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Focal Dimension: The best sound bar yet?

Ooh la la! This French sound bar wows the Audiophiliac!

The Focal Dimension sound bar and Dimension Sub. Focal

It took awhile, but the sound bar is finally coming of age. The recent Andrew Jones-designed Pioneer models demonstrated the category's maturity, even for affordable models. Then the Paradigm Soundscape upped the ante for flagship 'bars, and now Focal's Dimension, designed and engineered in France (and made in China) is vying for leader-of-the-pack status.

The Dimension is 45.5 inches wide (115.5cm) and features five Focal-designed 3.9-inch (10cm) paper drivers, and six amplifier channels that together dish out 450 watts. Five drivers, six channels -- what's up with that? The sixth amplifier channel is provided for Dimension owners who buy the optional Dimension Sub that's designed to fit directly behind the sound bar. The Dimension dynamic duo can also serve as a base/stand for your TV. The sound bar has onboard Dolby and DTS surround processors. Connectivity options include one HDMI input and output, optical (Toslink) digital input, a 3.5mm analog input, and two subwoofer outputs: one for the Dimension Sub, and one that can be used with a self-powered subwoofer of your choice.

A small remote is included for input selection, volume and bass controls. Volume ramp up/down was a little too fast for me, so it took a while to learn how to dial in exactly the right volume setting.

I ran the Dimension (without a subwoofer) through its paces first with the "House of Flying Daggers" DVD's sword fight in the bamboo forest, and the sounds of birds, wind rustling the leaves, and the metallic clang of the swords were all spectacular. Actual surround sound from the sides or rear of the room isn't in the cards for most sound bars, including this one. That said, the soundstage was very wide, extending a few feet beyond the width of the sound bar.

This skinny sound bar's low-end stamina was tested by the pounding music on the "Eminen Live from New York City" DVD. Slim Shady was in fine form that night, and the Dimension kicked butt! The sound was more transparent than what I heard from the Paradigm Soundcape 'bar I reviewed on this blog a few weeks ago. That one wins on bass oomph and power, but the Dimension isn't far behind, and its more-expansive stereo image is bigger and more precisely focused than the Soundscape's. Unless you really want to feel your room shake, there's no need to add a sub to the Dimension. Even so, when I hooked up my JL Audio E-Sub e110 subwoofer it fortified the Dimension's overall sound quality and took it to another level, with massive bass power and rock-solid definition. So adding a sub isn't mandatory, but the option is there if you want it.

The Dimension is the most refined sounding 'bar I've heard, but it still sounds like a sound bar. A pair of Tekton M-Lore tower speakers, spaced six or more feet apart, partnered with an NAD C 316BEE stereo integrated amplifier will produce a more room-filling sound, with superior dynamic range. If you can deal with setting up an AV receiver and five Pioneer Andrew Jones speakers and a Hsu Research sub, there's no comparison. Sure, the speakers and receiver take up a lot more space and have more wires, but in terms of sound quality, the separates totally trump the Dimension or any other sound bar. Even so, most buyers opt for sound bars over speakers, so for them, the Dimension is highly recommended.

US pricing is as follows: $1,399 for the sound bar, the Dimension Sub is $399, and Dimension & Sub combo package is $1,599. Australian pricing runs AU$1,699 for the sound bar and AU$699 for the sub; in the UK the 'bar and sub are £799 and £329.