Focal Chorus 836 W
The Focal line from France has long been on my short list of favourite loudspeakers. I became well acquainted with their designs back in the late 1990s when I reviewed the model Mezzo Utopia in the print Version of The Inner Ear. While I was evaluating the Mezzo, it became clear to me that the company had a highly developed understanding of loudspeaker design and implemented innovative technology in all of their series. The Chorus series is JMLab Focal’s mid-price series below the famous Utopia line. The model under review is the top model of seven in the series, which also offers home theatre enclosures.

These enclosures are simply beautiful. Each speaker measures a little over 45 inches high with a footprint of 11-1/6 by 14-3/4 inches (WxD). Tall, slim with black grilles, my samples, finished in gloss red natural and blended into my listening room as though they were placed there by an interior decorator. The cabinets are mounted on aluminum bases with adjustable spikes. This arrangement not only refines the loudspeakers’ appearance, but also provides a stable foundation and helps to achieve resolution in the bass region by the correct spacing between the bottom port and the floor. Two smaller ports on the bottom front, the three woofers, a midrange driver and the tweeter are mounted on a finished baffle that also holds a detachable transparent black grille.

All in all, a very handsome design with European touches.

The Sound
For my auditions, I had three totally different amplifiers on hand and I was thrilled with the opportunity to explore the loudspeakers’ personality and (my favourite concern) — synergy. The amps: Allnic T-2000, (70w/ch), Genesis Reference (80w/ch), Bryston 7B SST Squared (monoblocks 700 w). The preamps: Modified SS Dolan and Allnic L 3000. I used the modestly priced Argentum interconnects, AC cords and speaker cables. Auditioning material included classical music by Beethoven, Hayden, Vivaldi, Pepe Romero solo of Capricho Arab, Schumann, Grieg, Liszt, Saint Saéns and Widor on a Philips CD titled See The Light. My jazz selection favourite is a superb 1993 production of a CD titled Sum Serious Blues, featuring Jimmy Smith Marlene Shaw and Bernard Igher with sax, trombone, trumpet, guitar, bass drums and harmonica. The Chicago blues artist Carl Weathersby on a CD titled Restless is also a well produced CD I like to use for my audition sessions; and the reason I am telling you about my choice of material is to point out that all of these genres must be, or should be included when evaluating the performance of loudspeakers.

I had played the Chorus speakers for about one week, before I settled down to assess their performance with the various amps and my first impression was that there was a marked element of tonal balance, whereby the entire audible frequency scale came across homogeneously pleasing. This attribute remained unchanged with all amplifiers. Another invariable element regardless of the amplifier I used, was the Chorals’ capacity to reproduce a soundstage with a realistic three-dimensional scope, well-defined boundaries and excellent focus on instruments and/or vocals.

My first audition was with the Bryston 7BSST Squared monoblocks. This system combination brought out the loudspeakers’ capability to manage dynamic range — that is the range of volume levels from the softest to the loudest. Thus, large orchestral works with softly playing violins at one end of the scale and punchy tympanis on the other fared equally well. While the high frequencies came across smoothly and entirely realistic, I thought that the pure midrange (from about 170 to 1200Hz) was a bit more tamed than it could or should be. In the upper bass region (from 80 to160Hz), the speakers rendered beautiful harmonics, well connected to the musical score and upper ranges. In the low bass (below 160Hz) area, the Bryston power provided the muscle and texture, but failed to complete it with resolution to the speakers’ published 40Hz. This actually surprised me as I know these amps well and have often praised them for their competence in the bass regions. However, the system still provided plenty of musicality and nothing disturbing to this listener.

For the next audition, I inserted the Allnic T-2000 integrated amplifier, but to keep things at the same conditions, I only used its power amplifier (tube power of 70w/ch). I expected the smooth melodic tube touch at high frequencies and that is exactly what I heard. This very pleasant-sounding attribute continued into the entire midrange segment (from 170 to around 1200Hz) introducing warmth, a harmonic soul that I especially enjoyed when I was listening to string instruments. Bass was startlingly full bodied and powerful reaching down to 37Hz with good resolution. The overall sonic presentation, imaging etc. was exceptionally involving. Dynamic range, though very good, had limitations when I cranked the gain above 100 dB — some live concert levels.

Finally, using the same backup components, I popped in the recently reviewed Genesis Reference amplifier. To say that this system combination surprised me would be an understatement. The Class D amp with a180 w/ch power brought out the best overall results by having a bit of all the other amplifiers’ sonic temperament. The top frequencies were smooth and tube-like in nature, the entire midrange segment was now not only smooth and harmonious, but also had achieved transparency and detail that sort-of opened up a clearer soundscape. The bass became powerful, well textured and resolute all the way down to about 37Hz. The amplifier quickly showed the Chorus’ ability to handle macro and micro dynamics simultaneously. Beethoven, played at live concert levels, never sounded better.
Well, after having listened for hours and hours to all system configurations, and using material with thunderous large orchestration, graceful string quartets, jazz and blues (with my favourite Hammond B3 organ) there is only one logical conclusion: the Chorus 836 Ws provide outstanding sonic versatility. In addition, they allow the end-user to choose an amplifier they like and like to hear via a pair of speakers that have the essential extent of organic refinement.

Synopsis & Commentary
Loudspeakers, when used with various components, can sound good or bad. Good loudspeakers will never sound lousy, but sound quality can range from poor to superb, depending, of course on the backup components and synergy. Having said this, I’d like to point out that it is very rare, almost impossible, to assemble a system that does everything perfectly. While I was listening to Pepe Romero’s solo acoustic guitar with the Chorus/Genesis system, the guitar’s timbre sounded authentically organic. Kenny Burell’s hollow-body Gibson, on the other hand, sounded better on the Chorus/Allnic system. Jimmy Smith’ B3 sounded best with the Bryston amps — and all that simply shows that some compromises will always be a consideration. Of course, that’s nitpicking and fault-searching just to satisfy my own preoccupation with high-performance audio. It should in no way be considered a discouragement to anyone who wishes to acquire a loudspeaker of the Chorus’ caliber.
The 836s will please the music lovers, because of their ability to recreate the music’s harmonics; and it will please those who like an elevated degree of technology.

The Chorus’ design is synergistic recipe that combines technology with the music. All that needs to be done to get the Chorus 836s singing is a good amp, good source components and good wiring. To help achieve good results, I recommend Focal’s instruction manual, which has an informative guide for a proper set-up.

Focal Chorus 836 W JM Labs / Focal
Plurison/Audio Plus Services
Tel: 450-585-0098
From $4,495.00 / pair (US)


The 836 W is a three-way, five driver, floor standing speaker featuring three woofers. The design is considered a three-way bass reflex enclosure with two front firing ports on the low portion of the enclosures and another larger port firing down. Focal calls this arrangement a Powerflow whereby bass energy is enhanced without producing acoustic distortion. Three 6-½ inch woofers, a 1-inch midrange driver and Focal’s inverted dome tweeter are mounted on a very solid baffle.

The system’s frequency response is from 40Hz to 28kHz (+/- 3dB), though low frequency energy will extend to about 34Hz. Efficiency is 92dB (easy to drive with low powered, but refined tube amps). Impedance is 8 ohms average, but never less that 3 ohms. The crossover frequencies are at 250Hz and 3000Hz.

Focal designed an innovative system for controlling bass; the design increases the surface of the bass reflex port to limit the speed of the passing air. The complex arrangement allows increasing the output at the vent by about 6dB. There are two front ports, which assist the system’s capacity for resolution and articulation. A (larger) port on the bottom of the enclosure helps to improve bass. Thus, the correlation of bass strength and output renders a very well controlled respond — perhaps one of the reasons why the loudspeakers maintain an excellent tonal balance. The three woofers used here are 6 ½ inch drivers featuring Focal’s W design consisting of layers of glass and rohacell foam, as is the midrange unit; the same technology as used in the Utopia series.

The Chorus’ tweeter isn’t a Beryllium unit, but a newly developed aluminum/magnesium alloy design (TNW), The alloy is said to boast excellent damping characteristics. It has new foam for surround suspension with reinforced mechanical properties and a newly implemented configuration of the neodymium motor. The new motor design eliminates the use of ferro-fluid, thereby rendering a more organic result. Focal states that harmonic distortions have been reduced greatly which aids in the reproduction of midrange clarity, detail and smoothness.

The cabinet construction and the finish boast both, quality and aesthetics appeal. All the panels are made with MDF that have a minimum thickness of 20mm, and 25mm on the sides. Bracing is achieved with complicated part of MDF to optimize rigidity and to create a barrier, which is particularly efficient against vibration. The inner walls on these speakers are made to avoid parallel reflections and break up standing waves. It’s said to be a technological refinement not used prior to Chorus 800 series. The construction all but eliminates parasitic interactions in cabinet design, especially in the lower octaves.

The Chorus 836 Ws enclosures were designed by the famous Parisian firm of Pineau & Le Porcher and employ a finish in acrylic, which results in a finishing lacquer of a piano black finish.