We’ve all seen the iconic Dolby brand plastered on everything from speakers to movie theaters. But in 2018, more than 50 years since Ray Dolby first made his name in tape technology, Dolby is finally ready to strike out with a consumer product of its own.
Dolby Dimension, a pair of $600 (yes, $600) luxury wireless headphones are, unsurprisingly for Dolby, meant first and foremost for home use. They’re designed to bounce between screens, enhance movies when you don’t want to wake the neighbors, and moonlight as a pair of travel cans. While they fall a tad short of a total home run, these new cans are a very promising step into products for Dolby. And if you’re a certain kind of listener, they may just be the headphones you’ve been searching for. Say hello to Dolby Dimension.
Out of the box
Dolby makes the impression you’d expect from a pair of $600 headphones with a chic package that exudes luxury. Opening the box reveals no plastic tethers or twist ties, just the sleek black headphones sitting on a grey bed of wooly fabric, which doubles as the soft travel case.
And these might just be the coolest looking pair of wireless headphones we’ve encountered. Layered in supple leather — which covers not only the ample pads, but also the earcups themselves — the onyx chassis recalls a minimalist, utilitarian Nordic style. A column of four onboard keys on the right earcup are matched by a slat of gleaming LEDs along the disc-shaped exterior cap.
Inside the box, you’ll find a flat-coiled charging cable, as well as a disc-shaped charging pad that connects with terminals on the headphones. Dolby didn’t opt for USB-C here, meaning a full charge takes up to two hours, though Dolby claims you can get about 2.5 hours of battery life on a 20-minute quick charge. The lack of USB-C is less of an issue for headphones made for the home, but at this price we expected the latest tech. A wall adapter and the aforementioned soft case round out the accessories.
Features up the wazoo
Dolby absolutely loaded the Dimension with features. That includes Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), transparency to let ambient sound in (Dolby calls it LifeMix), as well as unique features like Virtualization, which can mimic surround sound for your favorite movies and TV shows. Dolby says Virtualization is so advanced it can read the sound source and adjust how much digital enhancement is needed on the fly.
The Dimension rank among the coolest looking cans we’ve encountered.
There’s also a head-tracking feature, designed to keep your audio source stable at the front view when you turn your head, presumably so that, even when you’re fully immersed in the sound, if you hear something or someone ring the doorbell or shout while using the transparency feature, you can turn your head and know it’s not coming from the TV or iPad.
Onboard keys let you easily switch between three Bluetooth sources, but if your TV doesn’t support Bluetooth, keep in mind that you’ll need to rely on a streaming box or gaming console. A fourth, circular key sleeps and wakes the cans, and also powers them off and on with a three-second hold.
A touchpad on the right earcap controls volume with up and down swipes, plays and pauses with a tap, and switches between noise-canceling and transparency mode with a double tap. Like most touch controls we’ve encountered, they can be finnicky, and we found ourselves initiating an errant control about every fourth or fifth swipe or tap.
Slick little app
While onboard keys are convenient for quick changes, a major part of the Dimension experience is handled by the app. Layered in eye-catching animations, the app is key to everything from setup, to connecting devices, to setting hot keys. Bluetooth LE — with which the headphones supplement traditional Bluetooth to communicate with the app — can be tricky, occasionally attempting to connect your audio source. As such, you’ll want to make sure the app is open and connected to your cans before pairing to your source device for the first time.
Other key app features include turning Virtualization and head tracking on or off, controlling the transparency level, and monitoring battery life. Enabling low power mode here can also help save juice by turning off Virtualization features. That’s key, as the Dimension offer a somewhat middling 14 hours of battery life.
One cool advantage to Dolby’s design: Since audio is fully controlled through the app, we were able to do some things we can’t with many other Bluetooth headphones, such as raising the volume on our Macbook.
A different Dimension
We’ve worn a lot of headphones, but the Dolby Dimension are the most comfortable pair we’ve ever worn. Even when wearing glasses for hours at a time, these super-padded cans just disappear on your head. This is key to their charm if you plan on binging your favorite show or watching a full movie.
Though we occasionally got frustrated with the touch controls, we also marveled at how convenient they are when they work. You can be fully immersed in your content and then, with a quick double tap, reenter the world to respond to a question or just say “hi.” Two more taps, and you’re right back in your own zone.
It’s also fun to pause content on your TV screen with your headphones — which we were able to do via the Apple TV 4K Dolby provided for our testing — and jump seamlessly to a quick YouTube video on an iPad. There’s no need to pair the headphones again — just click the button on the headphones, and go.
That said, there are a few minor misses that stand out, especially when you consider the price tag. For one thing, unlike top headphones like Sony’s 1000xm line, there are no touch sensors to stop content when you pull off an ear or put the headphones down. We’d love to see that added with the next pair. There’s also no control over EQ or noise cancellation modes.
They’re the most comfortable pair of headphones we’ve ever worn.
Other features like head tracking give the Dimension a leg up, but it’s just not as useful in everyday life. What’s more, it really drains the battery. hen we first put the cans on, we marveled at the feature’s ability to adjust on the fly to whatever we stared at for more than a few seconds. After about an hour, however, the battery went from 14 hours to 9.5.
Speaking of battery, at this price, we would have liked to see at least 20, if not 30 hours total, like Sony’s latest 1000 mx3. We realize there’s a lot going on here — the Dimension uses so much processing it requires a Snapdragon processor — but we still expect a premium price tag to come with premium functionality across the board.
Can’t cancel it all
Dolby’s noise canceling does an excellent job suppressing low rumbles like jet engines or bus engines, and it does so with a remarkable lack of audible white noise. But higher frequencies are still pretty audible. You’ll hear some voices around you, and we could even hear the bus speakers chiming out stops on our ride home, which makes the Dimension less effective than top noise cancellers like Bose’s QC35 II or Sony’s 1000mx3.
We expected Dolby to provide impressive sound — the company helped invent impressive sound. While we weren’t wholly knocked off our feet, we were quite satisfied with what the Dimension deliver.
Virtualization is impressive, even with basic content like The Office on Netflix. While watching the episode The Fire (a personal favorite) we were amazed at how broad the soundstage expanded, to the point where the fire trucks seemed to be parked in our living room, and we even got tricked by the police radio into thinking someone was talking to us.
Better-produced content reaps even better results. Watching Thor: Ragnarok, the Dimension did equally well in the big, bombastic moments as they did in the subtle, simpler ones. Thor’s fight with the Hulk was thrilling. While the cans aren’t exactly bass bumpers, the booming resonance of the two titans going at it was more than enough to quicken the pulse, while the arpeggiating synths and horns were handled with equal muster, bringing it all home with Thor’s massive lightning bolt.
The sheer comfort of the cans remains the icing on the cake, allowing us to simply float into the action and forget the world around us.
Subtle nuances entranced us: A helmet rolling on the floor and past our right ear here, perfectly rendered footsteps on a stone staircase there, and taut, present dialogue all combined for a fantastic experience. The sheer comfort of the cans remains the icing on the cake, allowing us to simply float into the action and forget the world around us.
The Dimension do a fine job with music as well, with or (to our taste) without Virtualization. While we often use the word “accessible” as a somewhat mediocre experience, here it’s a real compliment. Sound is impressively balanced, with a bit of a rolloff in the midrange that manages to kill sibilance, while keeping all the papery touches and minute details. We thought we heard the cans reach just toward the edge of distortion a few times, but they never went over the top.
Vocals are always clear and well placed in the broad soundstage, while instruments like guitar, percussion, and in particular, horns are rendered with a sweet and clear touch that is quite lovely. While you won’t get the kind of clarity and closeness to the sound from even lower-priced wired headphones, aptX and AAC help preserve the resolution.
Dolby includes a one-year warranty which can be accessed by contacting Dolby support.Our Take
Dolby’s first step into wireless headphones was worth the wait. While they aren’t without their quirks — and they certainly aren’t for the budget buyer — the Dimension are a supremely comfortable, unique pair of cans that excel in the home, and aren’t too shabby on the road, either. For a certain kind of buyer, namely those resigned to keeping their home theater volume dials turned to the left, Dolby’s Dimension should be a real draw.
Is there a better alternative?
If you’re not attached to unique features like Virtualization and Head Tracking, plenty of headphones do nearly as much as the Dimension for far less cash. At just about two thirds the cost, Sony’s 1000mx3 offer a ton of features, excellent sound, and better noise canceling, though they don’t offer the Dimension’s home theater features and aren’t as comfortable.
There are also plenty of headphones designed specifically for the home, like Sennheiser’s HDR 175, which also offer more connection options, though these don’t have the same feature set as the Dimension and also aren’t mobile.
How long will it last?
With impressive design and, presumably, regular updates via the app, the Dimension should be ready as your go-to cans for the foreseeable future.
Should you buy it?
If you’re looking for the ultimate way to crank up home theater sound, without waking the kids or missing out on the household bustle, the Dimension may well be your favorite new toy. If you’re looking for headphones for your daily commute, however, you can get all you need from Sony’s 1000mx3, or even Bose’s QC35 II for a lot less cash. Either way, Dolby’s first dip into product design is an exciting one, and we can’t wait to see what the company comes up with next.
Update 11-14-2018: We’ve updated this review to note that, while there’s no USB-C, Dolby does offer a form of quick charging for a few hours of battery after around 20 minutes of charging.