Mirage Omni 250 Surround Speaker System Page 2
The second coloration was less benign and probably less room-dependent: a small but noticeable boxiness. I heard it more often on vocals than on instrumental pieces, and it wasn't obvious on all recordings. Its audibility seemed to depend on the timbre of the program material itself; if the material had a significant amount of energy in the same (probably small) frequency band where the problem was concentrated, I heard it. If it didn't, the problem didn't surface. Toward the end of the review period, I found I was hearing it less; this may have been due to break-in of the speakers or simply to listener adaptation. It never went away completely, however, and it is something you'll want to listen for when you audition these speakers to determine if it bothers you or not.
Aside from those issues, however, the Omni system had a lot to recommend it. Omnidirectional speakers have a reputation for producing a big, expansive soundstage, and the Omni 250s were no exception. But that big soundstage did not result in bloated voices and instruments. Solo singers were fixed firmly in the soundstage, and though the imaging was not as pinpoint as from a good pair of front-radiating speakers, it always sounded as firmly defined as it needed to be.
The depth produced by a stereo pair of Omni 250s was also impressive. The soundstage on King and Moore's Potato Radio (Justice JR0802-2) was slightly laid-back and nicely detached from the actual locations of the speakers, the vocals and instruments spread out in an open, airy space. And the soundtrack album from Casper (MCA MCAD-11240) left no doubt of recording engineer Shawn Murphy's genius at capturing the full dimensionality and color of a symphony orchestra. (Is it just me, or have James Horner's film scores become a lot less effective since 1998, when he began using a different recording engineer?)
In my experience, Mirage tweeters have always been among the best, and the tweeter used in the Omni line was no exception. The top end of the Omni 250 had a silky, spacious quality, fine detail, and no spit or sizzle. Vocal sibilants sounded clear and natural. Instrumental overtones extended out as far as they needed to (there's no 40kHz extension to add more to the price than to the audible performance), and the response was as good off-axis as on-, thanks to the Omniguide. The only time the top end called attention to itself was at unusually high levels, when it could turn a little hard and congested. But at the levels at which I normally listen (hardly tame—ask my neighbors), that was not a problem.
And when I tell you that the Omni 250's midrange was generally good apart from the problems noted earlier, I'm not offering faint praise. Much of the time I noticed nothing at all amiss, even on male vocals. Stephen Sondheim's Assassins (BMG Classics 60737-2-RC) may have been a bizarre show that apparently went nowhere, but its original-cast recording has some interesting characteristics. Among them is track 8, "November 22, 1963," which is largely male dialog located not only in the space between the speakers but also steered hard left and right. It sounded clear and natural.
Omnidirectional speakers have another quality that distinguishes them from direct-radiators. They not only sound more consistent at the far left and right of the seating area, as you might expect, but they also change level and timbre less dramatically as you move closer or farther away from them. Apart from the bass region—where room modes predominate—this makes the listening position far less critical in most rooms. I noticed that the general timbre of the midrange-treble sound from the Mirages changed very little as I moved around the room.
The OM-200 subwoofer provided a solid bass foundation for the system. In my room, it didn't reach as solidly into the low bass below 30Hz as the best subs, most of which cost $2000 or more (with a few notable exceptions, such as those from subwoofer specialist Hsu Research). But this limitation restricted only the lowest notes of the pipe organ, the occasional synthesizer effect, and the extreme bottom end of a few film soundtracks. If you haven't heard recordings containing such subterranean extension on one of those super-subs, you won't think you're missing anything at all with the OM-200. Its bottom end was refined when needed, but kept enough in reserve to shake the floorboards when that was appropriate.
The OM-200 could turn a little soft and loose with some program material, but this is typically a room issue. I was able to improve the bass noticeably with the parametric equalization provided by the Subwoofer Optimizer System from Automated Controlled Environments (see review elsewhere in this issue). My first impression of the SOS'd OM-200 was of less impressive bass, but the result was actually a tighter and better-defined bottom end. (All comments about the system's bass that follow, however, refer to its performance without the SOS.) In most rooms, simply finding the best spot for the subwoofer will get you a good part of the way toward this result.
Lights, Camera, Movies
Crank up the entire Omni system reviewed here and you'll definitely be impressed by the big, open, rich sound it produces. But I preferred using an Omni 60—the largest of the Omni bookshelf models—for a center-channel in place of the dedicated Omni CC. Both speakers had some of the midrange coloration noted earlier, but this was less obvious, and I heard it less often, in the Omni 60. The difficulty here is that the Omni 60 is sold in pairs—you might have trouble buying only one. But you could use the extra one as a center surround in a 6.1 system, so perhaps this isn't such a drawback. (In the "Specifications" section, we've intentionally priced out the entire system in the most conservative way by including a pair of Omni 60s; if you don't need two 60s and are able to purchase only one, the system will cost you $300 less than the price shown. If you do go with the Omni CC, the total price will be $200 less). And while an Omni 60 won't look as svelte as an Omni CC when perched atop a big-screen TV (and even less so on a direct-view set), its superior sound should make any sacrifice in appearance worthwhile.
The music and effects in Chicago were spacious and silky-smooth through the Omni system, with a wide, deep soundstage. The bass was a little full, but not inappropriately so for the material. A trace of that midrange coloration was evident, but it wasn't obtrusive. On the other hand, I never heard it at all on the soundtrack from Nowhere in Africa, which has a large dose of native music and choral singing—it all sounded terrific through the Omnis, with superb depth and detail.
Monsters, Inc. was also impressive. The bass-heavy scenes—in Mike and Sulley's apartment, at the compactor machine, and particularly in the climactic door-coaster sequence—were solid, with nothing obviously wrong or missing. The rest of the sound was detailed and open, with the Omni FXes providing convincing surround support.
The system also got the job done in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. I watched this DVD from beginning to end with the Mirage Omnis. While they didn't go quite as loud without slight congestion as some higher-end speaker systems, they went loud enough for me with no stress or strain. All I noticed was how exceptional the sound was; and if a few of the nits I picked above occasionally turned up, they didn't take me out of the film. From the bottom to the top of the range, and the left, right, front, and rear of the soundstage, I enjoyed it thoroughly.
The Mirage Omni system may not be audible perfection—no speaker system is—but its omnidirectional radiation provides a unique perspective on the program material. It's very different from most direct-radiators—a little more laid-back, and notably more spacious than most. Because of those qualities, it can be a little less punchy, but at the same time more forgiving, than many conventional speakers. Listeners will react differently to its unique voice, but it's a voice that should be heard by anyone looking for something distinctly different in a surround speaker system.