Focal Audio Dôme 5.1 home theater speaker system

The Short Form
$2,595 (as tested) / AUDIOPLUSSERVICES.COM
Snapshot
Focal's diminutive speaker system can deliver high-performance sound to style- conscious homes
Plus
• Satellites are beautifully built, using top-notch components • Vivid and transparent sound with fine imaging • Lots of mounting options for satellites
Minus
• Limited dynamics as compared with larger speaker setups • Requires careful sub and crossover adjustment • Speaker connections only accept skinny wires
Key Features
Dôme satellite: 1-in metal-dome tweeter, 4-in woofer; 6¾ in high, 4¼ lb • Dôme subwoofer: 8-inch woofer, 100-watt amp; 15 in high, 18 lb
To most audio enthusiasts, "lifestyle" is little more than a code word for speakers that have been downsized to a point where they can be whisked into domestic environments without fear of spousal rejection. But getting good sound, including deep, powerful bass, involves moving lots of air - which is why many of the best speakers are big, room-filling monoliths.

The problem with most so-called lifestyle speakers is that they sacrifice performance in order to perform their disappearing act. A typical lifestyle-friendly combo shifts deep-bass production to a single discreetly placed subwoofer, with the remainder of the sound divided between a few inconspicuous satellite speakers. But along with the potential minuses, there's an advantage to this approach: Freed from their bass-production duties, the satellites are easier to position for optimum stereo and surround imaging.

Focal isn't new to the satellite/subwoofer world, having introduced its Sib & Cub combo a few years back. Now, with the Dôme system, the company has ramped the performance level up a few notches by incorporating many of the same components used in its more exotic speaker offerings. Unlike the Asian-built Sib & Cub, the Dômes are manufactured at Focal's factory in Saint-Étienne, France, giving the company a tighter rein over production.

The Dôme 5.1 package is more compact than its Sib & Cub brand mates, making it the smallest Focal home speaker system yet. Despite its diminutive size, the Dôme satellite is no lightweight: The cast-aluminum enclosure feels solid enough to withstand being run over by a small car. Each of the five satellites is about the size of a large grapefruit with a slice taken off the front. This flat area forms a baffle where the two drivers are squeezed in. While I would hesitate to use the word "woofer" to describe any 4-inch driver, it's hard to deny the quality of this baby-size edition of Focal's Polyglass design - the same type used in its much larger Chorus series. The tweeter is a top-drawer affair, too, its aluminum/magnesium inverted dome very similar to the one used in Focal's pricey Profile and Electra S models.

Following the dome theme, the system's cylindrical, rounded-top subwoofer looks a bit like one of those concrete stanchions used to block cars from entering a pedestrian street. With a single downward-firing 8-inch woofer, the ported Dôme sub is also exceptionally compact, consuming less than a 1-foot-diameter circular patch of your precious floor space. Rear-panel connections include both line- and speaker-level inputs, while the built-in 100-watt amp can be set to turn on automatically when it senses a signal.

SETUP

The Dôme satellite's built-in pedestal can swivel 90°, and a supplied mounting plate lets you mount the speaker on a wall or ceiling. Optional stands are available if you want to position the satellites on the floor, although I found that they sounded better when I kept them near a room boundary. Speaker-wire connections are by way of a small screw terminal recessed into the base. The terminal can handle stripped bare wires up to around 14 gauge, but it's tight enough in there to rule out any fancy, audiophile-type cables.

Achieving a smooth bass blend is tricky with any sub/sat system, and it only gets harder as the satellites shrink in size and the crossover point moves up in frequency. As I mentioned above, keeping the Dôme satellites near a wall or ceiling helps to flesh out their low-frequency extension a bit, and this in turn makes it easier to achieve a good blend with the subwoofer. I spread the three front-channel Dômes evenly just under my 8-foot-wide projection screen, with the two surround channels up high on the side walls, just behind the listening chair. The sub worked best when pushed into my room's front-left corner, as this helped to bolster its output a bit.

Running the Audyssey MultEQ XT automated setup on my Integra receiver resulted in a too-high subwoofer level, with the receiver attempting to squeeze out bass that simply wasn't available with the system. After experimentation with lots of familiar CDs, I found that setting the sub level some 5 dB lower provided a much better blend, although this meant that the bass could sound a tad lightweight at times. Focal claims that the Dôme satellites can go down to as low as 80 Hz, but in practice, a 120- to 130 Hz crossover point worked much better. Getting these adjustments just right proved critical in avoiding a noticeable peakiness in the upper bass.

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