Focal Sib Evo Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 review

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The Good: The Focal Sib Evo Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 offers stylish looks and a relatively good price for a lifestyle speaker package. Surround-sound integration is seamless between all of the satellites. Vocal clarity is very good given the speakers’ smallish size.

The Bad: The satellite doesn’t blend very well with the satellites. The speaker connectors at the back are very fiddly. A set of larger speakers from competitors such as Pioneer or Elac would sound much better for a similar price.

The Bottom Line: The Focal Sib Evo Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 surround kit looks great with its rounded speakers and integrated height channels, but audio quality, especially from the sub, falls short of its competitors.

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Dolby Atmos has been with us for several years now, but apart from an initial rush of speakers from the likes of Onkyo and Klipsch, things have been a little quiet on the Atmos speaker front, so to speak. Sure there’s a dribble of dedicated height speakers you can add to existing non-Atmos speakers, but you can count on one hand the number of speakers with integrated Atmos modules.

Enter Focal’s Sib Evo Dolby Atmos 5.1.2. The French company’s atmospheric speaker kit boasts front speakers with top-firing Atmos drivers built-in, and it sits toward the more affordable end at $1,299/£1,099/AU$1,500.

The sub and surrounds were solid enough, but the star of the package is definitely those Evo Atmos front speakers, which cost $299/AU$750 a pair by themselves. They integrate the height channel in a way that is unobtrusive and elegant, and would make a great addition to an existing Sib-based system.

Unless you really prioritize sleek looks, however, there are better options out there for a complete surround system. For example, an Elac Debut 5.0 Home Theater Package  with two A4 height modules and a sub will cost roughly the same as the Focal. It may not look as pretty, but it would sound much better.

If looks were everything…

Focal Sib Evo 5.1.2 Atmos speakers

As the name suggests, this is the Dolby Atmos-enabled version of the popular Focal Sib and Cubspeakers, with five surrounds and one sub. The heights are integrated into the main Sib Evo Dolby Atmos speaker and are designed to fire onto your ceiling and back at you.

As surround speakers go this is a beautiful looking system. The new Evo satellites are finished in a gloss-black finish and the even though the main’s cabinet is larger than the other satellites — 12 inches tall versus 10 inches — it is still very classy. All of the speakers, regardless of size, feature a 5-inch Polyflex driver and a 1-inch soft dome tweeter. The Atmos drivers, meanwhile, are 3 inches in diameter.

Focal Sib Evo 5.1.2 Atmos speakers

There’s no different-looking center channel speaker in this system — you simply place one of the satellites sideways on the supplied rubber mount. You then rotate the Focal logo and voila — a center channel! The main advantage to this is better integration between the fronts and surrounds, as we soon found.

Focal Sib Evo 5.1.2 Atmos speakers

Lastly, we come to the Cub Evo. This subwoofer is a cubic foot in size with a different finish — a brushed vinyl wrap. At the bottom resides an 8-inch woofer which feeds a large port at the front of the sub. At the rear of the unit are the controls including volume, crossover point and a phase switch. There’s only line-level inputs and no speaker ins for this model. It’s rated for 35Hz to 150Hz and features a 200-watt amplifier.

Putting it together

The Focal Sib Evo subwoofer/satellite system looked really promising, visually and sonically, so we were eager to get it up and running in the CNET listening room. Our first impressions weren’t great, however. On a $1,299 system, our expectations run high, so we were surprised the speakers had spring clip wire connectors and not the standard, more robust binding posts. Sure they’re integrated into the speakers backsides, but they accept only twisted bare wire ends, or cables terminated with pins instead of our preferred banana plugs. On the Focal you have to press the button below the connectors to insert your speaker wire, and then release. Set aside some time, because plugging in eight speaker channels and getting them to catch properly — so they don’t pull out accidentally — takes a while.

Focal Sib Evo 5.1.2 Atmos speakers

We used both an Onkyo TX-NR575 and a Sony STR-DN1080 receiver for the Sib Evo listening tests, and started with the recommended subwoofer-to-speaker crossover setting of 80Hz, but the blend between the Cub Evo sub and speakers wasn’t ideal. The tonal balance was too lean, without much mid bass. After some trials we settled on a 100Hz crossover setting, which helped fill out the mid bass a tiny bit, though we still weren’t satisfied with the blend between the sub and sats in the 11-by-20 foot CNET listening room. We imagine in larger rooms the problem would be even more noticeable.

How it sounds

We played a few Blu-rays and liked the Focal Sib Evo system’s clarity. Still, they always sounded like very small speakers, because they came up short of warmth or fullness. Dialogue was articulate but lacking in body. The small Cub Evo sub couldn’t muster much low bass punch.

Even before we played any war or sci-fi Blu-rays, the Cub Evo sub’s limitations were evident with a car crash scene in the psychological thriller, “A Cure For Wellness.” The sub struggled to produce the low bass impact of the crash. We experimented using the Sib Evo sats with the much larger Klipsch R-110SW sub, and that made a huge difference in the sound of the system. Tonal balance filled out and the bass was deeper, tighter and better integrated with the speakers.

We reconnected the Cub Evo sub and listened to music, starting with the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble performing Edgar Varese’s “Ionisation.”  The all-percussion ensemble’s tremendous dynamics were thrilling, and the clarity of the Sib Evo system was impressive. So, sure, the system could rock out, but we can’t judge tonality with percussion instruments. With David Bowie’s “Blackstar” album, the Sib Evo sats’ diminutive size and midrange thinness robbed the music of some soul.

Focal Sib Evo 5.1.2 Atmos speakers

We next tried our favorite Dolby Atmos outer space drama Blu-ray, “Gravity” and the five Sib Evo sats produced a room-filling surround. We didn’t hear much from the Atmos height surround effects, however, so we boosted the height channel volume by the recommended 4 dB. Even after that. the height channels’ sound was barely noticeable.

Returning to our budget reference, but less expensive ELAC Debut B6 ($279.97 at Amazon.com), C5, and B5 speakers, the sound improved in every way. There was pretty much no comparison. The Focal Sib Evo system certainly looks nicer, but the sound, while very clear, isn’t as balanced as the ELAC Debut system.

The verdict

If you’re after a stylish speaker system that will do Dolby Atmos, this is pretty much your only option, and for that it deserves some praise. It offers good clarity and excellent surround integration in a very compact system. It’s just a pity that connecting it up is such a pain and that the sub — as the most expensive component — lacks truly deep bass and offers such a poor blend with the rest of the speakers. If you have a Sib and Cub system already, buy the new Evo Atmos speakers and drag your system into the 21st century with relatively little extra outlay.

(cnet.com, https://goo.gl/MAzX4m)

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