, a former owner of a pair of Ohm loudspeakers decided, together with SMR Home Theatre, to audition the latest generation of Walsh design.
Many thanks go to Mr. John Strohbeen for his help and for providing the review sample.
Ohm Walsh 300 Mk2 Specifications:
Frequency Response 20Hz - 20kHz +/- 3dB
|(All specifications as per manufacturer)|
To thine "Ohm" self be true
I recently received an E-mail from a reader who complained that I did not nit pick enough. He opined that reviews constituting raves with few negative comments were not what people were looking for. As no product is perfect, they must all have imperfections that deserve comment. I responded to him from two directions. First, I asked him what was wrong with a reviewer being swept away with what a speaker did right? Isnt that what this hobby is about? As its true that there is no such thing as the perfect speaker, the object should be to find ones whose strengths throw its shortcomings into obscurity. Second, I explained to him that products for review here at SMR Home Theater are not necessarily solicited on a random basis. During my 15+ years of speaker hunting, I have heard a number of products that excited me and we have sought out review samples so that we may share them with you -- the interested reader. So, if you too read these reviews and wonder why they are so positive, keep in mind that it's no accident. We dont solicit from our advertisers, we have none. Often we solicit from companies of which we are already fans. We think its more productive to highlight good products than point the finger at poor ones, and frankly, its easier to write about what moves us.
So why do I tell you this now? Because Im about to tell you all about a product from a company Ive long been familiar with. The first pair of "High End" speakers I ever owned was a pair of Ohm Walsh 4s. While my fickle audiophile nature had me selling them some years ago, the fact is that they went to my Father-in-law and I still get to enjoy them on a regular basis. So, when I was surfing and came upon Ohm Acoustics web site, a huge light bulb went off in my head. What had the makers of one of my more fondly remembered speakers been doing all these subsequent years? We had to go after a pair. By the way, Ohm Acoustics doesnt sell through a dealer network anymore so it was the only way for me to get to hear them. They are sold only factory direct.
The Ohm Walsh 300 Mk 2s are designed around the "Walsh" driver developed by the late Lincoln Walsh. Years of refinement have created what Ohm calls the "CLS" (Coherent Line Source) driver. Where typical cone drivers propagate sound in one direction because their backs fire into a box, the CLS driver faces down into a cabinet from the top. Sound is propagated from the back of the driver rather than the usual front. As the driver is "cone" in shape, and as it faces the floor, it propagates sound in an omnidirectional pattern, which is to say that it radiates in 360 degrees (visit their web site to read in detail about the theory involved, its too much to go into here). In addition to the CLS driver, there is a one inch "super tweeter" mounted at the drivers top and angled inward so as to cross axis well in front of the listener. This tweeter is reportedly in full operation by 8 to 10kHz. The CLS driver does most of the work, from the bass up through the critical midrange (avoiding crossovers and their potential deleterious effects on driver blending) on up through the upper midrange/lower treble.
... do these speakers take a long time to break in! As most buyers will be hearing these speakers fresh out of the box, and for the first time, its important to know that they do not sound very good before extensive break in. For all practical purposes, they are a one way system. The bass and midrange are all dependent on one large driver (in the case of the 300, a 12 inch unit). Until the suspension on this driver starts to loosen up, the sound is something hard to get enthusiastic about. Ohm says that in an effort to avoid electrical manipulation of the signal, they make use of plenty of mechanical damping which contributes to the long break in period. Until that point is reached, the speakers bass was very light, mids are constricted and upper --midrange is absolutely muted. The sound was polite yet disappointing. The good news is that the folks at Ohm realize this, thats why they offer a 120 day home trial (Ohms Law!)!
If they get my award for taking the longest time to come into their own, I must also give them the award for making the largest transformation of any speaker Ive ever auditioned. Its hard to believe that what I am hearing now is coming from that speaker I took out of the box weeks ago.
Errors of "Ohm"-mission
No speaker is perfect, this is true. Neither will one speaker please everybody. The 300 mk 2s are different from the majority of the speakers Ive had through here and frankly, they are a welcome change. First, their errors are all ones of omission. Honestly, they dont actively do anything that I dont like.
The main omissions are that of presented detail and imaging specificity. Ive been an addict of the kind of imaging and detail I get from mini monitors for some time now. While there is no question that minis can offer imaging with specificity far in excess of what one hears in live music, Ive always told myself that this was my compensation for not being able to be in the audience for the original live event. The detail and focus monitors give are also rendered to a higher degree than I have ever heard from live music. If you too are addicted to such a high degree of focus and detail, the Ohm Walsh 300 mk 2 may not be your type of speaker. Then again, maybe they are and you just dont know it... yet.
"Ohm"-ni present imaging
Imaging may not be as specific as other types of speakers on the market, but the trade off is a huge sound stage with a remarkable degree of depth, width, and perceived space. Ive never heard better depth from any system. Joe Jacksons "Body and Soul" (A&M CD-5000) is a favorite disc of mine that was recorded in a fraternity hall. Immediately after cueing up the disc I was struck by how I was seated in the hall and by the very natural way the band was spread across the floor in front of me. The sense of being in that hall was something that has never been communicated to me before. Unlike with many speakers, the sound stage was well behind the speakers. This was a surprising revelation because Ive owned the recording for 13 years and its a standard demo disc I take along with me wherever I go.
Lateral sound stage portrayal is phenomenal. Im used to speakers with which I get great lateral spread when the recording calls for it, usually due to some trick recording methods or mixing. But it was consistently excellent with the Ohms. Whether or not there were instruments placed to the outside of the speakers, there was always a sense of space to the left and right of the sound stage.
In addition, image height is exciting with these speakers. They are tall speakers and as the driver is on the top, they present a very tall image. On Sonys Super Bit Mapping version of Miles Davis "Kind of Blue" (CK 52861) I was transported to a jazz club. The band was spaced wide upon a slightly elevated stage. I cant imagine it getting any more realistic than this. Bass was nailed from slightly right of center stage, the drums to the rear of stage right. Piano to the extreme left of the stage rear. Dynamite!
For all intents and purposes, the term "sweet spot", when used in regard to these speakers, refers to the imaging properties only. Sitting off center restults in a shifting of images toward the listener (rather than a total callapse of the stage) but as they are omnidirectional, they sound fantastic as you move about the room. For those who dont do their listening while planted in that perfectly placed chair with their head in a vise, this is a very important aspect of the speakers performance. You can walk in front of, in between, and even behind the speakers and they sound great. Even listening from the next room presents a new experience in clarity.
Lastly, with respect to imaging, these speakers perform an amazing disappearing act. Almost no matter how you set them up, the Ohms disappear into the sound stage. Its rare that you hear them as distinct sound sources. For that matter, the speakers are greatly flexible with regard to the distance between the speakers relative to the distance to the listener. The wider the spread, given the seated position of the listener, the more on axis the listener is to the tweeter. To some extent this can be used to achieve ones preferred tonal balance. Within reason, imaging remained quite stable as I moved my position in and out.
Enough on imaging!! What do they sound like?
Smoooooooth, thats what. My listening was done via either a Rotel RA-970BX 60 watt per channel integrated amplifier or a Conrad Johnson PV12 tubed preamp and the new Sunfire Signature amp with its 600 watts per side. The largest difference between the two being that of bass control and "slam". While the bass with the Rotel was nicely balanced, it lacked the slam and definition I got with the CJ/Sunfire combination. The smallish Rotel just didnt have the juice to control the Ohms 12 inch driver. Over all, I would describe the bass as very natural with good weight and definition. While Rockers may wish for more punch , classical music lovers should be very pleased with its performance.
Moving on, I would describe the 300s as being on the sweet side, but some would interpret that as meaning somewhat dark. They are not dark, they are exceptionally neutral. But the top end is so smooth, the word sweet keeps coming to mind. From top to bottom, they just dont do anything to draw attention to themselves as an entity.. After the imaging, this is where they get my next highest marks. Nothing about this speaker could possibly irritate. That doesnt sound like very high praise, but I mean it to be so. Ive heard some VERY highly regarded speakers in excess of the 300s price (such as the Dunlavy SC IV or B&W 801) that while overall are impressive, there is often one area or another that leaves me either unimpressed or even turned off. The Ohms are so coherent and smooth that its difficult to even chop it up into the three usual sections of Bass/Midrange/Treble. I listen and all I hear is music. On ZZ Tops "Greatest Hits" (9 26846-2) the speakers were doing the Tube Snake Boogie! Bass drum on "Gimme All Your Lovin" was impressive with excellent rhythm. The opening percussion on "Rough Boy" was as impressive in terms of impact and billowing bass as Ive ever heard it. Insertion of the Sunfire Signature only made things better. "Pearl Necklace" presented such a sense of "Texas Saloon" ambiance that I could smell the beer on tap. Guitars were always clean and clear with excellent bite and cymbals were crystalline with no fatiguing splash. Bass lines were a joy to follow.
Jesse Cooks "Gravity" is my new acoustic reference CD and presented me with my only disappointment. My reference Sonus Faber Concertos produce such a degree of detail from these guitars that its startling. Much of that detail was missing from the Ohms. The trade off, once again, was in imaging and sound stage depiction. The sense of space surrounding the performance made my Concertos sound dry and sterile by comparison. Once again, rhythm was excellent as was bass authority. The myriad of persuasive pieces on the recording were all portrayed with as unfatiguing a presentation as I have ever heard. No hardness, no sizzle, and no splash. I love the way these speakers do treble. It is always luxurious and delicate, never hard or brittle.
Dont misunderstand me when I talk about missing detail. The midrange is very clean. There is never any hint of being opaque or veiling. As a matter of fact, I would say that the amount of detail is perfectly in keeping with the laid back perspective of the speaker. They are a very transparent speaker to be sure, just not a speaker of hyper detail. I would go on to say that everything adds up to make this a very forgiving speaker. Forgiving, that is, of problems upstream with the electronics or program material.
Ohm Sweet Ohm...
These are indeed very nice speakers. At over $4k, they should be. The good news is that unless you have a very large listening room, you dont have to spend that much money. The 300s are near the top of the line but Ohm says that their entire line of Walsh series speakers sound essentially the same. One need only spend more money for a larger speaker to fit larger rooms with larger output requirements. I believe them. There is enough of a family resemblance between these and the 15 year old 4s that I dont doubt their claim. Way back when, I also owned the Ohm Walsh 1. It sounded extremely similar to the 4, the differences being bass output and dynamics. So Ohm knows about continuity of sound throughout the line.
As far as these speakers ability to fill a large room with sound, thats another of their strengths. These speakers play loud without a hint of strain. I was continually amazed by the fact that most of what I was hearing was coming from a single driver. While, generally speaking, I was able to use the Rotel 60 watt integrated amp with excellent results, inserting the larger amp drove them harder and louder. In my room, which is essentially the whole first floor of the house, I drove them to levels in excess of what I would dream of using on a regular basis and at no time did either the amp or the speaker ever show signs of distress. At very high levels (averaging 95 to 100dB at the listening seat) I did notice some compression of the bass. Music remained clean but at a given point, the level of bass stopped increasing. I hasten to point out that the speakers did not become anemic and few sane people would ever listen this loud! But even as loud as they were playing, at no time did I witness any mechanical misbehavior or bottoming out of the driver. If other areas of the speakers performance didnt impress me so, I would have been more surprised at their dynamic performance.
I like these speakers. I like them a lot. They are everything that Ive been moving away from over the last several years and its refreshing and enlightening to hear them again. Its like moving from a luxury car to a two seat sportster and going back again. Comfortable to say the least. While they dont do everything under the sun, what they do, they do exceptionally well. I must reiterate that what they dont do (hyper focus and detail) is something that you wont get from live music anyway, and for what little you give up, you get something very special in return in terms of sound staging and ambiance portrayal. I cant recommend highly enough, to those who want to fill a room with pleasing music, that they try out a pair. For those looking to get back to "sonic honesty", these may just be the ticket.
Whether or not they sound like your cup of tea, forgive my being swept away by them.... again.
Good luck and listening,
More information about Ohm products can be found at the Official Ohm Web Site.
Text © John R. Potis Jr.; HTML © SMR Home Theatre and Images © John R. Potis, SMR Home Theatre cannot be reproduced without permission.
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