Getting that cinema sound feeling at home usually involves a rat’s nest of cables, multiple boxes, badly drilled holes in several walls and an unhappy partner. Damson seeks to bring Dolby Atmos sound to the masses without needing either a degree in electrical engineering or a dispiriting discussion with the bank manager.
Damson launched their new S-Series Dolby Atmos system appropriately enough at the Dolby Theatre in London’s Soho Square with representatives from Damson and Dolby on hand to show off the diminutive speaker set and answer any questions. And goodness, this is certainly a compact set of speakers, and will surprise many who are used to seeing substantially larger and more complicated set-ups. A small sound bar provides the front channels with a clip-on (held on by magnets) module to spit the Atmos channels at the ceiling. 2 satellite speakers (likely to be used for rear channels) and a compact subwoofer round out the offering.
Heralded as ‘the next big thing’ in home cinema audio for what seems like a long time, the Dolby Atmos system can be thought of (at its most simple) as an additional 2 overhead channels on top of an existing set-up. Thus, a traditional 5.1 system (4 speakers at each corner of the room, 1 front and centre and 1 subwoofer) becomes effectively a 5.1.2 system. Dolby also make much of the concept of Sound Objects, since the additional overhead channels allow creators to position sounds anywhere in aural space.
£799 will buy you the sound bar, with six 42mm speakers and 60 watts of power in a 240mm wide package. The sound bar also includes buttons for volume and skipping tracks, as well as a remote control (although sadly no Harmony compatibility at this stage). Connecting magnetically to the sound bar is the S-Atmos, with two 42mm speakers pointing toward the ceiling at a 70 degree angle. The subwoofer (measuring in at a petite 240 x 240 x 80mm) contains the connector for HDMI output and 2 HDMI inputs. The 2 cube-like satellite speakers include four 42mm speakers and a single 78mm subwoofer each as well as a chunky 7,88mAh battery. Finally, the whole set-up will handle Dolby Virtual, Digital, Digital+, TrueHD and Atmos.
Alas, not quite. Accepting 2 input sources via HDMI, the sound bar and subwoofer components both require power. However, that is as far as the cabling goes. No audio cables are required to link the components themselves (Damson use a variant of standard 5GHz Wi-Fi to allow the speakers to communicate) and the satellite speakers feature non-removable lithium batteries, which should give at least 8 hours of entertainment before needing 2 hours to recharge (thus you are unlikely to be using this system to binge on the latest Netflix offerings). The speakers can obviously also run with power, but that does defeat the object somewhat.
Set-up is also impressively simple, with the Damson speakers communicating between themselves to determine the optimum levels. There is no wandering around the room with a microphone, so an AV switch can work out which channel needs what power.
Finally, as well as Wi-Fi, the satellite speakers can also be configured for Bluetooth and be used as part of a multi-room sound system. Currently there is no AirPlay support.
Subjectively, the speakers are middle of the range in terms of quality. Certainly, an everyday user is unlikely to be disappointed with their purchase. The compact subwoofer delivered an impressive amount of bass considering its size, but some may want a bit more wall-shaking from the lower ranges. Damson claim their system is more neighbour-friendly but let’s face it: if you’re putting in a home cinema, then consideration for the neighbours in unlikely to be a high priority. The rest of the speakers performed well, with some distortion apparent in the upper ranges at high volume but were otherwise good. It is worth pointing out that the immersion level of the Atmos system is highly dependent on the source material, with some speakers really flinging the sound around the listener, while others were a little subtler. Damson also hopes to attract headphone-wearing gamers with this offering. I must confess that I’m not sure a Call Of Duty player hunched over a keyboard would be interested, but for a session on the console with friends I can see the appeal.
The S-Series is number one in a field of one as far as wireless speakers are concerned. The system is highly compact and can be rapidly set up or put away when needed without having to have something like a giant subwoofer doubling as a small coffee table. Additional satellite speakers are planned to go beyond the current set-up, although the S-Series is pretty effective as it is. Not having to drape cables around the room is a boon and the Atmos module atop the compact sound bar does a very effective job of getting Dolby’s latest and greatest to the listener’s ears. Retailing at £799, it isn’t cheap, but is considerably cheaper than other Atmos set-ups, with an unbeatable convenience factor.
So, if you already have wiring in place, then perhaps look elsewhere for louder sound, but if you are seeking a discrete speaker set-up that supports the latest and greatest from Dolby, and don’t want to have worry about cables and power sockets, then the S-Series could be for you.