Focal Sib Evo Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 review

Focal's Sib Evo Dolby Atmos speaker system is a one-box wonder of surround sound

Focal’s Sib Evo Atmos speakers provide thrilling sound for movies and music from a footprint that barely registers.
Focal’s Sib Evo Atmos speakers provide thrilling sound for movies and music from a footprint that barely registers.
Focal’s Sib Evo Atmos speakers provide thrilling sound for movies and music from a footprint that barely registers.

Highs

  • Fluent, dynamic 3D sound
  • Rich in detail and definition
  • Clear and sweet treble
  • Small footprint
  • Relatively affordable

Lows

  • Upper mids lean a bit forward
  • Cabinet finish prone to scratches

Dolby Atmos in a box. That’s the promise of Focal’s Sib Evo 5.1.2 speaker system. It’s a phrase that would have seemed a stretch even a few short years ago, but advancements in Dolby’s object-based surround sound tech (alongside rivals like DTS:X and Auro-3D Audio) have moved at a rapid pace since first landing in movie theaters in 2013.

In 2015, Yamaha showed off the first-ever Atmos soundbar, and since then 3D (a.k.a. object-based) sound solutions have spread like a virus, landing in everything from cheap-seat A/V receivers to speaker suites like the Sib Evo.

Slotted somewhere between a full-throttle Atmos setup and an HTIB (Home Theater In a Box), Focal’s Sib Evo system was developed as a stylish and minimalist way to add height channels for 3D immersion to any home entertainment system. Other than an Atmos-ready A/V receiver (which you can grab for $500 or less) and speaker wire, the Sib Evo setup comes with everything you need to juice up your home theater, at a total price point that sits impressively close to Atmos soundbars. As such, the system is a killer way to land real 3D sound at a real bargain.

A big dang box

Carting the Sib Evo home is no small task, so an Amazon delivery might be your best solution (assuming the neighbors can be trusted, of course). You can lug the box in and out of the car single-handedly but the system’s heft will make sure those with ailing backs feel it afterward.

Focal Sib Evo Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 speaker system
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Pulling out the system’s multiple cardboard stacks and foam pieces takes some time, but soon you’ll unveil several oblong speakers in glossy cabinets with stout metal screens, exuding chic style and durability in equal measure.

The Sib Evo’s base-stand design is pretty ingenious.

Three mini-satellite speakers, each with their own adjustable bases, are designed to handle surround and center-channel data, while the larger Evo bookshelf speakers hold the Dolby Atmos prize, each one sporting a traditional two-way design along with a four inch driver at the top to bounce sound off your ceiling for hemispheric sound immersion.

The included Cub subwoofer (or Cub sub) at the bottom accounts for the lion’s share of the Evo Sib’s hefty weight, of course, designed as a tubby cube that looks and feels a step or two above most soundbar tack-ons. A glossy bass port sits up front, while metallic dials for volume and crossover frequency are set on the backside panel alongside a power switch, input jack, and even a polarity switch — a nice touch.

Sexy-simple design

The speakers do a good job of adding some style when you focus in while folding into the background when you don’t, which is what makes this system a perfect compromise between the design-oriented household members, and the sound nuts. A curved shape and glossy, bass-reflex cabinets add some style points, as do elegant buttons and small portholes for speaker inputs. A word of caution: The plastic shells surrounding each speaker is of the kind that almost scratches when you so much as breathe on it, so you’ll need to be extremely cautious during initial setup or during any transit situations.

Each of the main Sib Evo Atmos speakers sports a ¾-inch dome tweeter, matched by a 5-inch Polyflex woofer, rated down to 60Hz at the low end of the frequency spectrum and 25kHz up top. An additional four-inch, up-firing driver hides beneath a metal speaker guard on top to bounce sound off your ceiling for height channels, with a claimed frequency response of 90Hz to 20kHz. Two sets of speaker terminals sit at the back, with a button for each — one marked with a Dolby Atmos symbol, and one blank (we’ll let you unravel that mystery).

Each satellite speaker offers a smaller cabinet (about 10-inches tall as opposed to 11.5-inches in the Atmos speakers, and almost an inch and a half less width and depth), but the same drivers reside within. That leads to less bass, with a claimed frequency response of 70Hz to 25kHz. Each of the Sib Evo’s five speakers also comes with its own rubber-padded base stand.

As mentioned, the Cub subwoofer offers multiple ways to hone it in via controls at the back, including the variable crossover from 40Hz to 250Hz. The down-firing 8-inch cone is fed via RCA input (right, and left LFE) and powered with 200 watts of active amplification. The Cub’s size is just about 12 inches cubed (hence the name), and it weighs 17.5 pounds.

Wire-cutters at the ready

At just under $1,300 for the speakers, $500 or less for an intro Atmos receiver (we used a $600 Yamaha RX-V683), and about $15-30 in speaker wire, you can get into the Sib Evo Atmos system for well below $2,000. And while $1,800 and change is a healthy chunk more than the $1,500 MSRP you’d pay for Samsung’s HW-K950 soundbar, it’s actually far less than that of Yamaha’s aforementioned YSP-5600 once you add a sub, with a serious step up in performance to boot. As with the soundbars, we expect purchase price to go down over time, as well. With all of that said, you will have to put in a bit more work to get these babies up and running than you do with those simple soundbars.

Our price estimate doesn’t include speaker stands (we had our own) but larger TV consoles should be able to host your front three channels, while the back two speakers are wall mountable thanks to included wall mounts. Even if you’re a home theater vet, though, connecting the system is a three-hour chore (a three-hour chore), including measuring, stripping, and labeling the wires (we can’t stress that last one enough). Focal’s speaker inputs don’t speed up the process, either. Though the design looks sleek, the clamp holes are small, and a single button opens both terminals, so you’ll have to hold the first tine of the fork in position while you slip in the second. The wiring process got slightly frustrating for a moment, especially while connecting the Atmos speakers, and Focal could have spelled things out better in its manual.

Focal Sib Evo Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 speaker system
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

That said, the base stand design is pretty ingenious. A fastening screw at the bottom of each stand allows you to set the speakers at slight angle, which is key for the Atmos speakers, as you can adjust them forward if you’re not getting enough reflection off your ceiling. In another clever design cue, any of the three satellites can sit sideways on its stand to serve as the center channel (again, offering easy angle adjustment) while a small sticker pad keeps it in place without the need for fastening a screw.

Once you’ve got your speakers wired and in place (here’s a Dolby setup guide for reference), your receiver will likely offer an auto test to get the channels locked in. We always recommend running auto setup to get started, though you’ll want to adjust the levels on your own, and you may find defeating any auto-EQ actually improves the sound quality. Let your ears be your guide. Next, it’s time to connect your source components (game console, cable box, Blu-ray player) and get your Atmos on!

Atmos in the house

To test the Sib Evo system, we used a Yamaha RX-V683 receiver, a Roku Premiere +, a PlayStation 4, and a Samsung UBD-K8500 UHD Blu-ray disc player.

As we alluded to in our pros and cons section, while the Sib Evo’s sound signature trends toward the lighter side of the spectrum, we were pleasantly surprised at the system’s performance on the whole. Ribbons of crystal clear treble alongside well-defined mids and ample bass are delivered within a fluid and dynamic pinwheel of hemispheric sound when handling Atmos and DTS:X mixes from your favorite movies and TV series.

Ribbons of crystal clear treble are paired with well-defined mids and ample bass.

We were struck right away by the system’s skill at unveiling nuanced detail across a wide variety of media, especially in the upper midrange and treble. But we were all but transfixed when auditioning incredible mixes like that of the latest Planet Earth series. Though offered without Atmos accents in 5.1, the Sib Evo swept us away, placing us in the middle of earth’s most beautiful landscapes, from the deep rushing waters of Madagascar to high mountain peaks where Snow Leopards tangle for supremacy, always immersing us in a sonic sphere of buzzing insects, rippling waves, and rushing wind.

Attenborough’s enchanting narration was handled well by the pint-sized center speaker, unearthing each lip movement and even gritty throat affectations and puffs of consonances with pinpoint accuracy. As we moved to less beautifully produced content, the center channel sometimes tended to pinch the very tips of consonances, especially “S” sounds which can get a little serpentine, but never stray to all-out sibilance.

When it comes to object-based applications (Atmos, DTS:X, etc.), we had a fun time with Dolby’s test disk, where standbys like the famous Leaf scene not only showed off the Sib Evo’s prowess at handing off swirling effects between channels, but also helped us lock in the right balance between the speakers. The Horizon scene, which offers a litany of cuts from a space shot to a rock show with a guided narration at the center, is a challenging one which the Sib Evo takes on with gusto. The beeping satellites and shuttles that fly overhead in the space scene sounded startlingly realistic in our living room — perhaps, in part, because higher frequencies are more directional and therefore easier to bounce off ceilings.

Focal Sib Evo Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 speaker system
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The Sib Evo continued to impress with other go-tos in our collection, including a brilliant ride with Mad Max: Fury Road’s famous intro scene, in which the whispering young girl sounded shockingly close to our ears as she swept around the room, while the sub took on the rip-roaring engines handily as the chaos of the film’s apocalyptic savages engulfed our hero with roughshod explosions.

Speaking of the sub, it wasn’t exactly a standout of the system, and early on was prone to rattling along the floor in challenging scenes before we got it tuned in. That said, it rises above virtually all soundbar add-ons we’ve encountered in the soundbar genre, and beautifully matches the other speakers to add warmth and fullness in the 100Hz area and below.

Let there be tunes!

We’ve been so underwhelmed by most cinema-first soundbars — Atmos or otherwise — when it comes to music playback that we’ve taken to simply lumping in the music performance section with the cinematic in most reviews — there’s rarely much to talk about. But we’re happy to report this couldn’t be further from the truth with the Sib Evo system, which further reveals how much more fidelity you can squeeze out of a fully discrete surround setup.

Freshly cut brushes sweep over the snare with clean precision, matched by glistening guitar and golden brass.

The dual Atmos speakers up front serve as your twin ambassadors during music playback, melding with the sub for a relatively impressive 2.1 system. Turning to our favorite new-jazz playlist (shout out to DT’s own Parker Hall), we sweetened to the Sib Evo system even further as freshly cut brushes swept over snare drum with clean precision, matched by glistening guitar and lively golden brass.

While you’ll certainly get more purely musical satisfaction from a pair of Elac’s Uni-Fi UB5s or KEF Q150s, the Atmos-ready Focals served up our favorite tunes with grace and poise, and even discerning listeners should be content with the pair on their own — especially considering how much cinematic fun you can get out of the system as a whole. Add in surround processing, and you get a pretty decent impression of your stereo recordings, but as with even high-end surround systems, we preferred going to straight stereo (along with the sub) for the vast majority of our listening. Lighter recordings can get just a tad sharp at times, but more often than not the speakers do a great job with your favorite tunes, bringing musicality and detail in spades.

Warranty information

Warranty for the Sib Evo Atmos system varies by country and info is hard to track down, but Focal PR told us the systems get a two-year warranty in the U.S. and Canada, with Focal offering full replacement of faulty speakers.

Our Take

Focal’s Sib Evo Atmos speakers provide the best of both worlds, offering thrilling sound for movies and music in a footprint that barely registers.

Is there a better alternative?

One of the Sib Evo’s best features is the system’s penchant for moderation in all things, from design, to price, to performance. You can spend just a bit more for better performance in full-sized speaker setups like Pioneer’s excellent Elite system, but you’ll have to be willing to rearrange the furniture.

On the other end, you can get a much more minimalist footprint and easier system setup from one of the aforementioned Atmos soundbars like Samsung’s HW-K950 or Yamaha’s YSP-5600, but each comes with its own drawbacks (the Samsung won’t decode DTS:X), and neither offers overall performance on par with the Sib Evo.

How long will it last?

As mentioned, the plastic gloss along the speakers is prone to scratching, so you will need to baby them, but heady metal speaker guards and generally solid build should assure these speakers last as long as you’d like them to.

Should you buy it?

Yes. Those looking for a sleek and affordable way to land object-based surround sound in smaller spaces should put Focal’s Sib Evo 5.1.2 speaker system toward the very top of the list.

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