Nothing grabs your attention like a Ferrari red paint job. At the Montreal Festival Son et Image this year I saw a Redpoint turntable and Ars Aures F1 Bookshelf speakers blazing this particular trail, and now from Israel come these Morel speakers, making their dramatic entrance. The Octave speakers have been on the market a while now but this is the first appearance of the matching Octave Subwoofers. If you donít like red, you can have black or white piano or ebony wood finish. The finish is applied over an MDF frame. If you are willing to double the price of admission, you can specify solid Corian frames in black or white. Unusually, the speakers do not come with grills to protect or hide the drivers.
North American tastes being what they are, Morel may have a tough job getting people to take the diminutive Octave speakers seriously. They measure all of 7" wide, 12.5" high and 12.75" deep. Todayís test introduces the Octave Subwoofer, which forms a base for a single Octave speaker and offers a variety of different means of integration. For my money, the combination looks better than the Octaves sitting on their skeletal ST-51 stands, and meets a real need for full bandwidth reproduction.
The combination is 39.5" tall but only 7" wide, offering an elegant slim profile. The shape is your standard rectangular box until you get to the tweeter, which sits in its own narrow and tapered chamber atop the cabinet. There are no covers to hide the drivers, so the effect is strikingly contemporary and you either like it or you donít, like most modern art! I like the look, my wife doesnít, although itís fair to say red would not be the color of choice in our listening room. Youíll need to give the Morels some space to breath, since the Octaves are dual ported at the rear and the exposed Subwoofer drivers face in towards the centre and feature a wide rear port near the base. I suggest at least 18" to the rear and no furniture or equipment in between.
So what tricks do the Morels have up their sleeves? Can they produce big sound out of small boxes?
Letís look at the Octaves first. The main frame is constructed, like most other speakers, of MDF with internal bracing. The outer layer is a 3/16" thick polymer-based substance that acts as an acoustic insulator and creates an extraordinary finish. The third layer, coating the enclosure from the inside, is a bitumen-based substance that acoustically absorbs standing waves and panel resonance. This TRICOô construction is claimed to considerably diminish sound coloration. Morel makes many drivers and tweeters, including the ones used here. The midrange drivers are based on unique Hexatech technology whereby a hexagonal shaped aluminum wire voice-coil affords high efficiency and power handling accuracy. Morel's External Voice Coil (EVC) technology enables the use a 3" aluminum speaker coil three times the size of conventional coils for cones of the same size, improving both sound accuracy and tonal balance. A unique hybrid double magnet motor, combining ferrite and Neodymium, powers the 5.25" driver.The soft dome tweeter features Accuflexô coating, a hybrid magnet, a 1.15" aluminum Hexatech voice coil and a flat pancake type EVC motor.
The Octave Subwoofer uses two 9" woofers with 3" voice coils in an isobaric configuration in a port loaded reflex cabinet, using similar technology to the midrange units in the Octave. There are two ways to configure these subwoofers. The simplest is to connect them via the top set of binding posts directly to the amplifier using a simple biwiring or biamping technique. This will engage a passive internal crossover which rolls off at a rate of 12dB/octave above 100Hz. The second is to use an external subwoofer amplifier with electronic crossover.
Either mono or stereo amps can be used for this purpose. I tested both ways, and itís lucky that I did, because I found a night and day difference between the two methods. If you use the internal passive crossover then youíll need a beefy power amplifier (or two) for this purpose because these are not the most efficient speakers around, with a nominal sensitivity of 83dB/W/m. Fortunately my Perreaux R200i puts out 200 wpc into 8 Ohms and nearly double into 4 ohms, so no problem there. Cardas Golden Cross biwire speaker cables did the heavy lifting, with a Meridian G08 providing the signal and Nordost Valhalla interconnects and power cables and Thor Power Distribution rounding out the system. For the active subwoofer option I used Morelís own Harmony Amp 200, a dedicated Class D mono subwoofer amplifier.
So now you know what it looks like, what makes it tick and how itís all hooked up, letís put the pedal to the metal and see what these babies will do. The first thing I can tell you is that these tweeters are very raw straight out of the box. So raw in fact that I was greatly disappointed, because I had asked that they be run in before shipping. Itís one thing to run in a CD player or even headphones, but speakers are another matter, drives you nuts, so I always ask the manufacturers to do this dirty work for me. Well it turns out these speakers were brand new, so the review would have to wait until I could put enough hours on them to give them a fair appraisal.
The next question is toe in. I ended up with a shallow angle of around 10 degrees. Any more than this and the speakers sound hot, any less and the image starts to shrink back towards the speakers. In this respect I find the Octaves fussy, but once locked in, the image is stable over a wide listening area, which is a far more important consideration. After all, if you have a bunch of friends over to listen to your Ferrari red speakers, you donít want them all sitting on your lap.
Morel Octaves Without Subwoofers
Imaging is often a standout feature of small speakers. The close proximity of tweeter to bass/midrange driver helps to create a strong stable image, but it does not fill a space as the Act 1s do, or the Combak Bravos achieve with their concentric driver. The image is wide but not deep, and you are definitely in the front row seats in the hall.
The chief weakness of the Octave is simply one of scale. In fact the Octave does better in the lower range than most similar sized speakers, but thereís simply no substitute here for cubic inches. With a speaker of this size you simply cannot do justice to the full orchestral weight in a Shostakovich symphony, or even the lower registers of a grand piano. So bass-rich music has something of a lightweight feel and you are better off with chamber music, voices, and jazz.
Model Octave + Octave Subwoofer (Passive)
The Octaves are $2000, and the subwoofers add another $2000 so we should treat them as $4000 speakers, well under half the price of the Act 1s. Based purely on this type of music, the value proposition is strong.
Sticking to piano for the moment, how about some late Beethoven sonatas in the capable hands of Claudio Arrau. Outstanding! Good piano weight, a clear open sound, good dynamics, and the heavy breathing nicely captured, without lending any emphasis to the analog tape hiss. Letís try one more piano recording, Haydn Piano Concertos by Leif Ove Andsnes [EMI 7242 556960 21]. Here on this demonstration quality disc, we run into problems. Itís not easy to diagnose at first, but the orchestral playing sounds lumpy. Partly thatís the lovely warm bass intruding where perhaps it shouldnít, but primarily itís a mismatch between the Octave and the subwoofer. Not a mismatch of level or even of tonal color. The problem, familiar to those who have listened to certain hybrid electrostatics, lies in the speed of the subwoofer, which seems unable to quite keep up with the lightening reflexes of the Octave. On some material this shows, on others it doesnít. It shows here.
Switching to opera, a particular favorite of mine is Verdiís La Forza Del Destino with the Philharmonia Orchestra under the baton of Giuseppe Sinopoli [DG 474 903-2]. The subwoofer performs admirably here, adding weight and realism to the massed strings. Carreras sings beautifully and the voice is startling in its realism. The imaging does not reach the spacious soundstage and pinpoint accuracy of the reference Act 1s, but there is clarity and sparkle, attack and atmosphere to spare here. Thumbs up on this revealing recording.
When looking for a disc whose grooves contain virtually endless detail, I pulled out Rare Live and Classic by Joan Baez [Vanguard VCD30125/27]. Diamonds and Rust is a killer test of resolution for any component, as well as an outstanding musical achievement. On the best equipment, the music is scintillating, sparkling, full of drive while Baezís superb voice should thrill and not turn shrill. So it is with the Act 1 but the Morel lacks both the pulse and drive of the Wilson Benesch, and the definition and dynamics are reduced. This is another track that sounds better without the subwoofer, restoring some of the missing pulse. But either way, a lack of image depth reduces the realism and presence of the recording, although the voice never grates.
Model Octave + Harmony Amp 200 + Octave
Surprisingly imaging takes a great leap forward, with real depth to complement the image width that was always present. Cutting the power to the Octaves and listening to the subwoofers alone you would hardly guess there would be any great magic here, since the sound is low in volume and diffuse. Thatís the trick with subwoofers Ė if you can hear them thereís something wrong. You should feel them and sense them through a blossoming of the image and an increased sense of realism and weight. The magic of well set-up subwoofer is not restricted to the increased bass response but also serves to open up the treble and reduce the stridency of the main speaker. All this is achieved here with settings close to those recommended by the technicians at Morel. I ended up with volume at 10 oíclock, phase at 0 and crossover at 12 oíclock with the rear panel switch set to subwoofer low pass and the low frequency equalization set to 0. I also found that these settings were not particularly critical. You adjust to suit your room acoustics and your personal taste.
Now the Haydn Piano Concerto disc that was so problematic before is crisp, warm and delicious, with imaging much closer to the Act 1s than before. Arrauís Beethoven is bigger and bolder and more relaxed to boot. Diamonds and Rust gain some excitement and refinement but we are a long way from the thrill that more expensive speakers can provide here. In fact all recordings sound much better than with the passive subwoofer, and the biggest improvement comes in really large-scale works like Shostakovichís Fifth Symphony under Bernard Haitink [DECCA 425066-2], which you simply wouldnít want to play on the passive setup. Here it is thrilling, colorful and involving. What, I wondered, would happen as the music swelled towards its climax at the end of the first movement? Would it wimp out, stifle, grate? Not a bit of it. All instruments blaring, high volume levels and everything remains perfectly composed. In some ways the Morels outperform the reference here, with the added warmth and depth of the active subwoofers.
And this is not the end of the line. The Harmony Amp 200 is a mono device. You can even buy two of them to further improve the system. I didnít try this, but it is not an expensive option, since each Harmony Amp runs just $699.99.
So we have three value propositions here to consider:
I will not pass judgment on the Octave 5.2 Corian, the Octave Octwin or the Octave + 2 Harmony Amps + Subwoofer or their A/V packages, but you have to commend Morel for the variety of ways you can configure their Octave speakers.
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