HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



October
2002

Reviewed by
Doug Schneider
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2002


Mirage Loudspeakers
OMNISAT 6
Home-Theater Speaker System

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: OMNISAT speakers
Price: $250 USD each
Dimensions: 8"H x 6.25"W x 8"D
Weight: 7 pounds each

Model: LF-150 subwoofer
Price: $500 USD
Dimensions: 12.5"H x 19.75"W x 14.25"D
Weight: 45 pounds

System price: $1700 USD

Warranty: Five years parts and labor for OMNISAT; one year parts and labor for LF-150


Features (cont'd)
  • Omnipolar technology (OMNISAT)
  • 1" Pure Titanium Hybrid (PTH) tweeter (OMNISAT)
  • 4" Polypropylene Titanium Deposit Hybrid cone woofer (OMNISAT)
  • Compatibility with Macromount wall-mounting bracket (OMNISAT)
  • 10" Titanium Deposit Polypropylene Hybrid woofer with 1.5" voice coil (LF-150)
  • 150W RMS subwoofer amplifier capable of 600W peaks (LF-150)
  • Crossover Bypass input (LF-150)
  • Magnetic shielding (OMNISAT and LF-150)

Mirage says that the sound we hear in a real-life setting is a combination of 30% direct sound and 70% reflected sound. Read that closely, because what they’re saying is that most of the sound we hear does not come directly from the source; most of what we hear is the original sound reflected one or more times. Such is Mirage's reference for real sound and the combination of direct and reflected sound that they try to mimic with their Omnipolar loudspeakers. To my ears, they’re on to something.

I reviewed the Mirage OM-7s in SoundStage! and loved ‘em. They’re high-tech speakers that use front- and rear-mounted drivers to create the unique dispersion pattern Mirage wants. The problem is: At $2000-USD per pair, they aren’t cheap. And the OM-9, their lowest-priced floorstander, still costs more than $1000 per pair. They’re simply out of reach for many stereo enthusiasts, not to mention home-theater buffs that require more than twice the number of speakers. Until now.

The OMNISAT loudspeaker is the result of Mirage’s head-designer Andrew Welker thinking outside the box about how to make a whole lot more sound with fewer costly parts. It is a two-way bookshelf speaker with a decidedly ultramodern appearance and unique way of working. The $1700 OMNISAT 6 home-theater speaker system comes delivered in one large box containing five identical OMNISATs and one LF-150 subwoofer. Finally, Omnipolar technology for the masses.

Description

When Welker thought outside the box, he basically eliminated it too. The OMNISAT’s "Polypropylene Titanium Deposit Hybrid" woofer cone measures just 4" in diameter and is housed in a uniquely shaped, thick-walled plastic enclosure that measures only 8" deep and 6.25" across. Knocking on the enclosure reveals it to be quite inert, and it has an almost suede-like finish. The woofer’s baffle is cast aluminum -- strong, heavy, and attractive. Hovering above the woofer -- sort of looking like the front part of Star Trek’s Enterprise -- is a metal, spoon-like device that acts as a reflector for the woofer’s output. Mirage calls that Enterprise-like thingy an OMNIGUIDE. The OMNIGUIDE also houses the Mirage-made 1" "Pure Titanium Hybrid" tweeter that fires upward too. Above the tweeter is another OMNIGUIDE. A removable, rounded wire-mesh grille protects both drivers.

The angle of the drivers and the use of the reflectors are the tricks to making 360-degree dispersion from only two drivers. It looks simple, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. Close inspection reveals that those reflectors are not mounted directly over the center of each driver. Instead, they’re placed ever-so-slightly toward the rear of the driver, and they’re angled just a wee bit away from the driver too. The drivers don’t fire straight up; they’re on an angle too. The reason for all this is to send more sound to the front of the speaker than to the rear. It’s a 360-degree-dispersion speaker with a bias toward the front. This, Welker says, is the key to the OMNISAT design. He contends that putting a bit more energy out to the front than to the rear makes it sound more natural when the sound waves are launched into the room.

The OMNISAT’s 4" woofer is rather small, so bass response is limited. Mirage specs the -3dB point as 70Hz, so they need the supplied LF-150 subwoofer to help out. Impedance of the OMNISAT is said to be 8 ohms, with a 4-ohm minimum. In-room sensitivity is spec’d to be 89dB. This is not necessarily the easiest speaker in the world to drive, but receivers with modest power capability should have no trouble with them. My Nakamichi AV-10 surround-sound receiver with its 100Wpc output for the front channels did just fine.

The LF-150 subwoofer is self-powered by a 150W amplifier (said to be capable of 600W peaks), and it has a 10" woofer that is said to deliver bass down to 23Hz. The convenient auto-on feature makes it hassle-free to operate; having the output level, phase control, and crossover dial on the front makes it convenient to adjust. The only gripe I have about the LF-150 is that it’s not nearly as cool looking as the space-age OMNISATs.

Possibilities

The ergonomic design of the OMNISAT satellite is flat-out brilliant, and the build quality is superb. While $250 (the individual price of an OMNISAT) is not cheap for a loudspeaker, each one is a substantial little speaker -- not some cheap, flimsy molded thing. Their size -- just a bit bigger than a Nerf Ball -- makes them wonderfully discreet. And they come in multiple colors -- white, black, platinum, and black/platinum. Add in their placement versatility and they become a decorator’s dream -- not often the case with loudspeakers.

If you have any type of flat surface -- a shelf, table, or desk -- they’ll sit firmly on that. And they’re magnetically shielded, so they won’t disturb monitors -- this is important, because one OMNISAT in this system needs to act as a center-channel, more than likely plunked right on top of your TV.

Mirage also makes an attractive, all-metal stand so they can be placed more conventionally on the floor. These stands cost an additional $150/pair and take a wee bit of assembly, but once you have the bottom plate bolted to the pole and the plastic top clip screwed in, the OMNISATs just clip onto them. That’s how I positioned the mains and surrounds for my theater setup. Stand-mounted like this, they look really sharp.

Alternatively -- and this is where it gets to be fun -- you can start looking at your walls! Mirage has an advertisement showing two OMNISATs placed fairly high on a wall, making them look sort of like on-wall lighting. The ad effectively shows the versatility that the OMNISATs offer. One way to get them on the wall is to use the "keyways" on the back of the cabinet. These allow you to attach the speaker flat to the wall with a single screw, but limit flexibility in terms of swiveling and pointing them. (Mirage says that if the mounting height on the wall is less than six feet, they are to be oriented so that drivers angle up; if the mounting height is more than six feet, then they are to face the other way.)

Another way to install the OMNISATs on the wall is to use their Macromount bracket that attaches to the threaded insert on the back of the speaker. Once attached, the Macromount allows you to swivel the speaker any which way. It may take a bit of experimentation to get the positioning just right for the best sound, but the convenience may well be worth it.

The LF-150 subwoofer doesn’t have nearly that much flexibility. It’s doubtful that you’ll be hanging it from your walls or ceiling. Nevertheless, like all subs, you can place it discreetly off to the side somewhere. Whatever the case, don’t think of operating this system without the LF-150; it’s mandatory for good home-theater performance.

Sound

I started my listening with some two-channel music, Dido’s No Angel CD [Arista 19025]. Without the subwoofer helping out the bottom end, I could tell that the OMNISATs were just a little "light" on their own -- meaning limited bass extension. The midrange, though, was clear and articulate, and Dido’s voice was very cleanly rendered. The high frequencies were impressively pristine -- never splashy or edgy -- lacking only the last bit of airiness. I suspect that speakers that have a tweeter pointed directly at you have a little more energy, and that’s what we’re used to hearing. In contrast, the OMNISAT sounds a little softer -- sometimes a good thing on overly bright recordings. Still, the OMNISATs counter with qualities I don’t hear from more conventional, forward-firing speakers.

I marveled at how spacious the OMNISATs sounded and how well they disappeared. With conventional loudspeakers, without even looking it’s usually quite easy to listen for a moment and then point and say that the sound is coming from there and there. Achieving a truly boxless sound is tough. Not so with the OMNISATs. They float sound freely. In fact, they’re a little disconcerting because even as you move closer to one as it’s playing, you do not zero in on it being the source of the sound as easily as you do with regular speakers. And boy, can they throw a soundstage! With only a limited spread of about five feet between the speakers, I achieved an impressive stereo stage that went slightly beyond the speakers’ boundaries. And there’s more.

It’s normal that when you shift away from the center position the soundstage and imaging mostly collapse. That’s just the nature of stereo sound. But what many speakers also do is change their sound. That’s right, many speakers sound different at different points in the room, with the "sweet spot" usually ending up being the position that has the best imaging and the best sound. I guess the people outside of that position are simply unlucky. On the other hand, the sound from the OMNISATs stays remarkably similar wherever you are in the room. And although the specificity of the stereo soundstage still collapses when you move away from the center position, what stays impressively intact is the sense of spaciousness that you hear when you’re between the speakers. The sweet spot for imaging is still toward the center, but now the sweet spot for good sound is much larger.

Of course, multichannel recordings can do an even better job of giving you that sense of spaciousness, and the full OMNISAT 6 system showed its muster here.

I like the sultry thriller Lantana, with its moody, atmospheric soundtrack that does wonders for the tone of the film -- natural sounds along with a delicate and effective musical score that’s peppered with some Latin-flavored tunes. Surround effects are used sparingly, but effectively. As I listened to the soundtrack, the first thing I noticed was how well the front channels worked together, even with my center OMNISAT positioned about a foot higher than the left and right speakers (a necessity due to the monitor). Sonically, the height difference was impossible to perceive and the front stage spread was as seamless as I’ve heard. I shouldn’t have been that surprised, I guess; the test tones from my receiver sounded remarkably similar as they moved from speaker to speaker -- not often the case! As a result, the movie’s sound didn’t come from simply left, middle, and right like I hear so often; the OMNISAT speakers disappeared splendidly and the sound came from the front area where there was a multidimensional stage with good image specificity and outstanding depth.

Having this type of seamless presentation at this price is almost a revelation for me because oftentimes I find the discontinuity between the mains and the center-channel too distracting to tolerate. I’m not alone. I know some who have tossed their center-channels out because of it. No, it’s not impossible to get something that works well across the front, but usually it’s not cheap. The best I’ve heard is the Paradigm Reference home-theater system based on their Active-series speakers (now discontinued). Set up in my room, it sounded fabulous across the front -- but it cost more than 6000 bucks! The OMNISAT 6 system gives you that type of cohesiveness at an entry-level price.

And when the surrounds are enabled, yowza, that’s when the OMNISAT 6 system sizzles. I like the sound on All the Pretty Horses too, because it uses rear-channel effects when appropriate, not simply as a show-off feature. The way the OMNISATs disappear, it’s as if they’re not even in the room. As a result, when I watched this with a friend at one point she said, "I don’t hear the rear channels playing." But then her head snapped back in an flash when all channels were apparent because we were suddenly awash in a massive sound field with birds, insects, horses, and countless other things completely surrounding us. What’s more, the sound wasn’t coming from the speakers, it seemed as if it was coming from around us, like a fog setting in. That’s how multichannel should work. It was my first taste of how big and spacious the diminutive OMNISAT 6 system can sound.

The speaker system transformed the room into a collage of sound that was astonishing at times. Left to right, front to back, the OMNISAT 6 system plays together like a top-level team. Perfect? No. Let’s touch on that.

I have just a couple of quibbles. The OMNISATs don’t image with laser-like precision like some forward-firing speakers I’ve heard. They send out a vast spread of sound that has excellent width and depth, but it’s not hyper-precise. If you’re the type of person who likes to hear the sound originate from a spot the size of an ant, then perhaps these won’t do it for you. They’re also not quite as immediate sounding as some speakers. As a result, vocals aren’t quite as stark as they could be. In fact, the OMNISATs are a little laid-back and I ended up nudging the volume a little to compensate -- this is identical to what I heard in stereo listening. A problem? Not at all, and I can certainly overlook that because of the way I was enveloped in Lantana’s seedy and secretive little world and shrunk to the size of a peanut amidst All the Pretty Horses’ expansive scenery. And that’s what the OMNISAT 6 system does so well: It immerses you in a sound field that is impressive for how seamless it sounds and for the space it can create. I know of no other surround-sound speaker system at this price, that’s this small, that sounds this right from speaker to speaker. But credit must be given to more than just the speakers -- remember, the OMNISAT 6 is a system, and the multichannel sound I’ve been describing includes a subwoofer too.

All the Pretty Horses taught me that the LF-150 subwoofer is a necessity for this system to work well as a real home theater. The OMNISAT satellites don’t generate deep bass, so the LF-150 takes care of most of it. I’m pretty sure Mirage included this big sub, and not their smaller LF-100, to ensure that home-theater enthusiasts get all the bass grunt that they want. I had to tweak the positioning of the sub a bit to make it blend and disappear as well as the satellites, but the result was worth the effort.

Chapter 10 of All the Pretty Horses is the scene where John Cole (Matt Damon) and Lacey Rawlins (Henry Thomas) prove their worth on the Mexican ranch by breaking some horses -- it’s appropriately titled "16 Horses in 4 Days." Without the LF-150 turned on, the horses hit the ground with a featherweight touch and the Mexican-flavored music that accompanies the action doesn’t have much weight or substance. With the LF-150 turned on, the room gets turned into an enormous sound field with horses that have massive weight and attack, and music that has vibrancy and punch.

The LF-150 sub impressed me greatly and I found that it’s actually more of a subwoofer in terms of output capability than the OMNISATs need. The OMNISATs' 4" drivers can only play so loud -- they’re excellent in small- to mid-sized rooms -- but the LF-150 has output capability that I’m sure could pressurize quite a large room. The Mothman Prophecies has some seriously deep, tight bass and the LF-150 charged up my room to the max. I never came close to taxing the LF-150, although I did come close to hitting the OMNISATs’ limits a couple of times. The LF-150 may be just one of the six in this OMNISAT system, but it’s one very important part.

Alternatives

I really enjoy the big, spacious sound from the diminutive, space-age OMNISAT 6 system. Still, I know that some multichannel purists will object to the way they work, likely contending that direct-radiating speakers should most definitely be up front, and perhaps in the back too (although many already use dipoles in the rear to achieve a more spacious sound, particularly if the distance behind the listener is restricted). Purists will say that the software should take care of making the sound as spacious as you need. In some ways, they probably have a point.

I also have multiple pairs of Axiom M3Ti SE loudspeakers ($275/pair) -- more conventional two-way speakers with a forward-firing woofer and tweeter. I sometimes wire ‘em up to be a full, surround-sound system -- identical speakers all ‘round, just like the OMNISAT 6 system (although placing the M3Ti SE center-channel speaker is trickier than the OMNISAT). And just like the OMNISAT satellites, these speakers need a subwoofer for real bass.

Part of the price difference comes in the construction. The Axiom speakers are built very well for the price -- MDF cabinets formed into a unique shape. The OMNISATs, though, are just a cut above and use more exotic materials -- one of the things you expect when you pay quite a bit more. They also have more pizzazz that will appeal to the lifestyle crowd. And they sound quite different too, making them an excellent contrast in design goals.

With drivers facing directly at you, the Axiom system sounds a little more incisive than the OMNISAT 6 system. Vocals are more upfront and the upper frequencies are more pronounced. The Axiom system’s imaging is a little more specific too, but the stage is not as wide or as deep. With a good recording, the Axiom-based system lets you hear the sound go from right there to over there with pinpoint accuracy, providing you are in the center. And if the recording is good, it can create a vast sense of space where the speakers disappear quite well.

But oftentimes the speakers don’t disappear the way I want and, as I said, that’s one of the things that turned me off from home theater some time ago. This isn’t necessarily a fault of the Axiom system, but a fault of too many home-theater systems in general. Too often I hear the channels become way too obvious, particularly the center-channel speaker. Some of that can be due to the recording, but inconsistencies among the speakers are usually to blame, whether the cause is design or placement constraints. Whatever the case, the surround-sound illusion gets lost. And that’s what the OMNISAT 6 system has given back to me: an enveloping, involving sound that is a little less immediate than you hear in more conventional systems, but is amazingly cohesive from speaker to speaker. And the sound, although it’s a little more relaxed (erring to the side of being polite rather than bright), can be very pleasing on so many of those too-tipped-up-in-the-highs soundtracks. I lose myself in movies at home with the OMNISAT 6 system more than I have for months -- and when you are a movie fan, that’s important!

Conclusion

I’ve come to expect pretty stellar sound from a complete $1700 home-theater speaker system. Anyone well versed in today’s home-theater market could ramble off a good number of companies offering topnotch sound for this much money. Do some careful shopping and you won’t go wrong with a good number of systems. But what I haven’t come to expect at this price is real innovation in design. That’s usually reserved for speakers costing much more than the OMNISAT satellites, with technology "trickling down" to more affordable products later. It doesn’t usually go the other way around, but I suspect that’s what will happen here.

The OMNISAT 6 provides a thrilling home-theater experience that can sonically transform a small- to mid-sized room into something much larger. It has a distinct sound, and if you like what it does, you may have trouble listening to more conventional speakers the same way again. And this isn’t to mention how good they look, how discreet they are, or how many ways you can place them in your room. This is a wonderful home-theater system that combines cutting-edge styling with serious-about-sound sensibility at a price that finally makes Omnipolar technology affordable.

Review System
Receiver - Nakamichi AV-10
Source - Kenwood DV-S700 DVD player
Cables - Nordost, DH Labs
Monitor - Sony Trinitron 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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