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Analysis Omega Planar-Ribbon Loudspeakers
Review By Wayne Donnelly
One of the word-of-mouth sensations at the January 2006 T.H.E. Show in Las Vegas (the independent adjunct to the Consumer Electronics Show) was the room featuring the planar-ribbon Analysis Omega loudspeakers. This writer didn't make it to Vegas this year, but I have heard from quite a few attendees that those relatively unknown transducers were on the short list of most musical loudspeakers at either show. That news was no surprise to me, since I have been listening to the Omegas since November 2005.
What is near universally surprising about these remarkable music makers is their provenance. Greece may be the cradle of Western civilization, but I'm damned if I can recall another major audio component hailing from that ancient land.
According to importer Mike Kalellis, Analysis Audio was founded by a small group of Greek audiophiles who were devotees of the ribbon speakers from Apogee, which were perhaps equally well known for superb sound and amplifier-killing impedance curves. After Apogee closed down, replacement parts for their speakers became progressively harder to find and dauntingly expensive, until finally they decided to produce a new and improved ribbon loudspeaker. Analysis Audio has been marketing in Europe for some years, but only entered the United States market in early 2005.
I first heard the Omegas at Audible Arts, a San Jose , California store owned by my friend Jeff Wells, who was the first United States dealer for the line. I was immediately intrigued, and eager to review them. But I was on the verge of moving to Chicago , and did not have time for a reviews cycle before that. Finally, having found a home in Chicago with a great, spacious listening room, I was ready to engage the Omegas.
The basic form factor of the Omegas will seem familiar to anyone who knows the American Magnepan line. But whereas Magnepan uses differentiated planar magnetic membranes for both low and high frequencies, the Analysis designs use a lighter and faster ribbon driver for the highs. The Analysis bass panels are conceptually similar to the Magnepan loudspeakers, but appear to be more ruggedly built. (At least according to my memory -- it has been a few years since I closely examined the panels from Minnesota .)
The Omegas stand some 5.5 feet tall, two feet wide and just under three inches thick, and are a visually graceful presence in my room. The review pair are in solid black; the wood frame can also be gray, with black cloth covering the bass panels. The speakers are mirror-imaged, with the nearly full-length ribbons to the inside. Bi-wire 5-way terminals are located at the bottom rear of each speaker.
Review System and Loudspeaker Placement
This is the second review based entirely on the excellent listening room of my new home, a spacious 12th-floor condo in an 1891-vintage Chicago building. My system now occupies a 23 x 15 x 9.5 foot room whose back area behind the listening seats opens out voluminously. The floor is oak laid over 12 inches of concrete (same for the ceiling.)
The Omegas were driven by my reference rig: VTL 7.5 line preamplifier, Modwright/Denon 3910 all-format player (review coming), Thor TA-3000 Mk II phono stage, Basis 2800 vacuum turntable, Graham 2.2 arm, Transfiguration Temper cartridge, mostly Bybee cables. The Spectron Musician III (also reviewed in this issue) saw the most service, with briefer appearances by the Wavac MD-805 and VTL Siegfried monoblocks.
I placed the Omegas a little under four feet from the back wall, with the (mirror-imaged on the inside) ribbon drivers eight feet apart with a slight toe-in, my primary listening sofa is about 12 feet back from the plane of the speakers. With those proportions I have a very broad sweet spot, perceiving a well-developed soundscape from any of the three seating positions on the sofa. The vertical orientation of the bass panels and ribbons constitutes a line source, so that the balance of sound doesn't change notably whether I am sitting or standing. Another benefit of a line source is that there is very little reflection off the floor and side walls, as is typical with cone drivers and tends to complicate and blur spatial clarity and image presentation.
As dipoles, the Omegas produce an equal amount of output firing to both front and rear. One effect of dipole design is that the Omegas play louder than box speakers rated at the same sensitivity. That was confirmed in the first few days, when the only amplifiers I had on hand were the 55-watt Wavac MD-805 SET monoblocks. That combination produced a lovely, beautifully detailed and spacious sound, with surprisingly robust volume levels (and, truth be told, a bit of clippings to keep me in line). Of course I had more fun with the 700 and 800 watts per side respectively from the Spectron and VTL amplifiers. The Omegas play very loudly without strain or distortion.
One thing I hate about reviewing is breaking in new equipment -- those weeks (sometimes months) waiting for the sound to reach its full potential. The Omegas, mercifully, needed only about two-three weeks of playing 24/7 (quite softly at night) to reach more or less full break-in, but their essential qualities were evident right out of the box. Constant readers may recall that for about the last year my reference loudspeakers have been the excellent Meadowlark Blue Heron 2s, one of the most satisfying box speakers I have heard. I'm not typically prone to rash judgments, but on the first day the Omegas replaced the BH2s in my system, I said to my listening companion, "Well, I guess the Meadowlarks won't be going back in." Prophetic words? Stay tuned.
In a way, I'm at a loss to do justice to the experience of listening to the Omegas. Smooth, neutral, relaxing? Surely! Speed of attack and settling, dynamic precision and accuracy of scale? Uncanny. Unmatched in overall musicality by any box speaker I have heard? afraid so.
Want a little more detail? Okay, let's start with the bass. Dipole bass is very different from even the quickest and tightest box speakers, even the best transmission line designs like the aforementioned Meadowlarks. The Omegas go down to 22Hz, but the lower notes are absent the box boom "whomp." I have always liked slammy bass if it is also pretty tight, but I have quickly grown to love the sheer speed and resolution of the Omegas' low frequencies, and the speakers' seamless tonal coherence up through the full frequency spectrum.
The Omegas produce very stable images within a soundscape that ranges wall-to-wall and beyond, as if melting away side and back walls. My back wall is mostly occupied by two huge (62-inches wide) double-glazed windows. With the heavy wooden blinds raised, the speakers can sound a little "hot," from the back wave reflecting off the glass. For serious listening sessions I always lower the blinds to dissipate that back wave.
So spatially revealing are the Omegas that is easy in most cases to discern the size of the recording venue and the microphone setup.
For me, the hardest music for any audio system to reproduce fully has always been the piano. Most speakers simply cannot accurately produce the full scale of such a physically large instrument. It's a lot of sound to squeeze out of your typical 5-inch cone midrange driver and associated tweeters and woofers. Large and very fast panels and ribbons seem to me much better suited to the task. The Omegas also set a new standard in my experience for vocal reproduction. And of course playing large-scale symphonies or opera through them seems to draw me right into the power and majesty of heroically scaled performances.
The Omegas are simply the most satisfying speakers, for every musical genre, that I have ever reviewed. Yes, I'm afraid they have permanently displaced my beloved Blue Heron 2s, and I expect to be listening to them for a long time!