| Fri, 19 Feb 2021
As recently reported this combination of Focal Chora 806 loudspeakers and Naim Uniti Atom integrated amplifier, network streamer and DAC plus a four metre pair of Naim NAC A5 speaker cable is one of five specially priced and sonically matched systems featuring kit from the two brands that will be available for the remainder of 2020. The cost saving on this so-called Compact System is £400 on the combined price of electronics and speakers plus terminated cable valued at £200, so it looks like a good deal.
Naim’s Uniti Atom will need no introduction to regular readers as it has already been extensively covered by The Ear, most recently by Chris Kelly in his September 2020 group test, as well as Jason Kennedy’s first listen back in 2017.
Birth and re-birth
For those not so familiar with Focal, the firm was set-up by precision mechanics specialist France Filières which first started making loudspeaker drivers in 1979. The company went on to launch a second brand, JM-lab, which made its debut with a range that included the flagship DB 13 which featured a unique double voice coil speaker driver and met with critical acclaim for its ability to deliver a sound that was bigger than its small bookshelf enclosures suggested.
Focal itself continued to evolve, and as well as designing high end luxury loudspeakers, it has departments specialising in car audio and professional monitors, as well as headphones aimed at the hi-fi market. In 2011, Focal reached a milestone in its history and merged with Naim Audio, leading to the formation of the Vervent Audio Group.
The new group is keen to point out that the two brands, despite being part of the same company, retain their own individual identities and specialist production facilities. “Made in France and Made in Salisbury remain key brand USPs,” says the Vervent Audio Group. “It’s key to stress that we’re not just two brands with the same ownership, but two brands working together to be greater than a sum of our separate parts.” The five system packages were created to make it easier for listeners to enjoy the synergy shared by Focal and Naim and save some money in the process.
The two brands also share an industrial designer in the form of group design director Simon Matthews. As a result, the new Focal Chora range is said to take “design cues” from the Naim Uniti range which, it’s claimed, makes them a visual as well as sonic match.
Metal and slate
Chora replaces Focal’s previous Chorus line-up of speakers and comprises the 826 and 816 floorstander, as well as the 806 bookshelf design that is included in ‘The Compact System’ on trial here. There’s also the 826-D floorstander and a centre speaker, both designed for home cinema set-ups. The three hi-fi models have front-firing bass-reflex ports with the cabinets themselves available in a choice of light wood, dark wood or black finishes, with the latter also adding a touch of class with its glossy fascia.
The drivers in all three models are what makes Focal unique. The Chora 806’s 25mm (one-inch) aluminium-magnesium tweeter is an example of the company’s signature inverted dome design. According to Focal, the spatial characteristics and “very low” directivity of its high frequency unit’s design give it the edge compared to conventional domes. It’s also claimed this has been enhanced with the development of a wave guide which, according to the designers, “guarantees” a very stable sound stage and makes the listening position much less critical.
The Chora range includes the first speakers to use Focal’s new ‘Slatefiber’ cone technology. Removing each speaker’s magnetic grille reveals a 165mm (6.5-inch), ‘slate-effect’ bass/midrange driver made using new materials that include thermoplastic polymer and non-woven recycled carbon fibres. Focal reckons the result is greater damping, rigidity and lightness, with midrange frequencies that are ‘perfectly balanced, rich and with minimal colouration’.
If streaming is your sole source of music, then The Compact Music System is pretty much a plug ’n’ play affair. Dedicated stands, that are tilted for time alignment, are available for the 806s and can be had online for around £199. But these weren’t supplied and so instead we had the speakers perched on a pair of decent, albeit fairly standard, stands. With that, you’re ready for your first stream. And it should be said right from the outset that the dynamic duo of Focal and Naim delivers an almighty punch – never mind streams, this system delivers a tsunami of sound that floods the room and engulfs the listener in wave after wave of musical thrills.
While most online music cannot compare with offline sources, there are some platforms that offer higher quality lossless streaming. Spotify offers a premium quality service as do Qobuz and Tidal which, in our opinion , are perfect for high resolution streaming set-ups such as The Compact Music System on test here. Naim offers extended free trials for both streaming services.
Having recently re-watched Blade Runner 2049, I had its superb original soundtrack spinning round in my head and so I punched that into Tidal. What came back made my heart skip a beat. The instant the thunderous bass notes dropped on the opening track, 2049, I was hooked, as this system gradually built up the soundscape, delivering each dramatic note with superb timing.
And if you need proof that this system is capable of delivering a room-filling performance, stick with the Blade Runner 2049 soundtrack. The haunting refrains and sweeping synths of pieces such as Sapper’s Tree and All the Best Memories Are Hers completely dominated not only my aural space but also my head space, with the 806 turning in a truly captivating performance that was powerful, effortless and yet delivered with delicacy.
Keen to hear what this system could do with female vocals, and sticking with a cinema theme, my next choice was the title song to the latest Bond film, Billie Eilish’s No Time To Die. Once again, the timing and drama that this system is capable of had me reaching for the repeat button on the remote, and the way Eilish’s breathy vocals came across had me on the edge of my seat.
Switching up a gear, and the richness of Hozier’s baritone vocals and guitars on tracks such as Almost (Sweet Music) or the brilliant Movement from the 2019 album, Wasteland, Baby! provide further evidence of this system’s ability to keep the listener locked in. It’s hard not to be drawn in by the soulfulness of the Irishman’s singing here, as the Naim Focal duo works in partnership to belt out a sound drenched in emotion. Yes, this streaming set-up really is that good.
Of course, the only ‘problem’ when you have a world of music at your fingertips is that you end up falling down rabbit holes. I spent hours not only enjoying the music that I knew or wanted to try, but also going beyond the tip of the iceberg and experimenting with the vast unknown. And the only reason I felt compelled to do that was because I had a top-notch way of being able to experience it; with this system in front of me, ‘old school’ music and hi-fi lovers like me no longer have a reason to resist streaming in search of high quality sonic kicks, and for the majority who are already converts, now’s the chance to up your game.