Focal Dimension Soundbar Review
The Focal Dimension is dressed to kill, thoughtfully designed, and expertly constructed. But if that is all impressive, it's sound quality is even better.
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Welcome to the world of high end soundbars. You can slog through two to five hundred dollar soundbars all day long, but when you move into the higher-end price range the air is rare. French manufacturer Focal (pronounced Faux-Kal’), having built an excellent reputation with their floor and bookshelf speakers, have chosen not to play in the low end soundbar sandbox. The Dimension is their first foray into the mix, and it’s a doozie. The Focal Dimension soundbar is actually two separate components, soundbar and subwoofer that can be purchased individually. Retailing for $1,400 sans subwoofer and $1,600 with the subwoofer, they’re setting some pretty high expectations out of the gate. Ok, now that I’ve just about exhausted my French vocabulary, let’s see how they did.
Focal Dimension Soundbar Build Quality & Features
What I first noticed about the Focal Dimension soundbar is the interesting slanted design (which isn’t just for looks) and the quality of the build. At over 45 inches long it’s a substantial piece of audio equipment, yet it is still thin and visually appealing. The display is a motion activated touch screen that goes dark when not in use. This is great for home theaters as it disappears when not in use so as not to distract from the screen. There’s no plastic, which is to be expected at this price point. Rather, the soundbar frame is a single piece of aluminum providing a solid chassis for the 450 watts which push five full range drivers as well as the lateral bass channel.
All DTS and Dolby Digital multichannel formats are supported by the Focal Dimension soundbar up to 5.1 channels. Other formats such as 7.1, DTS-HD Master, Dolby True HD, Dolby Digital plus or 96kHz will be rehabilitated automatically by the drivers to make it compatible with the Dimension.
Focal made what I believe are two critical design choices that separate their soundbar from the crowd. First, the Focal Dimension is designed for large or irregularly-shaped rooms. Traditional 5.1 soundbars rely on reflecting the high frequency sound off of walls to create that in-depth surround feel. Therefore the size and shape of the room have a major impact on performance. The Dimension uses a surround management system which works by adjusting the phase and delay of the 4 lateral channels. The idea is that it creates a bubble of sound, so layout and size of the room have very little impact on the sound. What’s even better is that this system delivers a huge soundstage, providing excellent sound performance across a bigger range of heights and distances. Focal tells us this is the reason for the slanted design. I love it when form follows function, and both are done well here.
One of my long standing gripes with sound bars has always been that they block the IR receiver on your TV when using a cabinet. I know there’s other solutions to avoid this: Wall mounting, IR pass-thru, etc., but I’m a guy who likes a simple fix, so I consider this the second critical design choice that puts the Focal Dimension at the top of the list. Assuming you add it, the subwoofer is not only beautifully designed, but also engineered to be a TV stand. At a little over 12 inches deep and 45 inches wide, it’s specifically designed to support screens over 50 inches. At this price range, another $200 is an easy choice as long as it fits your setup. The passive subwoofer is driven by a sixth amp inside the soundbar, and it has the same slanted shape so the two fit together perfectly (There’s no extra power cord needed). At this point you may be asking yourself: “A TV sitting on top of a subwoofer, won’t that vibrate my screen?” Nope, Focal’s website guarantees zero vibrations since the two elliptical woofers work in opposite directions inside the 31 pound subwoofer housing. If you’re wall-mounting don’t worry, the Dimension has a line out to feed an optional powered sub.
As for connections, you get two HDMI ports. One independent input and one enabled with ARC and CEC. As long as you’re good using your television to pass the audio signal from all your devices this should be enough. If you’re watching 4K ultra HD content, the ARC is your only option as the Dimension can’t handle the pass through on that resolution. You also get an optical audio, analog audio, and mini USB port (presumably for applying software updates). The Dimension also includes an external Bluetooth adapter. Why external? Dimension claims that the aluminum chassis shields radio waves and prevents an internal install. I certainly wish they could have found some way to get around this because it’s basically the only blemish on what is otherwise a beautiful piece of tech. The Dimension supports all the latest Bluetooth enabled devices from Apple, Google, etc., but it needs its own power source and attaches via RCA cables so it’s not very convenient, but hey, at least you have it. Mine will probably never see the light of day since I can use the HDMI ARC and my AppleTV as a workaround.
Focal Dimension Soundbar Setup & User Experience
Taking a quick look at the setup and user experience, I have several highs and basically one low. We’ll start at the bottom and work our way up. Because the two pieces of the Focal Dimension are designed to fit together, the bay where all the connectors meet up is ridiculously cramped. Get ready for a rather frustrating experience of bending HDMI cables, contorting fingers to ease in speaker wire, and wishing more than ever that you could use the force. I recommend having small children clear of shouting distance.
That being said, with only two HDMI’s it’s over quickly and looks great. Setting up the Dimension to match your room size, mounting type, acoustics, and sub selection is as simple as placing a few switches in the correct position using the quick setup guide. Several features can only be controlled by the small remote, so don’t lose it. I think a mobile app would also be a nice feature to see down the road if they’re ever able to integrate WiFi connectivity.
In any piece of audio equipment, the sound quality is (and always will be) the most important feature to consider. Since Focal claims that room size and shape have very little impact on their sound I chose to test this in my living room. The room is large, and irregularly shaped. It’s not conducive to surround sound to say the least. You can find some very granular, technical reviews of the sonic signature and rate of sound decay, but I just wanted to know if the thing worked—and work it did. I fed the Focal from multiple sources and platforms using my Blu-ray player, TiVo box, and AppleTV. If you have an applicable source you could even stream music services like Spotify to it. What I noticed right away is that the Dimension isn’t picky about what you push through it. Live sports, YouTube, Netflix, or music, it stays neutral and lets the audio source come through the way it was engineered.
I wanted to test the range, clarity, and surround feature of the soundbar, so I queued up a little Kung Fu Panda. Go ahead and laugh, but the action sequences are loaded with surround effects and frequency ranges that stress a system and which allowed me to pick out any areas where the drivers couldn’t keep up. I’m pleased to report that the Focal Dimension handled it beautifully. The sound was clean and balanced—all of the components were working together, not against each other. While the bass was surprisingly good for just the soundbar, it wasn’t long before I connected the subwoofer and pushed the volume. Even with the levels pushed, the bass behaved nicely, coming in with a nice rumble that added depth and feeling, but settling down when not needed. Often too much bass will distort normal dialogue making it unnatural and hard to hear. I can’t stress this enough, missing dialogue is incredibly frustrating, so I really liked the way the built-in drivers handled the center channel and pushed through a clean sound while the 65Hz tuned sub waited its turn.
In the action sequences, the extra bass really helped tie the highs and mids together and made for a great addition, well worth the asking price. The surround performance was great for a soundbar. While that will never be quite as engaging as well-placed, dedicated surround speakers, it’s not really relevant here. If you’re seriously considering the Focal Dimension, odds are you’re at peace with that fact. If not, I suggest you do a little research to understand the tradeoffs between the two methods of sound delivery. The key thing to note is that compared to other soundbars I’ve listened to, it was truly impressive. Even in chaotic scenes with epic music in the background, the environment crumbling down, and furry fists flying all over the place the Focal Dimension keeps its composure and draws you into the action. As an added bonus it looks good doing it.
Moving on to some music, at the advice of a good friend I steered clear of the newer compressed stuff and got back to my roots with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. The experience was organic and real. The instruments came through clearly and well-defined, and voices carried their emotion into the living room. I haven’t enjoyed the set like that since I saw them in concert. If the Dimension shines in the cinema, it flat out rocks in the music hall.
Considering this is Focal’s first attempt at a soundbar, I have to give it to them—they nailed it. While I may have uttered a few choice words during setup, I was well rewarded for the effort. The Focal Dimension is dressed to kill, thoughtfully designed, and expertly constructed. All of this adds up to deliver a user experience and audio performance that is thoroughly enjoyable and exactly what we’ve come to expect from the masterminds at Focal. The price tag is even relatively inexpensive given the competition and the company it keeps. The bottom line is this, if you’re in the market for a high end soundbar, this one is well worth your consideration.