Mirage OMNI 50 Loudspeakers
Long ago and far away, I was the proud owner of a pair of
dipole loudspeakers, and when everything was just right, they were the most incredible
speakers Id ever owned. But they required a tremendous amount of time and effort to
set up properly, and over the years I developed a love/hate relationship with them. Every
time I moved, or rearranged furniture, which I did a lot in those days, I would then have
to spend weeks getting the speakers dialed-in and the sound perfect. In some rooms, they
never did sound right, but when everything came together, nothing else Id heard
could compare with their openness, width, and depth of soundstage. Ive long since
traded those speakers away, and have missed that particular sound ever since.
Enter the Mirage OMNI 50
It was with this in mind that I took delivery of a pair of
Mirage OMNI 50s, one of the newest in Mirages new OMNI speaker line. The $400 USD
OMNI 50 isnt a dipole (which produces sound out of phase from the enclosures
front and rear), but instead uses what Mirage calls Omnipolar technology. The OMNI 50
produces a controlled in-phase dispersion pattern of 360 degrees, biased to
produce slightly more sound toward the front.
Although this design differs technically from my old
dipoles, its goal is the same: to produce the wide, open soundstage Ive sorely
missed these last several years.
Would the OMNI 50s meet my admittedly high expectations for
soundstage development? Would they be as much of a pain to set up as my old dipoles? Would
I have to sit dead center, between the speakers, to get that sound I love so much?
At $400/pair, the OMNI 50 costs $100 less than the original
UFO-shaped OMNISAT, and comes in a more conventional-looking enclosure. As it
turns out, the OMNI is anything but conventional, having as it does the OMNISATs
top-mounted tweeter-in-a-pod and angled-woofer design. In an effort to drive the cost of
Omnipolar technology down into the budget category, Mirage came up with the clever idea of
using a single woofer and a skyward-pointing tweeter, with a waveguide (Mirage calls it an
OmniGuide) above each to control directivity in a 360-degree pattern around the speaker.
Its a clever idea, though I shudder to think how many calculations had to be
performed to optimize the shape of the OmniGuide alone.
As I said, the OMNI 50 looks almost conventional.
The only indication of something unusual is the grille, which covers the front and extends
over the top, above the drivers, in a slight barrel-shaped vault. Only when I removed the
grille did I realize I was looking at something new and different. The steeply raked angle
of the woofer baffle, with its egg-shaped OmniGuide suspended above, begged for attention.
A closer look revealed that the tweeter points straight up from inside this appendage, its
own saucer-shaped OmniGuide hovering just above it.
Theres a large port on the front of the box to
enhance bass extension, and a single pair of heavy-duty five-way binding posts on the
back. The posts are spaced too wide for double banana plugs, but theyre
significantly heavier than the average speaker terminals found at this price range and are
unusually easy to tighten. The side edges of the sloped woofer baffle are accented in
gray, as is the port. My review samples were finished in a basic black-vinyl wood-look
laminate. The overall look is quite attractive, though Im not sure I like the look
of the gray port with the grilles removed.
If youre looking to buy any kind of dipole, bipole,
or Omnipolar speaker, be forewarned that you wont typically get the best sound out
of any of these designs by placing them wherever your old speakers happened to be -- the
performance of any such speaker will depend far more on its interactions with your room.
The good news is that I found the OMNIs much more forgiving of placement than my old
dipoles, but I did still have to work at the setup a bit more than Im used to in
order to get the correct balance.
I used the OMNI 50s with an Onkyo TX-S696 surround receiver
and a Sony DVP-NS755V DVD player.
The spacious sound of the Omnipolar technology was apparent
on nearly every track of the SACD reissue of Pink Floyds Dark Side of the Moon
[Capitol CDP 5 82136 2]. This was most obviously evident on "Time" and
"Money," where the soundstage extended to the edges of the room. It was also
apparent on such lesser-known tracks as "Any Colour You Like" and
"Breathe." You might think Im discussing the performance of a multichannel
system, but I was listening to the two-channel CD layer, which made the OMNI 50s
performance especially impressive. DSOM turned out to be an excellent choice for
showcasing the OMNI 50s particular talents; they passed with flying colors.
The OMNI 50s continued their exhibition of soundstage
prowess with Carl Orffs Carmina Burana [EMI 66951], displaying an incredible
ability to recreate the ambiance of a hall without the use of artificial DSP modes. The
effect was as believable as with any other speakers I can recall hearing this music
through, including many costing several times as much. True, the 50s gave up some ground
when it came to absolute imaging and layering of voices, but that seemed a small price to
pay. Transparency and detail were as good as anything else Ive heard at this price.
This is an extremely dynamic recording that goes quickly from soft, intricate voices to
loud orchestral outbursts -- the sort of thing at which many small monitors falter. The
OMNI 50 was able to handle both extremes with equal aplomb.
I put on "Explosions Polka," from Erich
Kunzels Ein Straussfest [Telarc CD-80098], and nearly jumped out of my skin
-- Id completely forgotten about the loud cannon shot at the start of the track. OK,
so the OMNI 50 passed the transient response test. The fact that it didnt send
little bits of driver flying across the room after a few moments of fairly intense abuse
is good news, though it did nearly send me running for cover. (Note to Mirage: Even
if my nerves arent still intact, your speakers are.)
I then dropped Blue Man Groups The Complex
[Lava 83631-2] in for a spin. The OMNI 50s displayed accurate imaging on "Shadows,
Part 2," some of the techno sound effects traveling seamlessly between and well
beyond the speakers and proving that the 50s could do some pretty interesting things with
the soundstage. On such tracks as "The Complex," I thought the Mirages pretty
well held their own with bass output, but on other cuts, particularly the delightfully
different cover of Jefferson Airplanes "White Rabbit," they fairly cried
out for a subwoofer. Still, what bass there was sounded exceptionally quick, clean, and
On the other end of the pop/rock spectrum from Blue Man
Group is Chantal Kreviazuks What If It All Means Something [Columbia 86482],
and the crystalline chimes that seem to come from everywhere at the opening of "Miss
April" are a perfect example. The OMNIs displayed the same finesse and detail as with
Blue Man Group and Pink Floyd -- I felt as if I could reach out and touch the chimes, if
only theyd stay put for a second or two. The piano sounded perfectly natural, and
Kreviazuks voice was locked perfectly in the center in the comparatively minimalist
"Turn the Page."
Finally, turning to jazz, I laid on a little Holly Cole
Trio, in the form of Temptation [Blue Note 31653]. Reviewing my notes from
listening to the Blue Man Group CD, I immediately skipped to "Train Song,"
assuming it would verify the lack of bass Id heard earlier. Instead, I heard rich,
full, deep, powerful bass that belied the OMNI 50s small size. The bass didnt
have quite the depth and punch it would have had with a subwoofer switched in, but in this
case it was sufficient. The 50s also produced surprising richness and warmth on such cuts
as "Falling Down." Id expected them to sound a touch thin with Temptation;
they were anything but.
I had the floorstanding Paradigm Esprit v.3s
on hand during the course of this review; at $400/pair, theyre close competition for
the OMNI 50s. However, in sharp contrast to the Mirage, the Esprit is a more conventional
speaker with a front-firing woofer and tweeter. Both designs are very successful in
different ways, and constitute a fascinating study in contrasting goals in speaker design.
The Paradigm strives to be a good all-around performer with
an extended and flat frequency response from the mid-30Hz range all the way up to 20kHz.
Mirage is willing to give up some extreme low frequencies and imaging in order to provide
a larger, more open soundstage. The Paradigms had a more even frequency response and
tighter imaging in both of my listening rooms; the Mirages gave a little ground in these
areas, but opened up the soundstage to a degree that the Paradigms couldnt match.
Both designs performed well in terms of detail, though the
Mirages inner detail and clarity in the upper frequencies were slightly better than
the Paradigms. The OMNI 50 was also slightly on the bright side of neutral in my
listening room, while the Esprit was just about dead neutral. While choosing between these
two speakers would of course boil down to priorities, the OMNIs soundstage was
seductive and, providing I had a subwoofer on hand, would be hard to turn down.
The Mirage OMNI 50 proved to be an amazing performer; it
will be sorely missed around here. There are few enough speakers on the market that can
carpet a room with a wall-to-wall soundstage as the OMNIs did, and fewer still that do it
for this kind of money. While not nearly as difficult to position as my old dipoles were,
they do require a little care. That said, the Mirage OMNI 50 is one of the best speaker
values Ive come across in the sub-$1000 price class.
...Jeff Van Dyne
Price of equipment reviewed