What sets the Ohm Micro Walsh apart from every other sub $1K floorstanding speaker in memory? I find them unequivocally enjoyable, without any major nits to pick that would qualify my enjoyment. While better speakers certainly exist -- though none in their price bracket that I've encountered yet -- owners of the Micros, with the possible exception of ultimate bass extension, won't feel obliged to make excuses for their speaker when compared to more expensive see-what-the-Jones-got competition. In fact, these are the kind of speakers that will make owners of certain far more expensive speakers feel rather silly.

Most amazing for a speaker its size? Bass response. Close inspection revealed a hidden bass port between enclosure and plinth that aided in cleanly extending bass to 40Hz in my smaller room. In the larger family room, the speaker was amazingly capable of satisfying bass with music, though a subwoofer will be preferred by those wishing to use the Micros in a multichannel theater system with its reliance on bass effects (and I highly recommend the Ohms for Home Theater, too). Nevertheless, even in the larger room, the Micros offered sharply defined music bass. I was halfway through Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense DVD when I discovered that I had left my subwoofers off. Nothing about what I was hearing motivated me to get up and turn them on, either. Tina Weymouth's bass lines were articulate, of entirely appropriate weight and rendered with complete believability. The multitude of synthetic bass generated from Steve Scales' keyboards enjoyed equal credibility.

In the smaller dedicated two-channel room, the Micros had even greater authority. Only truly extended material like Electronica or Reggae would require a subwoofer. The very lowest notes were MIA, granted, but down to the electric bass' lowest fundamental or around 40Hz, the Micros were completely self-sufficient. The opening bass note on "Humpty Dumpty" from Aimee Mann's Lost In Space [SuperEgo SE 007] had both the heft and transient authority that I look for, without bloat or artificial lower-midrange ripeness. Ditto for the ambitious bass line from the CD's title cut.

While the diminutive Ohm Micros offer superb bass for the ears, they are obviously not pant-flappers or wall-shakers. They couldn't quite manage the wall-flexing power required to give Bowling For Soup's Drunk Enough To Dance [Silverstone/Jive 01241-41819-2] the drive that other, much larger speakers do. Nevertheless, they did an almost unbelievably good job with songs like "Tea In The Sahara" from The Police CD Synchronicity [A&M CD-3735] and ZZ Top's "Rough Boy" from their Greatest Hits [Warner 9 26846-2]. Both songs resulted in loud and satisfying bass that energized the room.

The Micro Ohm's midrange is superb in this class of speaker and very good by any definition. Highly detailed and uncolored, its full-bodied mid-bass and lower midrange differentiate the Ohm's presentation from that of competitively priced mini speakers. Those stand-mounted monitors tend to favor midrange detail over all else and can't generate the body and warmth of the Micros, with a psycho-acoustic side effect being that body and warmth can, at first blush, make a speaker seem not quite as transparent or detailed. The Micros easily stand up to any minis with their meaty presentation that's accomplished, solid and beautifully fleshed-out.

Female vocals sound relaxed and effortless and indicate a slight sweetening of the upper midrange. Compared to much more expensive speakers, the Micros seem to shave off a touch of leading edge in this region. When the Micros are used with good associated equipment, the result is a relaxed sound that pleases with easy-going silkiness. When used with the receivers that will be their likely mates, I imagine their forgiving nature as God-sent. Anyway you slice it, the Ohms add up to a grain and glare-free presentation that is free of any edge.

That easygoing nature continues right along to a perfectly married treble that's smooth, sweet and very forgiving. In this regard, these speakers remind me of the Morel Octwin loudspeakers that I reviewed for SoundStage! earlier this year and which sell for about 9 times what the Micros demand. As you would expect, the Morel tweeter is more extended and highly detailed, but the two speakers do have very similar personalities, making them eminently suitable for fatigue-free extended listening.

It is this sweet and forgiving nature that makes the Micros sound particularly good once the volume control is cranked up. Contrary to other speakers in this class that manage composure at polite volumes only to become rough, ragged and abrasive once their limited threshold of civility is breached, the Micros maintain their poise like much more expensive speakers. With decibel peaks in the mid 90s -- something well beyond most their competition -- the bass remains articulate and capable of energizing the room while the midrange remains unchanged: Smooth, clean and relaxed. The soundstage stays put and does not get in the listener's face. Ditto for the treble; at high volume levels, it retains composure and never threatens with hostility. If this were the end of today's Ohm Micro story, it'd be more than good enough. But we haven't even touched upon what makes the Micros so special yet: These speakers are omni-directional, remember? If you haven't lived with a pair of omnis, you don't know what you are missing. Period.

First, while controlled-directivity speakers may offer predictable benefits for the seated listener, omni-directional speakers invite everybody in the room to join the fun. You may find that the sweet spot loses its appeal as you move about the whole room enjoying a full stereo-spread if not quite pinpoint imaging. We've all walked past a pair of monopoles only to hear the closest speaker first. You observe its volume increase in intensity as you approach. As you pass, its output decreases and you discover yet another sound source ahead as you approach the second speaker - and never mind the hideous timbral changes. Not so with omnis. Walk by the pair and it's as though you were crossing a soundstage. No increasing and decreasing intensities, no drastic shifts in tonal balance, just a smooth changing of perspective as you seemingly walk by performers on stage.

The best monopole speakers may offer certain things to head-in-a-vise sweet spot listeners that these Ohms can't replicate - but these Walsh speakers are designed for those who want to enjoy their music while they live their life. And that, friends, you do not do from a chair. And while it may seem silly to even consider such a thing, the power response of omni-directional speakers promises even better sound when listened to from the adjacent room - that's a fact! One thing that monopoles in this price category will never offer to the seated listener is omni-polar soundstaging. These speakers disappear completely, leaving only a stage of musicians, something unheard of in this class. And for those in the small rooms for which the Micro was designed, this is especially important because the Micros conjure up a spaciously deep and wide soundstage starting well behind them. Such depth of field is sometimes related to a reticent tonal balance but not here. Most omnis can pull this trick regardless of tonal balance - it's a product of dispersion patterns. For all intents and purposes, the Ohms are capable of completely obliterating the rear wall. And when the music calls for them to do so? They can remove the sidewalls, too, leaving only an extraordinarily deep and wide perspective on the music.

Try "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter" from Dave Grusin & Peggy Lee's One Of A Kind [GRP-D-9514] and observe the beautifully natural soundstage and Grusin's piano placed deep at stage right. Notice the Ohms' natural beauty on the piano, rich in body and nuance and completely surrounded with syncopating space. Then there are Ron Carter's subtle acoustic bass lines, taut yet inconspicuously supporting the music until the end of the song where it stands out in very detailed tonality. Violins are smooth, with just enough detail to sound like massed strings rather than a dumb mass of strings. Beautiful. "Birk's Works" from Dizzy Gillespie's New Faces [GRP-D-9512] demonstrated fine instrumental textures and contrasts. Gillespie's trumpet, Kenny Kirkland's piano and the tenor and soprano saxuosity of Branford Marsalis combine for a sonic obstacle course through which the Micros sailed with ease.


Going into this review, the most pressing question was one I wanted answered for myself. 20 years ago, the most musical speaker my budget could locate was the Ohm Walsh 4. By today's standards, it sounds dated and colored but since Ohm has no dealer network, I was left to ponder whether the modern Ohm Walsh speakers had kept up with technology or were stuck in a circa 1983 time warp. If you own Ohm speakers and are wondering the same thing -- or considering a new pair -- you should know that indeed, Ohm has kept up with them Jones. They still produce some of the most over-achieving speakers around. Their speakers combine uncommon listenability with some of the most musically natural and distinctly non-HiFi, non razor-edged soundstaging extant, coupled to the transparency and colorless performance of some of today's better dynamic designs.

The Ohm Acoustic Micros are superb speakers and class-leaders. By combining excellent sonics and a most room-friendly size and appearance with what Ohm refers to as Full Room Stereo, Ohm Acoustics has produced a superb example of state-of- the-art budget speaker design. As a reviewer accustomed to gear costing multiples of what Ohm Acoustics asks for the Micros, it is my greatest pleasure to borrow our Editor's blue seal and bestow onto them 6moons' Blue Moon Award for transcending class and expectations in the $1000 loudspeaker category.

With the hunch that many readers may never have heard of Ohm Acoustics before, it occurred to me to get a few pictures of the Ohm Acoustics factory and their captain of industry, John Strohbeen. It took a few weeks but Strohbeen was kind enough to enlist the aid of a digital photographer for the occasion. When I saw his pictures, I had to laugh. I laughed a lot.

Let me backtrack. With his newly acquired Masters of Science in Civil Engineering from Virginia Tech, a good friend of mine recently moved to Hawaii. Matt's area of expertise is in structural engineering. He's one of the sharpest guys I've ever known. He's also an avid audiophile with a keen ear and high expectations and standards. Fortunately, he also has a good self-deprecating sense of humor. Fortunately? Well, we've kidded many a times about his complete lack of aesthetic taste. "I'm an engineer" he's told me over and over. He works in paradise but I've seen pictures of his office. Trust me - humoring an interior designer isn't very high on his to-do list. He's much too busy with more important work. I thought Matt's work environment was austere. Then I saw Strohbeen's lab and factory. Strohbeen's an MIT-educated engineer. I also happen to know another sharpie who's worked for Strohbeen many years ago and characterizes the ex-boss as "brilliant". He told me that Strohbeen's one of those guys who thinks he's always right - and usually is, too. So believe me, my laughter was a respectful one. Great minds really do walk to the beat of their own drummer - just take a look at (and listen to!) John Strohbeen's Ohm Acoustics speakers.

John Strohbeen, owner/President/design chief who claims being chief is the most fun and also acts as phone customer care person on Tuesday, Wednesdays and Fridays. John's been President since 1978. Pedro is Ohm's veneer specialist who makes all the custom cabinets. Jay is VP of finance and phone customer care person on Mondays and Thursdays. He's been with the company for about 25 years. Brian is designer and backup customer care person. Tony has been in production at Ohm for over 31 years and has run the shop for over 10. Gus is Ohm's first factory cat and has kept the factory mouse-free for thirteen years. Slim is her K-9 doorman alter ego who announces all of Ohm's visitors and also bids them farewell as they leave. You can hear him on the phone sometimes.

Peter Aczel, currently Editor and Publisher of The Audio Critic, says Ohm started in 1971. According to Strohbeen, he'd know since he was one of the original founders. Unlike any other company I can think of, Ohm still fully supports every product they've ever made. Two years ago, I bought newly reconditioned drivers for those 20-year old Walsh 4s. They also take trade-ins no matter the vintage. Periodically, they refinish those trade-in cabinets, install the latest/greatest drivers and offer them for sale at attractive prices. Without a doubt, these guys go the extra mile to serve their customers past and present and are very serious about what they are doing.

Think about that next time you open up your wallet. You can spend your money with manicured and flashy designers who go out of business periodically only to resurface with a whole new look and an entirely different philosophy of design. Or you can spend it with a company whose track record for quality design and customer support makes no excuses. Don't then underestimate the importance whereby Ohm regards all of its past and present customers. Ever since they went factory-direct in 1998, past customers have become Ohm's mainstay, for repeat as well as referral business. Hence the first thing Ohm did in 1998 was to upgrade every single speaker in its lineup. Boy am I glad that I didn't stay stuck in a time warp and revisited this company in 2003. Like Magnepan, Ohm is one of the unsung heroes in the high-value, high-performance speaker sweepstakes.

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