Plasma and LCD displays seem to have changed not only the way we watch television, but also the way we configure home theater audio systems. When you have large, thin displays that only take up a bit of wall space, the idea of putting a bunch of large black/brown speakers around the room for a home theater sound system seems, well, aesthetically challenged. As a consequence, compact, aesthetically pleasing speaker systems have flourished, especially those based on tall, slim satellites with small subwoofers. To address this market, Focal.JMlab offers its family of Sib satellites and Cub subwoofers. The original Sib/Cub system consisted of a set of tiny, square-ish satellites and a modest cube-shaped subwoofer, but the new additions to the Sib range are quite different. The interestingly named Focal Sib XL and XXL (Focal.JMlab must be taking naming lessons from either GMC trucks or a clothing manufacturer) are slim, rectangular speakers that match the long, flat shape of plasma or LCD panels. The $1095/pair XXL comes with an attached "foot" that allows the speaker to be placed on the floor or on a cabinet next to a display, while the $695/pair XL is offered with two optional stands rather whimsically named the Bop and Hop. All Sibfamily satellites are designed for sonic and visual compatibility with the diminutive $450 Cub2 subwoofer. Focal.JMlab now calls this whole line of speakers Sib & Co,a name I found both cute and amusing.
The Focal Sib XL features a ¾" aluminum dome tweeter and two 5" mid/bass drivers whose bass response extends down to a claimed 67 Hz, while the Sib XXL uses the same driver array in a larger cabinet for bass that reaches even lower—all the way down to 55 Hz. Both low-frequency roll-off points are significantly better than the 80Hz-or-higher cutoffs that are the norm for most satellite systems. The Cub2 subwoofer's frequency response extends from 40Hz-150Hz, so it is really more of a bass module than a true subwoofer. This speaker has an integrated 150- watt BASH digital amp mated to an 8.3" driver.
For this review I received four Sib XXL speakers for use as the L/R main and surround speakers, one Sib XL for the center channel, and a Cub2 subwoofer. As I mentioned earlier, the speakers are wall mountable, but for the purposes of this review I left the XXL speakers on their standard feet, and placed the XL speaker on top of my audio cabinet and below my Fujitsu plasma display. The Sibs' silver and gray design mimicked that of my plasma, with silver grills and aluminum accents that made the speakers look modern and stylish. I especially liked he crinkle gray finish of the Cub2, which also looked modern and cool— much nicer than the matte black seen on most subs. This is a system that really blends in best with a more modern décor.
Curiously, the XXL's design is asymmetrical—the top has a different shape than the bottom—so one of the symmetrical Sib XLs must be used in the center (perhaps Focal.JMlab could offer a dedicated XXL center speaker?). Overall, though, this system is very attractive, with higher build quality than is the norm for this price class, so that it would not look out of place in an upscale environment. As tested, the Sib/Cub system retails for $2990, but there are obvious ways to decrease that cost by substituting XLs for surround or main speakers, as desired.
Installation for the Sib XXL/XL and Cub2 system was fairly straightforward, but for one small but critical detail; namely, the fact that the XL speaker binding posts cannot accommodate banana plug-equipped speaker cables. Aaaaargh! There is nothing more annoying than binding posts that limit your options. I had to replace my center channel speaker cable with a piece of lamp cord to make the system work. This drawback aside, the system was easy to set up. I spent several hours breaking in the system, and then started listening. I initially set the crossover on my controller at about 90 Hz, but then lowered it and definitely heard a better response. One of the first things you notice about the Sib XXLs are their aluminum tweeters, which make highfrequency information sound considerably more prominent than in most midpriced satellites. Midrange response is also very clear, thanks in part to the exceptionally articulate Sub XL center channel. Many affordable or so-called "lifestyle" speaker systems struggle with midrange/center channel clarity, but with the Sibs this is simply not a problem. The Sibs' clear midrange and crisp highs combine to give the system significant presence and force from the midrange on up, although the downside is that the highs can be somewhat harsh. This is not an uncommon complaint with aluminum tweeters, though, and many people find their sound exciting and alive. Heard with the subwoofer, the Sib satellite's bass power and extension are limited, as expected, yet not as limited as you might think. The relatively large XXLs have enough lower midrange/upper bass output to blend well with the Cub2 subwoofer, where many competing satellite/ subwoofer systems sound weakest in the lower midrange, because their satellites do not go deep enough. Happily, the Sib/Cub system is more successful than most in this respect.