You would think a company like Dolby with its 50 years-plus history of pushing audio and video fidelity would have released its own consumer product some time ago, right?
Maybe the timing wasn’t right or it didn’t have a special enough product before, but it seems now is the moment. Dolby’s first consumer product is Dolby Dimension, a pair of high-end wireless headphones it says was designed and engineered for content bingers.
But with a million and one headphones to choose from, why would anyone pay $600 for the Dolby Dimension? While the pricing isn’t exactly affordable for most people, the wireless headphones provide the kind high-quality audio experience you’d expect from a similarly-priced home theater setup, only sans the roomful of speaker gear.
LifeMix, which disables the active noise-cancelling (but not the audio altogether) and filters in the ambient sound around you is clever and practical for, say, parents who still need to keep an ear on their baby.
Other features like the seamless Bluetooth connection switching between three devices (i.e. phone, tablet, and TV) and the sleek magnetic charging dock are just as thoughtful.
The Dimension isn’t without issues. Though I’ve mostly enjoyed using them to watch movies on an Apple TV 4K (with Dolby Atmos) and shows like The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix, the headphones don’t always play nice with YouTube for some reason.
Depending on the kind of YouTube content, the audio would randomly lag. Sometimes the audio synced up to the video and sometimes it didn’t. I tried the Dimension with different phones, tablets, laptop, and game consoles and it was always hit or miss.
Seeing as most people are spending more time watching longer YouTube videos, it’s a shame the audio’s sometimes out of sync. It’s possible Dolby could fix things with a software update, but out of the gate, the inconsistent audio syncing is a deal-breaker for me, especially when you’re dropping so much dough for the cans.
Comfy fit and classy finish
Maybe you like your headphones decked out with embellishments worthy of its high sticker price, but I don’t.
That’s why I like the Dimension’s industrial design made of stainless steel, aluminum, and synthetic leather. The all-black design is minimal and stealthy. It doesn’t scream at everyone like a pair of Beats or seem too snooty like a pair of Bose QC35’s or Sony 1000X’s designed for use on planes can.
The Dimension look classy. I’ve received compliments while wearing them on the train and even some of my friends who initially felt $600 for synthetic instead of real leather came around to after trying them on.
In the two weeks that I’ve been using them at home and on the go, the Dimension have held up quite nicely. The large earcups have yet to show signs of distress from being tossed around or sweated in.
Dolby’s made a pair of very stylish and comfortable wireless headphones, but there are a few things that could use some fine-tuning. For instance, it wasn’t something that bothered me often, but they can start to feel a little heavy after a couple of hours on your head (no doubt because of the stainless steel).
It’s also nice the headphones come with a little pouch to carry them in your bag, but whatever it’s made of is super linty and dust particles get all over the headphones. A damp paper towel wipes the dust right off, but like what the heck?
It’s also a bummer the headphones don’t fold flat like Bose’s or Sony’s aforementioned headphones. That said, it’s an issue you can easily overlook because the Dimension are first and foremost designed to be used at home.
Dolby’s special sauce
As crazy as it sounds, Dolby intends for the Dimension to be mostly kept at and used at home — really as a substitute for a lofty surround sound setup.
Dolby says its research has shown that most people simply can’t enjoy a high-quality audio experience for their music, videos, or movies for a number of reasons.
It’s not just that a surround sound setup is expensive and requires the necessary space to put all of the equipment in, but that most people can’t get this premium setup. People like me, who live in small apartments with wafer-thin walls and can’t crank up the sound because the police would be at my door in a hot minute if I did.
Even people who have a big house — their viewing habits have changed. They’re watching movies on their phone, on their laptop, or on their tablet. The TV is just one of the many screens we all watch stuff on.
These new viewing habits and lifestyle choices are what pushed Dolby to make the Dimension. It’s about delivering the Dolby audio experience on whatever device you want.
But it’s not enough that Dolby just made wireless headphones. The magic is in the Dolby sauce — in this case the end-to-end experience.
To this end, the headphones have three source buttons on the right earcup just above the sleep/power button. Each of these source buttons can be preset to a specific device. Dolby recommends them for devices small (phone), medium (tablet or laptop), and large (TV). But you can set them to whatever you want in whatever order you want.
Once each source button has been paired separately, you only need to press on it to connect to the device. Other headphones have had similar features, but most of them tend to drop connection or forget the devices they’ve been set to. I experienced no such connection problems with the Dimension. Pressing a source button instantly connected the headphones to its corresponding device.
You can pair the headphones to up to eight devices using the Dolby Dimension app and assign three to the source buttons at any time.
On the right earcup is a touchpad for playback controls. Tap the center to play and pause, swipe forwards and backwards to skip to the next and previous track, and swipe up and down to adjust the volume. You can also press and hold the center to activate Siri or the Google Assistant. These controls all work perfectly.
A double-tap on the center of the touchpad turns off the active noise-cancellation and turns on LifeMix.
LifeMix is basically an ambient listening mode. You still hear your source’s audio, but there’s a transparency to it because you can simultaneously hear what’s happening around you. It’s hard to describe, to be honest, and the only way to really get it is to try the Dimension for yourself.
Dolby says LifeMix blends audio from your entertainment with your reality so that you’re immersed in your content, but not completely isolated.
And it works… but you’ll need to do some tweaking in the app like I did to get the perfect balance. By default, LifeMix’s transparency is set to level “10,” with “0” being the lowest (active noise cancellation on) and the highest setting being “11” (boost).
Level “10” provides an obvious mixture that sounds as if the audio’s been pushed to one side as the ambient sound around you filters in. But it sounds a little too hollow, even though the ambient sounds are directional and you can hear, say, someone talking to you from the left or a doorbell ringing in from behind you. Level “11” is even more tinny, for lack of a better word — like a hearing aid dialed up to enhance things.
The sweet spot of LifeMix was between level 6-8, and it took a little bit of trial and error to see which level worked best for my apartment.
LifeMix could be useful if you and a partner each watch your own content, but in the space space such as on a couch or in a bed. You’ll still be able to hear them without being completely removed. I found LifeMix good for making sure I didn’t miss any alarm reminders from Alexa and for hearing when a pet was scurrying to another room.
There’s also head-tracking, which Dolby says should ensure audio always sounds like it’s coming from the screen. I’m not sure if the head-tracking really worked or I was so engrossed in my content with the Dimension that I didn’t notice the sound remained balanced even when I was balled up in all kinds of weird positions on my sofa. Either way, you can turn off the head-tracking via the app.
Head-tracking is a good transition to talk about battery life. In a word: It’s excellent. Dolby advertises up to 15 hours of battery life and up to 10 hours with LifeMix turned on. That’s really long for at-home use in front of a TV or an iPad.
The longest I used the Dimension was for binging That 70’s Show for almost six hours straight and even then I had hours of battery life left.
But it’s almost impossible to drain the battery unless you use them on the go or do watch 10+ hours of content, in which case you should reevaluate what you’re doing with your free time. The long battery life is mainly because of the neat dock the headphones come with.
The dock is meant to be placed on a coffee table, or on your desk, or on your bedside table. Pop the left earcup on the dock and the headphones automatically start charging. A full charge takes about two hours and a 15-20 minute quick charge gets you two hours of listening.
Since you’re always returning the headphones to the dock whenever you’re done using them, they’re always charging up for the next binge. Plus, the headphones look rad propped up on the dock.
They sound really good
None of these headphones’ features matter if the core sound experience is poor. Thankfully, it’s not. While I’m no audiophile, I know my way around good sound and the Dimension sound really good.
Content that supports Dolby Atmos will automatically pipe the higher-quality sound through the cans. Otherwise, you still get a wide stereo speaker experience, but they’re not much different from a pair of Bose or Sony headphones with active noise cancellation.
I watched Death Note and Okja, two movies on Netflix that support Atmos, on an iPad Pro with the Dimension and compared them to listening with my regular Apple EarPods and I could definitely hear the three-dimensional sound as if it was moving more distinctly around me as opposed to simply separating between left and right channels.
Generally, even without Atmos content, the headphones sound pretty warm with a good balance between the highs, lows, and mids. I wouldn’t call the bass seat-thumping but it’s got a good kick for headphones in this class.
There’s also little distortion at really high volumes; I streamed a couple of my favorite songs including Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Beyoncé’s “Halo” and Børns’ “Electric Love” and they sounded clear. Occasionally, the bass would overpower the vocals on some songs, but not to any detestable level.
The roomy earcups provide a good seal for the sound when you LifeMix isn’t turned on.
The only thing is… there’s not a whole lot Atmos-ready movies on Netflix, or Vudu, or Maxdome (for Germans) or other streaming services. There are a boatload of Blu-ray movies that support Atmos, but that’s a shrinking market as people increasingly turn to streaming.
The selection of games with Dolby Atmos is even weaker. Dolby lists only nine games, all of which are kind of old titles like Battlefield 1, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Overwatch. Hardly a list of titles that’ll make you run out and buy Atmos speakers or the Dimension for.
Furthermore, as I mentioned earlier, audio on YouTube sometimes lags — the sound would be a few seconds behind the video or so out of sync the content would be unwatchable. Dolby tells me they’ve tested the Dimension on different kinds of YouTube content and even implemented “Bluetoooth profiles” to reduce latency for various kinds of content.
I can’t vouch for these profiles. The only thing I can tell you is the audio syncing appeared to happen randomly. It didn’t seem to be a straightforward frame rate issue. I watched YouTube videos at 30 and 60 fps and sometimes the audio synced up and sometimes it didn’t. Perhaps a software update could fix this, though.
The audio on all other streaming services from Netflix, to Viki, to iTunes, worked fine. It’s weird the audio lag only affected some YouTube videos.
Dolby is onto something with the Dimension. The product is purposefully-designed to deliver an audio experience in a pair of wireless headphones that would ordinarily require a room full of expensive equipment.
A/V nuts will appreciate this simple mission and they’ll likely be the ones who’ll enjoy the Dimension the most. But then again, they’d also pony up the cash for a nice room setup.
As much as Dolby has simplified its premium audio experience into a lovely product, the $600 price tag puts it far out of reach of most people’s budget.
Any movie lover knows the audio experience is just as important the visuals. But unfortunately, sound always takes a backseat to video. Dolby wants to change that badly with the Dimension and they’re great if money isn’t a concern, but for the 99 percent it’s way too expensive. Here’s to hoping Dolby can get these headphones down to $300-400 without compromising on the sound or the features. Then, they’re a killer deal.