer balance. On jazz trumpeter Clark Terry's One on One SACD, the Chorus 800 V system unleashed the startling exactitude of the recording's soundstage. The huge sound was so crisply defined, I felt like I could "see" Terry's horn beside the 9-foot Bosendorfer piano. That might have something to do with the speakers' extraordinarily fine, airy, and delicate treble detail. The speakers' midrange clarity was also above and beyond what I expect from speakers in the Chorus' price class. On this SACD, a different pianist accompanies Terry on each tune, and the Chorus 800 V left no doubt about their technique. Eric Lewis' breezy touch on "Liza All the Clouds'll Roll" distinctly contrasted with Sir Roland Hanna's oh-so-gentle tickling of the ivories on "Memories of You." Authentic? You bet.

I knew from the first slash of Gary Louris' guitar and gut-punching bass impact of Ken Callahan's drums that the Jayhawks' Hollywood Town Hall CD was going to show off the Chorus 800 V's rock 'n' roll skills. The band's nimble pulse sounded very right; and the guys' beer-drenched harmonies hit the sweet spot. The 826 V towers belted out bass with aplomb. The Chorus 800 Vs all handle the transitions from bass to midrange to treble with rare finesse. And when that happens, the speakers' technology melts away, and all you think about is the music.

When it was time for some home theater trials, I popped on a hugely popular Korean monster flick The Host. A product of toxic industrial waste, the monster looked like a baby Godzilla. It was almost cute, so when it's finally doused in gasoline and erupts in flames, I really felt for it. Yeah, it did the nasty people-killing stuff that monsters do, but the swelling orchestral strings added to the poignancy of the moment. But still, watching the creature burning up, the sound of its searing flesh was chilling, and its last bellowing breath really rattled my bones. My only true concern was for the speakers, because the DVD's dynamics lacked the punch I've heard with some speakers in the Chorus' price class. The SW 800 V sub was probably part of the problem, but it's certainly potent for its size, and it perfectly synched with the Chorus 800 V speakers, which for me, is the name of the game. The wee sub made the towers seem more full-range than they actually are.

Dialogue sounded a tad chesty, although I have to admit, I like speakers that err on the rich side of neutral. I can tell you this: When I finally got around to playing R.L. Burnside's blues, I believed his every word. Focal's Chorus 800 V Series sounded very right to me.

• Ooh-la-la French design and styling
• Rich sound; stupendous imaging

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amppeters's picture

a pretty good review.. Personally, Focal is in my top 5 of favorite Speaker Brands and definitely my favorite Tweeters of any Conventional Speaker out there. Recently I found find similar review about focal chorus Link-

bluewizard's picture

I auditioned nearly the complete Focal 800 series at a dealer, and I was truly impressed. In the final audition, the sales person was using a CD supplied by Focal for demoing the speakers (836V). One of the tracks was Stevie Ray Vaughn, more than any other speaker I've ever heard, the sound was completely disembodied from amps and speakers, and seem to float in the air.

Though I suspect, the Focal CD had very carefully controlled dynamics to maximize the sound quality. But none the less I found the full Focal 800 line to be stunningly clear and detailed. And certainly well worth their considerable price. This was especially true in the bass. More than any other speaker I've heard, with the Focal I heard Bass Guitar rather than generic bass. Even the largest Focal doesn't have the ultra-low bass response that we think we would want, but the bass had incredible detail, and not the slightest hint of drone.

Truly an impressive series of speakers.