Analysis Omega Speaker Review by Robert Learner
by Robert Learner on January 07 '09
The Analysis Audio Omega speaker
Ribbons and I go way back. My circa 1980 Phase Research Little Ds had a ribbon tweeter/mid that was extremely fast and smooth sounding – qualities never quite matched to the same extent with the many domes and cones that followed. Twenty years later I finally returned to ribbons via my VMPS RM 40s which employ the technology in the mid and high frequency drivers. In fact, my entire surround system is ribboned, with a VMPS LRC in the center and four Sunfire CRM 2s for surrounds. VMPS did not offer a surround solution that worked from me; the Sunfire’s are the result of my experience that ribbons have innate qualities that would make them a better match for my fronts than any traditional dome speaker.
Notable speed, transparency, texture and liquidity – that’s what you get with good ribbon drivers. It’s addictive, and I’d be surprised if any future reference speakers of mine employ solely conventional dynamic drivers.
The appeal of ribbon technology is their extremely light weight which should translate into excellent transient performance as well as little or no resonance of consequence to muddle sound. A ribbon tweeter can be up to fifty times lighter than a dome. In relative weight, that’s a tiger versus an elephant. Which one will have an easier time cleanly starting and stopping; tracing fast-changing musical signals?
So why doesn’t everyone use them?
Ribbons have the reputation of being non-linear, fragile, and power hungry among other maladies. However, advances in materials and fabrication processes, such as neodynium magnets, kapton, and lamination techniques, along with lower prices for some of these have moved ribbon drivers from a niche product to the relatively commonplace. Manufacturers such as Meridian, Verity, Monitor Audio, Aerial, BG/Wisdom, Adam, Aurum Cantus, and others use ribbon drivers, and often in their top line speakers.
The aforementioned manufacturers use the technology for highs and/or mids only. Low frequencies require moving a lot of air, and this typically requires driver excursion. Broadly, a driver with a square foot of surface area has to move three times as far a driver with three feet of surface area to excite the same amount of air. Ribbons typically have minimal excursion.
The Analysis Audio Omegas take the ribbon concept full range and boxless. Dispensing with cones eliminates the need to sonically integrate the two different technologies and, hopefully, carries the qualities associated with ribbons into the bass regions. To get around the excursion issue, the Omegas have over four square feet of driver surface area per speaker. Now that’s wavelaunch! It also means that the Omega sounds louder per watt than its efficiency rating might suggest.
Analysis Audio speakers are built in Greece, with parts and materials sourced from the three continents. The Omega sits in the middle of the five speaker Analysis Audio lineup. Like the rest of the Analysis line, the Omega is a two-way. The tweeter/midrange, made of kapton is about an inch wide and runs nearly the length of the speaker along its inside wall. It is crossed over at 650hz to a much larger bass panel made of mylar that fills the majority of the speaker frame. You might wonder how such a large sheet of a superthin material would have much structural stability. Analysis embeds the electrical conductors into the membrane, which help provide torsional integrity.
The Omega measures is 66”H x 24”W x 2.4”D and weigh 99 pounds. Frequency response is specified at 22 - 20000hz with an impedence of 5 ohms. Forget the current sucking 1 ohm impedence of full range ribbons past. Recommended amplifier power is 50 – 400 watts.
The speaker frame is made of MDF with machined contours that act as a waveguide for the tweeter. The crossover sits in a separate box next to the speaker. Fit ‘n finish is exemplary – it an obviously a well made product.
Analysis describes its speakers as ‘magnetostatic’, meaning that powerful neodynium magnets drive the panels, in contrast to electrostatics speakers such as Martin Logans where the membranes are activated by electricity from the wall. The approach requires tight manufacturing tolerances – the magnets must be placed with great precision behind or around the membranes to create a uniform field. Analysis argues that the magnetostatic approach has inherent advantages, and in fact, the Omegas sounded more dynamic than MLs I’ve heard, though it’s been a few years since I’ve spent some time with those speakers.
Driving the Omegas was my 200wpc Llano Trinity tube/solid state hybrid amp fed by an Audio Aero Prima MKII DAC/preamp. After a bit of listening, I followed a hunch and swapped out the JJ12AT7 tubes in the amp with Ei12AX7s. The Eis have a bit more extension at frequency extremes than the JJs as well as more gain. I’m generally skeptical of sonic revelations reported from tube rolling (or cable swapping, cone dipping, quantum level purifying and so forth), but the change yielded some obvious and welcome punchiness.
The panels are dipolar radiators, meaning sound comes out of the front and back of the speaker. Further, the radiation pattern is cartiod or teardop-shaped in the horizontal plane, which is helpful in diminishing the sidewall first reflection.
As I’ve found in the past with dipoles, placement takes some time. While the rear radiation adds depth to the presentation, getting precise left/right imaging is tricky. I experimented with distances to the front wall and sidewalls, as well as zero to extreme toe-in. I wound up, surprisingly, with no toe-in and the speakers about three feet off my front wall, and twenty inches from the side wall. Listening distance was ten feet.
Note: I use the VMPS RM40 as a point of comparison not only because I own/know them, but to give the reader an idea of how a full range ribbon panel compares to a high quality, more conventional ‘box’ speaker, one with notable transparency, dynamics and coherence among multiple drivers. In fairness, the RM40 is about a third the price of the Omega.
With the Omegas, I never got the lockdown imaging precision like that of a studio monitor or, say, my RM40s. Voices came from between the speakers but never from a focused point, rather they emanated from a circle a couple of feet in diameter. Further, instruments were often a bit bunched between the speakers. I tweaked, toed, and teased; in my room anyway, these minor issues remained on many recordings.
Mike Kallelis, the distributor for Analysis, thought that the movie screen that sits between the speakers in my room may be to blame. Behind it, I have some absorbative panels, but the screen itself might reflect sound in a detrimental way exacerbated by dipoles. In a setup at Mike’s house with the top of the line Analysis Orions, imaging was more focused. The Omegas may be more capable in this area than I found in my room.
I did, however, get great image depth – a rarer thing than left/right precision and one that adds hugely to realism.
Combine extreme transparency, the seeming ability to start and stop instantaneously and innate resolving powers, and the result is stunning detail and texture. Proper decay as per the instrument but absolutely no overhang. The opening guitar chords of Lou Reed’s ‘Turn to Me’ (New Sensations – his most underrated) just shred the air through the Omegas.
David Johansen’s ‘Somebody Buy Me a Drink’ from the fantastic Chesky recording showed great definition and texture from cymbals down to bass guitar. Now stretch these qualities into three dimensions as the Omega’s do and the result is palpability, music that feels alive. Microdynamics, the tiny wavers in a voice or note that keeps us on edge are as good as I’ve heard.
My notes are consistent from cut to cut. More depth and layering than I’ve ever heard in my room from most recordings. Extreme bass clarity with seemingly zero bloat. Precision, speed and air. Effortless high frequency extension without glare. Images reside a bit more behind the speakers than many other speakers I’ve reviewed. No sense of individual drivers. Seductive liquidity. Tonally pure. Extremely resolving.
A note here on the issue of resolution versus musicality which I’ve heard some audiophiles float. Like the economy versus the environment, it’s a false choice. Hard etching is one thing, detail is another. Most of my listening is in the rock/jazz/blues/pop genres. This means a lot of studio recordings, many of which are recorded to retain as much detail as possible. For such recordings, maximum detail extraction simply makes the listening experience more real for me. Man I want Lou’s guitar to be sharp and vicious! Move on to live recordings and the detail will likely be softened by the recording space anyway, I’m not looking for a speaker to further the process.
Cranking up the Omegas revealed a bit of macrodynamic compression versus the RM40s, but with obvious gains in transparency and the ability to hear and see each instrument in space. Complex passages were effortlessly sorted and separated. The 40s are no slouches in these departments, but the Omegas are simply another level.
They do not, however, go as deep as the RM40s, nor do they have as much bass impact. If you’re a closet head banger like me, or less glibly, deep bass and a sense of force down there is important to you, look further up the Analysis line to their larger panels, or try adding a sub. But it better be a good one and fast as hell or you’ll get the disconnect often heard in hybrid panel/dynamic speakers. My JL Audio f113 fit the bill. It’s extraordinarily quick and clean. Figuring that I’d want to stay out of the way of the speed and quality of the bass panel as much as possible, I got good results crossing over at 40hz. Not perfect integration, but close enough so that I felt further tweaking would make the combo viable in the long term.
Listening to Duffy’s ‘Rockferry’ was a turning point. Kids finally down, I fell onto the sofa next to my wife and hit play. Despite being a not-so-great recording, let’s just say it: it’s as close to the sound and feeling of a live event as I’ve had in my room. The music was soaring, monumental. HUGE soundfield, layers and layers of instruments without slurring. Tactility. Once tired parents now invigorated. Where do I sign?
There are a lot of reasons music is an important part of my life, but it started and always ends with the capacity to thrill from the inside out. Get my blood pumping, my body moving, my spirit sky high… I seek components that leave my overdeveloped critical facilities disarmed. Bottom line engagement is my first point of judgment – it’s a usually immediate, gut thing that I’ve come to trust over the years. It’s what my final judgment rests on as well. In between is analysis; defining this engagement, breaking it down into its parts so the reader can make a judgment based on their particular tastes.
The Omegas do several important things as good as I’ve heard and, bottom line, got me closer to live music on some tracks than I’ve ever been in my room. I did, however, note slight macrodynamic compression at higher volumes and a lack of deeper bass force and dynamic punch. The bass issue is addressable with a high quality sub. Further, and less important to me, there is a bit of a trade off here on ultimate image focus versus the great image depth presented.
The Omegas are benchmarks of speed, precision, transparency, and spatial layering. A different beast from the plethora of cabinet speakers out there, they may redefine a bit what you think is most important to making it real in music reproduction. If you are looking to spend in the neighborhood of the Omegas, they are a must listen. You may find that boxes filled with cones and domes just aren’t as transporting.