On November 25, 2015, Peter Downs of Alternative Audio, located in a beautiful country house in a pleasantly isolated area with amazing fresh air, allowed me to audition the Analysis Audio Omega speakers, made in Greece by Tassos Hartzis. Peter was an accommodating and gracious host, picking me up at, and returning me to, the Taunton train station. Peter patiently played my LP track selections:
"The Rose" by Amanda McBroom, Growing Up in Hollywood Town (Sheffield Lab 13)
"Send in the Clowns" by Bill Henderson, Live at the Times (Jazz Planet Records/Classic Records)
“Landslide” and “Rhiannon,” by Fleetwood Mac, Fleetwood Mac (MFSL)
"First We Take Manhattan" and "Bird on a Wire" by Jennifer Warnes, Famous Blue Raincoat (Rock the House Records/Classic Records)*
"I've Got the Music in Me" by Thelma Houston, I've Got the Music in Me (Sheffield Lab 2)
*Yes, I know this is a digital recording.
When we took a break Peter’s wife prepared a delicious, home-cooked lunch.
Peter is an “old-school” dealer, carrying only the very few brands of products which he personally believes to sound the best. He believes in selling an entire system to a client, not just a single, random component.
Prior to the audition I spent a total of about four hours speaking on the telephone with Mike Kallelis of Analysis Audio USA in Charlotte, North Caolina. Mike is extremely knowledgable about the Analysis Audio speakers and has available for audition the four panel Analysis Audio Orion system (which is basically the taller Amphitryon (Analysis Audio’s largest single panel speaker) with an additional woofer panel (covering 80 hz to 25 hz) which stands next to the main woofer/midrange/tweeter panel). Mike was very patient explaining the history of Analysis Audio, the technical aspects of the speakers, passive and active crossover options and modifications he makes to the components of the crossover which have improved the sound qualities of the speakers. I hope Tassos realizes how lucky he to have someone as knowledgeable and as enthusiastic as Mike representing Analysis Audio in the USA.
As I am looking for the ultimate and last speaker system my personal interest is the four panel Orion. The Omega would have essentially the same sound as the Amphitryon and as the Orion, with the larger speakers extending lower in frequency response, taller in scale and more dynamic below 80 hz.
Peter’s associated components are: AMG turntable and tonearm, MM cartridge, NAT battery-powered phono stage, NAT battery-powered line stage and NAT 60w transmitter tube SET.
The room was on the small side, approximately 12’ wide, with the right speaker firing into a doorway in front of, and to the right of, the listening position (not ideal). I felt the listening position was too close to the speakers. Peter is in the process of building a larger, dedicated demo room on the first floor of his house.
My listening preferences: I have used planar speakers for my entire life: Magnepan MG-IIIA for a couple of years, followed by Martin Logan Monolith II and then Monolith III and then (and now) Prodigy. I feel like I “understand” dipole speakers. I would never publish a review of dynamic driver speakers because I feel I am unqualified to assess them.
Lest my comments about construction quality below be misinterpreted as a criticism of the sound of the speaker I want to state at the outset that, for all of the sonic attributes I value most other than cone excursion impact -- transparency, openness, soundstage, detail and absence of artificial brightness -- the Omega was amazing and fully satisfying. Overall, the Omega provides a panel sound which is very familiar to me and which I naturally prefer: open, transparent, great depth, great height, complete detail, natural image sizes and good scale. It is, on my sonic priorities, except for significant cone excursion impact, one of the best speakers I have ever heard. Unless someone requires big woofers for cone excursion impact (for rock or deep house, for example), and unless someone simply does not like the open sound of planar speakers, focusing solely on sonic attributes, there is not much reason not to buy the Omega or the Amphitryon. Further, I believe a variety of subwoofers would work just fine to provide an Analysis Audio-based system with conventional cone excursion impact. I, personally, take as a given that all pure panel speakers should be paired with dynamic driver subwoofers. Due to my preferences, and subject to my explicit caveats, I do not know what else someone could want in a loudspeaker.
1) The Omega is just one shade less transparent than Martin Logan, and more transparent than anything I have ever heard other than MartinLogan. This is literally the first speaker which is not a MartinLogan for which I would be wiling to sacrifice that last bit of electrostatic transparency because the Omega makes that sacrifice small. Many people say that dynamic drivers can have “electrostatic-like” transparency but I have never quite heard that to be the case.
2) The detail was wonderful (lip smacks on Bill Henderson's Send in the Clowns; the delicate shimmer at the very beginning of Stevie Nicks' Rhiannon; studio decay from sibilance by Jennifer Warnes' Song of Bernadette).
3) I found the Omega to be amazingly coherent. Even with a crossover of 650 hz in the critical midrange I didn't hear any discontinuity between the midrange/tweeter ribbon and the woofer panel. (However, I am not particularly sensitive to driver discontinutiy, as evidenced by the fact that I lived happily for many years with MartinLogan Monoliths.)
4) I found this to be the most dynamic pure (no dynamic driver hybrid) planar speaker I have ever heard. While the hybrid MartinLogans provide cone excursions impact in the the bass region, my issue with MartinLogans is the lack of impact and oomph in the upper bass/lower midrange area. This was the first time I ever felt a little bit of cone excursion type impact from drums on a pure planar speaker! There was richness and “body” in the upper bass/lower midrange area which I have never perceived with pre-Neolith MartnLogans, and for which I have always longed with MartinLogans. The Omega did not have quite the "jump factor" and the transient response of the Avantgarde Trios.
5) I heard no artificial or annoying brightness anywhere.
Between the Omega and the hybrid MartinLogans, with the Omega you are giving up one shade of transparency and significantly more cone excursion impact in return for greater body and richness above 200 hz (the hybrid crossover frequency) and more bass detail and texture below 200 hz. Between the Omega and Magnepan MG-IIIA (I have not spent enough time listening to more recent Magnepan speakers, although I suspect I would adhere to this view even if I have), purely on sonic attributes and with Analysis Audio physical design and construction issues aside, I do not know why anybody would buy a Magnepan speaker (and I owned and I still like very much and recommend Magnepan speakers), instead of the comparable height Analysis Audio speaker, especially considering that you can drive the Analysis Audio speakers more easily (including with beautiful-sounding higher-watt SET amps). Of course lower price, and the comfort of a product with a long and extremely distinguished and awarded history, produced for many years by a stable and highly-regarded Midwestern USA company with a time-tested technology, and sold and serviced by a local USA dealer, rather than a product by a newer company in Greece, are perfectly valid reasons for preferring Magnepan. (I am not sure I can get over the Greece aspect myself.)
I did not experience with the Omega the Magnepan phenomenon of needing to play the speaker at a certain volume to kick it to “alive.”
I have not heard Apogee speakers recently, and I have never heard reconditioned Apogees, new (i.e., Graz) Apogees, GT Audio, SoundLabs or Sanders loudspeakers.
I believe the Omega sounds as good as it does in spite of not robust and reassuring structural design.
1) The speaker tilts backwards. According to Peter even Tassos agrees the speaker should be perfectly vertical but the base of the speaker is made out of MDF and is so lightweight that Tassos had no choice but to build the base so that the speaker tilts backwards a little bit; otherwise the speaker is in perpetual danger of toppling forward. So the further you sit from the speaker the more the speaker is firing above your head!
2) The perforated metal grill on the back of the speaker looks like it attenuates a third to half of the rear output of the dipole. I don't like this because I want the full rear wave to be emitted from the speaker to reflect against the front wall (yes, I know there is a variety of opinion as to whether the back wave should be absorbed, diffused, or allowed to reflect). In addition, the metal grill must cause some of the rear wave to be reflected immediately back into the front wave, which theoretically will slightly confuse the front wave, I would think. Peter thinks the metal grill on the back is there to provide some rigidity at the back of the speaker, or perhaps the metal grill supports the magnet structure.
3) When music is playing the entire frame vibrates.
4) Both Peter in England and Mike in North Carolina replace the components of the crossover with higher quality capacitors, resistors and inductors. There is no way to know how the OEM speaker sounds since these dealers modify the OEM crossovers as a matter of course.
5) Peter said that in experimenting with the speaker he found that it sounds better with the midrange/tweeter panel polarity wired the same as the woofer panel polarity, whereas Tassos builds the speaker with the midrange/tweeter panel polarity reversed. Speakers costing many thousands of dollars should not have to be treated like Heathkits!
6) The entire frame, including the parts of the support base, is plain wood. The speaker comes only partially assembled. You have to tighten screws to fasten the vertical frame to the perpendicular feet using self-grabbing hardware like you get from Ikea. The feet are too thin and too short to support the panel in the sturdy and robust manner I think the panel should be supported.
7) If you put your finger on the top of the speaker you can rock the top of the speaker forwards and backwards without the feet or base moving at all, just like a springboard.
I would like to see the ribbon and woofer panel suspended in a solid, sturdy, non-resonant corian or phenolic resin frame with a base which is large enough and heavy enough for the speaker to be vertically oriented with no rearward tilt.
The physical design and construction of the Omega is exactly what I was referring to generally when I wrote in a post about the MartinLogan Neolith that the manufacturers of panel speakers have been relying for far too long on the inherent superiority of their technology, and have given short shrift to issues such as rigidity and frame/cabinet resonance on which conventional speaker manufacturers have focused (e.g., Magico, Rockport, Wilson).
Peter agrees with several of my comments about physical construction. Both Peter and Mike have discussed a sturdier structure with Tassos. Apparently, Tassos believes there is no real problem because he thinks the speaker, as is, sounds just great, and he is not inclined to redesign the frame structure, adding significantly to weight and cost.
So, what to do? It is a perfectly valid view that the theory (of non-resonant cabinetry) does not matter and that the implementation (a not very rigid frame) does not matter, and that the only thing that matters is the resulting sound quality. To me, as a panel person, the Omega sounds fantastic, as it sounds extremely similar to MartinLogan with a shade less transparency but with greater upper base and lower midrange body and warmth (minus the MartinLogan hybrid conventional cone dynamics). That, to me, is a pretty killer combination, especially since you can add back the cone excursion impact with subwoofers.
If someone is buying a speaker based on sound quality per dollar -- on a value basis -- then the design compromises don't matter because such a buyer would prefer the reasonable price of the current speaker to a much higher-priced version in which these flaws have been fixed. This speaker, even with all of these design compromises, still sounds better in most respects that matter to me than everything else I have heard (except, again, MartinLogan still wins on ultimate transparency and the dynamic driver speakers still win on cone excursion impact). I suspect that going up to the Amphitryon and the Orion would only increase the Analysis Audio's margin of superiority over Magnepans and pure ESL MartinLogans in respect of low frequency extension and dynamics.