This week we tested the Focal Dimension soundbar as well as the Focal Dimension Sub passive subwoofer, which can be placed underneath an HD TV. This is an elegant alternative to replace the integrated speakers of flat screen TVs.
If you’re wondering what the benefits are of not using your HD TV’s integrated speakers, there are many reasons why. Few TVs use good quality speakers and even those which do, the low air volume provided in a slimline TV doesn’t allow a balanced listening experience. The plastic materials of your TV vibrate and color the sound without taking into account the fact that down-or back facing drivers don’t diffuse the sound towards the listener.
Well aware of these constraints, Focal has decided to offer a quality solution with its Focal Dimension soundbar, reserved for multi-channel sound delivery (Dolby Digital, DTS) and stereo coming from cinema sources ? TVs or Blu-ray players. The soundbar features two HDMI ports, one which is ARC compatible, to receive the audio signal (from the programme currently being watched) from any HDMI ARC TV and the other which is CEC compatible to connect a player (Blu-ray, DVD, broadband receiver box, smartphone with HDMI output, etc.). An optical input (stereo and up to 5.1 compatible) completes the range of digital inputs.
The CEC and ARC protocols compatibility allows a connected TV to not only switch the Focal Dimension soundbar on and off automatically but also to adjust the volume.
Focal Dimension: acoustic solutions used
The Focal Dimension soundbar is fitted with five 4″ wide-band drivers, powered by a Class D amp, capable of delivering 6 x 75 Watts. The sixth channel is dedicated to the Focal Dimension Sub passive subwoofer. Each driver delivers a specific channel of Dolby and DTS signals: the one in the centre diffuses the central channel, the pair situated in the centre, the left and right channels while the pair which is the furthest away delivers the left and right surround channels. Apart from the centre driver, which only delivers voices and is situated in a sealed enclosure, the others are placed in a bass-reflex enclosure, with two ports to the left and right of the bar. According to the manufacturer, the enclosure is tuned to 65 Hz to enable a delivery of approximately 50 Hz.
The Focal Dimension Sub is equipped with two oval drivers each measuring 7.9 x 2.3 inches, placed at the left and right ends, enclosed in two tubular ports on the sides of each driver. Low frequencies are diffused at the sides as well as underneath the subwoofer via two openings (outside the power field). The emitting surface of the two drivers is the equivalent of that of two 4.7″ diameter circular drivers, allowing the Focal Dimension Sub to go down relatively low with noticeable pressure. Focal indicates that a frequency of 30 Hz will be obtained. This is correct but it is considerably reduced given the surface of these drivers.
Focal Dimension: a closer look at the various functions on offer
Even though the remote control only offers fairly basic settings, Focal has fitted the Dimension with a range of settings which can be accessed at the back of the speaker. You can also see the listening distance switch which has three different settings (< 2 m, 2 to 4 m and > 4 m) which adjust the speaker’s tonal balance via the amplifier’s on-board DSP. A bar positioning switch (middle of the table top, at the edge or on the wall) also adapts the sound. A room acoustics switch (matt, neutral, clear) acts on the delivery of medium and treble frequencies while a final switch indicates if an active or passive subwoofer is connected. If a subwoofer is connected, the soundbar’s drivers are freed up from delivering ultra-low frequencies.
Our tests have shown us that you don’t need to literally take all the settings on offer despite their convenience and efficiency and that playing around a bit with the controls allows you to personalise the tonal balance depending on your own individual tastes.
The touch-screen on the right of the Focal Dimension soundbar allows you to switch on the device with a light touch of the screen. It uses the controls offered by the small supplied remote control, i.e. selecting the source, adjusting the volume, adjusting the low frequency volume or activating the night mode (operates with Dolby Digital and DTS programmes) to reduce dynamic range.
It’s worth noting that any incoming audio stereo signal is shared out over the 5 drivers once audio mastering has taken place. This isn’t a stereo double with added channels (mono) for the centre driver. Voices are extracted and mostly delivered by the centre driver. The left, right, left and right surround deliver different information.
Listening impressions (without subwoofer)
The Focal Dimension soundbar delivers a clear, detailed sound with nice emphasis in the treble range at around 10 kHz. If this type of ?rise? in hi-fi affects a balanced delivery, it suits, however, delivery on a TV, given that audio streams emitted via digital terrestrial TV or most satellites are not overly generous in this particular frequency range. The medium is reasonably well integrated without any emphasis or harshness. Delivery is extremely direct and clearly optimised for listening at a distance of 4 or 5 metres with lots of details. Depending on the shape and size of the room, sound placement may be more or less transparent. We were struck by the feeling of closeness and how clear voices sounded.
If you play around with the switches at the back and adjust bass levels using the screen of the Focal Dimension, you can easily balance the overall delivery. In a large living room, which opens on to another room, which is the case for our listening room, we obtained a sufficient level of bass for a satisfactory listening experience.
Listening impressions (with subwoofer)
The Focal Dimension Sub subwoofer adds unmistakable depth. If your living room is spacious and/or reverberates sound (tiles, bay windows, hard, flat surfaces, etc.), this subwoofer will guarantee you a more convincing delivery in the bass range. We noted a major rise at around 60 Hz, which sounded good to our ears and added extra energy to the listening experience. If this subwoofer goes down to 30 Hz, there is clearly less level than at 60 Hz, but enough to give the viewer an overall feeling of depth. When you listen to The Dark Knight soundtrack in DTS 5.1, the Focal Dimension Sub is powerful but doesn’t affect the overall audio message (dialogues in particular).
Can it be used for listening to music?
The answer to this is both yes and no. Focal has clearly developed a soundbar made to get the most of your Dolby and DTS streams, whose tonal balance is very different (less medium and treble for a pleasant balance at high volumes) from that of an audio CD. Furthermore, any incoming stereo signal is treated by DSP and re-distributed over the 5 drivers, in particular the centre one (no real stereo sound is therefore possible). To listen to music in stereo, Focal offers other speakers using the latest technology, such as the Aria range with its flax cones and inverted dome tweeters.
Clear, punchy listening with suitable settings as regards placement of the speaker in relation to listeners, the Focal Dimension soundbar and the Focal Dimension Sub subwoofer are a high quality upgrade for any HD TV. The space requirement/performance ratio is excellent in our opinion and lets you completely immerse yourself in your favourite films and TV series.
This soundbar is available in a home cinema pack with the Focal Dimension Sub subwoofer, Focal Sub Air wireless subwoofer and the Focal Cub3 compact subwoofer. All our offers are available on this page. A firmware update is available to download on the Focal website.