Sonus faber Omnia Wireless Speaker Review
- Impressively rich and expansive performance
- Excellent build and finish
- Flexible wireless connectivity
- Either/or connectivity
- No dedicated streaming app
- More expensive than some key rivals
Introduction - What Is the Sonus faber Omnia?
The Sonus faber Omnia is a wireless speaker that sits in the ‘not quite a soundbar but works as one’ category that is a significant area of business for a number of manufacturers and retailers. It is easy enough to see why too. The effectiveness of a self contained streaming speaker that doubles up as a speaker solution for your TV is the sort of joined up thinking that this industry could benefit from a bit more of.
The thing is, making a good example of these speakers is harder than it looks. They require expertise in both speaker technology and electronics and, moreover, the sort of electronics that are sophisticated, code driven and DSP based rather than a painstakingly laid out selection of really expensive capacitors. One of the reasons that the Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation has been so effective in this regard is that Naim can call upon Focal for speaker technology while making use of its own experience with DSP, complex boards and general audio nous to drive them. Imitating this is not straightforward.
There’s something else too. Unless you have a decent team of industrial design people to work on how to package all this cleverness, the result can look somewhat utilitarian. If you crack that, it then helps if the name you stick on the front has a bit of cache to it. I don’t believe the ‘conversion rate’ from Mu-so to the more expensive Naim models is vast but customers can buy it knowing that they can move up the range if they wish.
Sonus faber is well placed to stitch these themes together. They make speakers, they are part of a wider group with the required electronics experience and they know a thing or two about aesthetics. You can buy one knowing that the same badge adorns speakers with six figure price tags too. Of course potential is one thing, actual brilliance is quite another. Can the Omnia make good on the promise?
Specification and Design
From the outset, the Omnia is not a slavish copy of a Mu-so or indeed anything else. The fundamental design is in keeping with other devices of this nature but Sonus faber has been comfortable enough to tinker with some aspects of the design to better meet with its approach to designing speakers. The end result is intriguingly different to most rivals on the market.
In essence, the Omnia is stereo product underpinned by a single bass driver; an approach we saw most recently in the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin. Furthermore, the drivers used for this are in keeping with Sonus faber design practise too. Two 19mm soft dome tweeters hand over to a pair of 76mm paper/cellulose drivers. Each driver has its own class D amplifier and these drivers work on an infinite baffle principle. To augment the 76mm drivers, a single 165mm aluminium driver is fitted but, instead of firing forwards, this is mounted to fire downward through a hole in the base of the cabinet. In order to ensure that the air gap from the lower driver is consistent. The Omnia has a large, centrally mounted foot that extends up into the driver aperture to control air movement.
Where the Omnia is different to anything I can recall testing before is that, at each end of the cabinet is a 44mm ‘full range’ cellulose driver. These operate in addition to the forward firing drivers via a system that Sonus faber calls CRESCENDO. The idea is that the Omnia monitors what you are playing and uses these drivers dynamically to control the soundstage that results. This is something that will live or die on how closely reined in by the software it is. It goes without saying that putting the Omnia in any form of constrained space with surfaces near either end of the cabinet will affect this somewhat, although there are different positioning settings on the unit itself.
The connectivity of the Omnia is comprehensive enough on paper but the reality is a little weirder. The network connectivity is comprehensive enough. The Omnia can access content over UPnP, is completely Roon compatible and has both AirPlay2 and Chromecast. Spotify and Tidal Connect are fitted and wireless functionality is rounded off with aptX HD capable Bluetooth. There is additionally the all important HDMI ARC connection for playing nice with your TV.
From here, things get a little odd though. The Omnia has a moving magnet phono stage for direct connection of a turntable. Now, you will find no greater advocate of analogue than I but I query just how many of these devices are ever going to see a turntable being connected in this fashion (and many of the ones that do will be to turntables with their own phono stage on board). This input functions as a conventional line input as well but in both cases it does so via a plug in adapter module which does rather impinge on the sleekness of the Omnia as a whole. There is also no optical input which, on a device with HDMI ARC isn’t the end of the world but might be a restriction for some.
Something else that warrants mention is that there is no Omnia app that ties everything together. The Cast, AirPlay and Connect software covers off a huge amount of day to day functionality and it works a charm via Roon but, if for example, you want to listen to a NAS library of your ripped music via the Omnia without a Roon core in the house, it is third party app time. These work fine but, compared to the Mu-so, with Naim’s own carefully honed streaming app, it feels a little rough and ready. You do get a remote handset though which, while a little lacking in button feedback, works well.
If you feel I am being hard on the Omnia, I do so only because the standards of the best in the category are so high. Let me go on to say though that where the Sonus faber yields to nothing is the industrial design. In principle, the Omnia is simple enough but there are very few manufacturers that could implement it as well as Sonus faber. Key to the Omnia is that top plate section. It comprises a wood (or stained wood ‘graphite’) panel with LED indicators and touch sensors built in. In the wrong hands, this could have been uniquely terrible; the sort of thing that might have escaped from a nineties Nissan Maxima. Here it looks brilliant (and no less importantly, works well too). What’s so clever is that the lighting and the wood complements each other in a way that probably shouldn’t work but really, really does. More than anything else, the Omnia feels like the sort of thing that Brother Day would have in his digs in Foundation, and I mean that very much as a complement.
This top panel is the main visual feature of what is otherwise a fairly conservative piece of styling but it is enough. The shape of the Omnia and the use of the central foot result in a speaker that hides its mass very well. It’s also very well made too. The Omnia is at a slight disadvantage against the metal of the Mu-so in terms of out and out feel but it is still superbly made and manages to arrive as a £1,600 object that doesn’t feel like it is struggling to justify its existence.
In principle, the Omnia is simple enough but there are very few manufacturers that could implement it as well as Sonus faber
How was the Omnia tested?
The Sonus faber has been connected to my wireless network and run as a Roon endpoint although AirPlay, Connect and Cast have been tested from an M1 iPad Pro and MConnect has been used for some basic UPnP testing. An Oppo Find X2 Neo smartphone has tested the Bluetooth. Additionally, the Omnia sample was taken down to my parents who are in possession of both a working HDMI ARC connection and a Naim Mu-so 2nd generation for some side by side tests. Material used has been FLAC and AIFF, Tidal and Qobuz and some on demand TV services.
More: Audio Formats
As noted at the beginning, speakers like the Omnia live or die on their DSP processing. Without it, you have a long flat enclosure that is packed to the hilt with drivers and plenty of power and that’s not a recipe for particularly compelling musicality. The processing required to tie everything together is considerable and, to add to the difficulty, it has to be applied in a manner sufficiently light in touch as to be inaudible. It is not an easy thing to do and, as we have noted, the Omnia ups the difficulty by having those side mounted drivers too.
The good news is that the Sonus faber ties everything together in a manner that ‘just works;’ ensuring that what you are listening to is not a collection of drivers in close formation but a single ‘wireless speaker’ and furthermore, a wireless speaker that has more than a stab at being a stereo presentation too. I will go further out on a limb and state that, having tried it side by side with the Mu-so 2nd generation, I will give the Sonus faber the nod as being the better partner for TV viewing too.
This is because those side drivers really do work beautifully. Watching The Adam Project via the Omnia, the chase through the woods really benefits from the width that the effects drivers inject into the performance. Exactly what information the drivers process is hard to establish as they cannot be listened to in isolation but the perception is that they are taking elements of the left and right channel signal and using it in such a way to give a level of width and space that a single chassis speaker would otherwise struggle with. It’s not quite ‘horizontal Atmos’… but it’s close.
Such an effect might seem risky in the context of music but, throughout testing, the Omnia has managed to sound bigger and more spacious than you might reasonably expect a single chassis device to do without leaving the telltale feeling of direct intervention being present. The effect is such that when you are enjoying the spacious and considered modern jazz of the Lund Quartet, there is that little bit of extra room around the performance to give you that feeling of them performing but when you move the utterly ballistic and focused Need Some Mo by Ko Ko Mo, there’s no perception of unwanted airiness in the performance. There’s no shortage of power either. For the most part, listening on the Omnia hasn’t got anyway near troubling the halfway point on the volume. At every level I’ve used it at, the Omnia has sounded big and unforced.
The side by side tests with the Mu-So 2nd Generation are telling though. There’s little to call between the two speakers in terms of their tonality. They both sound largely convincing although, perhaps contrary to expectations, it is the Naim that is more forgiving of poorer recordings. The Omnia has more bass though and it controls it slightly better as volumes increase. At more civilised levels, it’s the Mu-so that’s more exciting though. The Naim has an invigoratingly propulsive presentation that the Omnia never quite matches although it must be stressed that neither speaker ever sounds slow.
The Omnia’s strengths do, conveniently enough, partly mimic its more traditional passive speaker siblings. So long as the recorded listening quality of what you choose isn’t completely risible, there is a fluency and engagement across the midrange that, at times, is really something special for a one box wireless speaker. What it lacks it out and out punchlines with the White Lies, it claws back with Archipelago by Hidden Orchestra. Time after time during listening, the Sonus faber has suspended disbelief with sufficient aplomb that I’ve stopped critically appraising it as a wireless speaker and simply enjoyed it as a piece of music making equipment.
The good news is that the Sonus faber ties everything together in a manner that ‘just works’
Sonus faber Omnia Wireless Speaker Review
Ultimately, this suspension of disbelief is the key attribute of a wireless speaker of this nature. We can argue until the cows come home as to whether they are truly ‘Hi-Fi’ or not but, at £1,600, it is not unreasonable to expect an immersive experience and the Omnia delivers this with bells on. This is a seriously good wireless speaker.
Whether it is a better wireless speaker than the Naim is a tougher call. If your priority is TV viewing over music and especially if when you do choose to listen to music, it’s via streaming service rather than your own library, the Omnia is a better choice. It’s ability to find space like a decent Premier League midfielder is truly outstanding. If the roles are reversed and especially if you ripped your own music, the Naim still has the edge. It costs less, has a better interface and it gets the head nodding that little bit more effectively. The Omnia is the closest that the Mu-so 2nd Generation has been challenged by though and many people reading this will come down on the side of the Sonus faber. For this reason, the Omnia comes Highly Recommended.
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