Focal Dimension Sound Bar/Subwoofer System Review

Focal Dimension Sound Bar And Dimension Subwoofer
Focal Dimension Sound Bar And Dimension Subwoofer. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

Much to the dismay of those that prefer full multi-speaker surround sound for their home theater setups, Sound Bars and Under-TV audio systems continue their unabated popularity with many consumers. Even high-end speaker makers have relented to this demand and entered the soundbar product space.

One example is France-based Focal, which markets an interesting variation on the Sound Bar concept with its two-piece Dimension system. The Dimension consists of a traditional looking sound bar and a non-traditional passive subwoofer that also serves as a TV platform.

When used together, the soundbar is placed in front of the subwoofer, which makes it appear from the seating position that they are one unit.

Product Overview - Dimension Sound Bar

1. Design: 5.1-channel sound bar with Bass reflex cabinet design with two side-mounted ports for extended low-frequency response.

2. Speakers: 5 3-15/16 inch front-facing flat full range speaker drivers for the left, left surround, center, right, and right surround channels.

3. Frequency Response 50Hz - 25 kHz + or - 6dB.

4. Amplifier Power Output (total system): 450 watts. Each of the 5 included speakers is individually amplified. Also, the sound bar incorporates a 6th amplified channel to power the Dimension Passive Subwoofer. Each channel is rated at 75 watts (hence the 450-watt system total).

5. Audio Decoding: Accepts Dolby Digital and DTS Digital Surround Bitstream audio, uncompressed two-channel PCM, and analog stereo.

6. Audio Processing: Night Mode and Room Acoustic settings.

7. Inputs: One HDMI input. One digital optical and One analog stereo input set. Bluetooth connectivity via the addition of an optional adapter.

It is important to note that although the HDMI connections featured on the Dimension Sound Bar access audio, video signals are routed through to the TV without any additional processing. According to Focal, resolutions up to 1080p, as well as 3D, video signals can be passed through the Dimension Sound Bar and onto the TV. However, they do not guarantee compatibility with 4K resolution video signals.

If you are using a 4K Ultra HD TV with the Dimension sound bar, you may find that connecting using digital optical or analog stereo connections may be a more compatible connection option for accessing audio from your source devices, rather than HDMI (in these cases, just connect the HDMI output of your source directly to the TV for the video portion of the signal).

8. Outputs: One HDMI (Audio Return Channel compatible), and One Subwoofer line output (for use with an optional powered sub if you are not using the Dimension subwoofer).

9. Control: Onboard touch controls and a wireless credit card-size remote are both provided. The sound bar is also compatible with many Universal and TV remote controls.

10. Dimensions (WDH): 45 1/4 x 4 1/2 x 4 1/2 inches.

13. Weight: 12 lbs.

Product Overview - Dimension Subwoofer

1. Design: Passive (Power provided by the Dimension Sound Bar), Bass Reflex (slotted ports on the bottom for extended bass response). Oversize flat surface for TV platform use.

2. Speakers: 2 8 x 3-inch elliptical drivers.

3. Frequency Response: 30 to 110Hz (- or - 6db)

4. Cabinet Dimensions (WDH): 45 1/6 x 12 13/16 x 4 1/2 inches

5. Weight: 31 pounds

6. TV Support: Designed for use with 50-inch and larger LCD, Plasma, and OLED TVs - no weight restriction information provided.

Also, if you have a video projector, you can use the Dimension Sub, in combination with the Dimension sound bar, as an audio system for your projector - For more details, read my article: How To Use A Video Projector With An Under-TV Audio System.

Set-up

Getting the Focal Dimension Sound Bar/Subwoofer system ready for use is not difficult, but is a little different.

First, unlike most sound bar/subwoofer systems these days, which provide wired or wireless powered subwoofers, if you are using the Dimension Subwoofer, as was supplied for this review, you must physically connect it to the Dimension Sound Bar via traditional speaker wire. The reason for this is that the Dimension subwoofer does not have its own built-in amplifier. Both the audio signal and amplifier power have to be supplied by the sound bar (this also means that you cannot use the Dimension subwoofer with other Sound Bars).

Also, once you have both units connected, Focal provides some additional setting switches on the rear connection panel that allow users to "tell" the system the distance from your listening position, the installation position of the system (wall or shelf), the approximate room size the system is being used in, and whether you are using the Dimension Subwoofer, a powered subwoofer, or no subwoofer. For a closer look at these options, refer to my close-up photo and explanation, of the Dimension Sound Bar's rear panel connections and setting switches.

Of course, after you have completed your settings, you can connect your source options as well via the provided HDMI, digital optical, and/or analog audio inputs, and, if you are also opting to add Bluetooth capability, you can plug in the optional Focal Universal Bluetooth Adapter to the analog audio inputs via an audio cable that is provided with the adapter. Also, Focal's Bluetooth adapter can actually be used with any soundbar, stereo, or home theater receiver that has analog audio input connections.

For audio testing, the Blu-ray/DVD player I used (OPPO BDP-103). In two test set-ups, the Blu-ray Disc player was connected directly to the TV via HDMI outputs for video, and digital optical and RCA stereo analog outputs were alternately connected from the players to the Focal Dimension for audio.

In a third test setup, I connected an HDMI output from the Blu-ray Disc player to the Dimension Sound Bar for both audio and video and connected the HDMI output of the Dimension Sound Bar to the TV.

To make sure that the reinforced rack I placed the Dimension Sound Bar/Subwoofer on was not affecting the sound coming from the unit, I ran a "Buzz and Rattle" test using the audio test portion of the Digital Video Essentials Test Disc. With everything connected and in place, it was time hear the results.

Performance

The Focal Dimension Sound Bar/Subwoofer system definitely outputs plenty of power to fill a medium or even a large room. Overall, the system sounded great with both music and movie content, providing a well-centered anchor for dialog and vocals as well as projecting a wide stereo image for music, and better than expected surround sound field for movies.

Using the audio tests provided on the Digital Video Essentials Test Disc, I observed a faint low point at about 32Hz, with strong low frequency output between 40 and 50Hz on the subwoofer, transitioning to the sound bar between 50 and 80hz, to a sound bar high point of at least 15kHz (my hearing gives out short of that point).

I found that the midrange and high frequencies were very good - dialog and vocals were clear and full-bodied, and the highs were distinct without being brittle or distorted.

I found the bass response to be very good. The soundbar definitely supplied enough power output to the subwoofer for reasonable low-frequency impact, striking a good balance between the low-frequency needs of music vs movies.

Although for this review, I was provided with the Dimension passive subwoofer, any external powered subwoofer can be used, one powered option suggested by Focal is its Sub Air Wireless Sub. The Sub Air comes with a transmitter that can be plugged into the Dimension Sound Bar's Subwoofer line output - thus eliminating the need to use an audio cable or speaker wire to connect a subwoofer.

With the THX Optimizer Disc (Blu-ray Edition), and using the Blu-ray Disc player's, Dolby Digital and DTS bitstream settings, the Focal Dimension Sound Bar properly decoded the 5.1 channels signal placing the left, center, and right channels correctly, and projecting surround channels enough out to the sides to deliver an acceptable surround sound experience (minus sound coming from the rear).

With regards to audio decoding and processing, it is important to point out that although the Dimension sound bar does provide Dolby Digital and DTS decoding, it does not decode Dolby True HD/Atmos or DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks. If you are playing a source that encoded with those formats, the System will default to standard Dolby Digital or DTS.

The Bluetooth plug-in option works fine. Pairing between the system and my smartphone was almost instantaneous and the sound quality was typical of Bluetooth sources, but it would have been more convenient if Bluetooth capability was actually included in the sound bar instead of having to use a plug-in adapter. Focal claims that its use of an aluminum frame in the construction of the sound bar would interfere with the Bluetooth signal so the decision was made not to include it internally.

What I Liked

1. Good overall sound quality for the form factor and price.

2. Built-in Dolby Digital and DTS Decoding.

3. Wide front sound stage. Good sound projection to the side.

4. Good vocal and dialog presence.

5. Clearly labeled rear panel connections and setting controls. However, the recessed connection compartment is a little cramped for connecting HDMI cables.

6. HDMI Video Pass-through connections

7. Optional Bluetooth Adapter works well with the system.

8. Touch sensitive onboard controls.

9. Lip-synch Adjustment available via the remote.

What I Didn't Like

1. The Audio Return Channel feature doesn't always kick in.

2. Bluetooth capability requires an additional plug-in adapter.

3. Loose table mount brackets

4. Terminals on the Sound Bar for connecting speaker wire for the Dimension subwoofer are small (even 18 gauge wire is a tight fit) and too close together.

5. Connection terminals on subwoofer located on bottom of unit (rear mounted connections would be more convenient)

6. Very large external power supply for a soundbar.

7. Pricey (Suggested prices are $1,399.00 for the sound bar, $299.00 for subwoofer, and $120 for the Bluetooth adapter)

Final Take

Despite some setup oddities, once you get the Focal Dimension Sound Bar and Sub up and running, it sounds great and looks good too for that matter.

As discussed above, the system is powerful for most sized rooms, and the sound is clean. Although not a complete substitute for a multi-speaker surround sound system (you get some front to side surround sound, but nothing from your listening position to the far sides or rear), as a sound bar/under-TV audio system option) it delivers the satisfying result without a lot of clutter.

Despite some criticisms I have about the connection layout, the need for an external adapter for Bluetooth, and the large external power supply, expensive price tag (you can actually purchase a modest home theater receiver, speakers, and a subwoofer for about the same price or slightly less), The Focal Dimension Sound Bar/Subwoofer system is one of the best I have heard - Definitely worth consideration.

For a closer look and perspective, also check out my supplementary Photo Profile.

Additional Components Used In This Review

Blu-ray Disc Player: OPPO BDP-103.

TV: Samsung UN55JS8500 4K Ultra HD TV (On Review Loan).