Montreal is a city of strong opinions; about its language, politics, food and drink, hockey team, music — and its hi-fi stores. In contrast to the weather outside, with its shelves of warm, glowing tube amplifiers, Coup de foudre Audio, is a hi-fi destination that is unique, even for Montreal. Located down the road from Jarry Park (the original home of the expansion Montreal Expos), the shop caters to the music listener who puts great value on tone, immediacy and the emotional connection with music that certain types of systems can provide.
If you have ever wondered what all the fuss is in regard to low-powered tube amplifiers, vinyl playback, and high-efficiency loudspeakers from Japan, Germany, and the United States, this is a store that caters to systems that appeal more to the heart than the head.
The proprietor of Coup de foudre Audio, Graeme Humfrey, has been at this game for many years. He is a man who wears his passion for jazz on his sleeve; with a record collection to back that up. Humfrey offers a selection of world-class audio equipment including Omega Speaker Systems. A bespoke manufacturer of single-driver loudspeakers based out of Connecticut that does things very differently.
Single-driver loudspeakers are almost always high-impedance, high-sensitivity designs without a crossover, requiring only a few watts to fill a room with sound
Full-range single-driver loudspeakers have been around as long as the radio, and have been a niche within the audiophile world for many decades; the type of product that has polarized listeners who either love their coherency and tone, or who loathe them for a beaming quality at the frequency extremes.
Over the past decade, brands such as Omega, Manger, Spatial, Zu Audio, and Voxativ have brought the category forward with advanced driver technology, but also a new aesthetic making them easier to place in the home.
Single-driver loudspeakers are almost always high-impedance, high-sensitivity designs without a crossover, requiring only a few watts to fill a room with sound; the rebirth of single-ended amplifier technology – led by Kondo, Audio Note, Wavelength Audio, Pass Labs, and Fi – fueled the single-driver resurgence but also drove home the reality that quality watts don’t come cheap.
The Compact Alnico Monitors ($1,495) by Omega Speaker Systems are bookshelf-sized, single driver loudspeakers.
Nobody asks how much Ferrari engines cost to manufacture and the same logic should apply to bespoke loudspeaker drivers and high-quality iron used in output transformers in power amplifiers. Do you want performance? Prepare to pay for it.
Detractors bemoan their limitations when listening to heavy metal, large scale symphonic works or bass-heavy electronica, but our experience suggests something else; It depends on the room, driver/cabinet implementation, and what you consider to be an acceptable listening level.
“I built my first pair of loudspeakers when I was twelve-years-old using a full-range single-driver designed for a car loudspeaker,” remarked Omega CEO, Louis Chochos. “There is something about their immediacy, and the effortless way that they communicate that made me decide to start a loudspeaker company in 2005. Full-range single-driver loudspeakers just sound more natural and reproduce the midrange in a way that connects you with the music.”
Omega Speaker Systems wouldn’t be the first loudspeaker company to use OEM off-the-shelf drivers, and its experience in that regard convinced Chochos that he needed to design and build his own. “Our earliest models used Fostex drivers from Japan, but when you’re a small manufacturer and you don’t order thousands of drivers from a vendor with a lot of customers, you have very little say when it comes to the technical specifications of a driver,” explained Chochos. “To compete and offer something truly unique that people would want to buy, we had to design multiple drivers in different sizes, with both Ferrite and Alnico magnets, and even experiment with different materials like hemp before we were satisfied that our drivers would sound good.”
Loudspeaker design is an expensive endeavor; the largest manufacturers like Dynaudio, KEF, and Paradigm spend millions of dollars on R&D, before bringing new driver technology to market. For a small company like Omega, getting it right with its own proprietary drivers was key to building its name.
Omega might build excellent sounding drivers, but it does an even better job with its cabinets that are proprietary designs
Full-range single-driver loudspeakers do not utilize a crossover as the single driver is attempting to reproduce as much of the frequency range as possible; putting even greater importance on the cabinet design and its influence on the overall sound of the loudspeaker. Omega might build excellent sounding drivers, but it does an even better job with its cabinets that are proprietary designs – and not something you usually find at their respective price points. Chochos has been building cabinets for decades, and his attention to detail is evident in both the engineering and finish quality.
Every Omega model utilizes triple-layer construction, plus an additional finish veneer. Chochos prefers to use softwood MDF for the core, along with ladder bracing, and every cabinet is post formed (veneered after the cabinet is built), so all edges are hand chamfered, filed, and faceted. Chochos believes that customers are paying for the highest quality aesthetic, aside from just performance, so every Omega cabinet is veneered and finished on all sides.
Omega Speaker Systems offers a selection of two-way monitors, floor-standing towers, and subwoofers in a variety of finishes; including both EKO Teak, Olivewood, Ebony, and real hardwood veneers. The more expensive Super 8 XRS ($2,895), Compact Alnico Monitor ($1,495), Super 3 High Output Monitor ($1,295), and Super Alnico Monitors ($1,995) can be ordered with furniture grade Maple, Walnut, Quartered Macassar Ebony, and Zebrawood veneers that would not look out of place in any room. Each Omega loudspeaker is made-to-order and Chochos is able to offer many wood finishes if the standard offerings are not exotic enough.
The Omega Super 3i Monitors ($695) are the company’s most affordable bookshelf speakers. They are also one of its most popular.
Full-range single-driver loudspeakers are easier to drive than conventional multiple driver loudspeakers, but they are also very sensitive to the quality of those watts. With a range of 92-97dB sensitivity, and impedances that rarely dip below 6 ohms, Omega’s loudspeakers can work with amplifiers between 2-50 watts; our listening experience suggests that 12-25 watts is the proper range in a medium-large room with jazz, pop, classical, and even electronica.
Tube amplifiers would be our preference with the Omega offerings, but Chochos is quick to suggest First Watt from Nelson Pass, and any other solid-state amplifiers with a warmer tonal balance as easy recommendations. “Quality over quantity wins the day with any of my loudspeakers, and based on the success that Graeme has had with my product with Leben, Unison Research, and Line Magnetic tube amplifiers,” replied Chochos. “I think they work well with any electronics that emphasize tone, and immediacy.”
Back at Coup de foudre, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps envelops us through a pair of Omega Super 8 XRS driven by a Leben tube integrated and Sota turntable. The $2,895 loudspeakers may not deliver the scale and more fleshed out tone of the DeVore Fidelity O/96 loudspeakers that sit silently beside them, but the Connecticut-made Omega are eminently more affordable.
“That’s the beauty of the single-driver loudspeaker. The simplicity. It has less chance of imparting a character sonically or musically on the performance, tone, and dynamics of the recording. It’s very convincing when done properly,” explains Humfrey as our listening session continues with a steady snow falling outside. Very convincing indeed.