France is a country known for many things: beautiful cities, excellent food, decent plonk and that fiery Gallic spirit. Oh, and loudspeakers!
Focal-JMLabs are renowned across the hi-fi world as one of the biggest speaker brands around. What originally started life as a two-man operation in 1980’s Saint Etienne (the City, not the 90’s London-based Dance act!) has since blossomed into a commercial operation with over 200 staff and a range of speakers that tops out with the Grande Utopia EM, way past the £100,000 mark!
For those with slightly less lofty ambitions (and bank balances), Focal offer a whole load of technically brilliant, innovatively designed speakers – and today, we are going to be looking at its Chorus 700 series.
Comprising 3 sets of floorstanders, 2 pairs of bookshelf, a centre, as well as rear dipole speakers; the 700 series is designed to be as comfortable on the end of a hi-hi amplifier as it is on a top AV receiver. Whilst all of the speakers have their independent virtues, they all share certain features that unify them and that show them as part of ‘une famille’.
One immediately striking feature is the design work and build. The cabinet offered up here is available in one of three fine quality finishes (Walnut, Rosewood and Black). Very importantly to the build is to have sides that do not run parallel to each other. From a sound quality perspective, this is a very important point. Cabinets that follow this design are able to much better disperse of ‘standing waves’, (vibrations and sound waves left over in the cabinet from the speaker whilst it’s moving during playback).
Removing as much of these unwanted vibrations is of the utmost importance when resolving clarity in a speaker and it’s a salient decision to do so on such a competitively priced range. In general, the cabinetry work is excellent, with fit and finish being at the luxurious rather than functional end of the spectrum.
Being in the business for so long, it’s unsurprising that Focal hold a range of patents; and that almost all of their components are made on site, by their own engineers. Of these parts, the most important are undoubtedly the drive units themselves. Almost unique to Focal is their use of an inverted dome tweeter. This particular innovation trickles all the way down from the previously mentioned Grande Utopia. Its design offers great sensitivity, efficiency and most importantly, precision. In practise, this made for sweet, extended highs. The use of another of their technologies, Poron suspension, alleviates any harshness that this superb extension normally turns into stridency.
The bass and midrange drive units are also designed fully in-house. Again, they are unique to Focal and are termed Polyglass drivers. Clever engineering know-how allowed Focal to effectively gain all of the damping qualities of a paper drive unit, but with an almost glass-like rigidity. It’s even stronger than Kevlar in this application, and allows for more linearity across the frequency range.
What Focal are aiming for, it would appear, is to match superb timing and crystal clear highs with the warmth that is so often missing when these two are over-prioritised. It’s very fair to say that they’ve achieved this.
Whilst the smaller bookshelves obviously impart less bass than their floorstanding counterparts, the Chorus characteristic is still there throughout. Increased sensitivity means that relatively low-powered amplifiers are still a fine match up. When we stuck the big guns (Cambridge Audio 851 series pre and power-amplifier set) through them, they really sang. Although they aren’t the most expensive speakers in their range, they’ve got that ability to make your system sound a million dollars!
Fantastic build quality, plus innovative components, equals amazing speakers. To see (and hear) for yourself, why not call your local branch to arrange an audition. Your hi-fi will thank you!
Author – Chris, Liverpool store