Pull up a chair and let me tell you a story about how a guy from Connecticut has designed a loudspeaker that’s short on “hi-fi” and long on music.
I’ve been thinking about Old Testament stories: specifically, Noah and the Ark. This is the second pair of Omega loudspeakers I’ve reviewed in nearly as many months. It was never my intention to start herding products in pairs into the Digital Audio Review ark (impending flood or not). The man behind this single-driver loudspeaker manufacturer – Louis Chocos – was worried that I’d misunderstand his product range if I began and ended with the previously reviewed, niche-appeal Sticks. As soon as the ink had dried on that review, a pair of Omega Super 6 XRS (AU$2611) were on a plane, Australia-bound. I’ve since had them for nearly three months: they’ve been run in, run around the amplifier block numerous times and they’ve run circles around my previously-held assumptions that single-driver speakers always tended towards tonal hardness and couldn’t “do” rock n roll. Sure, they could twirl you around, but they couldn’t throw you over their shoulder.
Pieces of furniture in their own right, the Super 6 look unusual but striking; a short and stout floorstanding box with a 93db sensitivity rating. They sport a proprietary 6″ Alnico hemp cone toward the top of the front baffle. The reflex port is downward firing and their reclining pose speaks volumes of their sonic flavour: bold with just a hint politeness. Whilst I’m spoiling this review’s punchline, I won’t hold your attention until the concluding paragraph to tell you that I wholeheartedly love these loudspeakers. They play all genres of music in a way that it is both different and – with a single-ended, 8wpc, 300B amplifier at the helm – utterly mesmerising.
Things started tentatively some six weeks ago. First into the audition cage with the Miniwatt N3 was Biosphere’s Patashnik. What should be a sinister 3am snare-and-synth pulse came up just shy of the mark. When pushed by the Miniwatt’s meagre 3wpc, the Omegas retired at 2.45am. The complete picture of snap and dynamic drive was blurred. On the vocal-centric Prefab Sprout Let’s Change The World With Music, the Miniwatt began to strain from lack of juice when pushed beyond low-level listening. At higher SPLs, some tones hardened as we neared the upper floors of Paddy McAloons lift-shaft vocal.
Switching in the Glow Audio One amplifier and upping the wpc ante to 5, the bass tightened and the top-end reached higher. Still, the pyromaniac’s excitement at the fire hazard warning wasn’t quite satiated. Without the traffic lights of a crossover, Paul McCartney’s “Come Together” vocal line was laid bare amidst the Lennon/Harrison/Starr instrumentation. With this 90bpm drum and bass lope, these were speakers with no intention of getting to the church on time, happy with cruise control in the left-hand lane, safe in the knowledge that they could put the pedal to metal when required. Don’t get me wrong, the Omegas Super 6’s aren’t slow – they’re the contradiction of “fast” and “relaxed”. With the much-hyped 2009 Abbey Road stereo remaster, they played tortoise to The Beatles’ hare.
With only a cursory listen, it would be easy to write off these speakers as incapable of any kind of weight or slam. I almost did. My listening notes after a few days read, “if you’re in the mood for out-and-out slam, look elsewhere”. Then Modeselektor’s 50 Weapons went and made a liar of me and proved that the 6″ hemp cone could go low and sound weighty. The rock-a-billy jangle of Morrissey’s early singles were imbued with a neat, confident swagger and Circulation’s proto-house debut Colours sounded suitably propulsive, if a shade hesitant. Reluctant slam. 90% slam. Non-aggressive slam. Passive-aggressive slam. Whatever you call it, these speakers could still do justice to Justice. Case in point: Audiojack’s remix of Underworld’s “Holding The Moth” shows ample weight, the drum kicks with military precision at the very centre of the soundstage and Karl Hyde’s vocals loop repetitively from left to right and back again.
After a week or two, imaging became as freakishly good as it was with the Sticks. There was an absence of that dry, chewing-on-cardboard sensation that I’d felt when those slender boxes were paired with the wrong amplifier – the Omega Super 6 XRS are nowhere near as fussy about who or what supplies the watts (and source material). Mid-bass warmth was present, without it sounding like a mid-bass “hump”. Acoustic and jazz are still the XRS 6’s bread and butter genre. I should imagine that the delicacies of acoustic and jazz music sounds superb across the entire range. It’s hard to escape the when it’s paired back to its bare essentials. Omegas’ hemp cone makes Wild Beasts’ simple guitar and vocal in “The Devil’s Crayon” billow effortlessly across the room. Cymbals and brushwork have surreal presence and – just as you think these Omegas are beginning to sound too laconic – there is ample snare snap to bring the listener back from the precipice.
By now, the single-ended pretenders had been substituted for more mathematical amplification: the Virtue Sensation, a Tripath design that excels with good, clean power and a tidy sonic signature. A solid state amplifier for those that find solid state amplifiers cold and edgy and ideal companion for the single-driver Omegas. Gone was the vocal strain that plagued the Miniwatt when pushed. Gone was the indefinite bass. Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3’s Ole Tarantula is quite a thin-sounding record, at times showing some top-end roll off. Or was that the Virtue? No mind, because I heard midrange extrication without disembodiment and layering that wasn’t overcooked or contrived. The Virtue/Omega combination really ignited vocal harmonies – Hitchcock’s work is chock full or lyrical quips and smart jokes and I miss none of them! Guitar lines also displayed more bite with the Tripath-ery of the Sensation and bass extension was a solid as you’d expect from Class D. The Virtue sound is more defined but less romantic than its tubular compadres.
A side note regarding the XRS 6’s bass: the downward firing port means these speakers can be sealed, used close to a rear wall or deployed in a small room without any of the attendant bass dissipation issues. I hooked into the bass groove of LCD Soundsystem’s “Pow Pow” without ever letting go or being thrown from my moorings because of bloom or bloat. Bass is as tight as the attendant amplifier will allow – as it should be! Ported or sealed – this not just a frivolous feature but flexibility that matters.
As amplification improves, so do these Omegas. I wheeled out the big tube guns of a Serbian 300B: the Trafomatic Experience Two. It unveiled far greater treble extension in the Omegas and threatened to derail this review with its flair, exuberance and charm…
In 1989, David Byrne walked out on Talking Heads, kicking dirt in the remaining three members’ faces with an album that could only be seen as a logical follow-up to the world music that underpinned 1988’s Naked. Rei Momo is more South America than West Africa: think Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka (Byrne) fronting the Star Wars cantina band with his Oompaloompas on backing vocals – a percussive-horn fiesta that has become my reference for assessing the midrange capabilities of hifi equipment. I wanted to write about how this album above any other that I played during my weeks with the Omegas had the best midrange resolve, the most bounce, the most fun…but my listening notes tailed off as could not write and listen simultaneously. Byrne’s quirky songs were too distracting. I simply just sat, listened and smiled. Nothing describes my listening experience better than this simple phrase: just sumptuous.
The Trafomatic/Omega pairing underscores the latter’s preference for diplomacy before engaging in all out rock-n-roll war. There is never anything as crude as showiness in this hifi social circle. Spinning Bjork’s Vespertine wasn’t just a listening experience, it was an aural seduction. The Super 6 project sweeping strings and the Icelandic’s unique vocal so far into the middle of the room that only the most hardened of souls would resist a journey to the centre of (Bjork’s) earth. For me, I didn’t just hear the song “Hidden Place”, I heard into the song. A subtle-but-important differentiator for those caught in the hifi melee, looking for an exit. Know that this pair of Omegas – with a good amplifier – are totally immersive. I guess that’s the point: the Super 6 respond favourably to better ancillaries, but they are far from Ming-The-Merciless with budget amplifiers.
Their speed and transparency marks them out from the crowd as acoustic gymnastics. They are fast and nimble. If the previously reviewed Sticks were too skeletal, the XRS 6 are fully-formed humans. More meat-on-the bone means the XRS 6 are less amplifier dependent – they sounded great with the solid state Virtue Sensation, much better still with the glass and gas of the Trafomatic. With these Omegas we get all the confidence without the unwanted arrogance. The sparse instrumentation of Neil Young’s Le Noise – just electric guitar and vocal – occupied the room (and then owned its human inhabitants) for forty-five hypnotic minutes. Electronic music is served up with rounded edges, imbuing the synthetic assault of Sven Vath’s Sound Of The First Season with a more analogue feel. A different take on the techno world, yes, but every bit as a compelling as through my reference ATC SCM 11s. Do not mistake their relaxed disposition as a defensive maneuvre.
In the big world of hifi speakers, getting to know the Omegas Super 6 XRS was akin to a learning a previously lost language. One that is just as expressive as the dominance of two-way-English or sealed-box-Spanish. Moreover, it is a language that reveals fresh ways of interpreting old stories: much-loved songs, many of which we’ve written off as lost to over-familiarity and over-exposure. Even in music-adoration land, we kill the ones we love. To this end, the Omegas Super 6 XRS are an open invitation to the audio reanimation lab. They won’t jump up and down and demand your attention. They won’t rile your cynicism with showboat audio. They are a simple, single-driver loudspeaker for those looking for a fresh take on what loudspeakers can do – at any price. They re-invigorate poorly mastered recordings, even those horrorshow CDs from the formative years of the format. During my two months with the Omegas XRS 6 as my daily listen, I rediscovered lost gems from The House Of Love, David Bowie, The The, Steely Dan, Tim Buckley and the Cocteau Twins. They made me want to listen to my music collection all over again. And with that, this is a hifi product that transcends a star rating. Instead it scores the very first “DAR-KO award”. A knock out in all respects.
- Logitech Squeezebox Touch
- MHDT Paradisea
- TeraDak Chameleon
- Virtue Sensation
- Trafomatic Experience Two
- Miniwatt N3
- Glow Audio One
- The Beatles – Abbey Road (2009 Stereo Remaster)
- Morrissey – Parlophone Singles Collection (2009)
- Bjork – Vespertine (2001)
- Wild Beasts – We Still Got The Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues (2010)
- Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 – Ole Tarantula (2007)
- Sven Vath – Sound Of The First Season (2001)
- Modeselektor – 50 Weapons (2010)
- Underworld – Holding The Moth (2009)
- David Byrne – Rei Momo (1990)
- Neil Young – Le Noise (2010)