UPDATED 11/13/15 - point 9 & 10 on advantages below
UPDATED on PHantoms 12/06/15 on post 30 below
Added a second review of an Omega RS5 driver speaker, except as a dual driver Bipole: http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=146170.0
(And yes, it is fantastic)
This is a short, but long overdue review of a pair of speakers that finally ended my search - at least for a season. I planned to post this as a way to thank Audiocircle for all your help. I've been on a number of audio sites in my search for a fulfilling system. Audiocircle by far, has given me the greatest help. Thank you!
I post this here as it is more of a review of a speaker that sounds the most musical to me out of a dozen speakers that has passed through my home. Given that my selection is the result of testing about a dozen speakers, including many that are highly regarded in their price range, I felt it is more helpful and appropriate to post in this forum than the manufacturer's forum. Background:
A few years ago, I stepped into one of the early flagship Magnolia store and heard a bank of McIntosh coupled with one of the nicer Sonus Faber speakers. That one had a larger room than current Magnolias. It rocked my world. I had no idea that reproduced music could be so deeply engaging. The music sounded huge, warm, rich and deep. I played the piano 12 years, and my wife and sons all play acoustic musical instruments. Daily our sons play their instruments at home at a pretty high skill level. I never thought reproduced music could have similar emotional engagement. For three months I could not get the emotion out of my mind.
So that started a journey of saving up some dollars and to get a system. Our finances meant that the bank of McIntosh and Sonus Faber is not remotely within our range but we looked for something of the quality.
One of the key aspect of putting together a system was finding the right speakers. Amps do differ but their tonal differences seem, to me, to be slight compared to differences between speakers.
I auditioned about a dozen speakers including owning the KEF LS50 for 18 months. I had speakers from larger companies such as Martin Logan, Golden Ears and Totem. I also auditioned a number of speakers from a number of smaller boutique makers the final of which was a pair of Devialet Phantoms. The KEF LS50 never moved as I needed a benchmark to compare other speakers to. I can't remember tone - but I can remember the gap and difference between other speakers and the KEF LS50. Of particular note for two way monitors would be the Fritzs which just felt most natural of all the other two way monitors. If I were to pick up two way monitors, Fritz would end my search.
However, the speakers that really topped everything else for me were the Omegas Super 3i monitors when coupled with a pair of subwoofers. They are the first pair that I told my wife, "Honey, I feel that I've arrived and can live with these." Before talking about the speakers, here is additional information in response to those who queried belowSource
- Tidal (3 months trial), Spotify Premium, CDs - rarely. Will switch to Tidal from Spotify once my trial is over as the difference seem obvious to me. Amp
- Line Magnetic 518ia. Dac
- Line Magnetic 502ca I acquired both Line Magnetics with a friend's help - normally beyond my means. Music type
- Just about anything except for hard rock, metal, rap. Normal musical fare includes acoustic music, jazz, classical orchestral pieces, vocals, movie scores, worship, and a bit of country. Last night was listening to a Mozart 'Die Entfuhrung Aus Dem Serial' for the first time and enjoying it very much. So pretty eclectic. What do I like about the Omega Super 3i more than anything else I auditioned extensively in my home?
1. Subjectively, there's is something that simply sounds right about the music. With every other speaker I listened to, my mind was aware that I was listening to a system. Even when I worked and the music was in the background, something about the music occupied my attention in a way that told me that I was listening to music reproduced on speakers. I could not fully be lost in my work. Omegas are the first pair that I sometimes forget that there is music in the background. They do not tax my mind. They simply felt real - as if my son is playing piano in the living room while I worked in my office.
Of all the speakers I auditioned at home, this is the one that moved me emotionally when I am listening without distraction, but without intellectually thinking about the system. When I actually THINK about evaluating the system, I can't always put my finger on why I like it. But when I let go and simply listen, then this speaker engages my emotion in a way that the others speakers have not. These simply sound 'pure' for the lack of a better word.
2. High transient speed and resolution. These qualities are very important to me. Music on acoustic instruments have lots of overtones. The wooden soundboard on a violin, guitar or piano (all of which are in our home) produce a most wonderful complexity of overtones that are fast and subtle. Even the lowly Omega Super 3i has a transient speed and resolution that allows me to hear the complexity of music that reflect reality better than any other speaker I tested. In comparison, the KEF LS50 sounded positively veiled and tubby. No other speaker I tested ever made the LS50 veiled or tubby. After the Super 3i showed up, the KEF LS50 left home in 48 hours. Grateful for Craigslist. I note that I tested the LS50 vs Omega while I had access to another amp that had tremendous synergy with the LS50 - a lightly used and presumably broken in Vinnie Rossi LIO so it is not a problem with the amp. (I would not mind considering purchasing a used LIO if anyone has a bead on one. It's so convenient.)
3. With the subs filling the bottom octave and half, they sound large. It is amazing that such small drivers can give the sense of such scale. A number of owners of the Super 3i raved to me about how they sound with fast subs integrated into the system. They are right. Really wonderful.
4. Excellent and even broad dispersion. I really appreciated the same quality in the KEF LS50.
5. That these speakers are also the lowest cost of all that I tested truly welcome as I am doing things on a careful budget. I replaced the KEF LS50 gladly with these. That a new pair of Omega Super 3i are only $595 plus shipping is most remarkable.
6. High efficiency. 94 db or so. This is a huge boon as one can use just about any amp, greatly expanding what one can do on a budget. I'm told that on the top end, for $1k, the Decware Zen is a dream match. But then under $100 amps such as the TP3116 (I am just learning about these.) also work beautifully.
7. I've not yet optimized for these speakers. I believe they can be optimized with a pair of isoacoustic stands. Right now, they are simply plunked down on top of the subs which themselves are on a block of granite. Also being full range drivers, I believe they will become even more resolved when high passed say about 80 hz and up as this will remove the larger low frequency excursions.
8. Matches particularly well with fast articulate subwoofers. Not sure why but they sound even more amazing. Many owners of these Omegas have told me that adding a sub is magic. I fully agree. And you can get a fine sub for not much invested.
9. Added 11/13/15 - Another critical quality of the RS5 driver, for me, is that they 'release' their notes very well at low volume. There is a sense that when I am playing at very low volume, say about 45 db from 6 feet away, there is more of the music reproduced. Most speakers including the LS50 need to hit a certain volume before they sound complete or even enjoyable. While no speaker has a very strong low mid or bass at very low volume given that the ear is less sensitive to bass at low volume, the Super 3i does provide the most complete detail of any speaker I've tried at love volume. I listen at such low volumes early in the morning when I don't want to disturb the rest of the household and also am in a more contemplative mood. As the day starts getting noisier and my ear becomes more attuned to louder sounds, I then turn the speakers up. Being able to turn the subwoofer off is also a boon to not disturb others. In short, these speakers release their notes very easily at all volumes, providing more transparency and detail.
10. They do break in faster than a lot of other full range drivers such as the Fostex. Caveats
However, it is not all unadulterated perfection. The Super 3i are thinner in the midrange than the KEF LS50 - but that is partially because the LS50 is considerably slower in the transients to my ears. This is where a pair of subs played without crossover so that it ends about 140 hz goes a long way to complete the Omega Super 3i for me. Deep bass extension is very important to me. But even with subs, I know that I will like a bit more midrange emphasis.
In other words, piano that sounds like Grand piano on the LS50 (albeit slower, tubbier and less realistic) sounded more like uprights on the Omega Super 3i (albeit more musical, accurate and realistic piano tone). And before the Omega, the LS50 produced among the most realistic piano tone for me. I've read similar opinions on the web.
Thus for me, having a subwoofer is a definite must for the Super 3i. This is subjective but I REALLY like the bass foundation though I'm not a bass head. The grand piano just has this wonderful bass resonance which I can't reproduce without a sub. I note that these drivers, for some reason, are noted to be particularly superb when matched with subs with fast transient speed. Not sure why but it is magic - they sound like completely different speakers. My subwoofers are not expensive but they are fast. They are the Pinnacle Baby Boomer - $400 street for new ones. Dual 8" sealed, 11" each side - small, fast, articulate - and I run them without crossover. The tapers off naturally in a way that just matches the Super 3i well for me. I am sure Omega's subwoofers are likely to be even better if one is willing to make the investment.
I also note that I had a pair of Omega Alnico XRS for a few days. It would have been keepers except for the fact that they were cosmetically damaged in shipping and the dealer was kind enough to take them back. My brief impression of the Alnicos is that they have even better resolution, more fleshed out tone and larger dynamic swings for the same musical pieces. Piano sounds more like grand pianos. Unfortunately, I had the Alnicos for only a few days before the Super 3i so I cannot compare them side by side. Perhaps in time, I'll pick up an Alnico again. Perhaps the Super 3i are gateway speakers to the more expensive Omega speakers.Conclusion
I am amazed that in audio equipment where I see people spend tens of thousands or more on a system, there are gems such as the Omega Super 3i which is remarkably resolved, fast and natural which can be for considerably less than a thousand. That I would pick the Super 3i over speakers multiples its price is a bonus.
It is interesting after a couple years of training our ears with various speakers, I went back to listen to the same McIntosh and Sonus Fabers pairing only to realize that what transfixed me that first day is no longer quite so amazing. In fact, to my wife and I, they are actually less resolving than what we are used to. Of course, they still had the scale of a large show room which I simply cannot get in a home office room.
I remember that early in my search, Omega owners seemed to rave about their speakers more enthusiastically than other makes - to the degree that it actually turned me off because I felt they were exaggerating. Fanboys. Perhaps. But eventually all that raving got the better of me and I thought I'd audition one for myself. Glad that I did as it got me off the speaker merry go round for a while. While I am SURE that Omegas are not for every one, this quick and non-professional review is one way to say thanks to Audiocircle for all the help I have received.
I note that no one, certainly not Louis who owns Omega, asked me for this review. It's simply a way to say 'Thanks' to audiocircle. If helps even one person to find a speaker that is a good fit, this review would serve its purpose. I also thank Louis for the few times when I called up up to discuss his speakers. He's known for his accessibility though I want to be careful to not send too many people to him who just want to chit chat.
ps: In my journey, I also heard a pair of Martin Logan Montis at a dealer. Those were amazing! But at $10K, considerably beyond our budget. Devialet Phantoms are simply amazing for their size but they are still the most buggy and frustrating consumer product I have ever experienced in my life time. Currently Devialet simply still cannot get its act together unfortunately. The Omega Super 3i and Subs are better than the Phantoms but require separate dac, amps and cables which makes them a much larger and complicated system than the Phantoms. Now that I've been comparing with the Phantoms a bit more (during their periods of stability), I can state unequivocally to me that the Phantoms are a lot flatter in their soundstage compared to the Super 3i.