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This review first appeared in the November 2007 issue of and can be read in its original German version here. It is herewith translated and presented to an English-only audience through a mutual syndication arrangement with whereby they will translate and publish select reviews of ours while we reciprocate with one or two of theirs each month. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end auto-links to his e-mail should you have questions or feedback you wish to send. All images contained in this review are the property of - Ed.

Reviewer: Ralph Werner
Sources: Analog - Acoustic Solid MPX, Phonotools Vivid-Two, Ortofon MC Rondo Bronce; Digital - Atoll CD 80 MK I , audiolab 8000CD, Esoteric SA-10, C.E.C. TL51XR, East Sound SE PV
Amplification: PhonoPre Holfi Vitalus, Aqvox Phono 2CI; integrated amplifiers - Dussun V8i; LUA 4040C ; preamplifier - bel canto PRe 3; power amplifiers - bel canto M300s
Loudspeaker: Spendor S3/5, Volent Paragon VL-2, Zu Audio Druid mk4
Cables: low-level - Audio Studioline, fis Audio Livetime, Funk BS-2, van den Hul Integration Hybrid, Zaolla Reinsilber NF; high-level - fis Audio Livetime, Fast Audio Copact M6, Ixos 6006 Gamma, Zu Audio Libtec
Power delivery: fis Audio Livetime power strip
Rack: Creactiv & Taoc AS-3, Gerätebasis der Akustik Manufaktur
Review component retail: €7.500/pr

Mini Parthenon
Pop quiz: how many Greek hifi brands can you name? Ditto. My immediate associations pertain to cuisine. I also recall a vacation to Crete -- never since did I experience such heat -- but when I think musical context, I can't help but see Nana Mouskouris' swell hair do. So I'm a cultural bottom feeder but blame my parents - their LP collection included much Mouskouris to etch itself to memory.

Pursuing this tact, I'll never win my Grecian audio spurs. Back to the beginning then. Today's speaker is by Analysis Audio, an Athens-based panel speaker specialist, with their smallest of four models the Omicron, the others, by escalating profile, called the Epsilon, Omega and Amphytrion. The latter exceeds our tester by a good meter for a total of 2.15 meters. The Omicron -- 112 x 61 x 6cm -- thus would be considered compact, albeit with a width hard to disguise to become a dominant cosmetic feature.

There's no sense in relegating a dipole into a corner and why would you? Panel speakers aren't the norm and may as well be displayed properly.

Greek myth...
Owner/designer Tassos Hartsis founded Analysis Audio in 1991. Initially busy 'merely' with the repair and modification of other commercial panel speakers, this engagement fostered motivation to launch his own full-range ribbon planars. One primary goal was
benign load behavior - no excessive appetite for endless watts, leaving the competition with criminal phase angles and insane impedance plots...
... and realization
Minimum power requirement for all Analysis models is 2 x 50 watts, with a max rating of 250wpc for the Omicron (the Amphytrion handles 600). All models share the same voltage sensitivity of 86dB/1w/1m, i.e. middle of the field. Most surprising is the impedance graph. A nominal 6 ohms with a dip to 5 and a crossover peak approaching 10, it makes the Omikron the family's black sheep. The three bigger models are even flatter. Gnarly loads those Greeks refuse to be to partnering amps.

One thus suspects impedance linearization in the crossover to be shocked to discover a mere four parts: one coil, three paralleled capacitors. Crossover frequency is 600Hz at a shallow 6dB/octave. Naturally, that makes the Omicron a 2-way like all other models in the stable.

Explains Herr Schneider of Analysis Audio Germany that this impedance friendliness is a function of their panel designs - geometry and suspension create inherent filtering to render the diaphragms electrically benign. Omicron's tweeter ribbon seems 90cm long but closer inspection, at least when viewed as the electrical signal traversing it, proves it to be rather longer.

There are four staggered strips of 90cm each - and
perhaps more since the aluminum foil presents a pleated structure. This creates impedance behavior very different from a conventional ribbon with the resultant absence of impedance-matching transformers. The equivalent applies to the woofer panel where 6 x 3 ribbon packets conjoin.

Ribbon or magnetostat?
Bass ribbon or planar magnetic? More of the latter, with a smattering of the former. Clear? If not crystal, we'll have to dig deeper...

Ribbons as well as planar magnetics are electrodynamic transducers where permanent magnets create as linear a magnetic field as possible within which the diaphragm is free to move. The difference resides in whether membrane and conductor are one and the same (ribbon) or a non-conductive membrane is bonded to a conductive voice coil (magnetostat). The latter usually linearizes impedance over a ribbon.

The Analysis Audio panels combine a bit of either. A closer inspection of the high-frequency driver reveals a Kapton foil without a bonded voice coil but instead the aforementioned four ribbons. The driver itself satisfies the ribbon definition since the foil essentially acts as mere stabilizer. With a length of 90cm each, the aluminum strips would otherwise dance quite out of control. The foil ensemble clamps to the frame thrice: above, below and - again for stability - smack in the middle.

The tweeter ribbon magnets attach laterally, which is typical of ribbons in general. That's different for the bass panel. Here the pole plates sandwich the membrane in-between. Six triple packs of aluminum ribbons act as signal conductors and attach to said membrane, a bit wider than the tweeter bits.

Experts may debate whether this construction more closely defines a planar magnetic. Remember that moving mass and conductor aren't synonymous here; hence the transducers share more with planar magnetics than ribbons. Except the voice coils are rather wider than usual... we'll leave this to the academics and inspect the bass module (mid/woofer, more correctly).

Bass details...
are three-fold: foil suspension, geometry and resultant behavior. Customarily, the foil extends to the frame where it is clamped. Analysis Audio relies on an intermediate suspension [the "sicke" below - Ed.].

Besides a longer-lived, more linear tension on the foil, this approach is said to enable more pistonic membrane behavior. Not edge-clamped as it normally would be, the foil is free to follow movements with less deformation. This is said to minimize self resonance and standing surface waves. Enter the trapezoid shape whereby no point on the foil exhibits the same neighboring width as any other. This is said to undermine resonance peaks where horizontal and vertical
self resonances intersect. This construction -- connoisseurs will think Apogee -- allows the foil, undamped and non-segregated into facets, to swing as a single membrane. Normally, such membranes will be separated into facets to control resonance or use puck dampers. The trapezoid shape is claimed to control resonance all by itself to render all other addresses unnecessary, all the while increasing displacement. The Omicron sports 4mm excursion and if surface x excursion = better bass, that seems to be a good thing.

And more…
For a not insignificant 7.500 euros, the smallest Omicron can be had in white, black or anthracite standard. Without surcharge, all RAL colors are available in satin to boot while veneers and metalized colors book a 10% luxury tax.

Installation is child's play, involving the mere bolting on of two foot brackets each. If desired -- inclusive of delivery and setup -- this will be handled by Mr. Schneider. Especially setup should be a boon when performed in person by the Hessian dipole expert.

The footer sports two pucks which, screwed down farther, expose spikes for two ways of floor coupling.

Robust speaker terminals enable biwiring: 8mm spades and bananas may apply. Should you jumper, don't forget the layout: +, +, -, - (left to right). Other distinguishing marks? Nothing really - save perhaps for Analysis Audio's vertical manufacturing integration. While the Greeks scour the global market for parts, production and assembly aren't outsourced but take place in Athens, mostly by hand, be it the enclosure -- oops, the frame -- or the crossover coil. These aren't off-the-shelf transducers but original in-house manufactured designs. Those who cringe at feeding the corporate beasts will applaud (a notion your scribe finds quite amusing).

Staring at the Omicrons before hitting 'play' for the first time, I acknowledged how point sources look different. In anticipation, I pushed my couch back - by a mere 50cm to avoid hitting the wall but better than nothing.

Panels are inherent dipoles, i.e. speakers which radiate sound forward and back, the latter 180° out of phase, making close wall proximity less than desirable. Theoretically at least. In situ, I have to say that once the Omicron settled into place, she wasn't parked any farther from the wall and out into the room than most visiting standard boxes.

I initially focused on lateral soundstage width and had to move the speakers inwards a bit to compensate for lack of center fill. This was readily accomplished (and no, not as close as the photo above; I simply didn't have a wide-angle 24mm lens handy).

To arrive at good tonal balance took longer. With the tweeter ribbons inward and the panels deeply toed in, everything was too lit up and bright at first. Experiments with reduced toe-in followed. Better. Or not. Tonal balance equalized but the sound stuck closer to the panels rather than float freely in space. Hence, tweeters migrated to the outside. After all, I am set up along the long wall to have 1.5 lateral meters to spare on each side. The dreaded early reflections couldn't be too beastly. Where were my acoustic panels by the way?

Long story short, I ended up with the tweeters outwards, steeply toed in and forming an equilateral triangle with the seat. Nice and easy you'd think but it did take two hours of persistent fiddling to get there. Setup precision is definitely relevant and not just for final tweaks but to nail fundamentals. Hence the German importer's installation service. With him, you're not just buying a carton with something in it; you're buying expertise to insure optimal performance in your space. In conjunction with a purchase, this is included; otherwise expenses will be tabulated based on driving distance and component value.

So, excursion x surface = low bass? Cough. If basic math hasn't fully deserted me, the effective surface of Omicron's woofer membrane equals a normal 46-incher. Rock me, baby! Not so fast. Even if 4mm xmax is significant for a panel, there is the phenomenon of acoustic short-circuiting especially with long wavelengths -- i.e. low tones -- diminishing output. Put differently, the Omicron, as these things go, is a small surface which precludes intense bass pressures and max SPLs. Loud she'll go but for a HipHop rave, you'll have to look elsewhere. And I confess that loud and dirty are routinely on my menu. The Omicrons won't comply. P.J. Harvey off a panel? The Chemical Brothers no less? Fugheddaboudid. That's no direct critique of the Omicron but a function of religion. Panel aficionados embrace certain limitation in search of specific merits. Helpful then it was that my religious leanings are omnivorous...

The virtues...
Given the choice, I'd sign up for stone mason slave labor over messing with something four times as thin as a human hair. Gimme a hammer and stone chisel. Just look at this stuff... while being advised of my deep aversion against cling wrap (how the hell do you tear it off without being left with a silly, electrostatically charged foil magnet). Thankfully nobody asked me to make this choice. Hats of to those who have mastered this material. It's neither here nor there but still. Back on track. Thinner means lighter. For a given exertion, lighter means faster, not just for Formula 1 racers but speakers too. Minimal moving mass thus is the big advantage of the panel speaker concept not just for tone starts but also stops. When it's over, it's over. Minimal breaking distances as it were, no overshoot. Hence the correct rendition of sound over time -- transient, bloom, decay -- is said to be the special domain of panels. True for the Omicron? You better believe it!

To start as non-approved non-audiophile as possible, take my copy of Sunnyland Slim. Forget pops and ticks, this is a crackling chimney fire at full furor. That LP is trashed completely. But that dude is simply sooo cool with his Old-School Blues. Over the Omicron, this heavily abused record gained infectiously in rhythm; with nothing but piano and Sunny singing. What otherwise would be suitable as only background wallpaper here comes alive. The voice is simply perfect: not hyper present, not too obscure, not razor-edged, not cloudy vagueness. Finely hued the details are -- with ambient echo around the voice or not, hoarsely depressed, jubilantly high, then sadly hooded again -- but not served up on a silver platter. Perhaps I should work on finer phrasing. But let's just say that an old Blues survivor gave his all here. Very nice. Piano runs no matter how fast never approached constriction. Each tone was clear, precise and sans hesitation. Piano seemed tailor-made to present these Greeks in their very best light.

This proved true also with Tord Gustavsen's trio CD Changing Places. Free passages for free citizens, to hell with the speed limit. But don't mistake the Omikron for reckless speed freaks unawares of the break pedal. Nothing is ever rushed. She simply starts and stops on a dime and instantaneous. Such first-rate timing produces a presentation that's terrifically transparent and intelligible. Next you notice the wealth of treble detail, utterly free of strain or hardness but resolved down to the molecules. The hi-hat work here had me reaching for superlatives.

Earlier I bitched about bass but I need to curb this a bit. For acoustic instruments, the Analysis speakers have generally enough meat on their bones, never mind the sheer quality of the bass. How Harald Johnsen's double bass comes across is fabulous. Even if I wasn't oblivious to his fingering earlier, now there was differentiation between finger noises - more sirrsit or sirrrrsut. The kind of insight these speakers major on is not of the rabidly stressed sort but casual and relaxed. Integral, not add-on tweeter bombast. These must be the virtues panel lovers subscribe to: details galore but all most airy and freed from gravity, with nothing etched, raw or untoward forward. Admittedly, I personally fancy a warmer tonal balance. To my ears, the Omicron belongs to the more lit-up class but there's nothing excessive about it. Things are simply a bit too turned on upstairs for my tastes (especially once I crank the volume).

I enthused about Joanna Newsom's The Milk-Eyed Mender in earlier reviews. Two scenarios exist: Either this album was cut with the Omicrons in mind - or the reverse, the speaker was crafted in honor of the young harpsist. With apologies, I refuse to get more specific. It's simply perfection incarnate, be it the harp, the cimbalom, her voice or the backup vocals. Pick up this record and cue it up on a lame everyman's three-way, then wonder what you're missing and how much more you could be hearing. Forget fantastic, how poetic - this was flat-out bitchin'! (As an aside, just how long a harp or piano can ring out I had to be taught by the Omicron. With other speakers, I mistook those ends for the lead-out groove.)

How about spatial characterization? The Omicron depends on setup and recording quality. And something else. In due sequence: Starting with the ribbons inward, I have to admit that image localization was somewhat better than with the tweeters outside - somewhat. This could quite vary with rooms and setups. In my space, the side walls were still suitably removed. Reduced to 20cm for someone else, results could degrade. In general, the Omicron isn't a sharp shooter. Its staging is fluffy and of sufficient precision if not ultimately locked and meticulously sorted. That's a matter of taste in any case. To liberate this staging does require placement experimentation. You'll be rewarded if you put in the work. Once the sound floats freely, lateral staging is good if not really different from conventional speakers. Stage depth? Now there's something unusual.

For one and contingent on material, it varies far more than I'm used to. For two, it's simply different. Perhaps this explains it: An instrument farther back on stage doesn't automatically present a sonically smaller presence relative to the listening position. It might in fact sound as big as the instrument in front of it - while being in its shadow. My conditioned reviewer ear was at first confused but one can quickly indulge in such full-bodied auras. Not everyone is compelled to count out military positions. Certain folks indeed insist -- unless they mean it tongue in cheek -- that the ordinary stacking of variously distanced slides is complete hifi artifice. A good reminder perhaps to focus on music rather than sound effects? Admittedly, I'm not fully convinced. What if I enjoy 'artificial' layering? Never mind. The reason for simply sounding different is likely due to dipole room interactions. The ambient field gains over direct radiators which simply focus stronger. What's more natural? Where are the know-it-alls when you need 'em?...

Related to soundstaging and an asset in my view is how the Omicron never turns forward while simultaneously avoiding to lay and hold back. Music occurs from the base line of the speakers - a perspective which should suit the majority. It's neither spectacularly in your lap nor distant with you comatose in the lazy boy. It's simultaneously compelling and balanced.

The Analysis Audio Omicron is an unusual speaker in many ways. It's clearly no do-it-all which somehow handles all music with equal aplomb. I'm left wanting for LF displacement on Rock, Soul, electronica and such which require it. That and higher volumes. Sometimes it's really that basic.

That said, once you focus on vocals and acoustic instruments, the Omicron can take your breath away. That's due to
  • Extreme impulse response. Attacks are tracked with precision, each sonic modulation pursued to the ends - and when a tone stops, it stops. No blurring, no mixing, no confusion. Very clear, transparent and lucid.
  • Exactitude of articulation. The Omicron differentiates the smallest of tonal nuances. This extreme resolution does not degrade into psychoanalysis and thus lacks the fake factor. Point of contention: Played too loud, the tonal balance drifts upwards into the bright.
  • Unbounded and airy staging which transports music into the room. Localization is good but not a specific strength. In general, music is presented holistically and as the greater gesture. Some may hope for more inner structure, others may regard it as being closer to the concert experience.
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