Focal's Chorus 'S' range of loudspeakers is its entry-level 'serious' series, coming in at around the same price as the French brand's popular sub/sat Sib and Cub system.
But the nine-strong Chorus 'S' series takes a very different approach to both sound and looks. While the speakers are far from ugly, they're not overly well-endowed in the partnerpleasing dark arts of line and form. What you get is a system comprising a bunch of boxes that look like genuine speakers - and in my opinion, they are none the worse for that!
The only thing that could break the deal is the vinyl wrap, but unless you get really close even this looks like the real McCoy from a distance.
The system featured here includes four of the range's 705S bookshelf speakers, the entry-level CC70S centre channel and the SW700S subwoofer. Once in situ it's actually rather compact and room-friendly. The 300W active subwoofer is obviously the biggest of the bunch but in the 'Style' finish of this review sample - all the range is also available in 'Technic' (grey) and an attractive 'Calvados' - it pulled off coffee-table chic with ease.
The sub has lost 30 per cent of its volume since the last Chorus range, and with the grill covering the 11in driver the uninitiated would struggle to recognise it for what it was. It is also nicely loaded on the connections front, and most importantly has an LFE input, which allows you to pass bass management duties onto your receiver, something I found to work best in listening tests.
At the heart of the Chorus 'S' series lies a new tweeter technology. The intriguingly named version TNC was inspired by the work Focal undertook on its über-highend Utopia BE series and its famous Beryllium tweeter. This new inverted dome tweeter is the major difference between these speakers and the original Chorus range, and is more compact than is predecessor and uses a fresh aluminium/magnesium alloy.
It's couple to a push-pull double neodymium magnet arrangement, similar to that found in the Utopia BE series. The main benefit of this incredibly light, yet rigid, tweeter is a considerably wider bandwidth: it's capable of providing a flat response up to 28kHz, while also reaching down as far as 1200Hz, providing excellent integration with the Polyglass midrange drivers.
Predictably, all the speakers in this setup use the same drivers, with the only difference being that the CC70S centre channel uses two of the Polyglass midrange drivers compared to the 705S's single offering. This provides extra sonic weight to the centre channel while retaining the same sonic characteristics.
Interestingly, even though this is Focal's budget range, the manufacturing of the drivers isn't farmed out to the Far East, but takes place in the company's impressive Saint Etienne factory. All the speakers here are single-wired, but you shouldn't take that as a nod towards affordability - all Focal's speakers operate in this way. They also boast Focal's OPC filter, which also features on the company's high-end speakers.
It's not like all the rest
In action, this system immediately and capably differentiates itself from similar priced style-led sub/sat systems. Even the best of the current brood, from the likes of Mission, B&W and Miller and Kriesel, sometimes struggle to match the presence that a collection of 'proper' speakers can muster with a top-notch audio mix.
The Focal system provides a genuine room-filling performance with impressive dynamics and focus across the front three speakers. Around the back the sound does enough to envelope you with diffuse sound effects delivered with aplomb.
Integration is impressive throughout, both in terms of the treble and mid-range from the main speakers and all around the room, with the subwoofer slotting in directly beneath the speakers in a convincing manner. There's also just enough depth on tap to get to grips with the dynamic soundtrack to Fight Club. Okay, you don't get the impression that the bass is bottomless, but there's plenty to shout about in the context of price.
Multichannel and stereo music is well served, the former thanks to the cohesion between the speakers being used throughout the system and the latter by the very impressive articulation of what is a very capable £230 stereo pair of 705Ss. Again, refinement is the dominant impression here, and everything from MP3 to Super Audio CD is delivered with a suitable gloss.
The word I'm really looking for here is 'refined', not something you can say often about sub/sat system designs. But it seems as though the new tweeter technology has paid dividends in this respect and, the Chorus 'S' system simply refuses to sound harsh or abrasive even when the volume is ramped right up. However, there is a downside to all this refinement...
The centre channel speaker performs well with dialogue, and doesn't skip a beat with the overlapping dialogue of Gosford Park. However, the smoothing nature doesn't really do justice to gritty vocals, such as those found on the new Clerks X 10th Anniversary disc. The soundtrack may have been cleaned up a little, but the CC70S overly smoothes the rough edges, which isn't the way fans would want it - your reviewer included!
Style and visual flair may well have been grabbing the headlines of late, but spending some time with these brown boxes quickly reminds you that sound quality is what fans really want in a home cinema system. And these babies have it in abundance! Okay, so there are some limitations brought about by the price point, but in terms of sound per pound value, you'll be hard pushed to beat this neat little system.