X

Focal Sib Evo Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 review: Atmos surround set is high in style

The Focal Sib Evo Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 surround kit offers great looks and decent performance, but it's a little quirky to set up.

Ty_Pendlebury.jpg
headshots_Steve_Guttenberg.jpg
Ty Pendlebury Steve Guttenberg
Ty_Pendlebury.jpg

Ty Pendlebury

Editor

Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.

See full bio
headshots_Steve_Guttenberg.jpg

Steve Guttenberg

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.

See full bio
5 min read

Dolby Atmos has been with us for several years now, but apart from an initial rush of speakers from the likes of Onkyo and Klipsch, things have been a little quiet on the Atmos speaker front, so to speak. Sure, there's a dribble of dedicated height speakers you can add to existing non-Atmos speakers, but you can count on one hand the number of speakers with integrated Atmos modules.

Focal Sib Evo 5.1.2 Atmos speakers
7.7

Focal Sib Evo Dolby Atmos 5.1.2

The Good

The Focal Sib Evo Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 offers stylish looks and a relatively good price for a lifestyle speaker package. Surround-sound integration is seamless between all of the satellites. Vocal clarity is very good given the speakers' smallish size.

The Bad

The speaker connectors at the back are very fiddly. A set of larger speakers from competitors such as Pioneer or Elac would sound much better for a similar price.

The Bottom Line

The Focal Sib Evo Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 surround kit looks great with its curvy satellites and offers decent performance, but it's a little quirky to set up.

Enter Focal's Sib Evo Dolby Atmos 5.1.2. The French company's atmospheric speaker kit boasts front speakers with top-firing Atmos drivers built-in, and it sits toward the more affordable end of the market at $1,299, £1,099 or AU$1,500.

The sub and surrounds were solid enough, but the star of the package is definitely those Evo Atmos front speakers, which cost $600, £450 or AU$750 a pair by themselves. They integrate the height channel in a way that is unobtrusive and elegant, and would make a great addition to an existing Sib-based system. 

Compared to a 5.1 system like the $999 Klipsch Reference Theater Pack, the Focal offers a very lively performance, but some may prefer the no-nonsense attitude and performance of the American brand instead. Of course, as lifestyle systems they're sonically eclipsed by full-size systems such as the ELAC Debut Series 5.0 Home Theater Package, but that's always going to be the trade-off -- style versus sound quality. Given a choice between the Klipsch and Focal, though, the Focal has the slight edge due to its Atmos capabilities and larger sound.

Update, Jan. 24: We have retested the Focal system, with a replacement sub, against the similar Klipsch Reference Theater Pack. As a result, the Focal's score has changed from 7.1 to 7.7. Originally published Nov. 1, 2017.

If looks were everything...

Focal Sib Evo 5.1.2 Atmos speakers
Sarah Tew/CNET

As the name suggests, this is the Dolby Atmos-enabled version of the popular Focal Sib and Cub speakers, with five surrounds and one sub. The heights are integrated into the main Sib Evo Dolby Atmos speaker and are designed to fire onto your ceiling and back at you.

As surround speakers go this is a beautiful looking system. The new Evo satellites are finished in a gloss-black finish and the even though the main's cabinet is larger than the other satellites -- 12 inches tall versus 10 inches -- it is still very classy. All of the speakers, regardless of size, feature a 5-inch Polyflex driver and a 1-inch soft dome tweeter. The Atmos drivers, meanwhile, are 3 inches in diameter.

Focal Sib Evo 5.1.2 Atmos speakers
Sarah Tew/CNET

There's no separate center channel speaker in this system -- you simply place one of the satellites sideways on the supplied rubber mount. You then rotate the Focal logo and voila -- a center channel! The main advantage to this is better integration between the fronts and surrounds, as we soon found.

Focal Sib Evo 5.1.2 Atmos speakers
Sarah Tew/CNET

Lastly, we come to the Cub Evo. This subwoofer is a cubic foot in size with a different finish -- a brushed vinyl wrap. At the bottom resides an 8-inch woofer which feeds a large port at the front of the sub. At the rear of the unit are the controls including volume, crossover point and a phase switch. There's only line-level inputs and no speaker ins for this model. It's rated for 35Hz to 150Hz and features a 200-watt amplifier.

Putting it together

The Focal Sib Evo subwoofer/satellite system looked really promising, visually and sonically, so we were eager to get it up and running in the CNET listening room. Our first impressions weren't great, however. On a $1,299 system, our expectations run high, so we were surprised the speakers had spring clip wire connectors and not the standard, more robust binding posts. Sure they're integrated into the speakers backsides, but they accept only twisted bare wire ends, or cables terminated with pins instead of our preferred banana plugs. On the Focal you have to press the button below the connectors to insert your speaker wire, and then release. Set aside some time, because plugging in eight speaker channels and getting them to catch properly -- so they don't pull out accidentally -- takes a while.

Focal Sib Evo 5.1.2 Atmos speakers

The speaker wire connectors look nice, but they're quite fiddly.

Sarah Tew/CNET

We used both an Onkyo TX-NR575 and a Sony STR-DN1080 receiver for the Sib Evo listening tests, and started with the recommended subwoofer-to-speaker crossover setting of 80Hz, but the blend between the Cub Evo sub and speakers wasn't ideal. The tonal balance was too lean, without much mid bass. After some trials we settled on a 100Hz crossover setting, which helped fill out the mid bass a tiny bit, though we still weren't satisfied with the blend between the sub and sats in the 11-by-20 foot CNET listening room. We imagine in larger rooms the problem would be even more noticeable.

How it sounds

We played a few Blu-rays and liked the Focal Sib Evo system's clarity. Still, they always sounded like very small speakers, because they came up short of warmth or fullness. Dialogue was articulate but lacking in body. The small Cub Evo sub did a reasonable job of providing deep bass.

Compared against the Klipsch Reference Theater Pack with the "Mad Max: Fury Road" Blu-ray, the Focal offered more space and better dialogue articulation. Both systems' subwoofers are compact and offered similar levels of performance, though we found the sat-sub blend with the Focal a little more seamless.

We then listened to music, starting with the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble performing Edgar Varese's "Ionisation."  The all-percussion ensemble's tremendous dynamics were thrilling, and the clarity of the Sib Evo system was impressive. So, sure, the system could rock out, but we can't judge tonality with percussion instruments. With David Bowie's "Blackstar" album, the Sib Evo sats' diminutive size and midrange thinness robbed the music of some soul.

Focal Sib Evo 5.1.2 Atmos speakers

Those height drivers are nicely integrated into the top of the speakers.

Sarah Tew/CNET

We next tried our favorite Dolby Atmos outer space drama Blu-ray, "Gravity" and the five Sib Evo sats produced a room-filling surround. We didn't hear much from the Atmos height surround effects, however, so we boosted the height channel volume by the recommended 4 dB. Even after that. the height channels' sound was barely noticeable.

Returning to our budget reference, but less expensive ELAC Debut B6, C5 and B5 speakers, the sound improved in every way. There was pretty much no comparison. The Focal Sib Evo system certainly looks nicer, but the sound, while very clear, isn't as balanced as the ELAC Debut system. 

The verdict

If you're after a stylish speaker system that will do Dolby Atmos, this is pretty much your only option, and for that it deserves some praise. It offers good clarity and excellent surround integration in a very compact system. It's just a pity that connecting it up is such a pain. If you already own a Sib and Cub system you might consider buying the $600 Atmos satellites by themselves, though at almost half the cost of the entire system it doesn't seem worthwhile.

If you're looking for other options you could try, for example, an Elac Debut 5.0 Home Theater Package with two A4 height modules and a sub will cost roughly the same as the Focal. It may not look as pretty, but it would sound much better.

Focal Sib Evo 5.1.2 Atmos speakers
7.7

Focal Sib Evo Dolby Atmos 5.1.2

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 9Sound 7Value 8