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Product Review
 

Onix Reference 1 Bookshelf and Reference 2 Floor-Standing Speakers

May, 2004

Kris Deering

 

Specifications:


  Reference 1

  • System: 2-way Rear-Vented Bookshelf
  • Drivers: One Concentric Ring Radiator Tweeter, One 5.25" mid-bass woofer
  • Crossover: 4th Order
  • MFR: 42 Hz - 35 kHz ± 3 dB
  • Impedance: 4 Ohms
  • Efficiency: 88 dB
  • Bi-Wire: No
  • Dimensions:(WxDxH): 14.5" H x 8" W x 11" D
  • Weight: 24 Pounds Each
  • Finish Available: Birds Eye Maple or Piano Black Lacquer
  • MSRP: $1500/Pair

Reference 2

  • System: 2-way Rear-Vented Floor-standing
  • Drivers: One Concentric Ring Radiator Tweeter, Two 5.25" mid-bass woofers
  • Crossover: 4th Order
  • MFR: 38 Hz - 35 kHz ± 3dB
  • Impedance: 4 Ohms
  • Efficiency: 90 dB (@ 1 Watt / 1 Meter)
  • Bi-Wire: Yes
  • Dimensions: (WxDxH) 40.25" H x 8" W x 10" D
  • Weight: 80 Pounds Each
  • Finish: Birds Eye Maple or Piano Black Lacquer
  • MSRP: $2500/Pair

Onix Loudspeakers

www.av123.com

Introduction

Mark Schifter and company over at AV123 have been making quite a name for themselves over the last few years. Their Perpetual Technologies and Onix lines of product have been getting great buzz from both customers and the industry. In our reviews here at Secrets we have been equally impressed not only by their great performance but their stunning value and craftsmanship.  

I was very pleased to have the opportunity to check out their latest offering in the Onix line, called the Reference. We have done some pretty extensive reviews of the Onix speaker line with the Rockets, ELT, and Tykes. The Reference line is a totally new breed of speakers compared to the the popular Rockets, with the only similarity being the signature Vifa ring tweeter. Well, I guess one other apparent similarity is in the great build and sound.

Getting Started

My room configuration is a bit different than most home theater enthusiasts out there. It had started out as a dedicated room with a front projection system, but recently some circumstances resulted in a change, and now I am using a plasma display. The upside of this is that I can now use three matched speakers across the front for mains. This was impossible with my previous screen unless I used smaller monitors and had the tweeters a bit below the ideal height.

Having matched mains and center is ideal because it allows for perfect tonal balance and timbre across the front soundstage. Panning effects take on a whole new role with perfect imaging from one channel to the next. Even with speaker systems that I have had before that featured the exact same tweeter and midrange drivers, this was not possible. Differences in cabinet design and height of the speakers just made it impossible to perfectly blend the front soundstage. 

For this review I asked specifically for three Reference 2 floor-standing speakers. The Reference line has a more traditionally designed center channel, the Reference 100, but I am not really in a position to review one and do it justice. I also asked for a pair of their Reference 1 monitors for the surrounds.

The Reference line steps things up a bit from the Rockets. The only thing that carries on, besides the breakthrough in price point, is the Vifa XT ring radiator that was found on some of the upper offerings in the Rocket line. Everything else has been built new from the ground up.

When I received the speakers, I went through my normal mode of trying my hardest to unpack them without damaging the crates. This has become almost an art form since these crates have to be used to return the products. Typical of AV123's speakers, each one was sheathed in a cotton “sleeve” that keeps the inner packaging from contacting the finish of the speaker. On top of that, each set of speakers comes with cotton gloves. That way, you won’t have a mess of finger and hand prints all over the speaker from un-packaging it. This is just the first sign of a company that has thought out ALL the details.

Now I had seen these speakers on the AV123 website, and they looked quite nice, but the images truly don’t do these speakers justice. The finish and build of these speakers was far beyond my expectations. I have been around a lot of speakers at this price point, but to date I haven’t seen any near the aesthetic beauty of these. This is the kind of build and finish normally associated with very, very expensive offerings from other companies. Shortly after I unpacked them, my wife came in to see how things were going and immediately commented on how beautiful they were. These words are rarely uttered by my wife, who has become a bit tired of the plain-looking speakers I tend to have sitting around. But she was far from the last one to comment on them. Ever since their arrival, everyone that has come in my room has commented on how attractive these speakers are.

The first speakers unboxed were the Reference 1 bookshelf monitors. The heft of these monitors was totally unexpected and closer to the weight of most floor-standing speakers I have handled. The finish was Onix’s Bird’s Eye Maple, which looked absolutely stunning. You won’t find any fake wood veneer here. This is the kind of speaker that would stand out in a finely decorated room and would never be considered anything but an addition. The speaker is highly polished, and once I had it out I understood exactly why the gloves were included. Like a sports car that has been polished to showroom quality, any fingerprint will show immediately.

The first thing I do with any speaker when I get it unboxed is the classic knuckle test. Again the Reference line surprised me here. Just a few knocks confirmed what I felt as I lifted it: this is an extremely solid speaker. There was no resonance. I may as well have been knocking on marble walls. No give, no resonance, nothing. This is exactly what you want from a high end loudspeaker. Cabinet design contributes directly to the sound of a speaker. With new music formats supporting 24 bit resolution, you really want a speaker that will give up as little as possible due to cabinet noise or limitations. Otherwise, you might miss some of the musical detail.

Unpackaging the Reference 2’s revealed the same thing. This time though the finish was Piano Black. This is a perfect description as the speakers look like the finish of a grand piano. The knuckle test proved again that these things might as well have been chiseled from granite.

The Reference 2’s are a bit different then the towers I’ve grown used to lately. Most tower speakers tend to be narrow and deep. This is fine but my chief complaint is most companies don’t make the base wide enough to compensate for the high center of gravity. The Onix speakers are almost perfectly square in terms of width and depth. This makes them more stable and not as easy to knock over.

Onix took this one step further though and included a separate base. This base, as well as the bottom of the towers, is pre-drilled for installation. It is  larger on all sides than the tower, giving the speaker excellent stability. Assembly of the base was quite simple requiring only a screwdriver and the provided wood screws. The pre-drilled holes make assembly a breeze. The base can also accommodate the large spikes that come with the speakers. The spikes work for any type of floor since they come with small pucks for hardwood or concrete surfaces.

The design of the speakers is quite simple in terms of layout and features. The Reference 2’s feature a Vifa XT ring radiator sandwiched between two 5.25” drivers in a D’Appolito array. The speaker has a single port on the back along with the bi-wire binding posts on the back that have gold plated jumper strips. The Reference 1 monitor features the same tweeter and a single driver beneath, but is not set up for bi-wiring.

Hookup was easy and I found the binding posts very accommodating for the spades I use. The mains were placed 8 feet away in an equidistant arc from the main listening position. The main left and right channel were placed about 8 ½ feet apart and toed in to the main listening position. I then leveled each speaker using the provided spikes. Each speaker was afforded about two feet from the front and side walls.

For the surrounds I used some generic speaker stands, though I felt they were a bit flimsy for the Reference 1 monitors, and placed them at about 100 degrees from the main listening position and about 6 feet away. This allowed for some clearance between the speaker and the sidewall. I also pointed them directly at the main listening position. It is advised that anyone buying the Reference 1’s get the speakers before choosing a stand. The monitors are quite heavy and require a substantial stand.

Both the Reference 1 and 2 speakers are relatively easy loads as far as power requirements. Although they are rated at 4 ohms, they have an in room sensitivity of 90 dB, which makes them efficient. My amplifier is rated at 300 watts per/channel into a 4 ohm load, but even in the most demanding moments I would be surprised if the amp were pushing more then 150 watts. This is nice since it gives a bit of leeway in choosing an amplifier. It also gives allows the amp to have some breathing room. This lends to a cleaner sound and robust low end.

Listening

I gave the speakers about two weeks of break-in before I started doing any critical listening. The subject of break-in with regard to speakers is often controversial. Some say it is totally unnecessary, some swear by it. Personally I believe in it for a few reasons. When I become accustomed to a speaker it is difficult to switch to another one sometimes. Speaker characteristics can vary greatly and I find I need to get used to a speaker before I can really judge it.  

When I started listening to the speakers I was quite impressed with their wonderful imaging and presence. They provided a deeply involving soundstage and really did a wonderful job of disappearing into the room. But I also thought the upper end was a bit uninspiring. I had previously been using some offerings from Axiom as well as my own PSBs, and the “air” I was used to seemed to be a tad void with these speakers. This was most noticeable in cymbals which sounded a bit too metallic with no personality. My friend, and fellow Secrets writer Paul Taatjes, came by shortly after I received the speakers and noted the same thing. But I mentioned that I wanted to give them some break-in time before I passed any real judgment on them.

After about two weeks of constant use, and I mean constant, I noticed a tremendous change in the character of the speakers. The upper end was far more detailed and lacked the flat sound I had heard at first. This was quite apparent with female vocals and cymbals, which tended to have a bit of a metallic sound in the beginning. One of my references in this area is the CD Thirteenth Step by A Perfect Circle. The song “The Noose” has an amazing drum line that kicks in at about two minutes into the track. The drum presence in this song is amazing and one of the best I’ve heard to date. The cymbals have a presence all their own, and the Ref 2’s did an impeccable job with them. All of the detail I have become accustomed to was there, but imaging was much tighter than my other speakers. This carried on with other selections as well. Listening to Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band XXL showed just how good detail and presence can be with the Reference line. My favorite track, “Hunting Wabbits”, has great side wall imaging and a powerful brass section. The higher end was crisp and airy, and the speakers did a great job of resolving the sound space around each instrument, creating the illusion of placement in the soundstage admirably.   

I asked Paul to swing by and see what he thought after my break in time. He noted the same thing and was almost in disbelief in the change noting that he was now a firm believer in break-in! 

Over the next few weeks the Reference Line continually impressed me regardless of the material I played. Most of my evaluation stemmed from home theater, which is my true passion, and these speakers were awe inspiring. The soundstage I was used to was now much deeper with phenomenal imaging between speakers, especially in the side wall areas. Pans from front to back were completely seamless, giving more of an illusion of really being in the films.  

When watching the recent DVD Open Range, I was blown away with how well these speakers would just disappear in the room. The opening sequence of this film has the most realistic rain storm I have ever heard. With the Onix Reference line, I was totally drawn into the illusion and was almost unsettled at how realistic the soundstage felt. Near the end is a spectacular gun fight that has some of the most compelling dynamic range I have heard to date. The decay of these speakers handled this scene brilliantly and provided the “echo” of space as the gun fire rang out and drifted off into the open air. Transients were handled so well I wondered how I would ever be able to give these speakers back.

The Onix were equally as impressive with the powerhouse soundtrack of The Matrix Revolutions. This is one of the most demanding soundtracks I have ever heard, making full use of every channel, and the Reference Line didn’t bat an eye. Panning effects, which are a plenty here, were amazing, with seamless transitions between the mains and front to back. The sense of space was tremendous with the focus of fine detail never being overshadowed by the blistering low end of the soundtrack. There is no doubt that this speaker system does a superb job with film soundtracks, and is the most compelling I have heard to date in this respect.

But as compelling as these speakers were with movie soundtracks, I must say I loved them with music. I listen to a broad spectrum of music styles ranging from hard edged industrial music, to classical and jazz. It didn’t seem to matter to these speakers though as every genre was handled brilliantly.

The more relaxed upper end was a bit relieving with some of the harder rock offerings. Listening to tracks off of Nine Inch Nails The Fragile album, which features some tremendous upper range material, was a bit easier on the ears at the higher levels I enjoy.  

Most of my listening nowadays consists of multi-channel DVD-A and SACD. I noticed a bit more control in the mid bass region of the Reference 2’s with the DVD-A of The Eagles Hotel California. The opening sequence of the title track features a pronounced bass guitar that I have found a bit bloated on most speakers I listen to. I also find a mesh of sound with the accompanying acoustic guitar solo, but none of these problems was manifested here. What resulted was excellent clarity of instruments with clean distinct imaging.  

Another great piece is Queen’s The Game with its great rock and roll jams and phenomenal dynamic range. The popular “Another One Bites the Dust” has excellent mid bass and low bass presence, and the Reference line shone. About half way through the track, Freddy’s voice goes into an almost screaming fury that has been a bit harsh before, but was delivered with a much more bearable ring.

About a month into my listening tests, I installed a full complement of absorption panels in the room, mainly to tame first reflections. These panels cover the entire span of my front wall, the first reflection points of the main left, right, and center channel, and the back wall directly behind the main listening position. The room treatments did a nice job of focusing the sound a bit more, yet providing a more spatial quality. 

Two-channel recordings benefited the most. The soundstage was far more open, so much so that some recordings sounded like they were being decoded in a surround format. There was also far more definition in single instruments. I listened to some offerings from AIX that included acoustic guitar solos. The decay of instruments took on a far more realistic sound showcasing the detail the Onix line was capable of. I would have sworn the guitarist was sitting right in front of me.  

If I had to point out any shortcoming, it would be the lowest octave. Since Onix went with a five and a quarter inch driver compliment, I found the bottom end a bit weaker then my previous speakers. But then again, my previous speakers featured three 6 1/2 “ drivers. This wasn’t an issue with most CDs I played, but rather if one were looking to use these speakers for full range motion picture soundtrack playback. Music wise, I only had trouble with some selections that had pretty deep bass like The Crystal Method. Of course, a subwoofer mitigates this issue, and Onix has one to pick up the slack.

Conclusions

I can’t recommend these speakers enough. They were dazzling with everything I threw at them and displayed range far beyond my expectations. Add to that an exemplary build quality along with a beautiful finish and you can’t ask for more. I am really excited to see what Mark and company have in store for the future of this line. I loved these speakers enough to make them a new addition to my theater room; frankly, I can’t give a product a bigger recommendation then that.
 

 - Kris Deering -

Associated Equipment for This Review:

DVD/CD playback: Denon DVD-5900
Preamplifier: Anthem AVM-20 v.12
Amplifier: Aragon 2700, Sampson 700 (subs)
Other speakers: SVS PB-2+ & (2) 25-31 CS subwoofers
Cables: DIY Canare Quad speaker cables, Bettercables and Outlaw interconnects

 

    Related to the article above, we recommend the following:

Primer - Speakers

 

 

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