Review: Mirage OmniVibe 360 Degree Omnipolar iPod Dock
Pros: An easy-to-use all-in-one speaker system with 360-degree sound output that can be heard with respectable detail from angles other than straight on. Includes remote control, audio, video, and data ports on the rear, and user-resizeable iPod dock. Very good bass at higher volume levels.
Cons: Sound from straight on isn’t as impressive at average listening levels as equal or less expensive iPod speakers; needs to be turned up to be appreciated. Volume oddities and song clipping when unit is initially powered on and songs are started. Design is on the plain side.
Just when we think we’ve seen every possible all-in-one iPod speaker system out there, another company emerges with yet one more small twist on the familiar theme. The latest such entry is Mirage’s OmniVibe ($300), an all-black, iPod-specific unit featuring the company’s Omnipolar technology for 360-degree sound dispersion. If the concept doesn’t initially make sense, picture a Bose SoundDock (iLounge rating: B+) with the ability to let you hear music radiating from the unit’s front, back, and sides rather than just in front, and you’ll have the idea.
Cosmetically, the unit is plain and inoffensive, combining a jet black glossy plastic body with a soft fabric speaker grille to create a hump of sound. Like the SoundDock, OmniVibe’s front dock is very simple, with integrated volume and power controls alongside a blue power light. Rather than including iPod sizing trays, Mirage uses a soft dial in back of the dock to provide support for eight varying thicknesses of iPod bodies - you turn the dial to your desired thickness and leave it there. We weren’t super-impressed by this dock implementation, and occasionally found the integrated blue light annoying - it flashes to indicate the unit is in “hold” mode.
Once the iPod is docked, you can control its features with a seven-button Infrared remote control - power, track forward/backward, play/pause, volume and mute are there, the last button the only addition to Bose’s formula. The remote works as expected. Unlike the SoundDock, however, which limited its front and rear ports to “iPod and nothing else,” Mirage has gone all out here, enabling you to synchronize a docked iPod with a computer, thanks to a USB port on the back, and adding an auxiliary audio input with an included cable, as well as video output for supported Pods. It runs off of wall power only, and does not include a battery compartment.
Two years after the SoundDock was released, we still think $300 is a lot to pay for an iPod speaker system - most companies have aimed lower than that price mark, and several have matched or exceeded Bose’s sound quality for less. OmniVibe’s philosophy appears to be somewhat different - offer a 360-degree sound field feature that no one else, including Bose, has promised, and charge just as much as the market’s leader. Can that strategy really pay off?
If OmniVibe universally sounded as good as or better than the SoundDock, we’d say “maybe.” Unfortunately, it’s inconsistent, and you’ll have to decide whether its benefits are a good match for your needs. We tend to prefer speakers that sound great at average (read: one- or two-person, not ear-splitting) volume levels, because we don’t think music has to be turned up loud to be enjoyed. At such average listening levels, OmniVibe falls more than a bit short of Bose’s mark, which in turn falls below the price-to-performance level of better valued speakers such as Altec’s still impressive inMotion iM7 (iLounge rating: A-). But at higher volume levels, and when heard from an angle - say, directly from behind - that other speakers might find daunting, it delivers on Mirage’s claim that it offers “deep, powerful bass,” with bigger, richer sound that better rivals the SoundDock. Overall, however, the iM7 is still the best of the bunch, and least expensive.
One of the reasons Bose has weathered so many audiophile attacks on its sound quality is its continued reliance on a bass-heavy sound signature - a crowd-pleaser that salespeople find easy to explain or equate with “good.” At average volume levels, OmniVibe falls noticeably shy of the SoundDock in this regard, and far short of the thump delivered by iM7’s bigger, dedicated side-firing subwoofer. Similarly, at such levels, OmniVibe’s treble isn’t as punchy as the SoundDock’s, which wasn’t a standout in this regard, and its mids are flat and a little muddy. We heard distortion - the sound of the speakers straining to replicate original details in songs - across several genres and many test tracks, most notably in vocals. This distortion was less noticeable at higher volume levels because of the nice bass, which distracts you from the audio’s other flaws.
However, there’s no doubt that Mirage’s single biggest selling point - the unit’s omnidirectional, 360-degree listening field - will appeal to some users. We tested OmniVibe in a couple of different rooms, one large and cavernous, one small, giving it an opportunity to breathe a bit and let us hear how the SoundDock and iM7 sounded from behind. Despite firing in one or two directions, these other speakers still sounded pretty good from other angles when placed in the center of a room. But OmniVibe does sound better - it’s optimized to present more of the audio spectrum, particularly in the highs, when heard from above or behind - and if having the ability to hear slightly more detailed sound from a sub-optimal listening angle is important to you, it is a better option. That said, we still prefer the SoundDock or iM7 when heard from the front.
Along with the distortion we noticed at average listening levels, there was one other oddity in the OmniVibe speaker that led us to issue a limited recommendation rather than a general one. Starting and stopping tracks many times resulted in audio clipping - the beginning of a song not being heard at all - and the system’s volume settings frequently behaved unusually, starting playback at a gentle level but graduating up to an unusually loud stage within a few seconds. Volume control isn’t typically a problem with the speakers we test, but this one appears to need some more fine-tuning so as not to cut off music or surprise people with its starting amplitude.
Our overall impression was that OmniVibe is an interesting and potentially appealing new iPod speaker system for people who have either or both of two needs - the desire to hear music at louder levels and from angles other than straight on - but it’s not as good of a general purpose speaker as some of the top options we’ve tested at or below its $300 asking price. If you want a speaker you can place at the center of a room and hear from all angles, consider it as a strong option; otherwise, do what most people do: place a cheaper speaker in the corner of a room and enjoy it everywhere.