A great looking sub-sat system with a truly enveloping sound that even works reasonably well with high-resolution surround sound audio
The style may not appeal to everyone. And for this kind of money, you can buy a very capable 'traditional' surround sound speaker system
Focal JMlab's first stab at an affordable surround sound system met with a good response when unleashed on an unsuspecting world at the tail-end of 2003. The French manufacturer with a solid reputation in making high-end stereo speakers didn't want to throw any old small boxes at the market, and the Sib & Cub system put many of the better known competition to shame, with its blend of distinctive good looks and good all-around performance. However, competition was stiff, especially from the likes of KEF's original 'egg' speakers and Mordaunt-Short's cheap and cheerful Premiere set-up, and the system didn't quite take the market by storm in the way it perhaps deserved.
Fast forward a couple of years and Sib & Cub is re-born as Sib & Co, the original small satellite now joined by a brace of bigger speakers and a revamped subwoofer. The Pack Cinéma Pro we had a play with sits somewhere in the middle of the new - quite complex - collection of systems on offer, and it features five of the range's new XL speakers and the new Cub 2 subwoofer. (The other speakers in the range are the standard Sib and the floorstanding XXL.)
The whole system when set up and in situ is simply stunning to behold. The mix of silver and black, the slightly curved edges, and the high-tech industrial design; we reckon these are ideal for anything from a minimalist mid-sized bachelor pad to a reasonably cramped family room. The XL is specifically designed to partner flatscreen televisions, and as such it can either be wall-mounted - brackets are provided - or placed on the optional Hop stands (not cheap at £115 each but they are good looking and provide a very solid base).
The XLs are around twice the height of the standard Sibs (although they aren't any wider), which gives them room to double to two the number of mid-range 13cm drivers they contain. Connection options are the annoyingly tricky 'push-in' types that will only take bare wire, but once set up you get the feeling that the grip is firm enough so the cable won't be coming out again in a hurry.
Apart from the new speakers, the main difference between this and previous Focal sub-sats is the all-important subwoofer. On the surface it looks pretty much the same as its predecessor, but subtle tweaks to the port mouth and the 150-watt amplifier that drives the 21cm woofer result in a considerably improved performance, with less of the annoying 'chuffing' that often blights budget subs, and a lot more depth and weight.
Sib XL mounting options
In action this makes for a considerably more rounded performance than many sub/sat systems on the market. The overall sound really is wonderfully full bodied, with bags of detail on offer. The sound across the front three speakers is well integrated, and voices sound natural and well focused. Meanwhile the rear speakers do a grand job when called upon, and envelope you in the action with excellent surround effects.
At the bottom end of the sound equation, the new subwoofer offers bags of tight, deep bass. You'll need to spend some time tweaking the sub to integrate it with the satellite speakers but it's time your ears will thank you for later: the system can become very well balanced with little or no drop-off between the two sets of speakers, but as with any system, it doesn't come like this out of the box.
Musically this system isn't too bad either. The larger-than-usual satellites make for an interesting stereo pair, with the subwoofer doing very little work with a standard CD recording. High-resolution audio is also better served than with most bog-standard surround sound systems, and while they can never hope to reproduce the level of qualities the SACD format is capable of, they certainly do a large percentage of the job very well.
This larger-than-life sub-sat system is an excellent compromise between the 'proper' full-sized surround sound system that Focal makes and the smaller, living room friendly sub-sat packages that focus on style rather than sound quality. It offers a fair old chunk of both, and while it may never satisfy hi-fi purists or style gurus, it's an ideal system for someone that wants smaller than usual speakers, but isn't willing to totally trade sound quality for them.
What do you think of Focal-JMlab's new babies? Have you got any of the French speaker firm's wares already? Tell us about it in our forum.