surround sound speaker systems?
Mighty Sound for Mini Rooms: A Review of Mirage's Nanosat Speaker System
|Mirage's Nanosat System|
As an apartment dweller, my home theater options are limited. My living room is small. My furniture arrangement is less than ideal for home theater. And the room must serve a number of different purposes, from listening to music to entertaining guests. These problems are typical of most folks who want great sound to accompany their movies, but don't have room for huge speakers. So, when I had the opportunity to try out Mirage's Nanosat surround system — I couldn't wait to get the speakers home.
First impressions and setup
This system comes with 5 surround satellite speakers and a powered subwoofer. Right out of the box, I noticed two things about the satellite speakers: they were tiny and sturdy. They fit easily in the palm of my hand, but had a durable build quality. Another thing I noticed was that the speakers did not come with any cables. I'd recommend purchasing some with your speakers so you can dive right into setting up your room. Luckily, I already had a small home theater system setup, so I was able to transfer my speaker cables to the new speakers. With my speaker cable already run to the correct locations, setup of the system took me between 10 and 15 minutes.
|The Nanosats were small but sturdy.|
During setup, I chose to perch the satellite speakers around the room. The front speakers and center channel sat on the top of my entertainment center, and I situated the rear speakers on end tables at the sides of my couch. If you're planning on a permanent setup, I'd suggest purchasing speaker stands or wall-mounting the speakers with the attached keyhole brackets. The Nano sub is solid and small, and easily slid near the wall in my living room for easy hookup to a close-by outlet.
Following setup, I turned on my receiver, an Onkyo TX-SR502, and changed the settings to accommodate the new speaker system. I ensured the speaker size was set to small, and checked the speaker distance settings for accuracy. In Mirage's simple 2-page instructions, you're advised to set the receiver's crossover frequency to 120 Hz, since the subwoofer's crossover is preset and not adjustable. Once that was done, I was ready to watch movies and listen to music.
Background on Mirage speakers
With all this in place, I wondered if these speakers would live up to their reputation. Mirage speakers are known for producing high-quality "dispersed" sound. What does that mean to those of us who aren't audio geeks? Well, most home theater speakers are capable of creating a localized, focused "sweet spot" or prime listening position. For example, when you're watching a movie with a group of friends, one or two people hear the soundtrack as it was meant to be heard. The rest, in other spots around the room, hear a less realistic, less engrossing version of sound — either because the speakers are too close to them or too far away. Mirage claims to increase the sweet spot or soundfield so that more people will be able to hear movie sound as it was produced in a movie theater or cinema.
My living room setup is a great place to challenge this claim, thanks to its odd size and setup. I have my entertainment system placed along a wall for ease of cable connections. Directly across from this system is my couch and the prime seating location for this system. I have a smaller couch situated next to the larger couch, where the two then form an "L" shape. You hear primarily the right sound effects when seated on the smaller couch. With a large crowd present, this means that half the people watching a movie are listening to distorted sound.
With that in mind, I popped in a movie. The first DVD I pulled from my collection was Sahara, which is a movie based on one of Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt novels. And what this movie may lack in dialogue, it does make up for in explosions and other special effects.
Within instants, I was pulled into the action of the opening scene — a civil war battle involving an ironclad battleship. The cannon fire and gun shots felt like they were crossing directly in front of my face, continuing over my left shoulder, and eventually crashing a few feet past where my living room wall ended. Right away, I could tell this little system was going to make the most of my tiny living room.
From here the movie transitioned into present-day times, and into quieter dialogue as the characters discover a disease attacking a small African town. At first, I found the dialogue to be too quiet in comparison to the effects. After a few moments, I adjusted and found that while the dialogue was quieter, I didn't miss any important details. Overall, the Nanosats and Sahara were a good match.
For my next DVD trial, I chose The Incredibles so I could crank up the volume without worrying about teaching the neighbors' children any new and inappropriate words. These animated characters get into some exciting situations, and with the Mirages, I heard the sound effects reproduced accurately and clearly — the high-pitched whine of flying vehicles during a dramatic chase scene, for example, or the thunderous crashes of a giant robot's feet as it battles our heroes.
My living room seemed larger than it had been before. I turned up the volume on my receiver and the speakers continued to produce detailed, rich sound. The Nano sub, too, was quite powerful and, even at lower volume settings, managed to rumble the walls of my apartment. I'm sure my neighbors were none too pleased, but it served as a great test. This system, while great for those in an apartment, like myself, would also be great for folks looking to outfit a second home theater room like a bedroom or den. It sounded great at low and high volumes.
Afterwards, I selected a few scenes from The Italian Job. Unlike previous times I'd watched this movie, I was immediately impressed by the clarity of the opening scene's soundtrack. The beginning few moments draw you into the movie with precise, ominous music which the Nanosats produced perfectly. I was surpised to find that this simple sound was reproduced so richly. This movie was another good match for the Nanosats.
Over my next few days with these speakers, I also settled in to watch Sideways. This movie is one of my favorites because of the quirky dialogue. The funny scenes would have been lost if the speaker system wasn't able to handle quiet moments along with action. The Mirage speakers did not disappoint and held their own during the movie's soft, conversational scenes.
My living room and home theater setup also serve as my primary listening room for music, so I decided to try out a few of my CDs. I chose Van Morrison's Moondance and Rock Kills Kid's Are You Nervous? These albums are drastically different and offered a decent perspective on how the Nanosats would perform with a wide variety of music.
With the Van Morrison album, the speakers accurately projected the voice and background music. On the song "Moondance," I was impressed with the clarity of Van Morrison's voice and the warm sound of the background instrumentals matched the precise lyrics. These speakers managed to make one of my favorite albums sound even better than it had before.
Next up was the newest album I'd purchased, Are You Nervous? This album quickly jumped into an upbeat tempo. The music from the first song, "Paralyzed," filled the room with sound. When walking around the apartment, I was able to hear the music even when standing in the hallway off the living room — despite the fact that the speakers face the opposite direction. I expected the sound in the living room to be detailed and full, but certainly did not expect to hear similar quality music from behind the speakers. As far as I can tell, the Mirage Nanosats made good on their claim.
|The dispersion plates are key to Mirage's signature sound.|
And how were these small speakers able to launch sound down a path that they weren't even facing? Mirage attributes it to "omnipolar technology."
Omnipolar speakers, such as the OmniSats and the Nanosats, feature pretty much the same design. They have a lower driver that faces up towards the ceiling, a floating tweeter, and 2 dispersion plates which Mirage calls Omniguides. When all is said and done, these speakers (with grille off) slightly resemble a speaker with an attached spaceship on top. The key to their success, however, is the Omniguides. They reflect sound waves out into the room so that they bounce off the walls and ceilings to create a rich, deep soundfield.
The alternative design enables these speakers to project sound around the room and utilize reflected sound more than direct-radiating speakers (those are your typical speakers that fire sound straight into your room, towards whichever direction you point them).
The omni-directional speakers did prove they could extend the soundstage from the narrow location created by my own system to a much broader area. While my loveseat was never the preferred viewing seat for movies, with the Mirages, I heard a wide range of detail and effects from that seat — exactly what I was hoping for. At our next movie viewing, my friends on both couches got the benefit of full surround sound effects.
All-in-all these speakers proved to be a great addition to my home theater setup but there were a few drawbacks. While I could almost feel the cannonball in Sahara rushing past my face, I wasn't able to pinpoint its exact location the way I would have been able to with conventional speakers. Mirage speakers disperse sound, creating a wider soundfield at the expense of some of the detailed, plottable sound that direct radiators can provide. It wasn't a huge drawback, but could affect folks who are interested in perceiving a tight, well-defined reproduction of sound effects or music.
|This little sub was necessary to expand the sound around my room.|
Also, the speakers did a wonderful job of providing sound from my CDs, but definitely need the subwoofer with their small size. At one point, I played a CD, Jack's Mannequin Everything in Transit without the subwoofer turned on, and the lack of depth seemed to deflate the music. With speakers of this size, it's not suprising that a subwoofer is needed to add the lower frequencies, but it's worth mentioning. When I turned the subwoofer back on, the music had added depth and power.
I'd recommend these speakers for a few different types of rooms:
- Multi-purpose rooms where people, like myself, need the room to be devoted to many different functions but still would like a strong surround system for movie nights and music listening.
- Secondary home theater rooms where folks are looking to have another movie room in addition to their main system. I could see these Nanosats also working well in a bedroom, guest room, or den.
Overall, I really enjoyed using the Nanosats, and they turned my ill-equipped living room into a great sounding home theater room. These, or similar Mirage models, will definitely be on my list of items to purchase in the future.