French audio company Focal has been in the hi-fi business since 1979, making everything from car speakers to studio monitors to surround systems. Nowadays, it’s perhaps best known for its high-endproducts with eye-searing price tags. Whether we’re talking about the excellent $3,000 Stellia headphones or the $230,000, costs-as-much-as-a-house Grande Utopia Evo, these are products often out of the reach for the average audio enthusiast.

But just because its pricey items are conspicuous doesn’t mean the company can’t make an excellent pair of speakers at a palatable price point too. I’ve been listening to the Focal Chora 806, the company’s newest bookshelf speaker, and have found it to be a superlative entry in its price bracket. For $1,000 a pair in the US, the 806 is already a great deal, but it is a particular steal in Europe, where it costs €600/£600.

Launched in September, the Chora line replaces Focal‘s Chorus family as the company’s most affordable speakers. This wasn’t a simple refresh: it’s an all-new design, including a newly-developed ‘Slatefiber’ woofer. The cone’s new material is comprised of non-woven, recycled carbon fibers embedded in a thermoplastic polymer. According to Focal, that means improved damping, rigidity, and lightness over the polyglass cone in its predecessor (translation: it sounds better).

It also just looks pretty:

Like all of Focal’s hi-fi speakers, the Chora is relatively unique in that its cabinets and drivers are made right in France. The company invited me to visit its facilities over the summer (disclaimer: Focal paid for travel and accommodation, but I remain as objective as I can), and I have a separate piece coming about that tour and how Focal goes about creating its speakers. But for now, I’ll summarize by saying that seeing how the company hand-crafts even its entry-level speakers adds a sense of luxury and peace of mind you don’t often get from similarly-priced products.

Of course, hand-made components and assembly don’t necessarily guarantee longevity, but it’s not often companies go through the trouble of making their products locally. Focal does so in a small town called Bourbon-Lancy in the Burgundy region of France – two hours away from Focal HQ in St-Etienne.

The company’s cabinet manufacturer had long been a staple of the town, and when Focal bought the facility in 2007, it decided to keep the local expertise rather than move the factory over to St. Etienne. The entire facility is operated by a small team of employees considering Focal’s reach, many of them who’d been working there for years.

Moreover, Focal is among relatively few companies that don’t use off-the-shelf components or partner with external driver manufacturers. Instead, the company makes its drivers in-house back in St-Etienne and can tweak each one down to the coil windings. Focal says it optimizes the performance of each driver for the particular speaker it’s being used with. The company claims this allows its speakers to exhibit higher sensitivity, improved dynamics, and lower distortion than many competitors.

Speaking of colors, the Chora comes in three of them, ranging from an inoffensive glossy black, to a chic white-and-light-wood, to the driver-matching slate blue and dark-wood of my review unit (every speaker should come in blue, just sayin’).

While the Chora’s sharp edges and veneer wrapping somewhat betray its price point, I think it’s a beautiful speaker that should be easy to match to just about any kind of decor. That’s a good thing, considering it’s a bit on the large side for a bookshelf speaker. It may not feel as premium as the Focal Kanta I reviewed earlier in the year, but well, it also doesn’t cost $12,000. For $1,000 it’s one classy-looking speaker.

Play some music through the Chora and thoughts of price point disappear: these are great-sounding speakers, period. As with every Focal product I’ve tried – headphones and speakers alike – the Chora’s dynamics immediately stood out. Having come from the much larger JBL L100 Classic prior to these (bigger speakers tend to be better at dynamics), I expected a great degradation in this regard.

Played through a Yamaha RX-A3080 receiver and powered by a pair of Emotiva Stealth PA-1 amps, the Chora handle transients in drum lines with a snappiness that felt authentic. Timbre and tonality were impressively neutral, with vocals that sounded particularly realistic. There is perhaps the slightest edge to the treble, giving it a bit of a ‘crisp’ sounding presentation.

In other words, no one will mistake these for sounding ‘soft,’ overly ‘warm,’ or ‘laid-back.’ These are not qualities I typically hear in live music, so I don’t expect my speakers to impart them upon recordings.