October 2001Mirage OM-5 Loudspeakers
by Marc Mickelson
I have a soft spot for certain products I've owned in my audio past but have moved on from to presumably greener, and certainly pricier, pastures. The Mirage M3si speakers are one of these. They were big black monoliths with front- and rear-firing drivers that presented an always-pleasant wall of sound. They were wonderful with piano -- hearing them reproduce it is what sold me on them -- and they made music with just about any amp of 50Wpc or greater. Why then did I sell them to a fellow audiophile in New Jersey? I wanted more resolution, more transparency; I had tricked myself into believing that these were the keys to audio bliss.
Reminiscing can be sweet, but experiencing again something that's passed is even sweeter -- and the perfect segue into this review of the Mirage OM-5 speakers, which aren't the direct offspring of the M3si but do remind me of the older speaker's sound -- with some noteworthy additions.
Omnipolar omnibus (condensed version)
Until the introduction of the OM-1 at this year's CES, the OM-5 occupied the top tier in Mirage's line of Omnipolar speakers. As we wrote after we toured the facilities of Audio Products International, Mirage is one of three lines designed and manufactured at API's large factory in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada and the only one of the lines designed around the idea that loudspeakers should radiate sound in 360 degrees. And for Mirage, 360 degrees is literal -- Omnipolar speakers project sound from the front, rear and sides, all of which is controlled in its dispersion. Hence, the speakers energize the room in ways that others don't and claim to "imitate reality in the balance of direct and reflected sound" produced. So the idea is not just to make a speaker that radiates all around, but rather one that does this deliberately and for proper effect: in the case of all Omnipolar speakers, "natural-sounding reproduction with believable imaging" and a large sweet spot.
The Mirage design brain-trust, Ian Paisely and Andrew Welker (Welker is the main designer of the OM-5), relied on the manufacturing muscle of API for drivers that would help achieve the Omnipolar goals. The OM-5 uses the same 1" Pure Titanium Hybrid tweeter and 4.5" carbon-graphite-and-mica-impregnated polypropylene cone midrange as the OM-7 and in the same configuration -- tweeters and midranges mounted front and rear. The 8" injection-molded polypropylene cone woofer is also identical to that used in the OM-7, but there's also a significant wrinkle: there's a pair of the woofers, and they are powered by a 250W amplifier in each speaker. This is certainly the reason that the OM-5s cost $3500 USD per pair, $1500 more per pair than the OM-7s.
It's also the reason Mirage rates the OM-5's frequency response as 22kHz-22Hz +/-3dB. In-room efficiency is stated as 90dB and impedance as 6 ohms, with a 4-ohm minimum.Crossover points are 200Hz and 2kHz. One specification that caught my eye is the recommended amplifier power: 100-300Wpc. Although I achieved very good performance with a 60Wpc integrated amp, I can also attest to the fact that these speakers need a good amount of power to sound their best. More to come on this. Also, the speakers come with three snap-into-place grilles -- two in front and one in back -- and these are integral parts of the speaker, helping with dispersing the sound from the six drivers. More than other speakers, the OM-5 loses much of its visual appeal with the grilles off anyway.
The OM-5s are not small, measuring 53"H x 11 9/16"W x 16 3/8"D and weighing 92 pounds each. They are mostly black but offer either gloss-black or natural cherry decorative side rails. There are pairs of speaker terminals on the back for bass and treble/midrange connection along with controls for adjusting bass output level and frequency, two ports, an IEC connector for the OM-5's power cord, and a fuse holder.
I also need to point out the cardboard packaging for the speakers, which is incredibly elaborate (and no doubt a pain for anyone having to repack a pair of the speakers) but also ingeniously protective, ensuring that these large and heavy speakers have their best chance of getting to you unharmed. Good going Mirage.
I used the Mirage OM-5s in my two systems, with solid-state and tube electronics and a wide array of cables. Amplifiers were my reference Lamm ML2 monoblocks, a pair of Audio Research VTM200 monoblocks, and Audio Analogue Puccini SE Remote and Mark Levinson No.383 integrated amps. Preamps used were the Lamm L2 Reference and Audio Research Reference Two Mk II. Power cords were from Shunyata Research and TARA Labs, with power conditioned/routed by a Shunyata Hydra or Richard Gray's Power Company 400S. Digital sources were a Mark Levinson No.39 CD player used alone and with a Bel Canto DAC1.1 and two Panasonic portable CD players.
I biwired the OM-5s to best effect with DH Labs Q-10 speaker cables, which sounded almost as good as the Nordost SPM Reference and Red Dawn II but cost a fraction of their price. And once I had settled on the Q-10, I also used the DH Labs Air Matrix interconnects. But if you don't have the scratch for Q-10 and Air Matrix, DH Labs' Silver Sonic T-14 and BL-1 II are worthy too.
The OM-5's bass amp has no on/off switch, which means it's on when the speaker is plugged in. However, it lapses into standby mode after a few minutes if it doesn't receive a signal, jumping back to life as soon as it senses one. The MOSFET amp uses pulse-width-modulation circuitry to produce 90% efficiency, so even when the amps are on, they draw less power than a 60W light bulb. A front-mounted LED on each speaker (and somewhat obscured by the grille) is red when the amp is in standby, green when operating.
My first exposure to the OM-5 came when we toured API's facilities outside Toronto. After that tour, the Mirage gang took Doug Schneider and me to the home of API's PR person, Jeff Percy, where the OM-5s were occupying a beautifully decorated living room approximately 26' x 20', so rather large. The OM-5s were at one end, the electronics at the other. In between were chairs and couches and end tables -- the living-room furniture. Percy had decided to integrate the speakers into his home, not make a dedicated home for the speakers, and the results were sonically impressive. I knew then that I needed to review the OM-5s, if for no other reason than to re-create what I was hearing.
Thus the OM-5s were first set up in my 12' x 27' office area and then in my 12' x 24' dedicated listening room. The size of the room in which the OM-5s will be used is important. The speakers need a fair amount of breathing room, presumably because of their ability to direct sound all around themselves. Putting them too close to the side walls and especially the front wall constricts the sound, killing their sense of 3D realism and not allowing the speakers to cast their standard immense soundstage. And then, of course, there's the powered woofers, which can easily overload a small room even with all of the control you have over them. I would guess that a 12-foot-wide room is the minimum you would want to have for these speakers, with 14 or even 16 feet being better still. In terms of length, 16 feet or more are mandatory so you can sit far enough from the speakers to let them develop their sound in space.
And space is what these speakers will portray. Once properly set up, which in my case meant 20" from the side walls, 49" from the front wall and toed in at the main listening position, the OM-5s conjure a soundstage that is enjoyable from many positions in the room other than the sweet spot. These are no "head in a vice" speakers, and not even furniture can ruin the properly scaled images the OM-5s produce. And as you move around the room -- or in the case of my office area, sit down and type -- the soundstage doesn't collapse to favor one speaker or the other. The center image remains stable, and musical business goes on as usual. Ani DiFranco's Up Up Up Up Up Up [Righteous Babe RBR-013D] plays some tricks with the placement of vocalists and instruments, but the OM-5s placed everything where it should be even as I moved around the room. This freedom takes a few minutes to get used to, but once you've experience it, you can grow to miss it quickly.
The soundstage of the OM-5s is itself as wide and deep as any I've heard from speakers I've owned or reviewed. Again, chalk this up to the Omnipolar dispersion. When a recording displays right-to-left spread or depth, such G. Love and Special Sauce [Oheh/Epic EK 57851], the OM-5s push it to the greatest degree, transporting the musicians into the listening space as well as any speaker I've heard. However, the OM-5s don't transport you into the recording as much as other speakers do; the images portrayed don't have the crisp outlines and precision of, say, those from the Wilson WATT/Puppy 6. I remember this about my M3sis too, and at the time, it was something important only when comparing the M3sis to other speakers. When I had settled in to do some serious listening, my reservations disappeared.
Tonally, the OM-5s are on the dark, warm side of the spectrum. There's no grain or glare, only sound that's easy to become involved with. As a byproduct of this, I think, the OM-5s need ample power to come to life; my 18W Lamm SET mono amps just couldn't cut it with these speakers. Easily the best amps I had around were the Audio Research VTM200 200-watt monoblocks, which have seemingly endless reserves of power, but the 100Wpc Mark Levinson No.383 was a very close second. However, my favorite companion for the OM-5s was the Audio Analog Puccini SE Remote integrated amp, whose 60Wpc were plenty to play the speakers at house-filling levels. The SE Remote is not nearly as tubey-sounding as the regular Puccini SE, and it offers 20% more power. The OM-5/Puccini SE Remote combination made everything from Johnny Cash's great American Recordings [American 45520-2] to the remastered version of Dire Straits' eponymous first album [Warner Bros. 47769-2] sound seductive and immediate, not in any etched way, but rather with presence and palpability that are hard to re-create at any price.
Interestingly, even with the warmth of the OM-5s, there is a vitality in the midrange and treble that makes female vocals and especially piano sound true to life. This was also a trait of the M3sis, but I don't know if it's a matter of voicing or the dispersion pattern that both speakers have. Diana Krall's All For You [Impulse! IMPD-182] was stunning over the OM-5s, as was Danilo Perez's Panamonk [Impulse! IMPD-190], a recording that every jazz lover should own. Both are heavy on piano, which rings with clarity even from the next room. I first thought that the OM-5s were somehow accentuating the attack of each note, but then the Wilson WATT/Puppy 6 does this to a greater degree. No matter -- play something with well-recorded piano at a realistic volume and you'll hear what I mean.
The powered bass of the OM-5s was very deep and weighty, and an initial slight rise in the midbass was easily ameliorated with proper adjustment. I settled on the frequency at 70Hz and the output level at -2dB; this worked best in both my rooms. When the level is too high, bass-heavy material will cause some port chuffing and perhaps your walls to begin resonating. With the frequency set too high, vocals can take on an overly chesty quality, and the midbass becomes overwhelming. But the great thing about the OM-5's bass is how adjustable it is. If you hear any of the things I mention in your room, just experiment and you can get rid of them. When the bass is right, material like the great series of recordings from Telarc by the Jacques Loussier Trio display vitality and punch down low that makes playing them one after another a great pleasure. And while most audiophile speakers begin to show their blemishes when played loud, the OM-5s don't even begin to sweat. They're rave approved, and they'll have you dancing all night -- if the neighbors will tolerate it, of course.
Audiophiles looking for speakers in the $3500 range have a choice to make at the outset: floorstanding speakers or high-quality minimonitors? There is merit to both approaches -- more full-range sound versus perceived refinement.
My Merlin TSM-SEs with stands represent competition to the OM-5s in terms of price, but obviously these are rather different speakers physically. And the physical differences carry over into their sonic representations too, as the Merlins are very inconspicuous sonically when they are set up properly -- that is, they disappear, leaving only the music behind. They also get more into the recordings, letting you know more readily what was happening in terms of miking and mastering. If a recording is bad, the Merlins will let you know.
The Mirage OM-5s, on the other hand, are proficient at bringing the performers to your listening space and filling that space with them. The OM-5s don't disappear the way the Merlins can, and their bass goes much lower and with more weight and dynamic impact. The Mirages OM-5s, in contrast, are great at melting your walls away, so "they are here" sound as opposed to "you are there." The OM-5s are far more forgiving of bad recordings, and they require more power than the Merlins, which also sound their best with tubes.
In the end, the decision of which kind of speaker to buy will probably be dictated by the room in which the speakers will be used. However, Mirage makes Omnipolar floorstanders that are smaller than the OM-5, like the OM-7, which minimonitor gourmand Doug Schneider likes, or OM-9. The bass of the OM-5s will be too much for a small room, and in such a room you won't likely need your bass drivers to be self-powered anyway. Even if you are thinking about buying a pair of minimonitors, seeking out a Mirage dealer for an Omnipolar audition is worthwhile.
Going home again
The Mirage OM-5s, like the OM-7s, have a lot going for them: very full-range sound, a vast soundstage that doesn't require you to sit still in one ideal spot to enjoy it, an overall friendly character, and powerful bass that's adjustable to your room and tastes. They don't present images with the laser-like precision that some other speakers do, but they are incredibly enjoyable speakers, ones that will have you wondering why anyone would want more. Home theater is a definite use for the OM-5, but doing so at the expense of two-channel music would be a shame, especially given that the Omnipolar OM-5s will likely cast their spell in rooms furnished with items other than consumer electronics.
Thus, these are speakers you can live with, although if you want to house them in your private audio sanctum sanctorum, you'll be rewarded. Just make sure you have some watts with which to drive them, preferably of the solid-state variety, and experiment with the bass controls to achieve the best compromise of depth and weight with lower-midrange clarity and honesty.
I loved the Mirage OM-5s, and more than my long-departed M3sis. Their sound is somewhat unconventional when compared to that of many audiophile speakers on the market today, but their room-filling ability and large sweet spot will make them perfect for use in real-world listening rooms, which often double as real-world living rooms or dens. Their powerful bass can be tailored to just about any space. Give the OM-5s a chance and they'll work on you; just have the good sense to keep them once you have them.
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