Review: Ohm MicroWalsh Tall speaker system
By: Andrew Grathwohl (Aman)Associated Equipment
Secondary Speakers: Ohm Model E
Amplifier: Pioneer SX-450
Source: Goldring GR1
Cartridge: Grado Platinum
Interconnects: DiMarzio M-Path Solderless ICsMusic Used:
John Abercrombie - Gateway (ECM 150 gram)
Cannonball Adderly - Pyramid (Fantasy 140 gram)
The Beatles - The White Album (Apple)
John Coltrane - My Favorite Things (Atlantic)
Miles Davis - Get Up With It (Columbia, 180 gram)
Bob Dylan - Blonde on Blonde (Columbia)
Jefferson Airplane - After Bathing at Baxter's (RCA)
King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King
Led Zeppelin - II (Classic Records 200 gram)
John Lennon - Imagine (Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs 180 gram)
The Moody Blues - Days of Future Passed (Deram)
The Mahavishnu Orchestra - Birds of Fire (Columbia)
Thelonious Monk - Straight/No Chaser (Columbia)
Eugene Ormandy/Ludig Van Beethoven - 9th Symphony (Columbia)
Eugene Ormandy/Handel - Messiah (Columbia)
Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon (EMI 180 gram)
Todd Rundgren - A Wizard/A True Star (Bearsville 140 gram)
Traffic - John Barleycorn Must Die
Yes - Close to the Edge (Atlantic)
Yes - Tales from Topographic Oceans (Part 1 and Part 4 only) (Atlantic)
Frank Zappa - Joe's Garage
Back in 1978, my mother, a junior at UCONN in Connecticut, was searching for a pair of small stereo speakers so she could enjoy her Fleetwood Mac and Todd Rundgren records. She knew very little about what good sound was, and really didn't know what to expect when she stepped into a small stereo shop in New Haven, CT. After listening to “The Chain” on three or four different systems, my mother ultimately decided to purchase a modest 500 dollar system, which included a Pioneer SX-450 amplifier, a Micro Seiki MB-15 turntable, and a pair of Ohm Model E speakers. She used these speakers for nearly twenty years, and enjoyed all sorts of music over the decades. She was satisfied with Pop, Rock, Jazz, and Classical, and never felt the urge to upgrade.
About five years ago, we my mother and father had to make room for a television upgrade in the room where the old college system was. We moved the speakers into the attic, to be forgotten for a long while. When I began to get interested in hi-fi, I took the old speakers out and gave it for a spin. I was impressed by the sound they put out. On my 100w Marantz integrated amplifier, I thought they sounded quite decent. After switching to the Pioneer SX-450 from my mother's original system, I just fell in love with the sound. I sold my Marantz and had a blast with this vintage setup.
Ohm Acoustics is an interesting speaker company. They've been around for nearly thirty years and have seen all the odds and ends of the industry. John Strohbeen, the owner of Ohm, has been so almost since the beginning, and definitely knows his stuff. The few times I talked to him about purchasing a pair of Talls from him, he was very informative and helpful. This is a very unique audio company – the “salesmen” (there are only two different people that sell their products – the President and Vice-President of the company!) are not the least bit pushy and are very kind. I wondered how in the world Ohm Acoustics could possibly have survived all these years, especially considering the terrifying drop in audio equipment sales in recent years. I figured that a company could only stay alive for this long if they had a solid fan base, and supreme dedication to their products. It can be seen later on in the review that this quality is apparent. Also, even more shocking, this company never had a dealer circle. That's right – they never mass-produced their speakers in order to sell them to retailers. This shocked me even more.
So on with the product at hand. I saw the UPS guy walk up the stairs with my speakers, and I just jumped in joy. I saw two men carrying gigantic boxes, and it had Ohm written all over it. I unpacked the speakers, and found they were very securely-packaged. They were wrapped tightly and double-boxed, with stiff foam barriers on both ends of the package to assure that it didn't get dented during shipment. As I tore the plastic off of the speakers with anticipation, I marveled at the beauty of the finish I had asked for. I got my MicroWalsh Talls in oak. Mind you, this is not fake wood, or plastic – this is REAL wood. A solid, stable cabinet built from real wood. Who else could give you this kind of quality for 1000 dollars? Simply put, I can't think of any other dealer who could.
The speakers don't cease to amaze me just yet, however. As I carried them into my listening room and plugged the speaker cables in, I stared open-jawed at the attention to detail. The caps were solid, and the binding posts were secure. I was in doubt in regards to the cost of the system. When I turned on some tunes, I was in even more shock. Even before burn in, the speakers showed huge improvements over my previous Ohms. They possess a similar sound signature, but it is so much more refined! After about 60 hours of burn in, the sound became even more miraculous.
Now for the impressions. The first album I graced these speakers with was Frank Zappa' wonderfully-recorded Joe's Garage. The opening track, featuring the “Central Scrutinizer”'s raspy, whispering introduction to the story of the album, sounded crystal clear and well-placed. With the previous speakers, there would be distortion outputted due to the inability to handle the complex structuring of the sound. As the music got more frantic and merged into the title track, Warren's guitars and Ike Willis' vocals exhibited profound realism and depth. I could easily pin-point the locations of all the instrumentalists. Ike's groovy voice was centered and almost right in front of me. As his pitch increased and decreased, his voice remained in the same position. Most speakers usually show signs of increasing or decreasing height of a particular instrument when it goes up and down in pitch, because it puts more stress on the tweeter (higher up than the mid/woofer) when higher in pitch, and less when there is a lower pitch. The result is that the lower-pitched notes will be closer to the ground than the higher-pitched notes. Not the case with these speakers. The unique “Walsh” driver design, where the omni-directional driver reflects sound from all angles (accept for the back), results in incredible sound staging and imaging.
This was most apparent when I put on Miles Davis' “He Loved Him Madly” from his two-LP set, Get Up With It. The solemn, ambient organs and keyboards stood perfectly still, even as they progressed to pitches that were almost uncomfortable to listen to. Even more astounding was how the speakers were able to form a sound scape that was nearly five feet wider than the actual speakers were. The keyboards wrapped around my head, which I have never felt before from a pair of hi-fi speakers. And while this was going on, the soft and nimble percussion was still perfectly in the middle. I've heard a lot of speakers that were more expensive than these speakers, particularly the offerings from Magnepan, but I have never heard anything quite like this before.
The Ohm MicroWalsh Talls offer more than life-like sound staging and imagery. I have come to the conclusion that they are one of the few speakers that are adept at producing just about all types music, and all types of recordings. No matter what music I played, be it John Coltrane's My Favorite Things, or Ormandy's Beethoven 9th Symphony, or even Yes' Close to the Edge, the speakers reproduced the record with ease and ability. This is most likely attributed to the incredible accuracy that these speakers possess. Because the crossover sends signals to the midrange until around 8khz, there is not a single note missed. The tweeter only takes what is higher than that, and, let me tell you, this leads for not one ounce of brightness. Instead, the resulting effect is a very balanced presentation. This characteristic is just one more sign of the experience and professionalism that John Strohbeen and company triumph in. Where many $1000+ speakers are raved in the reviews for being realistic and for only producing what is on the media, the Ohm MicroWalsh Talls take this a step further by also offering superb, realistic imagery that those type of speakers suffer from.
What can be said about these speakers? Honestly, these speakers may just represent the best value in the market. They are full-range, they are beautifully-built and feature real wood cabinets, and have, by far, one of the most realistic and idealistic sound traits that a speaker could have. They are even fairly sensitive, being able to be driven by my 15W Pioneer SX-450 with ease. And, to tall it all off, the speakers come with a free 120 day in home trial. This offers plenty of time to not only get them adjusted with your equipment, but to also give them a full burn in. When I talked to Strohbeen, I was informed that they have never once had a speaker sent back to them. That is proof enough that Ohm's products are fantastic and far above par.
There really isn't much more one could ask from a $1000 speaker. I strongly recommend that you take up Ohm's four-month trial period and audition a pair of Ohm MicroWalsh Talls for yourself. These speakers represent the best purchase I have ever made in my life, and I suggest that the case will be the same for anybody else who purchases them.