Dolby is a recognizable name at the neighborhood cinema, if not your own home theater.
While Dolby Laboratories has licensed its technologies to electronics makers for years, and the landmark Dolby Theater in Hollywood is home to the Academy Awards, the company has never sold its own branded product directly to you or me.
On Wednesday, Dolby releases its first consumer product, a pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones called Dolby Dimension. And unlike most wearable portable speakers, aka headphones, it's designed primarily for use in the house, not on the go.
Your initial thought might match mine: Aren’t the folks at Dolby just a little bit crazy diving into such a congested market? I mean, how many companies make headphones nowadays?
Appealing to affluent binge watchers
And there’s this: While Dolby has a reputation for premium audio quality, purchasing these headphones is going to set you back $599.
Are they worth it? You’ll have to decide whether you’ve got the disposable income for this kind of splurge, but what I can say is they sound great and are comfortable to wear. For the money Dolby is asking, they better be.
Dolby is targeting affluent early adopters and those of you who spend a lot of time binge streaming — maybe so much so that you feel guilty you’re isolated from your loved ones.
Dolby’s solution is a feature inside Dimension called Dolby LifeMix, which lets you switch between nearly shutting out the outside world through active noise cancellation, or switching to an adjustable “transparency” mode that lets you hear the telephone, doorbell, or, most importantly, your family, without sacrificing much in the way of audio quality. You can also choose a setting to boost the sounds from your surroundings.
You can tap the touch control on the right ear cup to toggle back and forth between noise cancellation and transparency mode, or adjust the setting inside the Dimension app on your phone.
With active noise cancellation turned on, I didn’t hear the FedEx guy ring my doorbell the other day while I was watching Netflix at a loud volume. When I’m home with my family, I chose a more balanced transparency setting so that I can more easily hear them if need be. The headphones have five omnidirectional microphones.
Through the touch control on the outside of the right ear cup, you can also change the volume or, if paired to an appropriate device, summon Siri or the Google Assistant.
And through the app, you can turn on a “virtualization” feature that is meant to allow you to further immerse yourself in a movie or TV scene, though I didn't get a complete surround-sound like feeling.
There’s also a “head tracking” feature that is supposed to make the sound seem like it’s coming from your screen, even when you turn your head. I sometimes had difficulty hearing this effect, though the truth is I was typically looking at the screen I was listening to anyway, which I suspect you’d do as well.
Dolby has made it easy to switch among three paired Bluetooth devices by pressing one of the three corresponding buttons those devices are mapped to. So I was able to switch from watching on an Apple TV, iPad and my phone without having to re-pair those devices each and every time.
You can manage up to eight paired Bluetooth devices through the Dimension app, though only three correspond to the buttons on the headphones at any one time.
An expensive feel
Dolby Dimension feels like the expensive product it is. The padded ear cups and headband are wrapped in synthetic leather; the curved headband made of stainless steel.
Dolby claims up to 10 hours of battery life with the LifeMix and virtualization features turned on or up to 15 hours in a low power mode when those features are turned off.
The headphones charge in a clever power base with one of the ear cups sitting snug inside a micro-suction foot that won’t stain or leave a ring on your furniture.
If you mostly use the headphones at home, battery life shouldn’t be a major issue. If you take them on the road, you can charge the headphones via USB, getting, Dolby says, about a two-hour charge after plugging them in for just 15 or 20 minutes.
I like Dolby Dimension very much and found I wanted to use them more than I initially suspected I would. I was able to watch what I wanted to watch without disturbing my kids when they were doing their homework or my wife when she was catching up on work. But when they needed to get my attention they could, without having to yell or tap me.
But face it, we’re talking about a luxury purchase here. At $599, Dolby’s first consumer product is decidedly not for the masses.
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