Dec/Jan 2020

months will see significant growth in the TV and home cinema market, as 4K UHD proliferates and Dolby Atmos 3D audio becomes established as the next gen cinema sound system of choice. But given the plethora of products available, what options should retailers consider and how best to show them off and clinch the sale?


While home cinema is, by its very nature, experiential, not every retailer has the room to accommodate a full blown demo theatre, however a small area that combines sound and vision for a realistic experience should earn its keep. Having in-depth answers to commonly asked questions (‘So what’s Dolby Atmos?’) is also essential. While Dolby Atmos is a common sound format on Blu-ray discs, it’s worth remembering that the 3D audio format isn’t just about movie soundtracks. Both BT and Sky use Dolby Atmos for live sports events, because it’s perfect for conveying stadium ambiance. It’s also available on Xbox One video games; Call of Duty Modern Warfare is just one triple-A title with a highly effective Dolby Atmos sound mix. Hearing someone, literally, creep up behind you can make a world of difference when it comes to winning online. The soundbar market remains remarkably resilient. Significantly, consumers are no longer looking for a stop gap improvement to poor on-board TV sound, but are excited by premium offerings in the space. The biggest noise when it comes to high-end soundbars is currently being made by a brand perhaps better known for headphones – Sennheiser. The Sennheiser Ambeo is a high value sound system that doesn’t just offer Dolby Atmos, but features Ambeo surround sound processing. In case you’re in the dark, this is Sennheiser’s proprietary immersive audio technology. It can be used natively as a multichannel codec (although there is no native Ambeo content available at the moment), or implemented as an embellishment on top of Dolby Atmos or regular stereo sources. In all, there are 13 speakers at work in the Ambeo soundbar. No separate subwoofer is required. Sennheiser’s promise is of a 5.1.4 Atmos listening experience from a single box, and that’s pretty much what you get.

Set-up is straightforward. Helpfully, the soundbar isn’t designed for acoustically treated rooms – it’s a solution for everyday living spaces and will work just well with hard surfaces. Sound quality is audiophile grade.

The downside is that it’s big, at more than a

metre wide, and weighs in at a not insubstantial 18.5kg. The upside is that there might be ancillary installation opportunities. The big beast deserves to be wall mounted. But with a retail ticket of £2,199, it’s unquestionably a considered purchase. If this Sennheiser is a little too rich for buyers, then Panasonic’s SC-HTB900 Dolby Atmos bar could be an ideal compromise.

Right: The NR1710 AV receiver from Marantz. Bottom right: The Focal Sib Evo Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 speaker system.

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This is a much more accommodating 3.1 system, albeit still Dolby Atmos compatible, at a third of the price. The clincher is that it’s been sound tuned by stablemate brand, Technics. The big selling point here is the quality of its presentation rather than any illusion of height. The soundstage is far wider than the physical confines of the soundbar might suggest. Interestingly, this Atmos ‘bar doesn’t utilise any up-firing drivers to deliver sonic height and it can’t be expanded with optional wireless rears. But it comes loaded with some leading edge technology, including Technics long-standing JENOEngine, to reduce jitter from connected HDMI sources. It uses a front-facing eight speaker left, centre, right array. There’s a pair of 6.5cm woofers and 1.6cm dome tweeter for the left/right stereo channels, with matching twin woofers to handle centre duties. These tweeters are high-res audio capable. Ease of use should prove a key selling point.

There’s no system calibration required, it’s just plug and play. The supplied wireless subwoofer pairs automatically.

AV receivers

Of course, the home cinema market has plenty to


beyond soundbars, with a new generation of AV receivers which address several issues that have dogged the sector, namely size and complexity.

Marantz’ half-height NR range stands out from the crowd. The latest iteration, the NR1710, looks much like its predecessors, but bristles with fresh tricks to tempt long-time enthusiasts to upgrade, and maybe

even sell up soundbar buyers. It might be thinner than the usual hulking

AV receiver, but it still offers seven channels of amplification, creating a 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos system. It’s also High Resolution audio capable, and supports the Heos multiroom system. The Heos app works a treat with the 24-bit UHD sources offered by Deezer and Amazon Music HD – encourage buyers to stream from a tablet, it’s a great demo for music lovers. Of course, a Dolby Atmos AVR also opens the door to an ancillary loudspeaker purchase. The opportunities here will always be dictated by how many loudspeakers a customer already has, but if they’re open to a full scale Atmos upgrade, there are some splendid packages available, including the Focal Sib Evo Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 speaker system. Accommodating eight or more loudspeakers in a

living room is never going to be an easy sell, but the French specialist Focal has produced a lifestyle


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