EQ Audio/Focal/Vicoustic/Kaleidescape/Dolby Atmos

And now for something completely different, Part 2

On the gentle urging of one of the nicest guys in the biz, Ed O'Herlihy, owner of Ontario retailer EQ audio video, I visited, among the many exhibits Ed was hosting in his nearly stadium-sized space, was the Focal 1000 series Utopia 7.0.4 Dolby Atmos demonstration, the exact same setup that Focal presented in Dallas at this year's CEDIA Expo.

I was played two tracks, one from a scene from the movie The Greatest Showman and the other Elton John's "Rocket Man." A word about the .0 designation in 7.0.4. That digit refers to the number of subwoofers used in a home theater system. Focal's Utopia 1000 series system has no dedicated LFE channel and therefore uses no subwoofer in the typical sense of that word. Deep bass— and by deep bass I include the thunderous kind I heard at this demo—was produced by in-wall panels.

So what did I think? Movie-wise, as it related to the one scene I watched, it was a sonic thrill ride—dynamic, powerful, booming, visceral, layered —blockbuster sound for a blockbuster movie. It was also quite interesting to feel completely encircled like never before by a multitude of different sounds. Sounds came from everywhere, not just from this corner or that corner. You're in what feels like a speaker-less globe of sound. Dolby Atmos gets closer to the ideal of surround-sound than anything else I've heard. It isn't just about horizontal sound dissipation; when called for, sound is also swooping in from the sky.

As for the Elton John track, I liked a lot of it, especially as long as the main instrumentation and vocal—the band itself—stayed in front. I enjoyed the washing-over-me-from-behind effect when the backing vocals kicked in, the almost cathedral-like sense of scale it erected, and many of the various studio effects that materialized around me from the most unexpected places. However, as soon as the band broke up, with the main instruments and vocal suddenly scattered about in opposite directions, I was less enamoured. But I think Dolby Atmos has potential for music, once an industry recording standard is established, and new recordings are made using this technology as opposed to old recordings being retrofitted with it.

The Focal 1000 series Utopia 7.0.4 Dolby Atmos system included the Astral 16 AV home theater processor amplifier ($26,000), Utopia 1000 series speakers ($110,981/19 speakers), Vicoustic Room Treatment, and a custom-built Kaleidescape movie player with internal storage that is not available to the general public.

(All prices in Canadian dollars unless otherwise noted.)