HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



February
2009

Reviewed by
Vince Hanada
REVIEWERS' CHOICE


Angstrom Loudspeakers
Obbligato Renaissance
Home-Theater Speaker System

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: Obbligato Renaissance II F floorstanding speaker
Price: $4999 USD per pair
Dimensions: 41.5"H x 7"W x 20"D
Weight: 51 pounds each

Model: Obbligato Renaissance Libretto center-channel speaker
Price: $1699 USD
Dimensions: 23.5"W x 7.75"H x 12"D
Weight: 33 pounds

Model: Obbligato Renaissance Pochetto II surround speaker
Price: $1299 USD per pair
Dimensions: 20"H x 7"W x 12"D
Weight: 15.4 pounds each

Model: Obbligato Renaissance Profondo subwoofer
Price: $2999 USD
Dimensions: 24"H x 14"W x 20"D
Weight: 80 pounds


Description (cont'd)

System price: $10,996 USD

Warranty: Seven years on speakers, five years on subwoofer, one year on subwoofer electronics.

Features

  • MDF-birch cabinets with real cherry veneer
  • 1" Scan-Speak silk-dome tweeters (II F, Libretto)
  • 0.75" Vifa silk-dome tweeter (Pochetto II)
  • 5" Vifa Pentacone midrange driver (II F, Libretto, Pochetto II)
  • 4" Vifa Pentacone midrange driver (Libretto)
  • Dual 10" fiberglass woofers (Profondo)
  • 500W (manufacturer-rated) class-D BASH amplifier (Profondo)

You may not have heard of Angstrom Loudspeakers, but this relatively small Canadian speaker maker, based near Toronto in Markham, Ontario, has been in business for 30 years. My knowledge of the company goes back more than 20 years, to when I was a budding audiophile. I remember spending hours at a local audio shop comparing a small Angstrom bookshelf model to one from the de facto standard at the time, B&W. The Angstrom favorably impressed me -- I had a hard time deciding which speaker was better, and the Angstrom cost a lot less.

Angstrom now makes a full line of speakers, from in-wall, on-wall, and budget 5.1-channel systems, all the way up to the top of their line, the Obbligato Renaissance system reviewed here. At a total system price of $10,996, the Obbligato Renaissances are clearly intended to be taken as serious speakers -- but would I be completely thrilled with their performance?

Obbligato Renaissance II F

As the flagship of the Angstrom line, the Obbligato II F is a formidable floorstanding loudspeaker. In the tradition of top-of-the-line speakers, these babies brim with innovative technologies. Start with the cabinet: 0.75"-thick MDF is bonded to 0.75"-thick birch plywood with a special agent that won’t deteriorate over time. The interior surface of the speaker is lined with Roxul, which has thousands of fibers that interconnect to reportedly trap reflected sound. The hand-built cabinets are then rigidly braced internally and are thus, according to Angstrom, almost resonance-free. The outside of the cabinet is covered in real cherry veneer. The Obbligato II F isn’t a conventional box, but is raked back at an angle of 7 degrees that’s said to eliminate internal standing waves while time-aligning the drivers’ outputs.

The single 1" silk-dome tweeter is made by the Danish driver manufacturer Scan-Speak. Below this are two 5" Pentacone woofers by Vifa and a 2"-diameter port. Around back are dual gold-plated binding posts suitable for biamping or biwiring. The speaker’s thick base of black MDF keeps it on a solid footing. Overall, the Obbligato II F is handsome, with a furniture-like finish.

The Angstrom engineers test all these technologies at the facilities of Canada’s National Research Council. The NRC is the starting -- or ending -- point of many speaker designs, from not only Canada but the US as well. (Our sister publication SoundStage! conducts its speaker measurements at the NRC.) Angstrom’s goals for the speakers it designs are like those of many Canadian speaker companies: smooth on- and off-axis frequency responses and wide dispersion.

Obbligato Renaissance Libretto

Like the II F, the Obbligato Libretto center-channel speaker has a few innovations up its sleeve. Beneath its nonremovable cloth grille, the driver array isn’t your usual midrange-tweeter-midrange format. Rather, the very front of the speaker has a flat baffle with a 1" Scan-Speak silk-dome tweeter offset above a 4" Vifa Pentacone midrange and a small port. Angled slightly back to the left and right of the front baffle are two 5" Pentacone woofers. This arrangement keeps the tweeter and midrange on their own flat baffle, which helps reduce the comb-filtering that interferes with the sound for off-axis listeners. On the rear are dual gold-plated binding posts and a knob that Angstrom calls a Presence Control. This allows the user to reduce the Libretto’s output in the 300Hz-3kHz range by as much as 8dB, if necessary.

Obbligato Renaissance Pochetto II

For rear-channel duty, Angstrom sent me a pair of Obbligato Pochetto II bookshelf speakers. The Pochetto II is the most conventional model of this system, with a 0.75" silk-dome tweeter above a 5" Pentacone woofer, both made by Vifa. There is a rear port, the usual dual set of gold-plated binding posts, and the same gorgeous cherry veneer as on the other Obbligato Renaissance models.

Obbligato Renaissance Profondo

A powered subwoofer is an integral part of even a two-channel speaker system, according to the Angstrom engineers. They reason that it’s impossible for a system’s main amplifier to drive any floorstanding speaker’s large woofer as loudly as it can that speaker’s midrange and tweeter drivers. Thus, a dedicated amplifier for the bass drivers is essential, and a dedicated subwoofer is the best means of getting full-range sound. Angstrom doesn’t like the term subwoofer, however, preferring to call such speakers "high-performance low-frequency transducers." They argue that there’s no such thing as "sub-bass." Makes sense, but I’ll still call them subs.

The Obbligato Profondo, Angstrom’s largest subwoofer, weighs a backbreaking 80 pounds. Its rectangular cabinet is 2’ high, with the same 7-degree back-tilt as the Obbligato II F. Inside are two 10" fiberglass woofers, vertically arrayed; there’s a large port on the rear. A class-D BASH amplifier rated at 500W drives the woofers and is claimed to reach power peaks as high as 1000W.

Home-theater performance

Setting up the Obbligato Renaissance system was straightforward -- except for the subwoofer. That massive, 2’-tall beast was difficult to fit under my home theater’s projection screen, which is mounted fairly low. The best compromise I found was in a corner of the room away from the screen; this proved a good fit, and the corner placement helped reinforce the bass. The other speakers were placed in the positions in my room that I’ve found ideal for best imaging: the main front and center-channel speakers were 9’ from my listening seat and 3’ from the front wall, the L/R cabinets about 4’ from the sidewalls. The surrounds were about 5’ away and slightly behind my listening seat.

When I audition a home-theater speaker system, one of the less tangible qualities I look for is how deeply they immerse me in movies. The Obbligato Renaissance system plunged me deep into my films. As I watched the remastered director’s cut of Blade Runner on HD DVD, the first word that came to mind was breathtaking. During the opening credits, with the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack selected, a wall of sound moves from the front to the rear channels. In auditioning the many home-theater speaker systems I’ve had in my home, I had never heard such an utterly seamless soundstage move from the front to the rear of the room as I heard through the Obbligato Renaissances. It must have been quite a challenge for the Angstrom engineers to match the individual models in this system: each of the four models differs from rest in the number, size, and types of its drivers. But as the Blade Runner soundtrack proved, they were utterly successful in working together.

I’m very picky about center-channel speakers’ performance for off-axis listeners. Most center speakers, especially those with midrange-tweeter-midrange driver arrays, roll off the high frequencies because of driver interference, among other things. But evidently because of the Libretto’s ingenious driver layout, the dialogue in Blade Runner was clear and clean even from off axis. The Libretto delivered the weight and impact of Harrison Ford’s voice even at low listening levels. As I cranked up the volume, the tonal characteristics of Ford’s voice didn’t change in the slightest -- a rare thing with small center-channel speakers.

Speaking of high volume levels: With the advent of high-resolution soundtracks such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, never underestimate the impact of a speaker system’s ability to play loud. With the rated 140Wpc of my Integra DTR-8.8 A/V receiver, the Angstroms were driven easily to loud listening levels. Contributing to the system’s ability to play loud was the Profondo subwoofer. A great example was in the opening scene of I Am Legend on Blu-ray when, as Will Smith’s character, driving a Ford Mustang, hunts antelope on the streets of New York City, a lion leaps into the frame from the left to take an antelope down. The Profondo contributed immensely to the impact of this jarring scene, which startled me with its unexpected loudness. The Angstrom sub had a tightness that some might mistake as lacking in deep, rumbling bass, but when the deepest rumblings were present in the soundtrack, the Profondo delivered them. Take chapter 9 of Superman Returns on DVD, for example: When the electromagnetic pulse hits, the gut-thumping bass through the Profondo traveled through my room to shake the walls. Only the deepest, loudest subs I’ve ever heard have been able to do that.

If you’ve read any of my other speaker reviews, you know that I prefer bipole or dipole surround speakers. I was thus prepared to react only tepidly to the Pochetto II, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. I really appreciated how the Pochetto II tonally matched the main front speakers. In chapter 15 of Superman Returns, as the depressed Superman flies above the Earth, he hears the sounds of people in distress. A baby’s cry was swept around my room as seamlessly as I’ve heard from any speaker system in my home theater. This was undoubtedly due to the precise matching of the Pochetto II speaker to the front Obbligato II F speaker. The crazily good imaging of the two Pochetto II surrounds made additional rear surrounds unnecessary.

Comparison

The closest match I had on hand to the Angstrom Obbligato Renaissance system was the Mirage OM Design system of OMD-15 mains, OMD-C1 center, OMD-5 surrounds, and Prestige S10 subwoofer. This system’s floorstanders are of a height similar to that of the Obbligato Renaissance II F, and both have bookshelf surround speakers, a large center-channel speaker, and a powered subwoofer. At a price of $4700, however, the Mirage system costs less than half the price of the Angstrom.

Comparing the two systems, I really appreciated the Angstroms’ awesome imaging of two- and multichannel music. For stereo listening, the Obbligato II Fs’ broad, wide soundstage had me picking out individual instruments on "That Old Black Magic," from Holly Cole’s Romantically Hopeless (CD, Alert 6152-81037-2). With the Mirage OMD-15, this wasn’t as obvious. The multichannel SACD of Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s Long Walk to Freedom (Heads Up International HUSA 9109) has vocals in every channel, and in "Homeless," the voice of Sarah McLachlan appears in the left surround. The vague imaging of the Mirage OMD-5 surrounds sounded quite different from the precision of the Pochetto IIs. I preferred the Angstroms’ reproduction of this song more than the Mirages’. As Ladysmith’s throaty harmonies swirled around the room, again I preferred the immediacy of the Obbligatos’ "wall of sound" to the Mirages’ more relaxed "bubble of sound."

The Mirages’ "bubble" would usually be my preference for movie watching, but in the long term I think I’d be won over by the Angstrom Obbligato Renaissances’ more seductive performance. Dialogue intelligibility is only one of the things that would pull me toward the Angstroms. Although the Mirage OMD-C1 is an excellent center speaker, there were times when I had to strain to hear the dialogue in Blade Runner, a problem I never had with the Obbligato Libretto. Another factor would be the surround speakers’ ability to image: the Obbligato Pochetto IIs were superior to the Mirage OMD-5s in this regard.

Tonally, neither speaker system was fatiguing, and both provided airy highs. That the Mirage OMD-15 sounded a bit lean in the midrange compared to the Obbligato II F was apparent when I listened to "Rain Rain Beautiful Rain" on the Ladysmith Black Mambazo SACD. The male vocals seemed a tad thinner through the Mirages.

Conclusion

To say that I was thoroughly impressed by Angstrom Loudspeakers’ Obbligato Renaissance home-theater speaker system is an understatement. This system changed my opinion about what sorts of speakers make the best home-theater speakers. Although the price of this system is high, its performance is up there with that of the very best systems I’ve heard. If you’re in the market for a high-end speaker package for home theater and music, the Angstrom Obbligato Renaissance should be on your must-audition list. This is one system that will be difficult for me to send back.

Review System
A/V receiver - Integra DTR-8.8
Sources - Sony PlayStation 3 Blu-ray player, Toshiba HD-A30 HD DVD player, Oppo DV-980H universal player
Cables - Sonic Horizons, TARA Labs
Display device - Sanyo PLV-Z5 projector with Grandview LFM-92 tab-tensioned motorized screen
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Angstrom Loudspeakers
135 Anderson Avenue
Markham, Ontario L6E 1A4
Canada
Phone: (905) 294-9383
Fax: (905) 294-7670

Website: www.angstromloudspeakers.com


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