After having initially reviewed a small bookshelf speaker (the Living Sound Audio LSA.5 ($799), and in the interim a couple of floorstanding speakers (the Definitive Technology BP-8060s ($1999) and DALI Ikon 6 MK2s ($1999), I thought I might see what was available on a $1500 budget in the form of a stand-mounted speaker. I have been impressed recently with the offerings from the French company Focal, and when I saw the brand new “W” iteration of the Focal Chorus 807Vs at CEDIA 2011, I immediately requisitioned a pair. Daniel Jacques of Audio Plus Services, Focal’s North American distributor, accommodated me with a lengthy loan.
The Focal Chorus 807W Prestige ($1599/pair) are what some would call a sexy-looking speaker, with a gorgeous piano black lacquer finish, aluminum accents and a stylish chevron shaped grill. They are by no means petite, measuring approximately 17.6″ tall by 9.3″ wide by 13.1″ deep; however, they are lightweight at 22 pounds each. Placing them atop my 24″ Target HR speaker stands situated the tweeter slightly above ear level. The 807Ws driver compliment includes a 7″ woofer and a 1″ aluminum/magnesium inverted dome tweeter. The “W” indicates that the woofer uses Focal’s new ROHACELL foam and woven glass sandwich cone material, which is unavailable in the standard Chorus line-up. Frequency response is specified at 50Hz to 28MHz +/- 3db, with a relatively high sensitivity of 92db. The crossover point is 3000Hz.
I have now shifted my music server from a custom Windows 7 computer to a 2.5GHz Mac Mini with 16GB of memory. I currently am running Channel D’s Pure Music playback software. I think the new setup sounds better than the Windows 7 machine, which could be chalked up to expectation bias, the placebo effect, or reality, depending on your pre-existing belief system. It certainly is reality to me. It also is more convenient with automatic sample rate switching, and the ability to play 88.2MHz and 176.4MHz audio files without resorting to a WASAPI enabled player like JRMC or Foobar2000, the user interfaces of which leave me cold.
The Mac Mini was connected to a Benchmark DAC1 HDR through its Toslink, USB and, with a Halide Design Bridge, coaxial S/PDIF inputs. Theoretically, jitter should be highest through the Toslink input, followed by Benchmark’s adaptive USB input, and finally the asynchronous Halide Design Bridge and coaxial S/PDIF input. Switching back and forth, I could not definitively say which, if any of them, sounded different, much less better. For all of my listening sessions, I went with the Halide Design Bridge USB to S/PDIF connection based on theory alone. My advice, at least with systems in this price range, is to go with whatever is most convenient. Perhaps differences would have manifest themselves on a megabuck system, though I consider the system under review quite revealing.
A recent trip to my local used record emporium left me empty-handed vinyl-wise, though I did pick up a couple of interesting CDs. I first listened to some Prokofiev piano sonatas performed by Yefim Bronfman on the Sony Classical label. All of these recordings were made close-miked, which means a stereo pair was placed under the lid next to the bass and treble strings. As such, you do not get a central image of a piano; rather, you get an image of a piano which stretches between the speakers and, in this case, somewhat to the outside as well. It’s an aesthetic choice and works well when you listen in a normal size listening room. When you listen in a large room and your speakers are more than 9-12 feet apart, the apparent size of the piano is correspondingly increased, which can be disconcerting. Then again, my preferred listening viewpoint is from the audience perspective, so that may not trouble you in the least. I spoke with Keith Johnson of Reference Recordings about this a couple of years ago, and he confirmed that it was an artistic choice made by the recording engineer. In fact, this phenomenon is what prompted me to study studio recording, mixing and mastering for the past three years to more fully understand how recordings are made and why they sound the way they do.
In Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 5, the full range of the piano is used, from very delicate right hand passages, with their melodious overtones, and faint and short decay times, to full left hand accents with louder and much longer decay tails. I thought each were reproduced exceeding well. I was not convinced, however, that a piano was in the room, largely because of the limited low frequency response of these bookshelf speakers. They simply cannot produce the lowest octave of the piano. Nevertheless, none of that interfered in the least with my enjoyment of the music given the neutral presentation of the rest of the frequency range, especially the detailed, but not analytic, reproduction of the high frequencies. The 807Ws are a very well balanced speaker. It has given me a deep appreciation for what “the absolute sound” and “fidelity to the master tapes” really mean.
As I have undoubtedly mentioned before, I am extremely fond of Bel Canto opera, and stumbling upon a disc of Cecilia Bartoli singing arias from Rossini operas was a real treat. Arias have the advantage of usually being accompanied by light orchestral support, so the voice really shines through. And what a marvelous voice Cecilia Bartoli possesses. Although most opera lovers are familiar with Verdi’s Otello, Rossini penned a version as well. Assisa a pie d’une salice starts with a lovely harp solo punctuated occasionally with winds and strings. Instead of the vocal fireworks usually associated with Bel Canto opera, this is a lilting aria which emphasizes the lower and middle portions of the soprano vocal range, which the 807Ws reproduced sweetly, without being warm and syrupy. This harkens back to my characterization of the speakers as being neutral when discussing the Prokofiev piano sonatas. When venturing into the higher range, her voice never took on any harshness, which is sometimes associated with metal dome tweeters. As far as soundstaging goes, she presented a strong central image well behind the plane of the speakers.
If you were new to classical music, I would definitely steer you first to Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and even Tchaikovsky, before introducing you to 20th century composers, particularly the Slavs. Nevertheless, the orchestration of Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto in D is so interesting and engaging, listening to it early on may well have you coming back for more. In this 1997 Teldec recording featuring Itzhak Perlman with Daniel Barenboim conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the listener is not presented with a work whose primary focus is Pagannini-like on the violinist, but rather is on exchanges between the violinist and different parts of the orchestra. That is not to say that a virtuoso violinist is not required to play the piece. I found the interludes with the violin and the winds, which emphasize the upper midrange, the most compelling, with those with percussion a close second. This piece and these speakers were made for one another, as no low bass is required, and what is required – a delicate balance in and around the crossover frequency of 3000Hz – the the 807Ws handle with aplomb. The sharp attacks of percussion are quick and distinct, with no sloppiness or overhang. Alas, I found the recording itself somewhat lacking as the instruments did not have pinpoint accuracy, and the soundstage did not have depth. As these characteristics were present with the Prokofiev and Bartoli discs, the fault was not with the speakers. In this case, the speakers presented exactly what was on the disc, with all of its limitations, which I view as a positive.
I think the Focal 807W Prestige is a terrific speaker, and not just for the price. With a specified low-frequency response of 50Hz (presumably at -3db), the lowest bass is lacking, but what bass is reproduced, is reproduced with authority and alacrity. It is a case of quality over quantity. Focal makes a matching Chorus SW 800 W Prestige subwoofer in any case. Put it on you upgrade list and decide later if you think you really need it. You may demur depending on the music you prefer listening to.
As a two-way speaker with a crossover at 3000Hz, the woofer is also required to handle the lower and middle midrange, which it does seamlessly. The high frequencies are detailed without being bright. Although I did not have a tube amplifier on hand, the 807W’s efficiency is such that I can see using one profitably, particularly if you lean toward a more burnished treble.
About the only shortcoming I could detect is that, like other speakers its size, it does not scale as well as a larger speaker when pushed, so if you are a headbanger that likes to play your music really loud, you’ll need to look at a different class of speaker altogether. For the rest of us, particularly those with small to medium size listening rooms, the 807Ws are gems.
- Frank Berryman
BP 374 – 108
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Audio Plus Services
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Telephone: (800) 663-9352
Analog Source: VPI Scout; Dynavector 20X2; Musical Surroundings Phonomena II
Digital Source: Mac Mini, 2.5GHz, 16GB RAM, Pure Music playback software; Halide Design Bridge
Preamplifier: Meridian G68ADV; Benchmark DAC1 HDR
Power Amplifier: Meridian 557; Acurus A2002
Loudspeakers: Meridian DSP5500
Cables: Digital: Meridian; Analog: Mogami/Amphenol (RCA), Mogami/Neutrik (XLR); Speaker: Mogami/Audioquest (BFA/banana); Power: Volex/Marinco
Headphones: Etymotic ER-4S
Accessories: GIK acoustic treatments; dedicated 20 amp circuit; Audience aR2p power conditioner