Focal Sib Evo Atmos 5.1.2 Home Cinema System Reviewed

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Focal Sib Evo Atmos 5.1.2 Home Cinema System Reviewed

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Focal-Sib-Evo-1.jpgIf you haven't followed the European compact home theater speaker system market closely for the past decade-and-a-half or so, the words "Sib" and "Cub" likely sound like a Kazuo Koike manga sequel of some sort. But there are some of you, I know, who see those words and instantly think of high style, great performance, and an incredible value proposition from a speaker brand not normally associated with affordability. For quite some time now, Focal's compact Sib speakers have been a popular option for those with smaller listening rooms; and, with object-based surround sound becoming more of a thing in home cinema applications of all shapes and sizes, it's no great surprise to see the line reborn with Atmos and DTS:X compatibility built in.

The new line consists of three products: the Sib Evo satellite, a compact little two-way bass reflex speaker with a five-inch woofer and 0.75-inch soft dome tweeter; the Sib Evo Dolby Atmos, which adds a four-inch up-firing driver with a rated frequency response from 90 Hz to 20 kHz; and the Cub Evo, a compact front-ported sub with a down-firing eight-inch driver and 200 watts of Class D amplification. Packages include a simple 5.1 system (five Sib Evos and a Cub Evo), a 5.1.2 system (three Sib Evos, two Sib Evo Atmos speakers, and the Cub Evo), or systems that include simply a pair of the Sib Evo or Sib Evo Dolby Atmos. The latter is particular is handy if you want to create a 7.1.4 system. Or you could buy the 5.1 system and add a pair of the Atmos speakers for 7.1.2. Any way you choose to configure them, the packages sell for $1,299 for the 5.1.2 system (reviewed here), $999 if 5.1 is more your thing, $599 for a pair of the Sib Evo Dolby Atmos speakers, and $299 for two of the Sib Evos alone. An extra Cub Evo sub will run you $379.

Am I saying it's the outright cheapest way to get into object-based audio? No. But I can't think of another speaker system this compact and this attractive that gets you into Dolby Atmos without cutting holes in your ceiling for anywhere near the price. Which would make it an attractive offering even if it didn't carry the reputation that the Focal brand brings with it.

The Hookup
A few things are immediately clear upon pulling the new Sib Evo and Sib Evo Dolby Atmos satellites out of the box. First, Focal didn't merely slap an Atmos module atop its popular speakers and call it a day. In both its incarnations, the Evo is a softer, more rounded design, with a simplified base that consists of a rubber stand, held in place by a locking mechanism that can be loosened to aim the speaker upward and downward to a degree, depending on the height at which they're installed or mounted. The tweeter has also been repositioned above the woofer; and, although the front grille still sports a bit of a concave curve, it's less noticeable in this new design.

The speaker cable connections have also been changed. In lieu of binding posts, the Sib Evo and Evo Dolby Atmos feature hidden recesses around back into which bare wire is inserted (no support for banana plugs, in case it wasn't obvious). The Sib Evo has a single push button beneath the pair of receptacles, which is depressed to accept the speaker wire. When released, it locks the wires in place. The Evo Dolby Atmos features two stacked buttons: one for the ear-level speaker cables and another for the connections to the upward-firing module. It's an elegant and attractive solution, to be sure, but I do have my concerns, which I'll touch on in The Downside section below.

In the 5.1.2 package, you get three of the strictly forward-firing satellites for the center and surrounds. The rubber base I mentioned before can be removed and used as a horizontal base should you choose to position the center speaker on its side, but I highly recommend that you don't do so, if you have room to leave it standing up. At a mere 9.75 inches tall, it doesn't take up that much space, and there are significant sonic benefits to leaving it in its vertical orientation. If you absolutely must place it horizontally, though, doing so takes the height down to around seven inches.

Focal-Sib-Evo-Atmos.jpgIn addition to the obvious difference between the Sib Evo and Sib Evo Dolby Atmos (namely, the upward-firing driver on the latter), there are a few other noteworthy distinctions. The Sib Evo Dolby Atmos (shown right) is about 1.5 inches taller and one inch wider, and it features dual front-firing bass reflex ports down low, as opposed to the larger rear-firing port coming out near the top of the Sib Evo. That may be an important consideration if you plan on installing the speakers close to or even on a wall (using the two included mounting brackets), as the Sib Evo interacts with (and receives bass emphasis from) surfaces behind it a little differently than the Sib Evo Dolby Atmos does.

In my setup, though, that wasn't such a significant consideration. With the front three speakers placed about 18 inches from the front wall, I found a 110-Hz crossover with the sub to be pretty much ideal. I positioned the rears about 10 inches from the sidewalls, and they were much more comfortable being crossed over at 80 Hz.

The speakers were powered by my Anthem MRX 1120 AV receiver, with EQ applied by Anthem Room Correction. Given that reflected height channels were part of the equation, I did not set a Max EQ frequency for this setup, but I was surprised by how little ARC had to do with the ear-level speakers. A few expected wiggles to deal with below 600 Hz, but that's pretty much it. The reflected height speakers needed a little taming just above 1 kHz (roughly 3 dB or so) and a bit of a boost between 1.5 kHz and 5 kHz; otherwise, they conformed reasonably well to Anthem's target curve for Atmos effects speakers.

The Cub subwoofer also behaved remarkably well in the room, needing only a bit of taming around 48 Hz and the smoothing of some minor wiggles in response from 60 Hz on up.

As is usually the case, I went through a couple of different setups with the Sib Evo 5.1.2 system, configuring it first in a simple 5.1-channel configuration to evaluate performance without the extra distraction of overhead effects. That didn't last long, though. I quickly discovered that, with pretty much any source material, this little system absolutely sang with its up-firing effects channels engaged.

Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...

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