Focal and Naim at AXPONA

Elton John fans, forgive me. I've nothing against the man, but most of his songs do less for me than a nude painting does for a blind man (that is, we literally can't see the attraction). So it was fairly remarkable that, in the Focal demo room, the Dolby Atmos version of Elton John's "Rocket Man" made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. If a high-end rig can put you in touch with music you normally don't even care about, it's time to investigate.

I surveyed the speakers in the room: six Focal floorstanders (four with tops that incorporate an upfiring midrange driver), a center channel speaker, and two subwoofers. Then I listened to the timbral rightness of the voice and instruments, the robust dynamics, and the dead-on spatial clues all around me. My wallet began to hurt a little. I guessed that the nine speakers would add up to a price tag of $30,000 to $40,000.

Well, I was wrong. More wrong than a flat-earther at an astronomy convention. The entire speaker set consisted of products from Focal's affordable Chora line. The four Chora 826Ds are $1200 each; the two Chora 826 speakers (no top-firing drivers) go for $1920/pair; and the Chora Center is $630. With the two 600P-model subs costing $1,399 each, you'll be out the door for a hair over 10 grand.

A short while later, I also got a tantalizing taste of Focal's Maestro Utopia EVO speakers ($76,000/pair, shown below), driven by two Naim Statement NAP S1 monoblocks and a matching NAC S1 preamplifier ($130,000 for each component). In my wanderings through AXPONA's listening rooms, London Grammar's moody, introspective track "Hey Now" was on exhibitors' repertoires at least a few times a day. The Naim/Focal room was no exception. But if the song was reproduced anywhere else with more space around the instruments and more brain-melting heft in the lowest bass notes, I'm not aware of it. Truly endgame stuff—with a financial outlay to match.