Focal Dome Flax 5.1
“A chic, powerful, and versatile way to deck out your home theater room.”
- Smooth, lyrical treble
- Rich and detailed dialogue
- Concise and stylish design
- Powerful, musical bass
- Fits virtually anywhere
- Much pricier than traditional speakers
- Some physical limitations due to size
- Speaker-angle set-up is awkward
French audio company Focal has long been a staple in both professional and consumer audio, offering everything from base-model studio monitors to quarter million-dollar audiophile monstrosities. Lately, though, the company has made impressive inroads with its miniaturized satellite speakers, available in sleek 5.1 plug-and-play packages in a wide range of shapes and designs. The Dome Flax speakers, though, may just be the loveliest.
As glossy globes perched on thin pedestals that can be set up almost anywhere, the Dome Flax deliver high-end sound from a footprint that barely registers. At $2,000, these speakers are no drop in the bucket — and those who aren’t serious about sound and aesthetics in equal measure need not apply. But if you’re out for minimalist design matched by expansive, detailed sound, you’ll want to read on to the end of our story.
Opening the Dome Flax’s all-in-one package reveals a puzzle work of small foam cubes wrapped in cardboard cutouts with hero images on the sides. Opening the boxes (one for each of the five surround channels) reveals flat-faced spheres in mirrored black (they also come in white) with acoustic-fabric screens. On top of each box are taped mounting screws and a rubberized plate which serves as the base cover for each speaker’s circular stand. Staring straight up at the ceiling on adjustable bases, the speakers look almost like a band of those famed jumping desk lamps in Pixar’s animation logo — only before the robots are switched on.
At the bottom is a powered (and wireless) subwoofer, the Sub Air, carved into a slick little box of glossy cabinetry that boasts a sexy eight-inch (21cm to be exact) woofer on the side behind a robust screen. The sub’s natural beauty is unfortunately obfuscated a bit by multiple holes carved in the opposing side of the cabinet, allowing the sub to be mounted on a wall. We love the ingenuity there, but those not mounting the sub will likely wish Focal had designed the holes to be less obtrusive.
Setting up the speakers is relatively simple, save for the rotating stand which holds the face of each speaker so firmly in place it feels as though one might crack the speaker in half when adjusting. More frustrating, the quick-start guide seems to ignore this obstacle, assuming we’ll all just know how to adjust the speaker position by intuition. After pushing on them for a bit, we stepped away and came back to the situation, finding that simply holding the speakers close with both hands and putting downward pressure on the pedestal allows for smooth and accurate adjustment to the desired angle.
The speakers are gorgeous little globes with hardy, lacquered-aluminum bodies.
Here’s where you get to be creative: The little kit for each speaker (along with the design’s small footprint) makes it easy to mount them pretty much anywhere, including along your ceiling or side walls. Again, we wish angle adjust is easier since once you get them screwed down they’re pretty much stuck in place. On the flipside, we’re confident they won’t eventually slip off-axis once mounted — you may just have to remount them a few times.
Under each base stand is a metal guide around which you can thread your speaker wire through a neat exit point. The input terminals are held tight by small mounting screws which, by the way, require an impossibly small Allan key to adjust. Luckily, Focal has nestled a key into the rubberized cover of each speaker’s stand, so even if you’re extremely absent-minded, those who purchase the 5.1 setup will have plenty of keys to spare. If you’re buying just one speaker at a time, though (at $400 a pop!), you’ll need to be on the alert.
Finally, you’ll need to either wire the sub or its wireless transmitter into your receiver of choice via RCA cable. We had some trouble getting the sub to connect to the transmitter automatically, but following the manual, we found success by holding down the connect button on the sub for four seconds and then, within 30 seconds, doing the same on the transmitter.
Beauty in simplicity
While the speakers are a little headstrong, it’s easy to forgive them any set-up foibles once you get them in place. These are gorgeous little globes and, for the most part, their lacquered aluminum bodies give a hardy impression of strength and quality. (The only piece that feels a tad flimsy is, ironically, the little silver band that reads “Made in France.”) Overall, the finished product on your TV console or mounted on the wall suggests sophisticated sound and beautifully blends with your decor.
Our ears were gleefully pulled into the rafters by those singing little tweeters.
For those who’ve seen other Dome speakers in Focal’s lineup, this chic and minimalist aesthetic is nothing new — it previously arrived in models like the original Dome 5.1 package, and the Dome Polyglass. The spherical shape is designed to minimize distortion and focus the sound accurately, while the adjustable angle makes for what Focal aptly calls “sound spotlights,” allowing you to flood your listening position perfectly from all sides.
The big difference here is in the “Flax” moniker which indicates the latest material utilized for the four-inch speaker cones resting beneath the removable grills. Previously deployed in some of Focal’s other high-end speakers, the company claims the material — constructed from flax fiber enclosed by two layers of glass fiber — allows for clearer, more accurate dialogue, linear frequency response, and less coloration of sound.
On that note, the speakers output impressively full sound at high volume without distortion, especially for their size. A claimed frequency response of 80Hz-28kHz seems accurate at both ends of the spectrum. That would leave the sound signature lacking in the low and mid bass but for the near-seamless integration of the accompanying Sub Air — especially once you’ve tuned it (we set the crossover around 120Hz) and properly placed it in your room.
We do have one more note for Focal when it comes to the Sub Air’s design: Don’t put the control panel on the bottom. While the setup offers all the adjustments you’d want, including crossover and polarity switches, it’s a hassle to access. It doesn’t matter much once you’ve got things dialed in, but we’d rather see it on the back next time.
A sweet song
While those Flax cones no doubt contribute a lot to the smooth, open, and powerful sound signature the Dome Flax offer, it was those 1-inch inverted dome tweeters that served up the most “showcase moments” during our time with these deceivingly small speakers. We don’t use the word “singing” often in performance evaluations, but it came back again and again in our notes as we delved through our testing material.
The speakers tuned up glowing acoustic guitar, tight and accurate percussion, and vivid string and horns.
From the beeping effects and brilliant brass tones in sci-fi spectacles like Guardians of the Galaxy Volume II, to the simple ring of a traditional telephone bell in an episode of Seinfeld, our ears were gleefully pulled into the rafters of the treble register by those singing little tweeters.
Elsewhere in the frequency spectrum, we were also impressed by just how much sound comes out of these little spotlights, which subtly deliver some smooth and ruddy warmth in the midrange. Taking into account the speakers’ size, we didn’t expect to be so enthralled by moments like the introductory chase scene in Skyfall, where the terse pump of Bond’s Walther PPK or the fizzy buzz of the dirtbikes as he chases his assailant through an Istanbul marketplace matched the power and presence of more full-figured speakers.
As promised, even when handling dialogue from just a tiny center speaker the Dome Flax continually surprised us with their power and depth, as well as their penchant for detail.
The sub, which boasts 150 watts of peak power, allows for plenty of punch in the low end when it comes to explosions and other heavier sonic effects, but just as important, it provides a firm and musical bedrock upon which the satellites fluidly swing sound throughout five channels with clarity and dimension. In fact, the sub’s smooth integration with the satellites is a big reason the Dome Flax 5.1 system was able to perform with such full sound for its size.
We are delighted by the sweet and flowing sound that springs forth from the small speakers.
Focal’s claims that the speakers offer little coloration rang true throughout our testing, especially emphasized when moving between mediums. For better or worse, the speakers react instantly to the quality of the source they’re fed, opening up widely and accurately for bombastic cinematic soundtracks via DTS-HD Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD, while flattening out a bit with poorer sound signals. Sitcoms and video files with compressed audio yield mediocre results, and these also accounted for the only times in which the speakers got a bit too zippy, occasionally bordering on sibilant at the 5-7kHz register, especially with hard “S” sounds.
When we moved back to our resident KEF LS50 Wireless bookshelves, we were reminded of the power in the lower midrange and upper bass we’d given up with such a small form factor as the Dome Flax, and at the Flax’s price, that should definitely be of consideration. The limits of physics means you’re compromising some power and fullness in select swaths of the frequency spectrum by choosing such a small set of satellites.
On the other hand, even in just a 2.1 stereo configuration, we are delighted by the sweet and flowing sound that springs forth from the small speakers, tuning up glowing acoustic
Focal’s warranty for the speakers is … vague. Essentially, the website refers you to your dealer, as the warranty period will vary by country.
Chic, powerful, and detailed, Focal’s Dome Flax speakers are a lovely and versatile way to deck out your home with surround sound without futzing with your furniture. While there are compromises to be made — especially when it comes to your checking account — these are among the most capable speakers of their size we’ve come across.
Is there a better alternative?
Though they don’t provide fidelity on par with the Dome Flax, Focal’s own slightly larger Sib Evo 5.1.2 package offers similar convenience when it comes to layout and performance — as well as upfiring Dolby Atmos drivers built in — at a price ($1,300) that’s much easier on your wallet.
If you don’t need to save so much space, of course, you can get into fuller sound with similar presence and detail from more traditional setups like SVS’ Prime series speakers for about half the price, along with plenty of other affordable options in bookshelf form from brands like KEF, Elac, and others.
Again, a large portion of what you’re paying for with the Dome Flax is convenience and versatility alongside performance. If you don’t have your heart set on speakers that can easily hang from the wall or ceiling, and/or space is not a major consideration, these probably aren’t the speakers for you.
How long will it last?
The speakers are well-built in France and backed by a major audio brand, meaning they should last for as long as you need them to.
Should you buy it?
If you value minimalism and aesthetics over affordability, yes. Focal’s sleek and versatile Dome Flax speakers are a brilliant option.
- The best speakers for 2020
- The best gaming speakers for 2020
- What you need in order to build an outdoor movie theater
- Sonos Arc vs. Sonos Playbar
- Vizio V Series 5.1 Soundbar review: Putting the ‘V’ in value