Mirage OMD-15 Speaker System

Surround that stretches for miles.

Although they're now owned by Klipsch, Mirage continues to follow their own ears. The Toronto-based company's name derives from a key design goal—to make speakers so immersive that the listener forgets the product is in the room. In addition to a goal, Mirage also has a method: to favor more omnidirectional sound over direct sound using an unusual reflector assembly built into the top of the speaker, creating a spacious feeling that is the company's sonic signature.

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A Saucer Full of Secrets
The OMD-15 is a tower speaker with a rounded cabinet sitting on a built-in pedestal. Avoidance of right angles enables the enclosure to resist the formation of internal standing waves caused by sound bouncing back and forth between parallel walls.

The large, sturdy gold-plated binding posts are recessed, but the recess is fairly roomy. And the posts are widely spaced, so there's plenty of room for spade lugs. You can remove the plastic nubs from the back of the posts to accept banana plugs, as well. All this is a refreshing change from recent slim-speaker designs that limit cable connectivity to bare wire. The towers and center have four posts for biwiring; the satellites I used here for the surround channels have two posts.

Four drivers animate the tower. On the front are a 5.5-inch woofer and a 5.5-inch passive radiator. On top, though, is where the action is. There live the tweeter and what Mirage calls a midbass driver. The midbass is set into a subenclosure that it shares with the passive radiator—and is therefore loaded by the passive radiator. The woofer is loaded by the speaker's port.

Mounted on top of the midbass driver is a tweeter that sits in a separate assembly shaped like a teacup. Above the tweeter is a reflector shaped like a teaspoon. The tweeter aims straight up, while the midbass angles slightly forward toward the center of the ceiling. Most of what reaches your ears is deflected sound, with the teacup deflecting the output of the midbass driver and the teaspoon deflecting the output of the tweeter.

The OMD-C1 center has two of the midbass drivers flanking a 4-inch midrange/tweeter assembly. This is the only speaker in the set with a midrange driver. Following the manual's recommendation, I placed it a couple of feet below the top of the towers, just below the bottom edge of my LCD HDTV. In that position, all drivers were angled upward and slightly forward, except the tweeter, which aimed up at a slightly different angle. This is one of the few horizontal center speakers on the market that doesn't compromise performance by lying down; the tweeter and midrange are stacked vertically, even though the cabinet is horizontal.

To set the speaker atop the TV, place it on the supplied pedestal and rotate it slightly forward. You can also invert the OMD-C1 and mount it on the ceiling. My source at Mirage says: "I have mine mounted to the ceiling (with a 20-cent bracket from the hardware store) slightly in front of a 100-inch screen with phenomenal results!"

I loved the look of the OMD-5 satellite and wished I were reviewing a matched set of five. The satellite mimics the tower's top-mount arrangement of tweeter, midbass, teaspoon, and teacup. It's slightly more conventional than the other speakers, but the subwoofer still plays by its own rules, with volume and crossover knobs on the front panel behind the grille. If you want to mess with them a lot, you'll want to leave the grille off. The driver uses a 10-inch polypropylene titanium deposit hybrid cone, and the cabinet has two down-firing ports.

Spread the Wealth
Most speakers are directional to some degree; they function at their best when heard on-axis and change character as you move off-axis. These speakers operate under a totally different principle, which Mirage describes as Omnipolar, because they don't quite achieve true omnidirectional radiation. Each one generates something of a mushroom head of sound that seems spread around the enclosure. The soundfield lies in the overlap of these nearly circular mushroom heads. Individual sounds are often less localizable, but the overall impression of fullness and evenness is more than ample compensation.

Spider-Man showed one of the OMD system's key traits—the way it traded spatial specificity for soundfield size. In scenes like the bone-crunching wrestling match, the feel of the crowd was huge. But in scenes with lots of directional information, only the most aggressively whooshing pans moved decisively from front to back. The overall tonal balance was far from vague. In fact, it was fairly up front with lots of treble detail. But that detail was diffused and spread around pretty thoroughly.

The system's low-level resolution came into play with the shifting ambiences of Bobby. Occasionally, I'd notice a specific detail, like a bird singing outside of L.A.'s Ambassador Hotel. More often, though, the ambient information was so subtle that only its overall effect registered, as the sweetly ruminative story lines moved from room to room, merging in the final tragedy.

Happy Feet gave the system a chance to strut its stuff. The tonal balance was appropriately warm and lush. This surprised me because I'd pegged the system as one with an insistent top end. Wind and storm effects were enveloping, and the sub summoned the terror of a killer-whale attack.

Impregnable Soundfield
When I switched to music, I confirmed something I'd already suspected: that these speakers are superior to the Omnisats I reviewed last year. Both systems have tower speakers, but these are slightly stouter. With the older model—which cost less than half as much—I recall that the front soundstage changed character as I moved my head up or down. With the OM Design Series, the soundstage remained fairly consistent regardless of any vertical or horizontal changes in listening position. The soundfield was nearly impregnable.

While both systems had a strong treble, the one I reviewed here had more refinement, warmth, and freedom from listening fatigue. I was also extremely impressed by the almost miraculous tonal and spatial matching of the center speaker to the towers, despite the center's lower placement. The drum sound is reasonably full, with or without the sub.

But what about the string sound? I might have stacked the deck slightly by choosing Tchaikovsky's Complete Suites for Orchestra in a 1966 Phillips recording with Antal Doráti and the New Philharmonia. The strings were lush, and there was beautiful texture in the woodwinds and brass. All of it was alive in a grandly proportioned space. Even with the system cut down to two channels, there remained a genuine concert-hall feel. These speakers possess the kind of transparency that makes well-recorded orchestral music come alive.

They didn't do badly with jazz, either. A Part, and Yet Apart by Bill Bruford's Earthworks is a drummer-led band and a recording that I sometimes find too bright, depending on the gear. However, Bruford's busy cymbals and nattering snare were painless in this audition. His mighty kick drum was prominent but not too prominent. Needless to say, I got more pleasure from this bristling, industrious CD than I generally do.

It's always great when equipment helps me reflect upon an album in a new way, and that's what happened with The Black Swan by Bert Jansch. The home-studio production, while nicely polished, has a slightly hard edge and an echo that makes the master guitarist and songwriter seem distant. The Mirages brought him up close and personal, somehow detaching the echo and giving the acoustic guitar a pleasing crispness. The chime used for percussion on "Katie Cruel," with amazing guest vocals by Beth Orton, shimmered and undulated in a way I hadn't heard before.

Mirage's Omnipolar speakers have a nice way of making every seat in the house a good one. If you find yourself having a hard time catching voices, the detailed treble will help. The look is extremely elegant, so you needn't worry about hiding the speakers. And they performed well with any kind of music or movies I threw at them, delivering both a swooningly beautiful orchestral sound and a solid rhythm section.

I won't say I'm surprised. Mirage has been making good speakers—and making them in an unorthodox manner—for a long time. Try these OMD Design Series speakers, and see if they don't put your head in a different space.

Highlights
• Unusual construction emphasizes deflected over direct sound
• Achieves even room coverage
• Hip look

COMPANY INFO
Mirage
(416) 321-1800
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