Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Reference 160M Amplifier (February 2019)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Livio Cucuzza on Audio Research's Industrial Design (November 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Past, Present, and Future (October 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - KEF's New R Series for 2018 (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio Moon 390 Digital/Analog Preamplifier and Streamer (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - EISA 2018-2019 Awards Introduction (August 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio's $118,888 Moon 888 Mono Amplifiers (June 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Totem's Tribe Tower (May 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion's Three Newest Argon Loudspeakers (April 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Making the Hegel Mohican CD Player (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Estelon Lynx Wireless Intelligent Loudspeaker (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh's Five New Solid-State Integrated Amplifiers (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Amphion's Krypton Loudspeaker (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Anthem STR Preamplifier and Power Amplifier (December 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh Laboratory MA252 Integrated Amplifier (November 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Hegel H90 and H190 Integrated Amplifiers (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - How Hegel's SoundEngine Works (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight  - Estelon History and YB and Extreme Loudspeakers (September 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - What Makes Hegel Different? (August 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Estelon Extreme Legacy Edition Loudspeaker (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion Overview and Technologies (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! Insight - Totem Acoustic Signature One Loudspeaker (June 2017)
  • SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh MC275 Stereo Amplifier (June 2016)

To Hans Wetzel,

I’ve been researching floorstanding speakers that cost between $4000/pair and $6000/pair for several months and have narrowed my decision to Focal's Chorus 836 W Prestige ($4499/pair) and KEF's R900 ($4999.98/pair). I’ve had the opportunity to audition the Focals, but the nearest retailer that carries the R series is over four hours away, assuming that they have R900s on the floor. Your review of the R900s was very helpful to my research. Could you compare and contrast the Focal Chorus 836 W with the R900?


You've picked two great brands, and two solid loudspeakers. But there are certainly differences here. The most obvious one is the design of each speaker. The French, undoubtedly, have a much better notion of style and presentation than the Brits. So the Focals are a lot more interesting to look at, while the KEFs are -- while well-constructed -- a bit staid looking. Different strokes for different folks on that front. On the other hand, the Focal uses a traditional three-way approach of tweeter, midrange, and three 6.5" bass drivers, while the KEF uses a coaxial driver sandwiched in between two larger 8" bass drivers. I can almost guarantee that the $500 premium for the KEFs will get you deeper bass response than the Focals.

Doug Schneider, who reviewed the Focal Chorus 836 W last year for SoundStage! Hi-Fi, a sister site, was smitten by their "rich midrange," and found them quite capable on the whole. The Focal company has a long history, and know their way around a loudspeaker, so I have no doubt they are well designed and sound every bit as good as Doug explained in his review. But there's a primary difference between the two that's worth exploring. We measured the Chorus 836 W in Canada's National Research Council's anechoic chamber. It is a reasonable performer with a relatively flat listening frequency response. It also offers an amplifier a pretty benign electrical load. Take note of the "Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise" graphs, however. There is some distortion in and around the midrange that is not ideal. Contrast this with measurements we took of KEF's $2599.98/pair R500 loudspeaker, the R900's baby brother. In the "Listening Window" graph, you can see that the frequency response is approximately as flat as that of the Focal's, but with two differences. Whereas the Focal has a bump up in the bass around 100Hz, and a non-linear top end, with a fall in treble energy followed by a sharp rise, the KEF remains pretty flat on both ends. Furthermore, in the "Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise" graphs, you'll see the KEF has pretty much zero distortion from the midrange on up. While it has a sharper rise in distortion in the bass region, we are not nearly as sensitive to this distortion as we are distortion in the midrange, where many vocals and instruments play. Blame evolutionary biology for that.

Measurements alone can't tell you that one speaker is definitively better than another, but they can provide insight into a how a speaker will perform. In this instance, the almost-$2000-less-expensive KEF R500 in some ways outperforms the far-more-expensive Focal. The R900’s measurements will not be exactly the same as the R500, but you can expect them to be similar, with what I suspect to be significantly less distortion in the bass, thanks to the much larger and more capable bass drivers on offer.

Which one's better? Judging from the measurements above, I would bet that the R900 can play cleaner, louder, and deeper than the 836 W. On the other hand, the 836 W is a lot more interesting to look at, is several hundred dollars per pair cheaper, and, based on what Doug Schneider wrote about the pair he listened to, is likely to have a more alluring midrange. Which, I hate to say it, means that you need to clear out your schedule one Saturday to make the trip and hear the KEFs. Call ahead and make sure they have a pair of R900s for you to hear. For a pair of speakers that will probably serve as your daily companions for the next decade or so, I think it's a minor hassle in the grand scheme of things. Whichever you choose, you're getting a quality loudspeaker. Let us know how it goes! . . . Hans Wetzel