Surround Sound Speaker Systems
- Written by Chris Eberle
- Published on 05 October 2009
Since I am primarily a movie-watcher, I began my evaluation with a few Blu-rays.Â The first film I watched was Zack Snyderâ€™s adaptation of the graphic novel Watchmen.Â I was immediately struck by the extra-large soundstage and wide imaging.Â High frequency detail was very good though a little laid back compared to my reference Axioms.Â The sub displayed far more punch than its size would suggest.Â I was also impressed at how well these speakers disappeared into the room.Â They do not call attention to themselves sonically.Â The wide and deep soundfield really displayed the size and space that I saw on the screen.Â Dialog was firmly anchored to the characters at all times.Â Dynamic range was expansive and very clean at both the softest and loudest volume levels.
Though I prefer dipole speakers for surround application, the large soundstage of the Focals made for a more diffuse effect than other direct-radiating speakers Iâ€™ve tried.Â Still, a dipole model, if Focal would design one, would be an awesome addition to the line given the high quality of the drivers and enclosures used.
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li is a fair to average film with an above-average sound track.Â The well-choreographed fight scenes display an excellent mix of sound effects that match the action.Â Despite the subâ€™s small size and sealed cabinet, there was more than enough punch and tactility to be had.Â Dialog was very clear and vibrant but a bit forward.Â There seemed to be a small bump in the low-female/high-male voice range.Â I suspect this was more a function of my room rather than the Focal Domes.Â The Anthem Room Correction can only do so much.Â The bass was very clean and responsive at all dynamic levels.
The sound mix for TV shows is typically less dynamic than the average movie soundtrack.Â Surrounds are used less and LFE effects arenâ€™t as dramatic.Â The Blu-ray discs of the final ten episodes of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica (Season 4.5) are presented in DTS-HD Master Audio.Â While the sound lacks the punch and impact of Watchmen for example, the Focal Domes had no trouble reproducing clear dialog, detailed sound effects and background music with ease.Â Once again the soundstage was far larger than these tiny speakers would seem to be capable of.
As a fan of the Heroes TV show, I thought I would enjoy Push which has a similar premise of young people with special powers fighting enemies who seek to destroy or control them.Â While the movie was only fair, I did enjoy the music track.Â It was mainly comprised of guitar, bass and drums with a smattering of synthesizer effects.Â These speakers are very musical as I noted during my music listening sessions.Â Even with sound effects and dialog mixed in, the instruments were clearly located in the soundstage making the movie score very enjoyable.
Throughout all my movie-watching I couldnâ€™t think of a better description for the Domes than â€œlittle but mighty.â€
For music listening I used selections from both the Classical and Celtic genres.Â I started with the Grammy-winning SACDs of the Mahler Symphonies by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony.Â These performances are live recordings where excerpts from multiple concerts are assembled into the finished product.Â Listening to the Fifth Symphony was like hearing it again for the first time.Â I immediately noticed details that I had not heard before even through my Etymotic in-ear monitors.Â For the first time I could actually perceive the rustling of the audience, the page turns of the musicians and even instrument key noise from some of the woodwind players.Â The location of different brass and woodwind sections was crystal clear not only side to side but front to rear as well.Â My room is pretty small in size but it grew into Davies Symphony Hall the moment the piece began with its distant trumpet solo.Â The Focals have a very large soundstage but again I found the highest frequencies to be slightly soft.Â When listening to massed strings and brass instruments, the sharp edges of the sound are a bit distant compared to the meaty parts of the mid-range.
The two Celtic albums I auditioned were Solas: The Words That Remain and Her Infinite Variety: Celtic Women in Music and Song.Â Both CDs feature groups that use traditional Celtic instruments with unique names like bouzouki (a long-necked lute) and bodhran (a small shallow drum).Â Once again vocals sounded clear and detailed with a little distance in the higher octaves.Â The sounds of hands and sticks hitting percussion and fingers plucking strings were presented very accurately.Â I like a forward presentation for any type of music and the Focals delivered.Â As a performer, I like to be enveloped by sound and the Domes created that environment nicely.