Focal Dȏme Flax 5.1.2 Speaker System Reviewed

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Focal Dȏme Flax 5.1.2 Speaker System Reviewed

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Measurements
Here are the measurements for the Dȏme Flax speakers (click on each chart to view it in a larger window).

Focal-Dome-FR.jpgFocal-Dome-imp.jpgFrequency response (satellite)
On-axis: ±2.6 dB from 115 Hz to 10 kHz, ±3.0 dB to 20 kHz
Average ±30° horiz: ±2.6 dB from 115 Hz to 10 kHz, ±3.6 dB to 20 kHz
Average ±15° vert/horiz: ±2.6 dB from 115 Hz to 10 kHz, ±3.6 dB to 20 kHz

Frequency response (in-ceiling)
On-axis: ±4.1 dB from 115 Hz to 10 kHz, ±5.9 dB to 20 kHz
Average ±30° horiz: ±4.0 dB from 115 Hz to 10 kHz, ±6.1 dB to 20 kHz
Average ±15° vert/horiz: ±3.9 dB from 115 Hz to 10 kHz, ±6.2 dB to 20 kHz

Frequency response (subwoofer)
±3.0 dB from 41 to 140 Hz

Impedance
satellite: min. 3.3 ohms/250 Hz/-18°, nominal 4 ohms
in-ceiling: min. 4.5 ohms/300 Hz/-10°, nominal 5 ohms

Sensitivity (2.83 volts/1 meter, anechoic)
satellite: 82.3 dB
in-ceiling: 83.2 dB

Maximum output, subwoofer
                                              CEA-2010            Traditional
                                              (1M peak)             (2M RMS)
80 Hz                                     114.3 dB L           105.3 dB L
40-63 Hz avg                         102.9 dB              93.9 dB 
63 Hz                                     113.6 dB L           104.6 dB L
50 Hz                                     108.2 dB L           99.2 dB L
40 Hz                                     100.0 dB              91.0 dB
20-31.5 Hz avg                      NA                       NA
31.5 Hz                                  91.4 dB                82.4 dB
25 Hz                                     NA                        NA
20 Hz                                     NA                        NA

The first chart shows the frequency response of the Dȏme Flax speakers, including the satellite, in-ceiling speaker, and subwoofer. (For clarity of presentation, I scaled down the in-ceiling results by -10 dB at 1 kHz, and I used lighter colors for the chart traces.) The second shows the impedance of the satellite and in-ceiling speaker. For frequency response of the sat and in-ceiling models, three measurements are shown: 0° on-axis (blue trace); an average of responses at 0°, ±10°, ±20° and ±30° off-axis horizontal (red trace); and an average of responses at 0°, ±15° horizontally and ±15° vertically (green trace). I consider the 0° on-axis and horizontal 0°-30° curves to be the most important for the satellite, and probably the ±15° curve would be most important for the in-ceiling speaker (at least for Atmos applications). Ideally, the 0° should be more-or-less flat, and the averaged response should look the same but should tilt down slightly as the frequency increases.

I'm going to call the satellite's response "sculpted flat" because, while its plus/minus variance is admirably small, it does have two anomalies that are likely to be audible: a response bump about 1.3 octaves wide and centered at 1.5 kHz, and a gently rising treble response above 2.8 kHz. Off-axis response in every direction is smooth, so the tonality should remain consistent no matter where you're seated in the room.

The in-ceiling speaker's measurement clearly bears some resemblance to the satellite, but it doesn't have the midrange peak and its lower treble dip, centered at 2.9 kHz, is deep. Off-axis response is very good; as with the satellite, response changes through the measurement windows were trivial.

Sensitivity of the satellites and ceiling speakers is below average at 82.3/83.2 dB, respectively (measured at one meter with a 2.83-volt signal, averaged from 300 Hz to 3 kHz). Impedance is also low, averaging about four ohms through most of the audio band for the satellite and five ohms for the in-ceiling speaker. I don't expect this system will often be played at high volume, and of course the AV receiver won't be tasked with reproducing frequencies below 120 Hz, but still these speakers are a little tough to drive, considering their lifestyle vibe. I'd suggest getting a decent AV receiver for them, maybe something around $1,000, preferably with a published four-ohm power rating.

The Sub Air's CEA-2010 bass output is fine for what it is: a small eight-inch sub with a low-powered amp. The measurements were comparable to what I got from the Velodyne EQ-Max 8, which I thought was a pretty good eight-inch sub. Note that the Sub Air has no measurable output below 31.5 Hz, so you can't expect any super-deep bass out of it, but for most action movies and music it'll work fine. You can get more output for less, from subs such as the SVS SV-1000 and PB-1000 or the Rogersound SW10S, but those don't have the Sub Air's flat, wall-hugging form factor.

Incidentally, the latency of the wireless connection to the subwoofer was just 13.3 ms, which from a phase standpoint is roughly like moving the sub 13 feet away. You can easily compensate for that in your AV receiver's distance settings. Some of the wireless subs I've tested have a latency of 30 or 40 ms, which is tougher to compensate for (although the audible effects are usually surprisingly minimal).

Here's how I did the measurements. I measured frequency responses using an Audiomatica Clio FW 10 audio analyzer with the MIC-01 measurement microphone, and the speaker driven with an Outlaw Model 2200 amplifier. I used quasi-anechoic technique to remove the acoustical effects of surrounding objects. The satellite was placed atop a two-meter-high stand. The in-ceiling speaker was mounted in a four-foot-high faux wall made from 16-inch-on-center 2x6s and drywall, placed on a 17-inch-high stand that put the speaker's tweeter 58 inches off the ground. The mic was placed at a distance of two meters at tweeter height, and a pile of denim insulation was placed on the ground between the speaker and the mic to help absorb ground reflections and improve accuracy of the measurement at low frequencies. Midwoofer response was measured using close-miked technique, and spliced to the quasi-anechoic result at 280 Hz. Subwoofer response was measured using ground plane technique, with the microphone placed on the ground two meters from the speaker. All measurements were made with grilles on. Post-processing was done using LinearX LMS analyzer software.

I did CEA-2010A measurements using an Earthworks M30 microphone and M-Audio Mobile Pre USB interface with the CEA-2010 measurement software running on the Wavemetric Igor Pro scientific software package. I stood the subwoofer straight up, pointing forward toward the mic, with the bass level set to maximum. I took these measurements at two meters peak output. The two sets of measurements I have presented here -- CEA-2010A and traditional method -- are functionally identical, but the traditional measurement employed by most audio websites and many manufacturers reports results at two-meter RMS equivalent, which is -9 dB lower than CEA-2010A. An L next to the result indicates that the output was dictated by the subwoofer's internal circuitry (i.e., limiter), and not by exceeding the CEA-2010A distortion thresholds. Averages are calculated in pascals. (See this article for more information about CEA-2010.)

The Downside
Earlier, I said that everything in the system's stereo reproduction of the Ralph Towner LP sounded natural. But one thing didn't sound realistic: the snare drum, which the little satellites couldn't reproduce at a loud enough volume. When I cranked the system up, the sound didn't really distort noticeably, but it did thin out to the point where I preferred a lower volume. The same happened with the piano that appears later on Batik--it sounded extremely realistic in the mids and treble, but it didn't have as much weight and heft as a real piano would. This is partly because of the limited output of the four-inch midwoofers; I can't remember hearing small satellites or desktop speakers that didn't share this characteristic. And perhaps some blame goes to the satellites' lower-than-average sensitivity; I had to crank the Sony receiver pretty loud to get the system to deliver satisfying output.

Likewise, on the John Coltrane/Don Cherry tune, the sound got a bit bright when I cranked it to the volume I really wanted--which, granted, was pretty loud. (If you listened to the YouTube clip of this recording and hear how hard it swings, you'll understand why I like it loud.)

More demanding action movies did occasionally betray the system's small size. When I played The Edge of Tomorrow, the Sub Air wisely didn't attempt to play the woofer-busting 16-Hz tone at the beginning of the movie, but impacts and explosions didn't have the power they would with a larger system, and voices got a bit thin-sounding when I played the system as loud as I really wanted to. However, similar systems I've tested had the same problem. I don't think it's possible to get such tiny woofers to blend seamlessly with a subwoofer.

Comparison and Competition
Higher-end 5.1 packages such as the Dȏme Flax system are rare; there's plenty of competition for about $1,000, but not so much around $2,000. The closest competitor I can think of is Paradigm's MilleniaOne system, which like the Dȏme Flax system uses five aluminum-bodied satellites with one-inch tweeters and four-inch woofers. Paradigm's MilleniaSub is 5.5 inches thick, even flatter than the Sub Air and, to my eyes, cooler-looking. (According to my measurements, it also has about two dB more output at 63 Hz.) But a MilleniaOne system currently runs $2,409 on Paradigm's site. Adding a pair of Paradigm's smallest in-ceiling speakers, the PV-50R, costs $190, so the premium for the MilleniaOne system is $100. The systems sound pretty similar; the MilleniaOne satellites measure slightly flatter than the Dȏme Flax satellites, though. Both can deliver satisfying performance, and both have similar limitations. You might well choose among them based on looks.

It's easy to put together a less expensive system built around larger, box-shaped satellites and a more conventional subwoofer, using speakers from Elac, Rogersound, SVS, or others. Those systems will play louder without strain and deliver deeper, more powerful bass. But they'll look like speakers.

Conclusion
I suspect the number of people who want a sleek, ultra-compact surround sound system AND who are willing to install ceiling speakers for Atmos is pretty small. But if that's you, the Dȏme Flax 5.1.2 system will deliver exactly what you want, and probably more than you expect. From a design standpoint, the versatile satellites and innovative flat sub are clear winners. In a relatively small room at non-crazy volumes, the Dȏme Flax 5.1.2 delivers satisfying performance with movie soundtracks, as well as stereo performance that's downright captivating.

Additional Resources
• Check out our Bookshelf and Small Speakers category page to read similar reviews.
Focal Announces Dome Flax 5.1.2 Speaker System at HomeTheaterReview.com.
Focal Sopra No1 Bookshelf Speaker Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.

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HTR Product Rating for Focal Dȏme Flax 5.1.2 Speaker System

Criteria Rating

Performance

4

Value

4

Overall

4

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