Reader Questions: Focal or SVS for a new audiophile system on a budget

I occasionally get inquiries from our readers about audio and home theater.  If the questions are of broader interest, I’ll answer them on the site.  Jesse C. wrote in and said:

I want to start piecing together my home audio system but I am on a limited budget. (I want to start small and expand gradually without the wife making too much fuss) I have read almost all of your reviews and wanted to know how you felt about the Focal Chorus 806v On sale at Music Direct vs the SVS Primes. (piano black would be same price as [Focal]) $600. As I have not heard either speaker in person and I am apprehensive to buy them.

Jesse, first of all, thanks for being a fan of our online magazine and we’re glad you find the site helpful.  I’ll answer your question with several pieces of advice since I’m familiar with both Focal and SVS lines.  For full disclosure, I have owned both Focal and SVS speakers.

My first comment is that Focal and SVS make excellent speakers that many audiophiles would be happy with.  The build quality of both is just top notch.  You’re therefore in a “win-win” situation with both brands; but I’m not saying that both speakers sound the same or perform the same.

I had the SVS Prime bookshelves in for review (read the full SVS Prime Bookshelf review here) and they are truly exceptional speakers for the price. I’ll let you read the review for all the details and you’ll see that I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them.

I have not auditioned the Focal 806v specifically. I used to own the Focal surrounds in that same 800 series line.  They were superb.  I have previously auditioned the Focal Profile 908 Diamonds, which was one step up in the line.   The midrange and and tonal character of the Focals was really great.  I loved the soundstage that the Focals were able to portray effortlessly and they had a very good, accurate midrange.   I think there are three things you’ll want to consider when comparing these two speakers:

  1. Frequency response:  The Focals just don’t go down low.  They only go down to 55Hz whereas the SVS Prime bookshelves go down to 48Hz.  That being said, I have found the midrange of the Focals to be very good and their inverted dome tweeter is a great performer.  If you don’t plan on pairing the speakers with a sub, you may find the Focal’s bass response sub-par.  That’s not as much the case with the SVS, which go down deeper.  If you don’t plan on pairing these with a subwoofer, then I would not consider the Focals and just go with the SVS.
  2. Model Availability: If my recollection is correct, the Focal 800 series has now been replaced with a new lineup.  The good news is that you can now get a really great pair of speakers for a killer price.  You did say that you were just starting to piece together your system.  The potential downside here is that the Focal models will all soon be gone. You’ll therefore be stuck with trying to find used or closeout models of the 800 series for the rest of your setup or you’ll have to buy new and you’ll be spending close to full retail to fill out your audio system.  You can also still pickup the Focal 700 series speakers at a superb price from Accessories4Less here.  The SVS Prime line, on the other hand, is brand new and the lineup will be available for some time to come.  This allows you to build the parts of your setup over time.  I do not recommend you just shop with whatever speakers you can find in your price.  You’ll have a sonic mess on your hands.  Anyone who gives you advice to the contrary is just flat out wrong.  You want to timbre match all your speakers if you’re serious about your audio.   Therefore Consider this purchase the first one that commits you to one company or the other.
  3. Listen: You must have read it in the reviews that SVS offers a 45-day in home no obligation and true risk free trial in your home.  They will pay for shipping both ways.  Music Direct will also ship the speakers and you have a 60-day policy.  But if you need to return them you’ll pay return shipping. Read Music Direct’s fine print on the 60-day policy here.  Given this reality, perhaps you start with the SVS speakers and if you like them, keep them.  If you don’t,  then return them and then try the Focals.  Either way, I strongly encourage you to listen to these speakers.  They will have differences and you will likely prefer one to the other.  If you’re scared about ordering the speakers, don’t be.  Pick up the phone and just call them and talk to a rep.

I am a die-hard audiophile. I’m telling you bluntly don’t just read reviews and buy what a reviewer says.  Here’s how I suggest you use online reviews: Read and find reviewers that you like and that you feel have similar tastes as yours.  The job of a reviewer is to describe what a piece of equipment sounds like so that you can get a feel for it.  If that’s not the sense you get in a review, then disregard it.  You should then use those reviewers’ opinions to help you narrow things down.  When it’s all said and done, it’s about your preferences and your likes and dislikes.

Therefore my advice is that you try both speakers in your home and return the set you don’t like; but, if if I could only order or consider one brand then I would order the SVS Prime Bookshelves and test them out. SVS is also the line that will allow you to build your setup over time and has quite a few model options for you to choose from.  I’ll repeat again: I firmly believe that you should not mix and match vendors with your speakers.  Therefore, whatever brand you buy now is what I recommend you buy to finish off your speaker setup.

In case you’re not aware, SVS also makes some great subs for the price.  I’d pick the entry-level and mid-range SVS subwoofers over the Focal subs.  Jesse thanks for writing in and I hope that this helps you out with your audio quest.


  1. If it were me, I would order both sets together and A/B them. I did this for my headphones (Senn, AKG and Beyer) and was satisfied I had chosen the pair best suited for me. You are out the money for a couple of weeks, but the peace of mind may be worth it.

  2. @cytokine There are two answers to that question. In an ideal home theater setup, all your speakers are the exact same speaker model. Therefore, all three fronts are the same speaker along with side and rear surrounds. That's the first answer to ensure that you really get the same "sound" from each speaker to create the illusion of a seamless sound field.

    The second answer to that question is to try and at least use the sam manufacturer and ideally the same line. That way, you can rest assured that if they have a center channel, they have done that timbre matching for you even if the center channel speaker has a different design. In my experience, if you are tight on budget, you can go down a line in the center channel if you are looking to save money and prioritize two channel music. Either way, sticking with the same manufacturer is the easy way to ensure the same sound, or timbre coming from each speaker.

    Finally, if you need to deviate from a manufacturer, you'll need to do some experimentation as well as trial and error. Some manufacturers mate together better than others.

  3. I am using a CD player with an AV Receiver connected via a toslink cable. I assume the CD player is using the DAC of the reciever in this setup. If so, Is there any reason that the quality (cost) of the CD player matters much? If not, I assume I would get more bang for my buck investing in a better AV receiver. Is this true?

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