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omega speaker systems
Grande 6 loudspeakers
as reviewed by Gary L. Beard
For me, determining the characteristics of loudspeakers is one of the more challenging tasks in audio reviewing. I find it much easier to understand the sound of components through speakers I know well than to do the opposite. To add to the difficulty, all the gear I now have in my house is new to me. Until recently, I owned Merlin TSM speakers, but now, with my focus on lower-cost gear and my new interest in low-powered amps, I find myself with several high-efficiency mini-monitors disrupting my comfort level. I will do my level best to accurately describe what I hear, but I urge you to audition any speakers that interest you in your own home, if possible. There are so many setup variables with speakers that reading a bunch of well-meaning reviews and having an hour's listen in a friend's rig might not be enough. With that in mind, we shall march on.
Its 7:51 PM on a Friday in early March. I've just hung up the phone after talking for nearly 45 minutes about everything from amps to Ouzo with the Omega man himself; Louis Chochos. I found out some interesting things about Mr. Chochos during our conversation. He is a hands-on guy who eschews any outside help to build his speakers. My impression is that he is largely, if not completely self taught as both a speaker designer and cabinet maker, having started building multi-way speakers as a youth. We had a very nice chat, and it was clear to me that Louis is as accommodating as he is hard working. There are a lot of nice folks in the audiophile community, and I think I can safely add Louis' name to that list. He is proud of the speakers he builds, and of the fact that his products are affordable, and he seems to be willing to go the distance to ensure customer satisfaction. Oh, and he'd rather talk on the phone than send email!
The Omega Grande 6s arrived unexpectedly at my door in a very big box. They were unexpected because I thought fellow PFOer Larry Cox was supposed to get them first, but he had bowed out for the time being (baby boy on the way). The speakers were well packaged in a foam-lined box and were contained in white plastic bags. There was a nice note from Mr. Chochos, an instruction flyer, and two speaker grilles in soft-pack bags. I lifted the speakers from the box, and underneath the plastic was one of the most beautiful finishes I've ever seen on a speaker—a laminate from an Italian company called Liri. The finish, in a striking, dusky green, has an almost iridescent, marble-like quality that looks different in every lighting situation. The Grande 6 is a bass reflex, single-driver design with a 3-inch port on the front. On the back is a pair of heavy-duty, gold-plated, five-way binding posts that are connected directly to the Omega-modified Fostex FE167E driver. Look ma, no crossover!
Although I never used the grilles, they deserve special mention. Covered in a light tan cloth rather than the usual black, they have a unique magnetic mounting system (at least one I've never seen)—three small round magnets recessed into the grill frame attach the grilles to the speakers. It works like magic, and without those pesky little plastic studs that seem to break when you look at them. It is a very elegant solution, but since I didn't use the grilles, I stuck them to the fridge instead. (Okay, I didn't really stick them to the fridge, but they looked cool on the front of the Oldsmobile!)
The mere mention of component break-in seems to cause an argument between those who believe components require it and those who say that it is our ears and brains that "burn in," and components never really change. I am firmly in the camp that believes changes occur, as I have experienced them with my own gear. However, whether you buy into the idea or not, the Omega Grande 6s and their stiff paper Fostex driver units do break in. What first seemed to be an interminable process of unspeakable ill ended up being an enlightening journey of discovery. The Grande 6s were my first experience with both single-driver speakers and Fostex drivers. Anyone who knows about Fostex- or Lowther-based speakers recognizes that they are unique and quirky, requiring special care in design and use. Still, that knowledge does not properly prepare one for the pain to come after setting up beautiful boxes with freshly-minted drivers. My listening notes say it all:
Day one—edgy and opaque. Vocals sound like they are in a well. Bass is lightweight, and not deep at all. But cohesiveness is hinted at, and my first experience with a single-driver speaker is filled with promise. Ani Di Serpentine guitar sounds very good.
Louis told me that the drivers would need at least 100 hours to loosen up and begin to sing, but after the 100-hour marked had passed, I was still hearing a hard-edged peakiness in the upper midrange/lower treble, and the bass was lacking. A quick note to Louis confirmed my suspicions that the speakers were not fully broken in. He said they needed to be played LOUD, so that is what I did! For the next two or three days, I cranked 50 watts of solid-state power through those Fostex drivers, and as I came home to listen each day, the speakers exhibited less edginess and more of the open, transparent smoothness that I had originally expected to hear. My listening notes from a week later reflect this:
Day eight—Finally! After playing the hell out of them, they have lost their peaky harshness, They have smoothed out, and even have some nice bass. They are a bit rounded and diffuse, with an occasional hint of one-note-itis, but they are TERRIFIC in the extreme nearfield and sound wonderfully musical in my small room.
I dropped another note to Louis, who confirmed that I was indeed beginning to hear the real Grande 6s. He is disappointed that he cannot break in each pair before they leave the factory, and while I am sure that some customers will hate the process, I rather liked it. It was interesting to hear the remarkable changes from one day to the next, sometimes even one hour to the next. One other note to those readers who, like me, have never experienced Fostex drivers—not only do they require extensive break-in, but they need warming up each time they are played, and if they are idle for a few days, they need a healthy dose of wattage to loosen up again.
So how do the Omega Grande 6s sound? They do have a "sound," that much is certain. Are they peaky and beamy, as so many single-driver detractors say? Yes, they have a bit of edge at certain higher frequencies, although not in every recording or every time I listened. Perhaps they still had some breaking in to do, even after two hundred hours, or perhaps this is an artifact of the Fostex's whizzer cone. My gut tells me it is a bit of both. And yes, they exhibited some beaming in my small room, but this was quickly fixed by crossing the drivers in front of my listening position, as described in the owner's manual. I listened to the Grande 6s extensively in my sucky 10 x 10-foot cube, and they sounded excellent and had fabulous imaging. I also listened at length in a 19 x 12-foot room, which allowed the speakers to breathe and to show off their open and cohesive single-driver sound.
I was fortunate to have four nice, inexpensive amplifiers in house during this review: the 50-watt solid-state Blue Circle CS, the Red Wine Audio 6-watt Clari-T-Amp, and two Almarro tube amps, the 5-watt A205A and the 18-watt A318A. I used them all to drive the Omegas. I doubt it will surprise anyone for me to reposrt that all did an admirable job driving the easy load of the 6s. The little Almarro sounded terrific, but couldn't quite get the job done on rock music at higher volumes in the bigger space. The Blue Circle sounded warm and unerringly smooth. I gave them both high marks, especially the A205A in the small room. In fact, while using a PC/iTunes/Audio Note DAC front end and the Almarro A205A with the Omegas set up on either side of my computer monitor, the result was an honest "Wow!" There was great midrange liquidity, bass depth, and dynamic impact. This was a killer budget system for playing APL files! The bass line on The Allman Brothers "Les Brers In A Minor" (from Eat A Peach) sounded fast and defined, never bloated.
My favorite amps were the Clari-T and the AlmarroA318A. Both mated very well with the Omegas, the Clari-T showing off their excellent resolution and delicate top end, while the warm, deep bass and rolled-off highs of the 18-watt Almarro were able to tame the Omega's occasional aggressive nature and give the bass a nice boost.
During break in, I had noticed a lack of bass, with the lowest lows decidedly one-note in nature. As the speakers loosened up, the midbass became tighter and more defined, as well as more prominent. While 50Hz bass is claimed, I have to say that that seems generous, as the 6s didn't seem to go as deep as the Nola Minis, which claim a 60Hz bottom. That said, the single driver gives the lower bass a more diffuse quality than other speakers I've heard, so perhaps the rating is accurate, and the bass reproduction is not as well defined as that of most small two-way designs with dedicated woofers and crossovers. Setup did make a significant difference, and while I liked the sound in the bigger room, where the 6s were pulled away from the side and back walls by a couple of feet, the bass gain from pushing them back into the corners was significant. Recognizing that a single-driver speaker in a small enclosure is never going to be a bass monster, I would have to rate the bass as good, but if you love music with deep, articulated bass, a really fast sub will be a near must, especially in a larger room. It should be noted that the tone of the Omega's bass is very good, which helped me overlook its less-than-visceral presentation.
During the time I spent with them, the Grande 6s strayed to the lean side on occasion, and were not quite as extended in the treble as other mini-monitors speakers I had in house. Nevertheless, I thought their tonality was excellent, especially on acoustic guitar and male vocals. John Hiatt's Crossing Muddy Waters was particularly convincing. Piano was a treat as well, as the solos on Chick Corea and the Elektric Band's Eye of the Beholder had a wonderful tone and immediacy that made me feel as if Chick was playing just for me.
The 6s are a bit forward, but have a good bit of depth as well, making for a big and lively soundfield. Off-axis listening in the larger room was very good, and I enjoyed the width and height of the sweeping stage. The Omegas accomplish a few things that I found outstanding. The single drivers have lightning-fast transient response, which allows for excellent punch and solid dynamics. There is a trace of hardness in the treble, but the midrange is refined and delicate. The one attribute that the Omegas have more of than any other speakers I have heard is coherence. I assume that the lack of a crossover is what gives them such lucidity. Adding to this seamless nature is a captivating, open, effortless quality. The sound is detailed and transparent, and while it can get a bit congested in busy musical passages, the overall cohesiveness is as musically communicative as I have ever heard in budget priced speakers.
The Omega Grande 6s will not be for everyone. They have some quirks that require patience, correct partnering equipment, and a torturous break-in period that I was not convinced was over when I sent them back. However, when all the planets are aligned, the Grande 6s sound wonderful. If you add their finely crafted beauty and low price of admission to their great potential as music makers, the Omega Grande 6s would make a fine selection for those yearning to try the high-efficiency, single-driver sound. Gary Beard
Omega Speaker Systems