Recently updated Focal are Sib designer speakers so you can experience Dolby Atmos without having to stuff your living room with large speakers or make holes in the ceiling. In this review we look at the Focal Sib Evo 5.1.2-channel home cinema set, for sale for a price of 1.199 euro.
What is the Focal Sib Evo?
The lifestyle Sib speakers have existed since the beginning of the 2000s, but this autumn was refreshed with the introduction of the Sib Evo generation. Or rather we have to say: supplemented. Because you can still purchase the even more compact Sib loudspeakers. Probably the most important thing with the new Sib Evos is the introduction of a model with which you can bring Dolby Atmos to the living room. The concept remains the same: Sib still stands for relatively small speakers with a modern design and that you can set up or hang up in a flexible way. That makes them interesting for people who want to work with an AV receiver but do not want to place large speakers. The Sib Evos are slightly larger than the existing Sib models.
Focal sells the Sib Evo speakers in different packages and there are separate accessories available. You can choose from two speakers: the regular Sib Evo that provides one channel and the Sib Evo Dolby Atmos that takes care of one surround channel and one height channel. For this test we look at the 5.1.2 bundle, which consists of two Sib Evo Dolby Atmos speakers, two regular Sib Evo speakers and a Cub Evo subwoofer. Other setups are also possible, by choosing different packages or combining separate speakers. Nothing stands in the way of even building a 7.1.4 set-up.
A compact system
The box that we receive from the Dutch Focal importer is quite small, given that it contains five speakers and a subwoofer. When unpacking, we discover next to the speakers two extra wall mounts that you can use to attach the rear speakers to the wall. If you also want to hang the front channels, you have to buy additional mounts separately. Those costs 199 euros / pair. If you prefer to place the Sib Evo speakers on a piece of furniture, then you mount the included foot. It is made of a soft plastic, so you do not have to be afraid to scratch the cupboard. Just like the wall mounts (which have a ball joint for optimal positioning), the feet are designed to easily change the position of the speakers. Cleverly, because with the handy foot you can also place the Sib Evos on a very low TV cabinet, for example. With the adjustable foot you can turn the speakers upwards in a jiffy. Of course it is always better to position speakers at ear height, but the Focals are made to broadcast the sound both horizontally and vertically. That makes these Sib Evos a lot more flexible in terms of placement than a typical loudspeaker.
The Sib Evo speakers are not large and their convex design enhances that impression even further. There is no straight line in sight, not even on the sharp rear. The ordinary Sib Evo is about 25 cm high and 16.2 cm wide, the Sib Evos with Dolby Atmos speaker are slightly larger (29.2 x 19.5 cm) because of the extra speaker at the top. A plus is that the Evo speakers are not really deep (16-19 cm), so you lose them on a windowsill or they can place them close to the wall. Everything has been done to make these speakers as inconspicuous as possible, which is probably a smart idea given the target group.
The Sib Evo is a two-way speaker, with a 5-inch woofer and a 0.75-inch tweeter. Both drivers are recessed mounted in a kind of bowl, making the appearance wider. With the Sib Evo Dolby Atmos version there is also a 4 inch full-range speaker that radiates upwards. The sound of the height channel is directed upwards and has to reflect off the ceiling. There is also a bass port at the back of the Sib Evo, so you better not put it in a closet.
Cub Evo subwoofer
And then there is the Focal Cub Evo, the subwoofer you can buy separately but is included in this Atmos package. Given that the Sib Evo speakers are very compact, it is inevitable that a separate subwoofer is involved. You do not get really low from a small speaker. That is pure physics. For example, the Sib Evo is ‘limited’ to 70 Hz – which is still surprisingly low – but at that point these bass sounds sound relatively quiet.
The Cub Evo is a full-fledged subwoofer with all the settings you would expect, not a slimmed-down thing that you can only use in combination with Sib Evo speakers. You connect it to an AV receiver in a conventional manner, via a single LFE connection or via a stereo cinch. The 200-watt sub has an 8-inch woofer that is directed downwards and a bass port on the front. This reflex helps the already compact Cub Evo (more or less 30 cm on all sides) to play relatively low basses. As long as you point this reflex in the direction of the room, you can place the Cub Evo anywhere in the room and get good results.
In line with Focal’s room-friendly approach, the Cub Evo is also made as attractive as possible with a subwoofer. Ok, it is not a design highlight like the round Bowers & Wilkins PV1D or Focals own Dôme-sub, but the polished finish on the MDF makes the Focal subwoofer look luxurious.
Compose the Focal Sib Evo
Because we already test a different surround setup in our office, we install the Sib Evo in the living room (approximately 20 m2 of a 40 m2 space). The Sib Evos are passive speakers, so that means that at least one loudspeaker cable must leave from each speaker towards the AV receiver. With the Sib Evos with additional Atmos speaker, two cables are required. Something to take into account – but a fact of life if you choose Atmos / DTS: X.
Connect the cables to the speakers via a separate system. You can not work with banana or other plugs, because you stop the stripped ends in two holes while holding a push button. Release the button and the cables are stuck. With the Evo’s with Dolby Atmos you obviously have two buttons and two times two recesses. Lovers of large cables pay attention, because in this system you only lose wires with a diameter of up to 0.75 mm. These are also the type of cables that you can easily work behind a plinth or in a discreet table tray. In practice, it works with slightly thicker wires, but it really does not work.
Usually you will place the Sib Evo speakers upright, which is very easy with the supplied pedestal. You can move the speaker on the stand so that the angle at which the Sib Evo radiates changes. If you find the right angle, secure the speaker to the stand with a large knob. And what about the center channel? There is no specific center speaker, you take a Sib Evo and put it on the side. You move the stand along. Focal even thought about making the logo on the front rotatable, so that the orientation of the drawing continues to be correct! We did not use the supplied wall stands, but we did examine them for a while. They are high-quality, ingenious things that fit into the screw opening at the bottom of the speaker and with a form of cable management.
Fine adjustment is important
For this test we again use the Onkyo TX-RZ1100 that we have recently laid on the rack. For Atmos you need at least a 7.1 receiver with support for height channels, the Onkyo with its 9.2 still has some channels on surplus.
In a living room setting you can not always place speakers perfectly. For example, it is difficult to place the rear speakers at equal distances to the listening position. Ideally, all speakers are just as far from where you are, but in practice that is rare. That is why it is very important to have the receiver do its calibration so that differences in distances are taken care of.
In our case, we had to manually adjust a bit after the measurement, in particular with the height channels. The Onkyo estimated the height of the ceiling too low – a common problem with reflective speakers – which made the Atmos channels sound too quiet. The high-pass filter was too high tuned with these two speakers. It proves that even after an automatic calibration it does not hurt to view and possibly adjust the results. Based on our recent test experiences with a number of receivers , it proves challenging to get a good measurement in real-life living rooms when it comes to the height channels.
Small but powerful
When testing with the official Dolby Atmos test disc, we get more spatial insight in the ‘Amaze’ and ‘Leaf’ demo than we expected. You basically have a bias against small speakers in a surround setup. But with the surround sound at ear height it is better than expected. Not at the level we experienced with the surround arrangement of Dali’s Opticon or KEF’s Q-series – to quote only two more recent examples – but significantly better than systems with real satellite speakers that we have already heard. The Sib Evo clearly takes an intermediate position, where you get a lot of quality from still compact devices.
And what are the impressions in terms of height channels? We like to listen to the 747 Takeoff, Rainstorm and Santeria demos on the Dolby disc. Because we work here with a 5.1.2 (and not 5.1.4) the jet flies steeply in the first demo and it quickly disappears behind you (at 5.1.4 it hangs slightly longer above your head). The transition from front channels to the height channels goes nicely seamlessly. Again, not a bad result, given that work is done with reflective Atmos-speaker. The Rainstorm and Santeria demos also show a reasonably enveloping sound. Although you can – again – do better with discrete height channels on the ceiling, the Sib Evo sounds surprisingly good given the compact size. The big trump here is that wide look, giving you a nice surround field without hard transitions from channel to channel.
Before releasing really Atmos film material on the Sib Evo, we pick up James Bond’s 50th Anniversary Blu-ray box and select ‘Die Another Day’ – in retrospect one of the lesser Bond choices that were possible. But this Pierce Brosnan film still has a reasonable 5.1 DTS mix, a lot quieter than what is now produced by Hollywood. What the adventures of 007 in Iceland teach us is that the Sib Evo sets up ‘weekday’ surround better than expected. Despite the smaller size of the speakers, we experience a lot of dynamism and openness. Bond’s one-liners are clear and rich from the center.
Then we jump into the future for a century or so with the Ultra HD Blu-ray from ‘Ghost in the Shell’. Our copy comes with Atmos, unfortunately due to the purchase of the wrong version: only with the German-language dub. There we bite through, jawohl, because the atmospheric soundtrack of Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe remains intact with the DE version. Despite the moderate success of this Scarlett Johanssen film, the sound design with this futuristic anime spinoff is quite good. In the final, when Major takes in a big building against a giant spidertank, the Sib Evo brings the fast, rounding action strongly. We miss pinpoint accuracy very occasionally, perhaps because reflective speakers always transmit the surround image slightly less accurately. The action also hangs slightly more in the horizontal plane. At this point we would have liked to have heard a 5.1.4 Sib Evo package, in our opinion a more successful recipe. You can also put this together in theory.
We regularly notice when watching the films that the Cub Evo is a very mature match for the Sib Evo speakers. He tends a little bit to wooliness, but does provide a powerful support for films. Moreover, the Cub Evo is fast enough to play music well.
It is often stated that a Dolby Atmos arrangement is complex. Less often you hear that it is also an expensive affair. You need a better AV receiver, lots of separate speakers and meters of cable. Unless you start building in, your living room will also look like an audio store with a cable problem. And then there is the Sib Evo from Focal, which still offers a solution for a number of these challenges.
The price of the Focals is not nothing, but still relatively low when you look at the alternatives. The Sib Evo is not a budget solution at the same time, because you get nicely finished speakers with a good sound. Proper adjustment remains necessary, but afterwards you enjoy a surprisingly mature and wide-ranging Atmos experience. The flexibility you have in terms of setup and suspension is very large, without being complicated. In particular, the wall-mount is very well executed. That’s what Focal did particularly well. The EISA Award for this set is entirely justified.