HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



February
2003

Reviewed by
Vince Hanada
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2003


Mirage Speakers
OM-9 / OM-C2 / OM-R2 / LF-150
Home-Theater Speaker System

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: OM-9 speakers
Price: $1400 USD per pair
Dimensions: 43.75"H x 11.56"W x 12.175"D
Weight: 55 pounds each

Model: OM-2 center-channel
Price: $750 USD
Dimensions: 7.375"H x 24.625"W x 12.125"D
Weight: 30 pounds

Model: OM-R2 surrounds
Price: $600 USD per pair
Dimensions: 9.75"H x 11.75"W x 5.25"D
Weight: 12 pounds each

Model: LF-150 subwoofer
Price: $500 USD
Dimensions: 19.75"H x 12.5"W x 14.125"D
Weight: 45 pounds

System price: $3250 USD

Warranty: Five years on speakers, one year on subwoofer


Features
  • Omnipolar technology
  • 1" Pure Titanium Hybrid (PTH) tweeters
  • Polypropylene cone woofers
  • Live Soundstage Crossovers (OM-9, OM-C2, OM-R2)
  • 10" Titanium Deposit Polypropylene Hybrid woofer (LF-150)
  • 150W continuous, 600W peak MOSFET amplifier (LF-150)
  • Adjustable crossover (40Hz to 120Hz) and phase switch (LF-150)
  • Cherry or high-gloss black finish (OM-9 and OM-C2)
  • Cherry, high-gloss black, or white finish (OM-R2)
  • Black, brushed-metal laminate finish (LF-150)

Mirage made a big mark in the speaker world in the 1980s with their M-1 bipolar loudspeaker. This tall monolith had a huge following among audiophiles. It featured drivers on its front and rear baffles operating in-phase and created an amazingly spacious soundstage. Since then, vice president of engineering, Ian Paisley, and head engineer, Andrew Welker, have refined the bipolar concept to create a line of speakers the company now calls Omnipolar.

The home-theater speaker system under review here features the OM-9, the least-expensive tower speaker in the OM series, grouped with the OM-C2 center-channel, the OM-R2 surround, and the LF-150 subwoofer. The system can be purchased with larger mains, namely the OM-7 and the OM-5 towers. At a price of $3250 USD the system is not inexpensive; however, I was stunned by what I heard. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

What is Omnipolar?

With the OM speakers, the engineers at Mirage have put drive units on the front and rear baffles, much like a bipolar speaker, but instead of deep speaker cabinets like most bipolar speakers, the cabinets are shallow. This configuration, coupled with the rest of the design details, helps to approximate a 360-degree or omnidirectional radiation pattern -- hence the name Omnipolar.

Mirage’s Omnipolar speakers radiate 30% of their sound directly at the listener while directing 70% at room boundaries -- a ratio Mirage says mimics what we hear in real life. By doing so, Mirage claims that their speakers sound more natural and realistic than conventional forward-firing speakers that tend to direct most of their sound at the listener.

Description

The Mirage OM-9 is a fairly tall speaker standing 43.75" high. At about 12" across, the OM-9 appears wider than most speakers I’ve had in my home. Looking at the OM-9 from its side, it has a wedge-shaped profile, starting at 6" at the top of the speaker and flaring out to just over 12" at its base. Although large, the attractive OM-9s weren’t obtrusive and looked right at home in my upstairs listening room.

Behind the removable front grille are two drivers -- a 1" Pure Titanium Hybrid (PTH) tweeter above a 6.5" polypropylene woofer. Around back, behind another removable grille, the same drivers appear in the same locations as on the front. Because of the wedge shape of the OM-9, these rear drivers tilt slightly upwards. Continuing on the back of the speaker, about 13" from the bottom, there is a 3" port adjacent to two pairs of high-quality five-way binding posts, suitable for biwiring or biamping. These binding posts are further apart than usual, so if you have joined banana plugs, they won’t fit. The speakers that Mirage sent me came finished in a handsome, high-gloss black. Cherry is also available.

The OM-R2 speaker is compact in comparison to the OM-9, standing just 9.75" high. This surround speaker is ideal for wall mounting, with its unobtrusive 5.25" depth. The OM-R2’s sides form a wedge, each containing a 1" PTH tweeter. A 6.5" polypropylene woofer fires from the front baffle of the speaker. Around back, there is a single set of five-way binding posts. Once again, all of the speaker grilles are removable -- a nice touch for those of us who must see what’s behind the grille. The top and bottom of the speaker are finished with high-gloss black caps. Cherry and white are the other optional colors. If you order the white, rest assured that the grilles are white as well.

The OM-C2 center-channel speaker is pretty large and hefty. Its driver complement is the most unusual that I’ve seen. On the front, the speaker has a 1" PTH tweeter offset about 2" to the right of the center of the baffle. To one side of the tweeter there is a 5.5" polypropylene woofer, and to the other side there is a 5.5" passive radiator. Around back, the sloping rear baffle of the OM-C2 holds the same 1" PTH tweeter offset 2" to the left of the center. As well, there is a 5.5" polypropylene woofer to the right of the tweeter and a 2.5"-diameter port. This driver combination reportedly gives the OM-C2 an Omnipolar radiation pattern. The dual five-way binding posts are closer together than on the OM-9, and are suitable for wiring with joined banana plugs. The grille is more of a mesh sock, which is, unfortunately, non-removable so prying eyes like mine can only imagine the visual beauty behind it. The right and left end caps are finished once again in high-gloss black, with cherry available.

According to Mirage, the OM-9 has a rated "room efficiency" of 90dB, with an 8-ohm nominal and 4-ohm minimum impedance. The OM-R2 has the identical stated room efficiency and impedance, while the OM-C2 is specified with a room efficiency of 91dB and the same impedance specifications as the others. Although my 65Wpc Outlaw Model 1050 receiver was able to drive these speakers well enough, I found that using an external Kenwood amp rated for 135Wpc was a better match.

Mirage sent the compact, rectangular LF-150 subwoofer to pair with this system. It has a 10" Titanium Deposit Polypropylene Hybrid woofer with two 3" ports on its front face behind yet another removable grille. The sub’s controls are conveniently front-mounted, making adjustments a snap. There are controls for varying the low-pass filter from 40Hz to 120Hz and for changing the subwoofer volume level. There is also a switch to change the relative phase from 0 to 180 degrees. Around back, this subwoofer has five-way binding posts for speaker-level inputs and outputs, and two mono line-level inputs. One line-level input bypasses the subwoofer's internal crossover while the other input works with it. I connected the LF-150 sub to the LFE output of my receiver, bypassing the sub’s internal crossover. A light on the front control panel shows green when the sub is operating and turns red when the sub is idling.

I like the rectangular shape of the LF-150. It allowed me to place the sub upright, taking up less floor space in my room. The LF-150 is finished in what Mirage calls "black brushed metal." It has a smoother texture than the usual black-ash vinyl, making for an attractive-looking subwoofer.

Home-theater setup and performance

Mirage claims that their Omnipolar speakers are easy to place since their omnidirectional radiation pattern allows good imaging regardless of the direction the front of the speaker faces. I agree with this to some extent, although careful placement will really show what these speakers can do. Unlike conventionally radiating speakers, the rear-firing drivers require that you think about the wall behind the speakers. In my smaller family room, I had to move my DVD rack from behind one of the speakers to optimize the sound. Omnipolar speakers are designed to work with room boundaries, so placing the speakers symmetrically in the room helped to even out the front soundstage. The OM-C2 center-channel speaker needs some space around it to shine, therefore in-cabinet placement will restrict the omnidirectional radiation pattern. Luckily for me, placing the OM-C2 on top of my 32" TV gave it room to breathe. The OM-R2 surround speakers work well close to the wall, so I placed them against the wall on either side of my listening seat.

Watching the DVD The Legend of Bagger Vance allowed many of the outstanding traits of the OM-9-based home-theater speaker system to shine through. One of these standout traits is the surround envelopment from the OM-R2s. In chapter 5, Junuh is hitting golf balls at night. I was immersed in the scene, with crickets singing all around me. In chapter 7, the subtle crack of distant thunder fills in the rears, and the scene transitions to heavy rainfall. The thunder started beyond the rear speakers, and I could not physically place the sounds at either surround speaker -- an impressive feat. Another example is from chapter 29 from the Star Wars: Episode 1 -- The Phantom Menace DVD, during the senate session. The huge space of the senate building is reproduced extremely well, with the voices echoing effectively in the OM-R2 surrounds.

The opening scene from the Vista version of Tombstone illustrated the excellent timbre match among the OM-C2, the OM-9, and the OM-R2. The sound of a gang of cowboys on horses starts in the OM-C2 center-channel, moves to the left OM-9, and fades to the left rear OM-R2. Not only was the sound of the galloping horses reproduced loudly and cleanly by each speaker, the transition from speaker to speaker was utterly seamless in terms of image depth and tonality.

One of my main concerns with the Omnipolar design was that it would impart an unnatural spaciousness to the sound, making everything sound too big. My prejudice was unfounded. I thought I’d encountered this unnatural soundstage at 1:30 into chapter 1 of the DVD Remember the Titans. In this scene, there is a military-type drumming accompanied by an orchestra that sounds very open and spacious. "Aha! There it is," I thought. But the next scene changes to an in-your-face guitar riff with no sense of space at all. The soundstage information was in the recording of the DVD, and the OM-9 system reproduced it accurately!

The OM-C2 proved to be a superb center-channel. Its dispersion pattern and frequency response are the same as the OM-9 speakers, so it’s easy to see why the OM-C2 matched so well in this system. In the pod-race scene from chapter 20 of The Phantom Menace, the pans across the front soundstage were seamless. The same naturalness of soundstage that I got from the OM-9 was also present in the OM-C2. Not only is the OM-C2 a near-perfect match with the OM-9, it also reproduces voices accurately. Watching the DVD Changing Lanes, I never realized that Ben Affleck’s voice was so high pitched, which is apparent when contrasted with Samuel L. Jackson’s low, resonating voice. Throughout Vanilla Sky, Tom Cruise is often wearing a mask, which muffles his voice. At other times, though, his voice is normal and the OM-C2 reproduced each voice convincingly.

For reproducing the low frequencies, the LF-150 did not disappoint. Although other comparably priced subwoofers may go lower or provide higher output, the LF-150 is a good compromise for both movies and music. If your room isn’t too large, expect to hear bass extension in the 25Hz to 30Hz range. In my medium-sized room, the bass output was loud enough to shake my walls in the pod-racing scene in chapter 20 of The Phantom Menace. In chapter 44, when the control ship is destroyed, the explosion was reproduced very loudly and cleanly in my room.

Musical performance

As much as I loved the Mirage home-theater speaker system for reproducing the cinema experience, I found its performance with music even more impressive. I played tons of music CDs and SACDs through this system, and what surprised me was the great imaging that I got from the OM-9 speakers. One superb two-channel SACD recording is Jacintha’s Here’s to Ben -- A Vocal Tribute to Ben Webster [Groove Note GRV1001-3]. On "Over the Rainbow" I kept checking to see if this was a multichannel recording! Jacintha’s voice seemed to come from exactly where the OM-C2 center-channel was located. Her voice was not set in just one plane but seemed to have depth as well. Tonally, the OM-9 seemed balanced throughout the musical range. The PTH tweeter is excellent, sounding airy without a hint of edginess or grit.

One of the best multichannel recordings I’ve heard is Super Bass 2 [Telarc SACD-63483] with Ray Brown, John Clayton, and Christian McBride. This recording is so good, it convinced me to finally ditch my turntable. It has John Clayton in the left front OM-9, Ray Brown in the OM-C2 center-channel, and Christian McBride in the right OM-9. The audience is reproduced in the left and right OM-R2 surrounds, and the LF-150 handled the bass duties. Each of the three front speakers, including the OM-C2, handled each respective bassist equally adeptly. This was evident in track 3, "Mysterioso," where all three bassists play solos and alternate notes. This track clearly proved that the OM-C2 center-channel is an excellent match with the OM-9. When Ray Brown’s music was produced exclusively through the OM-C2, I never felt the performance compromised in comparison to what was coming from the left and right main speakers

In the frenzied playing of "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," the OM-9-based system portrayed the excitement of the club atmosphere superbly. This is where the abilities of the OM-R2 surrounds surfaced, placing me right in the Blue Note, with the audience clapping, singing, and yelling all around me. The LF-150 never called attention to itself, blending well with the rest of the speakers.

Comparisons

Situated at nearly the same price point, the now-discontinued NHT 2.5i speakers are an interesting comparison to the Mirage OM-9s. The NHT 2.5i has drivers located on a 21-degree angled front baffle, aimed towards the middle of the listening room. This design results in excellent imaging between the speakers. Listening to Holly Cole’s Temptation [Alert Z2-81026], the NHT 2.5i’s placement of voice is pinpoint between the speakers, but very narrow. With the OM-9s, the voice is neither as specific, nor as narrow, but is still locked in the middle. What little it gives up in specificity, though, is made up with depth, giving a three-dimensional quality to the phantom image. And the Mirage OM-9’s soundstaging is not restricted to the space between the speakers, as with the NHT 2.5i, but extends to the sides and back of the main speakers.

Where the NHT 2.5i is clearly superior to the OM-9 is in low-frequency response. On "Train Song" from Holly Cole’s Temptation CD, the bass notes the OM-9 reproduced did not have the weight of the NHT 2.5i. In terms of bass performance, using the OM-9 with the LF-150 subwoofer proved to be a comparable match to the NHT 2.5i.

The Mirage OM-C2 center-channel is the first horizontal center-channel that I’ve encountered that does not suffer a tonal shift when the listener moves to either side. Most center-channels with a woofer-tweeter-woofer arrangement, such as the Dahlquist QX50C, show this tonal shift to some degree, however small. This can be illustrated with the Mel Gibson’s voice in the DVD The Patriot. When I listened through the Dahlquist QX50C, Mel Gibson’s narrative voice in the opening scene and in chapter 27 tended to become muffled when I moved to the extreme left or right side of my sofa. With the Mirage OM-C2, however, his voice sounded the same at both listening positions, a remarkable feat!

Comparing subwoofers, the Mirage LF-150 sounded similar to the Energy S10.2, but the Energy did exceed the performance of the Mirage LF-150 in bass output. This showed during chapter 6 of the Dinosaur DVD, where an asteroid hits Earth and there is a massive explosion. The Energy S10.2 sustained this explosion with greater intensity. The Mirage LF-150, however, shines in music reproduction. On the Soulive track "Clap!" from Blue Note Festival 2002 [Blue Note 72435-40073-2-3], the Mirage LF-150 sounded punchier than the Energy S10.2.

Conclusion

The Mirage OM-9/OM-C2/OM-R2/LF-150 home-theater speaker system shattered many of my long-held beliefs and prejudices about Omnipolar speakers. The entire system matched exceedingly well, from the OM-9 main speakers to the OM-C2 center-channel to the OM-R2 surrounds. Whether it’s with movies or music, the system sounded superb. In fact, it’s so good that I consider it quite a bargain in its price range, and I believe that it competes well with higher-priced speaker systems too. As a result, this Mirage system garners my highest recommendation.

Review System
Receiver - Outlaw Model 1050
Amplifier - Kenwood KMX-1000
Sources - JVC XV-721 DVD player, Pioneer Elite PD-65, Sony DVP-NC650V SACD/DVD player
Cables - Sonic Horizons, TARA Labs
Monitor - JVC 32" direct-view monitor
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Mirage Speakers
3641 McNicoll Avenue
Toronto, ON M1X 1G5 Canada
Phone: (416) 321-1800
Fax: (416) 321-1500

Website: www.miragespeakers.com

 


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