By Phil Slepian
As an audiophile with a very limited budget, it has always been a joyful challenge to identify and acquire audio gear and speakers that offer performance that exceeds their price tags and work well together. Mostly by luck, I have done fairly well in this pursuit over the years. Yet, several years ago, I found myself with a combo home theater/two-channel system that did not encourage long, enjoyable listening. After some electronics, acoustical and cable upgrades, and a wonderful in-home consultation from a local modder/cable manufacturer, I determined that I had taken my current loudspeakers, the Vandersteen 1Cs, as far as they could go. While the Vandy 1Cs do offer pretty good performance for their roughly $1K price tag, in my system, they suffered from congestion at higher volumes and a lack of smoothness in the “brightness range” of 4 to 8kHz. So, the hunt for a speaker upgrade was on. My target price range was at or below $3,000/pair. Not a lot of money in an industry where $12,000/pair speakers are considered affordable, but a lot of money for me. (To those of you who are thinking, why not just upgrade to Vandersteen 2Ce Signature Mk.IIs, these Vandys are simply too wide, at 16”, to allow proper placement in my room, and not block the big screen TV that sits behind them.)
As I pondered the daunting task ahead of visiting dealer after dealer, trying to size up one speaker after the next, I also read carefully many Adiogon threads on various speakers. I looked for trends to emerge that might reveal speakers worth seeking out and hearing. One thread that especially caught my eye was a thread discussion of Ohm Acoustics Walsh series loudspeakers. Post after post described a kind of sound that greatly appealed to me; smooth, non-fatiguing, dynamic, clean and with a wide and deep soundstage.
Investigating further, I visited the Ohm web site: Ohmspeakers.com. I will not repeat here most of the vast information this web site offers. Briefly, the Ohm Walsh series of speakers uses a quasi-omnidirectional design in which a single driver, mounted on top of a cabinet, faces downward into the cabinet, looking not unlike a traffic cone. Most of the sound radiates from the back of the cone into the room in all directions. Some output attenuation to the rear of the speaker allows them to be placed somewhat closer to the front wall of the listening room. The speaker rolls off naturally at extreme high frequencies, so a soft dome super-tweeter, mounted near the top of the cone, is rolled in at about 8kHz. Although that means this is not a single-driver design, it does eliminate the need for a crossover in the critical midrange or upper-midrange. The tweeters are angled so that maximum tweeter output is achieved with the speakers facing straight ahead. Toeing in the speakers will reduce the tweeters’ output at the listening position. The cabinet is vented onto a plinth base. There are no controls or adjustments, and the speakers feature a single set of binding posts.
Ohm Acoustics has been in business since the 1970s, and all its products are designed by owner John Strohbeen at Ohm’s Brooklyn, New York, location, where all of its products are also assembled. One design philosophy Mr. Strohbeen espouses is that the entire Walsh series has one “sound.” Except for low-bass extension, each model sounds essentially the same. The same design is scaled to match room volume (room volume ranges for each model are posted on the web site). (As I was writing this, I chanced upon and purchased a used pair of MicroWalsh Tall speakers, the previous version of Ohm’s smallest tower speaker, and I can verify that the sonics of this miniature tower do mimic quite well the sonics of my 2000s, with perhaps a smidge less dynamic ability when placed in my basement.) So, since my home theater/two-channel system sits in a 2800 c.f. basement, the model 2000 was the appropriate choice. This approach appeals to me, since with many speaker manufacturers, speakers in my price range are smaller versions of the top-of-the-line model, in which comprises are made to driver number and quality, cabinet design and crossover components to meet a targeted price point. Buying one of these “non-reference” models often means performance that is significantly worse, and not much at all like the flagship you heard at a hifi show or dealer showroom.
Ohm Acoustics sells via direct mail order only. To facilitate business, Ohm offers a 120-day in-home trial. Ohm discourages returns prior to the 60-day point, due to break-in issues (more on this later), but buyers get a full refund, less shipping charges, if the speakers are returned, for any reason. This eliminated one of the most difficult aspects of buying a loudspeaker – they don’t always sound the same in your room, with your gear, as they did in the dealer showroom.
The Walsh 2000 is the latest version of the Walsh series speakers, introduced in the summer of 2009. My pair was assembled to order in the black finish I requested, and personally voiced by John Strohbeen, in about six weeks. Shipping via UPS is always risky, but thanks to solid packaging, the Ohms arrived in good shape (the outer-cartons were not so fortunate, however).
Fit and finish is good, although the speakers are bit top-heavy. This should not be an issue if they are placed flat on the floor, but if placed on bases or spikes (which Ohm says are not necessary), attention should be paid to how stable they are.
System and Environment
Although my system is a combo home theater/two-channel system, it is limited to two channels for music listening, and this review will focus on the two-channel chain of reproduction. Please contact me if you would like my thoughts on the Ohm speakers in a home theater context.
My system is in my basement, which is roughly 26’ X 18’ X 6’. That’s right – the ceiling is just six feet, with framed-out steam pipes even lower in spots. The walls are basic drywall-over-studs, and the ceiling is drywall nailed right to the joists. The cement floor is covered with commercial-style carpeting. I share this space with the boiler, washing machine, dryer and storage facilities, so the listening area is confined to a roughly 10’ X 12’ corner of the basement. Listening seats are 9’ from the speakers, which are about 5’ apart, 2’ from the side walls and 2.5’ from the front wall.
The two-channel signal chain is: Thorens TD-166MkII/Ortofon OM-30 Super MM pickup, Rotel RCD-02 CD player (used as a transport only), K-Works SuperBerry DAC (a highly modded Beresford TC-7510), Conrad-Johnson PV-11 preamp w/MM phono section (recently retubed and checked out by C-J), and an Odyssey Audio Stratos HT3 solid state power amplifier (150 watts X 3). Also, I have a pair of Vandersteen 2Wq subwoofers (details at Vandersteen.com), one in each corner of the front wall. The Vandersteen subs are powered, and roll in, first order, below 80Hz. The power amp is fed through a pair of Vandersteen in-line filters that roll off, first order, below 80Hz. ICs are by AudioArt and BlueJeans Cables. Digital IC is by Emotive Audio (a place holder), speaker cables are Kimber 4TC. All components except the subs are powered through a PS Audio Quintet. The amp has a PS Audio Jewel power cord. Note also that the SuperBerry DAC was acquired about a month into the trial period.
Placement options in my basement are limited, but with some help (discussed below), the speakers seem to work well positioned as noted above. They are toed-in fairly heavily, so that the axis of the face of the speakers crosses just in front of the listening position. However, my basement floor is not even, and although Ohm provided (at no cost) some shims and pads to help level and stabilize the speakers, there is a small amount of wobble. A future purchase will be custom-made, spiked cradle-bases from Sound Anchors (~$300/pr), which will aid in leveling and stabilizing the 2000s. John Strohbeen told me that, under normal circumstances, the Walsh series speakers do fine sitting flat on the floor on their plinth bases.
If you haven’t yet bought into the whole speaker break-in thing, buying a pair of Ohm Walsh speakers will have you drinking the cool-aid by the gallon. When first set up, the speakers had very constricted dynamics, exaggerated sibilance, and sounded a bit thin. That said, right out of the box, these speakers reproduced the timbre of instruments, both human and man-made, with exceptional accuracy and life-like believability. Even after break-in, the accurate timbre of the 2000s stands out as the single biggest improvement over the Vandersteens, in my opinion. Horns, in particular, along with drum kits and guitars (both electric and acoustic) have an uncanny natural quality that comes extremely close to sounding like real instruments playing in real space.
Without a long list, I listened to a variety of CDs and LPs, covering classical, jazz and rock. A few specific examples: The Tutti! Sampler from Reference Recordings, a TDK Jazz Festival sampler (especially a Brad Mehldau Trio piece), Stereophile’s Test CD #2, and rock and pop from artists including David Bowie, Veruca Salt, Stabbing Westward, David Byrne, Norah Jones, Nine Inch Nails, Sade, Sheryl Crow, Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd.
As the weeks progressed, the dynamics slowly opened up, and finally became very good, both in terms of macro-dynamic and micro-dynamic shifts. One particularly attractive attribute of the 2000s is their ability to play very loudly without sounding congested, strained, or collapsing the soundstage. This applies to any music I have thrown at them; classical, jazz or rock.
The Ohms do detail very well, and I was introduced to all kinds of musical nuance on familiar recordings that I had been missing before. Especially noticeable are things like performers inhaling prior to singing or playing wind instruments, peddle and key taps, and leading edge transients. The transients are present but are not exaggerated, so they do not induce headaches. Also present is an extended decay of notes, and it is easy to follow many individual musical lines within a performance. It is unusual in my inexperience for a speaker to present so much detail information without being excessively bright at the same time. The Ohms have that elusive combination of detail and musicality.
Frequency balance is being affected, I think, by my room. There is a mild emphasis on the midrange, which, now that the speakers are properly positioned, is not unpleasant. As some visitors to my home have noted, the high frequencies do seem to be a bit rolled off, but there is no sense of a veil being placed over the sound. There is plenty of extension at both ends of the spectrum. Everything is there, but the treble is at a slightly reduced level. I find this a very positive euphonic characteristic, which allows for long listening sessions free of fatigue. Especially smooth is that upper-midrange/lower-treble zone that I am so sensitive to. Even at very loud levels, there is never any raggedness, etch, grit or metallic sheen in this range (source material allowing, of course). I did briefly try the Ohm Walsh 2000s full range, without the subwoofers. They seem to go fairly deep, perhaps to the low to mid 30Hz-range. However, I cannot expect them to do what the Vandersteen 2Wq subwoofers do so very well, so back in they went.
The soundstage was something of a surprise. The Vandersteen 1Cs would project images into the room, so that vocalists and other performers were within arm’s reach, or even right at the sides of your head. In contrast, the Ohms present a more laid-back soundstage, with everything taking place at and behind the plane of the speakers. This is not necessarily better or worse, just different. That said, when recordings used phase trickory to move sound about the room, the Ohms did this exceedingly well. On a DVD of Bjork performing live with the Icelandic String Octet (played in stereo), some percussion clearly sounded as if it were coming from just to the left of my left elbow! Likewise on Pink Floyd DSOTM, in which the phasey effects floated all over the sides and rear of the room. There is great width, source material permitting, that seemed to extend beyond the side walls, and height that reached the ceiling. I did notice some depth, although I am not very good at identifying this aspect of the soundstage. The speakers do a very good job of disappearing into the soundstage, and can totally disappear on some material.
Many believe that wide-dispersion designs like this cannot project solid images within the soundstage. The Ohms do a pretty good job of this. Vocals are usually dead center, sized right or a little bit larger than life, with little drifting of instruments about the soundstage (another area where more acoustic treatments might help).
Pace, rhythm, attack and timing all seem fine. I would not call the 2000s sluggish or muddy in any way.
These are not heavy speakers with massive cabinets, so when I first listened to them, I thought I was hearing some cabinet resonances. After careful further listening, I feel I am actually hearing the resonance of hollow-bodied instruments, something the Vandersteens did not do.
Although many Ohm owners report that full break in can take up to a year, I am satisfied that the 2000s in my system are most of the way there, and no longer exhibit dramatic changes in sound quality. I admit that further efforts regarding room acoustics, cabling and physical stability are necessary, and will address these issues in the coming months. I feel very confident that, for their $2800/pair price, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find a better-sounding speaker that appealed to me more than the Ohm Walsh 2000s. If this review sounds like a rave, that’s because it is, albeit a rave that slowly unfolded over about four months. In fact, based on speakers I have heard over the years, if I were looking to spend up to about $12,000 for a pair of speakers, I would still be looking at the appropriately-sized Ohm Walsh speaker (which top-out at $6500/pair). As my trial period drew to a close, I confidently felt that these are keepers, and will keep me from the urge to upgrade speakers for many years to come.
I welcome comments, constructive criticisms and questions
I would like to thank many individuals for their help with my system over the past few months. Igor Kuznetsoff of K-Works (a local modder and cable manufacturer) provided the motivation for the upgrade. His in-home consultation was very worthwhile, and many of the acoustic treatments that made such an improvement where his idea, and were spot on. Also, the addition of his K-Works Superberry DAC brought my CD playback quality up to a level of resolution without which this review would have been more difficult and less relevant.
I would also like to thank the NJ Audio Society members who volunteered their valuable time to visit my home and critique the Ohms, offer suggestions, and assist in my decision.Associated gear Click to view my Virtual System