What is the Focal Dimension?
The Dimension is a high-end soundbar from French brand Focal that fires 5.1 sound into your living room without the clutter that comes with a traditional surround sound system.
With a price tag of around £800 and high-quality speaker tech under the bonnet, the Focal Dimension is aimed at discerning listeners with a big budget – just like the KEF V720W, Arcam Solo and DALI Kubik One. It can be used alone or in conjunction with the £400 Dimension Sub, which clamps onto the back and turns it into a soundbase. The Sub wasn’t supplied for our test, but even without one Focal reckons it can deliver deep bass and fill a room of over 50m².
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Focal Dimension – Design and Connections
With its angled design and minimalist styling, the Focal Dimension is an unusual but visually striking soundbar. The entire front section slopes back, pointing the drivers upwards to aid dispersion. Tasteful black cloth covers the speakers, and on the right-hand side you’ll find a touch-sensitive control panel that lights up when you wave your hand near it. Here you can power it up, control volume, select an input or activate the Night mode.
Build quality is nigh-on industrial grade, with a brushed aluminium mono-block chassis providing a stable base for the speakers to do their thing. It’s a beautifully engineered product.
At 1155mm wide the Focal Dimension is recommended for TVs of 50 inches and over. It can be mounted on the wall using the supplied bracket or placed on top of a TV stand, and for the latter you get a pair of supports that slot into the keyhole fixings on the back. A word of warning, though: at 115mm high it’s likely to block your TV’s infrared sensor when placed in front of your set, and there’s no IR repeater on board.
The sockets are crammed into a tight recess on the back which makes them awkward to access. They include an HDMI input, an ARC/CEC-enabled output, plus optical digital and 3.5mm minijack inputs. We expect more HDMI inputs at this price.
Powered springclip terminals let you connect Focal’s Dimension sub, while a line output is provided to hook up a different powered sub. You’ll also find a range of different switches on the back, which optimise the bar for different installation types (more on that later).
Focal Dimension – Features
The Focal Dimension doesn’t come with Bluetooth as standard – to get it you have to buy the optional aptX universal receiver. That’s disappointing at this price, particularly as the receiver sells for a hefty £130.
The Dimension does, however, offer Dolby Digital and DTS decoding to give you ‘true’ 5.1 sound, but we’d have preferred Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio to tease the best possible sound out of Focal’s speakers. It will play the 5.1 core of these formats, just not the hi-res part – although you can always get your Blu-ray deck to decode them and input the signal as LPCM.
The soundbar uses five 10cm ultra-flat paper drivers, which are shaped like inverted cones to deliver what focal describes as ‘clearly defined and coherent’ high frequencies. The four lateral drivers are also responsible for generating low frequencies, using bass-reflex loading with two ports on either side of the soundbar. Power output is quoted at 450W – 6 x 75W, one channel of which is for an external subwoofer.
The Focal Dimension doesn’t rely on sound beams or high-frequency manipulation to deliver its 5.1 sound, just subtle processing to create a sense of surround immersion.
Focal Dimension – Setup and Operation
Installation is easy. The metal stands clamp firmly onto the back without the need for screws and provide sturdy support for the soundbar on a flat surface.
Calibration comes in the form of four switches on the back that adjust the sonic properties for different positions. The Distance switch tells the bar how far away you’re sitting – Close (less than 2m), Medium (2-4m) and Far (more than 4m). There are three Position settings – Table, when the bar is placed on a flat surface but not flush with the edge; Free Standing, when the bar is flush to the edge; and Wall.
Another switch accounts for the reflectivity of the materials in your room, which affect acoustics. Again there are three settings – Mat for rooms with curtains, carpets and rugs; Medium for plaster or hollow brick walls; and Clear for large glass surfaces, solid bricks, tiled floors and so forth. The final switch tells the bar whether you’re using the Dimension Subwoofer, a sub connected to the line out or no sub at all.
The front controls are pleasant to use but sadly the remote is of the cheap plastic variety. The blister buttons are fiddly and it’s too small to hold comfortably. Thankfully the presence of ARC and CEC means you can use your TV’s remote to control the Focal Dimension when connected via HDMI, or use a universal/learning remote – the codes are on Focal’s website.
You can adjust the bass level by hitting the Bass button on the remote, or hit the Sync button to set an audio delay. In both cases the volume meter on the display panel offers a visual guide.
Focal Dimension – Performance
The Dimension’s performance is extraordinary. Its enormous sound floods the room and immerses you in the movie.
Key to this room-filling sound is the soundbar’s impressive bass output, which is so deep and weighty we found it hard to believe that there was no subwoofer involved – in fact, only hardcore bass addicts will feel the need to add one.
With Blu-ray bass-fest Godzilla, the Focal Dimension conveys the scale of the big monster battles by emitting a heavy but well-controlled thump with every footstep and a thunderous rumble when buildings collapse. Bass locks tightly to the five full-range drivers and stops and starts with alacrity. The result is a fast, cohesive and hard-hitting sound – all the ingredients for a great night’s entertainment.
It’s not just action scenes that benefit from this top-drawer bass performance – softer sounds like Army truck engines are underpinned by a solid rumble and male voices have subtle depth.
It’s backed up by a vigorous midrange and crisp highs. Machine guns snap and rattle aggressively, while ‘Zilla’s mighty roar is delivered with terrific intensity.
These effects never sound brash, which is no mean feat when they’re being fired into the room with such gusto. And you don’t need to crank up the volume to achieve this either – the bar’s naturally dynamic character keeps things loud and lively even around the half way mark.
But it’s not all blood and thunder. Plenty of delicate detail seeps into every scene, particularly during the soldiers’ tense excursions into caverns and forests – the rustling leaves and footsteps are crystal clear.
The Dimension also generates a spacious and well-organised soundstage across the front of the room, although Focal’s claim of true 5.1 sound is optimistic at best. There’s no sense that surround effects are placed behind or beside you. Then again, we can count on one hand the number of soundbars that deliver convincing surround sound, so it would be unfair to single the Dimension out.
What’s more, its sound is so big and powerful that it feels like you’re being engulfed anyway – all it’s lacking is the movement and precise directionality of a real 5.1 system.
The Dimension’s dynamic tone, lucid detail and agile bass result in electrifying music playback. Dance music benefits from the soundbar’s solid sound, locking basslines tightly to the beat and making percussive parts sound clean and incisive.
Switch to something like jazz or soul and the Focal Dimension’s deep bass and silky detail make the music sound smooth and mellifluous.
Should I buy the Focal Dimension?
There’s some high-quality competition in the luxury soundbar sector but we think the Focal Dimension delivers the best performance at this price. It musters a bigger, beefier sound than the similarly priced Arcam Solo and KEF V720W, even without the aid of a subwoofer, as well as a more exciting and engaging tone.
That said, the inclusion of just one HDMI input and lack of built-in Bluetooth is disappointing for the money, particularly as Arcam offers four HDMIs and Bluetooth as standard, and the remote is naff. If this matters then look elsewhere, but if sound quality is your priority then the Dimension is the soundbar for you.
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Focal’s beautifully built soundbar delivers gobsmacking sound quality, but the single HDMI and optional Bluetooth are disappointing at this price.