Focal Sib Evo Dolby Atmos Speaker Package Review
The latest Evo-lution in immersive speaker packages
What is the Focal Sib Evo?French manufacturer Focal's latest Sib Evo speaker package is a 5.1.2-channel system designed specifically to handle immersive object-based audio soundtracks. The package itself consists of two Sib Evo Dolby Atmos loudspeakers, with additional upward-firing drivers to create the overhead channels, three Sib Evo Satellites and a Cub Evo subwoofer.
The Sib Evo Dolby Atmos loudspeakers reproduce both horizontal and vertical sound waves, with the latter aimed at the ceiling thanks to extra drivers built into the top of their cabinets. As a result, the vertical sound waves are bounced off the ceiling and towards the listener, creating the impression of two overhead channels firing towards the front of the soundstage.
Although this technology was developed by Dolby, it doesn't just work with Atmos and you can also use the Sib Evo speaker package with DTS:X soundtracks. Focal are certainly offering a tidy solution to the problem of adding a 5.1 system with overhead channels to the average living space. It's also not overtly expensive, with the entire package costing £975 as at the time of writing (May 2018).
So how does the Focal Sib Evo perform in a normal living room, is it dependent on the environment to work properly and would it make a good complement to one of the many 7-channel Dolby Atmos and DTS:X AV receivers currently available? In other words, as the French would say: Est-ce fantastique? Let's wire this Gallic package up and find out.
Design, Features & SpecsAs already mentioned, Focal's Sib Evo speaker package is composed of two Sib Evo Dolby Atmos loudspeakers (front left and right), three Sib Evo Satellites (one for the centre channel and two for the surround duties) and a Cub Evo subwoofer. The Sib Evo speakers are essentially the company's existing cinema speakers, which have been given an Atmos make-over. The idea of creating a speaker package that is designed specifically to accommodate immersive audio formats seems obvious and we're surprised there aren't more on the market.
The Sib Evo Dolby Atmos is a two-way bass-reflex loudspeaker that uses a 5-inch (13cm) Polyflex speaker driver and a ¾-inch (19mm) soft dome tweeter integrated into a sealed enclosure. They are equipped with an additional 4-inch (10cm) full-range Polyflex speaker driver on top, which is designed for the overhead effects. The cabinet is reasonably well made and comes in black, with a high gloss finish. At the rear there are small holes for the speaker cable (four in total for the forward- and upward-firing drivers) and the speaker sits on a hard rubber speaker stand, the angle of which can be adjusted. The speakers themselves measure 295 x 195 x 190mm (HxWxD) and weigh 3.25kg.
The Sib Evo Satellite is also a two-way compact bass-reflex loudspeakers that use a 5-inch (13cm) Polyflex speaker driver and a ¾-inch (19mm) soft dome tweeter, both of which are integrated into a solid enclosure with a streamlined port at the rear. The cabinet is composed of the same rigid material, comes in black, has a high gloss finish and includes a logo that can be rotated for horizontal mounting as a centre speaker. Like the larger speakers there are the same small holes at the rear for the speaker cable (only two this time) and the hard rubber speaker stands, which can be oriented on both the vertical and horizontal axes. However Focal also include two wall mounts that you can use with the surround speakers. The three speakers all measure 252 x 162 x 162mm (HxWxD) and weigh in at 1.8kg.The Cub Evo ported active subwoofer is designed to complement the Sib Evo Dolby Atmos and Satellite speakers. It retains many of the same features as Focal's Hi-Fi subwoofers but, like the rest of the Sib Evo range, has a more lifestyle-friendly design. The Cub Evo is equipped with an 8’’ (21cm) downward-firing Polyflex cone woofer and it uses a 200W Class D amplifier.
At the rear are RCA connections comprising of right and left line inputs, with the latter doubling as the LFE input. Also at the rear is an on/off switch, an auto-power function, a phase switch, a crossover setting and a volume control. At the front there is a streamlined port for enhanced power handling at the low end. The sub is made of solid MDF with a matte black finish and it sits on large anti-vibration feet made of rubber. The Cub Evo measures 305 x 383 x 299mm (HxWxD) and weighs in at 8kg.
The entire package has a well-made feel and offers a pleasingly attractive lifestyle design that will fit into a normal living space without imposing on the room. The speakers are small enough to be positioned discreetly, whilst the subwoofer can be tucked away in a corner. Along with additional wall mounts, Focal also make dedicated stands but you can also use your own speaker stands if you prefer. However you choose to install the speakers, the result is a 5.1.2-channel system that most people would be happy to live with, thus moving object-based audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X away from the enthusiast and into the mainstream.
This is an attractive, well-made and lifestyle-friendly 5.1.2-channel speaker system
Setup & TestingSetting up the speakers is relatively straightforward but to get the best out of the system, a degree of careful positioning will be required. We actually set the speakers up in the lounge rather than our dedicated home cinema because we needed a reflective ceiling. The ceiling in the home cinema has been acoustically treated but the lounge ceiling is low, flat and very reflective – which is ideal for the Sib Evo's upward-firing drivers. It's an important point and before choosing this particular package, or any upward-firing drivers for that matter, make sure that you have a suitable ceiling.
We positioned the Sib Evo Dolby Atmos speakers either side of our TV and the Sib Evo Satellite we used as a centre speaker was placed horizontally on a small table beneath the screen. For the surround channels we placed the other two Sib Evo Satellites on stands to the side and slightly to the rear of our primary listening position. We then placed the Cub Evo subwoofer at the front of the room, to the right of the TV near the corner (our options were fairly limited in this respect). We tried to ensure that the speakers were all roughly at the same height and given they're all essentially the same, we knew they should have a similar tone.One thing we immediately noticed was that the upward-firing drivers are at a surprisingly acute angle, which means for the best overhead results you need to be sat about 3 metres from the front speakers. That's pretty close and means that the Sib Evo Dolby Atmos package is better suited to smaller rooms.
One aspect of the speaker's design that really annoyed us was Focal's decision to use a speaker cable connector system composed of small holes. The idea is that you press a button to open the holes, push the cables in and release the button to lock them in place. It sounds simple but in practice it was fiddly and the holes were too small, requiring us to dig out some bell wire from the cupboard under the stairs just for this review. It seems a shame that Focal should compromise their speaker package by forcing you to use less than ideal wiring. We appreciate that in the case of the Dolby Atmos pairs you do have to attach four wires to each speaker but larger holes would have been preferable.
In terms of testing we used our Denon AVR-X7200WA 9-channel AV receiver which is probably over-kill for this Sib Evo package but it could easily drive the 5.1.2 system and decode Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks. In reality the Focal speakers are better suited to a smaller 7-channel AVR, such as Denon's AVR-X3400H. We set up the X7200 in a 5.1.2 configuration before connecting a Humax FVP-5000T Freeview PVR and an LG UP970 Ultra HD Blu-ray player. We tested the Sib Evo 5.1.2 system with a mixture of material ranging from Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray to TV and video streaming services, as well as music streaming services such as Tidal.
Focal Sib Evo Video Review
PerformanceOnce we'd finished setting the speakers up, we kicked off the testing with Dolby's Amaze trailer, which is designed to showcase all the major attributes of Dolby Atmos. Not only have we heard this trailer in Dolby's own screening rooms in both London and San Francisco but we've used it countless times to test various receivers and speaker packages. So we know exactly how it should sound and Focal's Sib Evo Dolby Atmos package did a good job of replicating the experience. The bass isn't quite as subterranean as it should be, although that's to be expected, but the surround effects were present and correct, whilst the rain and thunder emanated from overhead.
Now that we were happy the speakers were properly set up, we started testing the system with non-Atmos content. We have been watching, and enjoying, DC's new Black Lightning TV series, which has an entertaining 5.1-channel soundtrack full of crackling electricity sound effects. The centre speaker handled the dialogue very well, whilst the mid-range thumps of body blows were effectively delivered thanks to the 5-inch drivers. The sound field had a nice solidity and the subwoofer was well integrated – as evidenced by the seismic hits delivered by the character of Thunder. Black Lightning's own electric superpowers are well served by the Focals, with the higher frequencies being nicely rendered by the system's tweeters.
The Sib Evo package was certainly able to deliver a cohesive sound field and thanks to the use of identical drivers, there was a nice tonal balance to everything. This was effectively demonstrated by watching the opening of Gravity, where voices go from speaker to speaker as they follow the characters' movements on screen. The voices retained the same tonal quality and thanks to this sense of cohesion, the steering of surround effects was seamless. We watched the new series of Lost in Space on Netflix and once again the 5.1 speaker package did a commendable job of delivering the enjoyable sound mix. This Focal package might not have the presence of larger speakers but considering their size and cost, they did an excellent job of delivering a fun surround experience.
Of course you're not buying the Sib Evos to just listen to 5.1 mixes, although you do have the option of up-mixing soundtracks in order to take advantage of the overhead channels. So we moved on to some of our favourite Dolby Atmos soundtracks, kicking off with the opening of Mad Max: Fury Road. This high-octane soundtrack immediately begins with the deep growls of revving engines, which the Cub Evo did a great job of delivering. The voices moving around in three dimensional space were also nicely rendered, whilst Max's voiceover was suitably gravelly. As the strings arrived on the soundtrack, the Focal system rose to the occasion, although perhaps not with the potency of larger speakers.
We moved on to Blade Runner 2049 and once again the Sib Evo package delivered the atmospheric effects with a pleasing precision. There were some noticeable overhead sounds as well, but the really deep bass notes of the score weren't quite as impressive as they would be on a more capable speaker package aimed at a larger room. The Cub Evo does a good job of supporting the 5-inch drivers in the satellite speakers without over-powering them but, at the same time, it can only do so much. The Focal system is definitely intended for smaller spaces, as evidence by the recommended seating distance being 3m from the front speakers. So if you're thinking of buying this particular speaker package you certainly need to bear that in mind.
In the interests of being format agnostic, we felt it was important to also try some DTS:X content, so we watched the bi-planes attacking the titular ape at the end of Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong. The speaker package did an excellent job of reproducing the sounds of the planes flying around the room, the bullets tearing across the soundstage and the deep roars of the doomed ape. The centre speaker also did a great job of delivering the dialogue clearly and the addition of overhead channels gave the entire sound field a more layered and three-dimensional presence.
Regardless of whether its a Dolby or DTS soundtrack, the more focused nature of the direct-firing enclosures means that the surround field sometimes had gaps. The easiest solution to this problem would be to buy another pair of Sib Evo speakers, either the Satellite or Dolby Atmos versions, and thus create a 7.1.2 or 7.1.4 system – depending on the capabilities of your amplifier or receiver.
The Focal Sib Evo Dolby Atmos speaker package is primarily aimed at multi-channel and immersive audio soundtracks but what about music? Well if you want to listen to music through these speakers then we'd definitely recommend using a 2.1-channel configuration. The speakers lack enough presence on their own to deliver a really good musical performance but the addition of the Cub Evo subwoofer adds much-needed depth to the bass. The stereo imaging is fairly good and the speakers are certainly up to the task of handling music streaming services but if you're primarily interested in music there are better options.
The Focal Sib Evo is really aimed at movie soundtracks and it handles them particularly well, making this package a great choice for film fans who want a more lifestyle-friendly approach to immersive audio.
The system delivered an excellent immersive audio experience but is best suited to smaller rooms
- Good overall performance
- Well integrated bass
- Built-in upward-firing drivers
- Supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X
- Attractive lifestyle design
- Easy to install and setup
- Fiddly speaker terminals too small for decent wire
- Need to sit close to speakers for best overhead effects
- Speakers will struggle in larger rooms
Focal Sib Evo Dolby Atmos Speaker Package ReviewFocal's Sib Evo Dolby Atmos speaker package is a simple idea and one that we're surprised isn't more common. Since most people probably aren't keen to install speakers in their ceilings, this simple package offers a quick and easy way of achieving a similar result. How effective the overhead effects are will depend on your room – you really need a reflective ceiling to get the best from the upward-firing drivers. However the package itself is well made and nicely designed, making it a lifestyle-friendly choice for those who want to enjoy Dolby Atmos and DTS:X with the minimum of fuss.
The performance was generally excellent, with a cohesive and tonally-balanced sound field that created an immersive surround experience. The system is better suited to smaller rooms and to get the best from the overhead effects you'll need to be sat about 3m from the screen. However the five speakers complement one another and the subwoofer is well integrated, adding some decent bass support to the rest of the system. Dialogue is clear and focused, whilst surround effects are steered around the room with precision and the result is a pleasingly immersive audio experience.
Our main complaint about the Sib Evo speakers are the fiddly speaker cable connections that limit the type of firing you can use but otherwise this is an impressive package. It's also very competitively priced, especially when you consider that you're getting a 5.1.2-channel speaker system for less than £1,000. So once you add the cost to the build quality and performance, you've got yourself a great little package that's definitely worthy of a Best Buy award.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,099.00
Value For Money10
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