Mirage is a well known Canadian loudspeaker maker whose corporate identity hinges on two things: first, building high-performance omni-directional loudspeakers (which Mirage terms Omnipolar speakers), and second, offering speakers that deliver terrific value for the money. This month we'll be looking at what just might be the value leader of Mirage's entire lineup, the $800, 5.1-channel Nanosat surround speaker system (which Mirage describes as the smallest omni-directional speaker system in the world).
Omni-directional loudspeakers deliberately disperse sound waves to the front, sides, and rear—not just toward the front as direct radiators do. While it's possible to build a strong theoretical case for either design approach, Mirage explains that omni-directional "technology uses natural room reflections to create a greater sense of realism… accomplished by recreating the same ratio of direct to reflected sound found in nature, 70% reflected and 30% direct." While all omnis strive for an even 360-degree dispersion of sound in the horizontal plane, much of the art and science of designing an omnidirectional speaker revolves around how that dispersion is achieved, and the approach Mirage uses in the Nanosat system is perhaps the simplest and most cost effective I've seen.
The Nanosat is a small, two-way satellite speaker equipped with a 2 ¾" titanium deposit-polymer mid-bass driver and a ¾" pure titanium hybrid tweeter, with both drivers positioned to face upward rather than forward, as would normally be the case in a direct radiator. Above each driver, Mirage suspends saucer-shaped deflectors (which Mirage calls Omniguides) that redirect the upwardfiring output from the drivers, dispersing their sound evenly to all sides. The Nanosat mid-bass driver is canted forward just slightly, so that an added portion of its output is directed toward the front. Mirage's engineers say this subtle design detail helps improve the focus of stereo and surround- sound imaging, yet without disrupting the speaker's smooth 360- degree dispersion. In a clever piece of engineering, the Omniguide for the Nanosat's mid-bass driver also acts as the housing for its titanium dome tweeter; then, another tiny saucershaped Omniguide is suspended above the tweeter. This system of nested drivers and dispersion guides was first pioneered on Mirage's popular Omnisat speaker, after which the tiny Nanosat is patterned and from which it derives its name.
The Nanosat system comes packaged in a medium-sized carton and is comprised of five identical Nanosat satellites (for use as L/R mains, surrounds, and center-channel speakers), plus a matching Nanosub powered subwoofer. To give you some idea of how compact the little Nanosats really are, let me mention that each could comfortably rest in the palm of your hand. The Nanosats come with brackets for wall mounting and rubber feet for tabletop use, but Mirage also offers optional MS-STB-1 floor stands, which I used for my L/R main satellites. The standard wall brackets and optional stands allow the Nanosats to be swiveled toward the listening area. In an interesting twist, the wall brackets also allow the Nanosats to be mounted upside down for applications where the speakers need to be positioned higher than 6' above the floor.
The Nanosub features a frontvented enclosure loaded with a downward- firing 8" titanium deposit-polymer woofer. The woofer's cone is suspended by Mirage's patented, elliptically shaped ribbed woofer surround ring, which is said to reduce woofer distortion, improve damping, and facilitate longer and more linear woofer motion (Mirage shares the patent with its sister company Energy). The subwoofer provides a 75W amplifier, which, despite its seemingly modest power rating, drives the Nanosub to surprisingly high output levels. The version of the Nanosub supplied with the Nanosat system features a builtin, fixed, 120Hz crossover and provides no phase control (Mirage offers a slightly different version of the Nanosub as a standalone product, which comes with an adjustable crossover. However, Mirage supplies a simplified Nanosub for this system, partly as a cost-saving measure, but primarily to make system setup as foolproof as possible). The Nanosat system comes in three colors: platinum, platinum/black, and pure white (my family loved the white review samples because the color made the system look elegant, yet unobtrusive).
In a moment we'll talk about how the Nanosat system sounds, but first it might be good to discuss some of the distinct differences between the sounds of omni-directional loudspeakers as compared to traditional direct radiators. First, because omnis deliberately reflect a considerable portion of their output off adjacent walls, they can often create unusually wide and deep soundstages (subjectively, the sound may seem to originate from a plane well behind the speakers). Second, because omnis offer a 360- degree dispersion pattern, there is less tendency for them to create a single, centrally located "sweet spot;" instead, listeners seated to either side of the traditional sweet spot may enjoy surprisingly good stereo and surround-sound imaging. Third, the best omnis have an almost uncanny ability to "disappear" into the sound field, meaning they draw little attention to themselves (often creating the powerful illusion that they aren't really the sources of the sounds you're hearing). These positive characteristics do, however, come at a price: Omnis, as a general rule, tend to sound more diffuse and less precisely focused than direct radiators. Some listeners find they miss the tightly focused sound that direct radiators provide, while others embrace the broad dispersion that omnis offer, finding their sound more natural and realistic. You'll have to make your own judgment on this issue, but either way there is no denying that omni-directional sound has interesting implications for listening to films and music.