Sound bars offer a compromise for anyone who doesn’t want an elaborate setup with a receiver and five (or more) speakers placed around the living room. You’re not going to get the full surround experience that way, but the Focal Dimension sound bar is a truly spectacular alternative, offering outstanding clarity and more room-filling sound than any similar device I’ve used.
Focal is a French audio company known for its ultra high-end speakers but they also offer a well-regarded line of car audio systems and make the Sphear, an outstanding pair of in-ear monitors.
The Dimension is optimized for use with 50″ TV screens. It’s 45.5 inches wide and an amazingly thin 2.6 inches deep if you want to hang it under a wall-mounted set. There are five 3.9 inch speakers and six channels that put out 450 watts of power.
That sixth channel is there to power its optional subwoofer, which is designed to support your set and turn the unit into a soundbase. The subwoofer is excellent and this is absolutely the way you should go if you can place your set on a table.
The Dimension has a solid aluminum mono bloc chassis and its controls light up on the right side of the unit when you wave your hand over. That’s a nice touch.
You get a choice of four inputs. There’s an HDMI TV input for anyone with a recently-manfactured set that conforms to the ARC (Audio Return Channel) standard and an Optical input for a digital audio cable if your TV doesn’t have ARC. There’s a second HDMI input for Blu-ray, DVD or gaming consoles and an AUX/Analog connector for a Bluetooth adapter or audio cable (see below).
You get four switches to set your soundbar, based on whether it’s hanging or on a table, if you’re using Focal’s subwoofer or another brand (or none) and where it’s positioned in relation to your walls.
The remote is tiny and comes with those little blister controls like you’d expect from one of those Chinese knockoff brands like Coby. It’s a mystery as to why they chose to go this way for such a high-end piece of gear.
There’s a SYNC button to help align the sound if it’s out of sync with the image and a “Night” mode to tamp down huge spikes in the sound. You can also adjust the bass with the Bass button.
And….that’s it for settings. No “Movie” vs. “Sports” vs. “Enhanced Dialog” settings. You set the Dimension up for your room and there’s no fiddling afterwards.
Initial setup for the subwoofer is a giant pain because the included cable is just about exactly as long as it needs to be to connect to the soundbar and no longer. If it was just 5″ longer, setup wouldn’t be a hassle.
The Dimension also doesn’t come with built-in Bluetooth or AirPlay capabilities. You can add an apt-X Bluetooth adapter for $120 that plugs into the Aux/Analog port. The device will sit behind the subwoofer on your table and comes with a constantly blinking light. You may want to unplug it when you’re not using it, but that screws up your Bluetooth pairing. If you want to plug an iPod or other music player directly to the Dimension, you’ll have to use a long cable plugged into the Aux/Analog port. Focal says that Bluetooth isn’t built in to the unit because its aluminum frame would interfere with the signal, so the external unit is the only way to go.
That said, the Dimension aims to be a TV speaker, not an all-in-one home audio solution. If you really need Bluetooth connectivity, music sounds great. If you can afford one of these, though, you can probably also afford a separate music player.
Which brings us to the price. The Focal Dimension Soundbar/Subwoofer bundle sells for $1599.00 or you can get the Soundbar alone for $1399.00. Unless you’re absolutely determined to hang your soundbar on a wall, the subwoofer package is the way to go.
Once I spent some time with the Dimension, the setup issues were quickly forgotten. It’s loud enough to fill a room, there’s real clarity with the announcers vs. stadium noise while watching football, baseball and soccer. And the surround sound and bass effects sound fantastic when watching a movie like Jurassic World.
Can you buy a soundbar for $99 at Sam’s Club? Yes. Can you buy a very good soundbar for around $500? Absolutely. But the Focal Dimension is a truly spectacular speaker. If you’re shelling out big bucks on a home theater, skip the giant 4K TV this time, buy a really good 1080p LED and invest the money you save in one of these. It’ll be a couple of years before there’s enough 4K programming to really make a difference and you can upgrade your TV at a much lower price then and get a huge amount of enjoyment out of this soundbar for the next decade at least.
This is a great product, despite the remote and the fact that Bluetooth connectivity isn’t included. If you’re not going to rip up your TV room and install a true theater-quality surround system, this is an investment worth making.