Damson S-Series Dolby Atmos System Review

'I'm all 'bout the bass, no treble' Well actually no bass, that's the trouble.

by Greg Hook
Home AV Review

28

Damson S-Series Dolby Atmos System Review
SRP: £699.00

What is the Damson S-Series Home Cinema System?

Founded in 2012, Damson are a proud Yorkshire company that are ‘a bunch of normal people with a shared vision for creating the world’s best electronic products’. It may be a brand that isn’t familiar to most AVForums readers, it was certainly not one we had ever heard of before. Their product portfolio isn’t the largest, but it is continuously being developed and currently includes intriguing products such as their Cisor portable speaker that amplifies the sound when placed on glass or other surfaces.

For review here, we have their flagship product, the Damson S-Series Home Cinema System. Retailing at £699, this is a 5.1.2 system comprising of a subwoofer, soundbar, Dolby Atmos 360 speaker and 2 S-Cube speakers for the surround sound. It is currently the World’s only wireless Dolby Atmos home cinema system as there are no audio cables, at all. None. The only cables are the power cables to the soundbar and the subwoofer as the S-Cube speakers are battery powered. With a promised simple setup, compact and beautiful design, this set looks very interesting indeed. Read on to see how it performs during our tests...

What about the Design, Connections and Control?

If you are not a fan of the awful cheap sound from most TVs, yet SWMBO has said no to a full home cinema system with unsightly big black boxes all over the place, then the Damson S-Series system may be one that could muster that essential approval. With just 4 units comprising the whole system it is incredibly compact, but don’t let that fool you into thinking this affects the quality as it does not, which we will come to later in this review.

Firstly, you have the subwoofer. This is main guts of the system and acts as the AV-Receiver. It has a stylish and impressive design, whilst remaining very compact. All black with soft rubberised feel to the rear and sides of the unit, a black mesh front grille and an attractive chrome edging. To the rear is a pull-out leg so you can have the unit level or tilted at an angle to get the best out of it. The subwoofer measures just 240mm square and 80mm deep but does weigh 1.9kg, so has a nice weighty feel to it.

Damson S-Series Home Cinema Package
Moving onto the main soundbar. This is extremely small compared to traditional soundbars, measuring just 240mm wide x 80mm deep and 63mm high and weighing 650 grams. It’s easily the smallest soundbar we’ve ever seen. It is, again, all black, with the same rubberised feel to the top and rear, then there's a black mesh grille around the front and sides and a metallic silver finish to the underside. To the top of the soundbar are the volume controls, play/pause/Bluetooth pairing button and a mode button for toggling between the different inputs. The soundbar has four forward facing drivers and one side facing driver each side.

The Dolby Atmos 360 speaker is then fitted on top of the soundbar with a magnetic connection. This does add a bit of bulk to the soundbar but remains fairly compact. With the 360 speaker added it increases the height to 116mm and the depth to 110mm but doesn’t affect the width, but if you have a TV with a low level mount, this could encroach on the screen area and unfortunately you are unable to put this on a shelf below the TV as it would render the Atmos functionality useless. This speaker has a similar design to the soundbar and weighs just 541 grams. The Atmos unit has two upward and slightly forward angled drivers.
Damson S-Series Home Cinema Package
Finally, onto the two S-Cube speakers. These pack an incredible punch for their size, weighing 779 grams but measuring just 100mm square by 112mm high. These can be mains powered, but both include a 7,800mAh battery for up to 12 hours playtime from surround sound and 8 hours for music streaming. Therefore, these can be placed anywhere without a worry about finding a power socket and having to hide unsightly cables. To the top of each S-Cube speaker are the controls, comprising of the power button which also acts as the toggle between JetStreamNet and Bluetooth modes, volume control and play/pause button.

The connections are all found on the subwoofer, comprising of 1 x HDMI output with Audio Return channel, 2 x HDMI inputs, 1 x Aux-in and the power connection along with Bluetooth.

Damson S-Series Home Cinema Package
JetStreamNet is Damson’s proprietary wireless system which allows the devices to talk to each other with ranges of up to 30 metres per speaker. With this system you can connect up to 16 S-Cubes for what would be the craziest multi-room/multi-speaker system you have ever experienced.

Along with the device control, you also get a wireless remote control which can change the input, mute, volume, pair, play/pause and power controls and activate the XBass feature on the subwoofer. Bizarrely, the buttons all seem to be squeezed into a tiny area of the remote, leaving the bottom half completely empty. A slightly better design would have been welcomed here.

Specifications

The S-Series system has an impressive specification, offering HDR10, Dolby Vision and 4K UHD passthrough via the subwoofer inputs. The audio support covers Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital+, Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro-logic, Dolby Virtual Surround, DTS and DTS:X. So most bases covered there! Whilst it doesn’t have the full decoding support for DTS:X it does convert it to Dolby Digital Plus.

  • Powered by JetStreamNet for wireless surround sound
  • Patented Ultrathin Subwoofer optimised for small to medium sized rooms
  • Works with SkyQ, Amazon FireTV 4K, Apple TV 4K and many more
  • Dolby Atmos via ARC with compatible TV’s including the latest LG OLED range
  • 2 x HDMI Inputs, 1 x Aux-in, Bluetooth
  • 1 x HDMI Output with Audio Return Channel (ARC)
  • Wireless remote control – no line of sight required
Damson S-Series Home Cinema Package
S-Cubes
  • 4 x 42mm custom made drivers
  • 1 x 78mm custom made subwoofer
  • 7,800 mAh battery
  • Up to 12 hours playtime (surround sound)
  • Up to 8 hours playtime (music streaming)
  • 2 hours charge time
  • Wireless remote control – no line of sight required
  • Wireless range up to 30metres per speaker

How was it setup and tested?

Out of the box you just get a quick start guide, no full guide included but this can be found online which seems to be the norm these days. It’s good for the environment of course, but when spending £699 we tend to expect a bit more than one piece of paper to help set it up. Not that it was really needed, as the setup and install of the S-Series Home Cinema was quick and effortless. No HDMI cables are included which does feel a little stingy when shelling out close to £700.

The setup simply involves you powering on the S-Cubes, deciding where you want them (there is a switch on the rear of each unit which tells it whether you have it on the left or the right side), powering on the soundbar with the Atmos speaker attached, connecting the inputs on the subwoofer and then powering that on. It all talks to each other and starts working in just a few seconds. The length of the power cables we found to be a bit on the short side, for the soundbar and the subwoofer we would have welcomed cables twice the length.
Damson S-Series Home Cinema Package
Whilst the S-Series is wireless, it doesn’t have Wi-Fi. So no connecting to your Wi-Fi network needed, but also that means there is no Smartphone App which most devices of this kind seem to have now. We found no issues during setup and all worked as it should.

Once fully installed, configured and setup with the speakers in the required location, we tested with a variety of sources, from SkyQ, Netflix (via the HDMI ARC port) and 4K Blu-ray. Plus on the music side we tested via Bluetooth using TIDAL.

What about the performance?

Having unboxed the S-Series, our initial thoughts were how small and compact it was and that it couldn’t possibly create any kind of decent sound, especially given the price tag. But on the most part we were happy to be proven wrong.

This is a 5.1.2 system, but there are no separate front left and front right speakers. As it is all in the one soundbar unit, you won’t ever beat a 3-speaker front system, but the S-Series makes a good effort at it. Together with the 2 rear speakers, the front to back transitions are clearly heard and the rear effects are noticeable when they should be. The slight issue tends to be with the soundstage itself. You have the two rear speakers creating a wide rear stage, but this then narrows as it moves to the front stage which is all housed in the soundbar. You do notice the left and right effects, but these are not as wide as we would have liked, which is to be expected from a single unit.
Damson S-Series Home Cinema Package
What would be a superb addition is if you could use two of the S-Cube speakers as front left and right channels. Say for example, if the system was modified so that the soundbar was front centre only and it came with 4 S-Cube speakers, this would massively improve the soundstage. The Atmos 360 speaker wasn’t as effective as we would have liked as upward firing Atmos speakers are never as good as the downward firing ones, but the Atmos effects were still noticeable.

The overall sound quality was very good across all the sources we tested including SkyQ, Netflix and 4K Blu-ray, although vocals did sound a little distorted at higher volumes, but at normal listening levels it was clear and crisp with good room effects. The volume levels are more than enough for a small to medium sized room and more, but the volume adjustment itself is not as sensitive as we would have liked, there doesn’t appear to be enough of a control range, hopefully this is something that can be fixed in the future.

So far, we were mostly impressed, but where the main negatives start to come in is with the subwoofer. With its ultrathin design, we were at least hoping for some bass, but it was distinctly lacking. There is a clip in Transformers that may be familiar to most where one of the Autobots shoots their weapon towards the ground and flies over the top of a screaming damsel in distress, incredibly bass heavy, but here on the S-Series it was noticeable by its complete absence. We had to turn the volume up far too much to even get any kind of bass out of it. The X-Bass feature doesn’t seem to add much either. For a system with so much promise, we found the bass side very disappointing indeed. Due to this complete lack of bass, the treble was perhaps more prominent than it should have been.

Damson S-Series Home Cinema Package

As a complete system it also struggled with Music. The soundbar just doesn’t have the range for music and it came off with a rather tinnier effect than we had hoped for. Testing with our usual Hans Zimmer Live in Prague album, plus various vocal heavy tracks such as from Pink, Elton John and the screechy Sia it sounded ok, but at higher volumes the limitations really started to make themselves known.

Whilst a lot of negatives there, one big positive we found was the two S-Cubes. In full system mode they are just used as rear surround effects, but you can also use them as portable speakers for streaming audio, whether that be just one, or both in stereo. We were very impressed with the S-Cubes, they have a strong sound, with clear and crisp vocals and as they are battery powered you can put them anywhere, even in the garden if it’s dry.

They also appeared to have more bass than the subwoofer. We found that when playing music it was preferable to just use the two S-Cubes rather than the full system with the soundbar, which just doesn’t have enough quality. The 30 metre range was a bit optimistic though, perhaps this is line of sight in an open area, but during testing we found it to be similar to Bluetooth with a range under 10 metres and sensitive to too many walls.

Verdict

7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Impressive design
  • Discrete system
  • No speaker cables
  • Completely wireless rear speakers
  • Excellent value
  • Good connectivity
  • S-Cube speakers are a delight

Cons

  • Very disappointing subwoofer
  • Front soundstage not that impressive
  • Clunky remote control

Damson S-Series Dolby Atmos System Review

Priced at £699 (although currently on offer at just £549), the Damson S-Series Home Cinema is a system that promises so much and almost delivers, but not quite. With a quick and easy setup, compact and stylish design, good build quality, impressive audio support and features such as Dolby Atmos, no speaker cables needed and via the battery powered S-Cubes, completely wireless rear surround speakers, it has a lot of positives to justify that price tag.

The audio quality is good with all the surround and Dolby Atmos effects noticeable, as well as having a strong sound with clear and crisp vocals, although it does struggle with vocals at higher volumes. But the bass is a major let down. We had to check that the subwoofer was actually working during testing as the bass was lacking that much. Due to the lack of bass, you feel like there is far more treble and a real lack of any midrange, which means everything can sound light and tiny with no weight to the soundstage.

The S-Cubes were a real highlight with excellent audio quality and a bass level that appeared higher than the subwoofer itself. These can be expanded to up to 16 (although at £149 each you may need to win the lottery to buy all 16), used as a pair in stereo or used singly for multi-room.

As this is currently the World’s only wireless Dolby Atmos home cinema system, a direct comparison is not possible, especially at this price point. If you are looking for a home cinema system at a similar price and you don’t mind big boxes and wires all over the place, then there are many better options available, but if you are looking for a discrete wire free system, then the S-Series is one to consider, it’s just a real shame the subwoofer lets the whole thing down.

Scores

Build Quality

.
.
8

Connectivity

.
.
8

Ease of Use

.
9

Sound Quality

.
.
.
7

Features

.
.
.
7

Value for Money

.
9

Verdict

.
.
.
7
7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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