Product of the Day #42: Ohm Walsh 3000 Speakers

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Ohm Walsh 3000 Speakers (new cabinets have rounded corners)

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Longtime readers of the column and my website know I have long been a fan of Walsh speakers from Ohm Acoustics.  My first pair of high-quality speakers were Ohm Walsh 1s, which I purchased years ago and still have today.

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Ohm Walsh 2, Ohm F, and Ohm A

Since then I have listened to and owned many pairs of Walsh speakers and count in my collection a pair of original Ohm As and a pair of Ohm Fs, both pairs in perfect working order and in use in my home.  Though they are 30 year-old designs, the Ohm A and Ohm F are still competitive with the finest cost-no-object speakers sold today. Though the performance is extraordinary, a pair of Ohm As or Ohm Fs is really a product for the expert user as they require precise amplifier matching, exacting speaker placement, and a knowledge of their limitations in terms of power requirements , power handing, and the dynamic range of the source.  Anything less and #1 they won’t sound very good and #2 the user is likely to blow them up within a week.   Modern Ohm speakers such as the Walsh 3000 are much smaller, much less power hungry, much more reliable, and far more suitable as a consumer product.

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My den, where I currently have my Ohm As.  That is a 70-inch TV, that should give you an idea of how huge the speakers are!

To me, no other speaker does what the Walsh does, and does it so well, combining transparency, utterly natural sound quality, and 3D rendition of space that makes you feel like the you are there.  They provide this sound to everyone in the room with a very wide listening area, rather than a “sweet spot.”  Unlike Bose, these truly are “stereo everywhere” with stereo imaging in conjunction with spaciousness and combined with the sublime sound, they are awesome for both music and home theater. Though the many excellent affordable speakers on the market sometimes makes it hard for me to recommend expensive speakers to readers of a general interest newspaper column, I never hesitate to recommend Ohm to readers who have the budget for them.  My review samples found a good home in a household that was not expecting to spend $4,000 on a pair of speakers, but the new owners are really glad they did… more on that later, it’s a great story!

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The unique Walsh driver in operation. A single pulse travels down the cone, reproducing the entire audio range with one driver. 

How it works

You can read more on the operating concept on the Unique Speakers page.  In a nutshell, rather than have a box with several drivers reproducing waveforms by moving back and forth like a piston, a Walsh driver is a downward-facing cone that reproduces the entire sound spectrum with a single driver. The cone is made of supersonic material and high frequencies are produced by the top of the cone.  As the pulse travels down the cone all the other frequencies are reproduced in perfect synchronization with each other, producing a single wavefront.  (This is called time and phase coherence.)  The cone is mounted on a sealed cabinet and 100% of the sound is produced by the cone.  This is the Walsh in its purest form and how my Ohm As and Ohm Fs operate.

Modern Walsh speakers use a supertweeter to fill in the very highest frequencies and a tuned port to supplement bass output.  These measures greatly improve sensitivity (power requirements,) reliability, and power handling.  The drivers are mounted in an acoustically transparent can that protects the drivers and attenuates output to the rear and sides.  This attenuation provides the wide listening area and makes the speakers easier to place in the room.

Some purist prefer the sound of the classic models, others find the newer products to have better sound.  As for me, I love them both… it is like having two flavors of ice cream you love equally, both are delicious and unique in their own way.  There is no doubt, however, that the modern Walsh speakers are a much better fit for 99.9% of consumers.

Walsh 3000 in the model line

The Ohm Walsh 3000 speakers replace the Walsh 200 and are the mid-sized model in Ohm Acoustics’ full-sized Walsh line, between the  Walsh 1000 (formerly Walsh 100) and the  Walsh 4000 (formerly Walsh 300.)  These three models make up the bulk of Ohm’s Walsh series of speakers, but there are special models both above and below them.  Above the Walsh 4000 is the top-of-the-line Walsh 5000 (replaces the Walsh 5) that uses a refined version of the Walsh 4000 driver and includes controls to adjust the sound quality.

Below the full-sized Walshes you have Ohm’s MicroWalsh line, starting at $850 per pair. My friend Sandy has a pair in her dining room, where they provide full-range sound with a very small footprint, as you can see below.  Ohm does not usually recommend the Short MicroWalshes for this purpose, but I have heard them in this room and they sound fantastic, filling the room with beautiful sound.

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Sandy’s room.  You can see a MicroWalsh peeking out behind the left corner of the table.

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MicroWalsh Short Speaker

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Miniature Walsh driver can used on the MicroWalsh.  I am going to photograph this next to my Ohm A driver someday…

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Vintage 30wpc Harman/Kardon receiver drives the MicroWalshes easily in Sandy’s small room.

All Ohm speakers are sold factory direct and are handmade to order in a variety of genuine wood veneers.  Handmade to order in the USA… you don’t see much of that any more and is part of Ohm’s appeal.  They are really something special, and when you order and receive them you know it.

The new line of speakers has evolutionary improvements that taken as a whole make for a substantially improved product.  A new supertweeter improves high frequency reproduction, stronger metal frames are used to support the Walsh cone, and the driver itself has been refined.  This leads to better sound quality throughout the sound spectrum, with tighter deep bass and a sweeter high end, with improved detail and dynamic rendition.  Surround materials have been upgraded so the speakers are expected to go 40 to 50 years without needing service or maintenance, making these a lifetime investment.

Ohm supports every product they have ever sold with service and upgrades, so should you have an older model you can upgrade it to the latest drivers.  You do not see service like that in the industry much these days.  They also offer a 120 day home trial with a money back guarantee, so your satisfaction is assured, certainly important when spending a significant amount on speakers.  The stiff Walsh cones requires at least a month of break-in to sound their best so the 120 home trial is especially important.

Specifications

Price: $4,000 + $50 shipping, includes any veneer finish.

Frequency response: 29-20,000 Hz +/- 4 dB

Sensitivity: 88 db/watt-meter

Dimensions: 11 x 11 x 40 inches

Weight: 65 pounds per speaker

Impedance: 6 ohms

Unlike prior Ohm models of this size, the Walsh 3000 and all other speakers in Ohm’s product line are shipped fully assembled.  In the past the driver cans and the cabinets were shipped in separate boxes and the owner mounted the cans.  It was an easy task, but still, it is nice to take them out of the box ready-to-go.

Cabinet finish was excellent, with smooth, glossy wood that looks real, because it is.  They do not have the flawless look that is so good it almost looks artificial, but these latest cabinets are a clear step up from some of Ohm’s efforts of the past few years.

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My review pair had straight-sided cabinets.  Speakers shipping now have upgraded cabinets with rounded corners.

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Speakers with grill caps removed

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Looks like the exact same metal logo plate used on the Ohm A and Ohm F

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The grills are very sturdy an have strong wire supports inside

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Speakers are placed with the label on this inside corner facing the center of the room

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Heavy-duty terminals are on the back of the cabinet and very easy to access.  Some older Ohm models had them underneath the speakers.

Power and equipment recommendations

Though the Ohm Walsh 3000 is a relatively efficient speaker with a sensitivity rating of 88 db/watt-meter, they do appreciate lots of good, clean power… as do all of the Ohm Walsh speakers.  I tested them with a vintage NAD 7175 PE receiver that is rated at 75 watts per channel into 8 ohms continuously, 300 watts per channel peak and a B&K ST-140 rated at 105 watts per channel.   Both drove the Walsh 3000s effortlessly in a large room.  I also hooked them up to a 40 watt per channel Harman/Kardon as a brief experiment and while it drove them cleanly to moderate levels in a small room, they clearly wanted more.

In stereo use I’d say if you provide the Walsh 3000s with at least 50 watts per channel of power from a quality manufacturer such as Harman/Kardon, Rotel, NAD, Parasound, or Outlaw Audio, you will be very happy.  The Sherwood Newcastle separate amplifier is also a good fit.  Home theater receivers from the likes of Onkyo, Sherwood Newcastle and Denon would work OK as well, but if going this route I recommend you stick to the upper-end models starting at $800-$1,000 per pair with ratings of over 130 watts per channel.  (Home theater receivers are rated differently than stereo receivers and amplifiers.)  Of course, if your room is large or you play very loudly, more power is called for and you should plan accordingly.

If you want to go all-in and pair the speaker with some really high-end electronics the speakers are certainly worthy of it, but remember that the speakers are by far the most important part of the reproduction chain (along with turntables in analog systems) and you hit diminishing returns rapidly when buying expensive amplifiers.  I don’t recommend going beyond the NAD, Rotel, Outlaw, and Parasound level, which is really the sweet spot for most any speaker and a great match with Ohm Walsh models.

Ohm Walsh speakers in home theater applications

Ohm provides a wide variety of surround speakers for use in home theaters, from the $229/pair SAT-1 and the $500 Walsh Center Channel to omnidirectional versions of all the Walsh line, designed specifically for surround duty.  There are also wall-mounted MicroWalsh speakers available for surround channels and a wide variety of subwoofers.  If you want to build a home theater around Walsh speakers it is easily done.  Plan on at least $729 + subwoofer in addition to the speakers of your choice.

Sound quality

Years ago I received an email from a reader in Minneapolis who has since become a friend.  He was interested in Martin-Logan electrostatic speakers but concerned with their directionality, which limits the listening area.  I recommended the Ohm Walsh 200 (the 3000′s predecessor) as a good fit for his needs, telling him it shares much of an electrostatic’s transparency with what I find to be superior tonal qualities and a more dynamic and spacious sound.  I was a bit surprised that he took my recommendation so much to heart as the next email said he called Ohm and ordered a complete home theater with Walsh 200s as the main speakers.  Here is the email I received when the speakers arrived:

“I got my Ohms yesterday and hooked the 200s up to a Rotel processor and the Sherwood amp and an old piece of crap cd player.  Even stiff out of the box, that is some sweet music!  I have to say poor recording sounds poor, but a good recording…  If you haven’t heard it, get a hold of Patti Smith’s “Twelve”.  She covers 12 of her favorite songs and the guitar openings are so clear.  A real pleasure!”

(Footnote to the above- a few years later a home theater installer tried to swap out his Walsh Center Channel for a different high-end make to match a stand he sold to my friend.  My friend quickly swapped back in the Walsh Center Channel, saying he much preferred its more natural sound.)

Looking back, my response then is what I think of these speakers today.  To my ears the Ohm Walsh speakers combine the transparency and transient ability of exotic speakers like electrostatics, but without the drawbacks of directionality, limited dynamic range, and limited bass response. They have excellent stereo imaging along with a spacious, enveloping sound, well-rendered fine detail, and faithfulness to the recording. The Walsh 3000 ups the ante over its predecessors with even more detail, a crisper midrange and smoother response throughout the tonal range with taut, defined bass.  They are full, transparent, and effortlessly natural, adapting easily to the requirements of the music from reproducing the most delicate notes of a flute or piano to the full impact of an orchestral crescendo.  You just sit back and listen and melt into the music.  What’s more, they sound great with any program material, from instrument solos to action movies.  Certain speakers are said to be “good rock speakers” or “good jazz speakers,” etc… truly great speakers sound good no matter what you play through them.   Vocals are extremely natural, a hallmark of Walsh speakers, and sometimes you can even hear the performers taking in breath between verses.

They way they effortless float sonic images in the air really adds to the experience.  If you have Ohm speakers definitely try playing some Telarc CDs with special effects as you are really in for a treat!  For example, playing Round-Up  the first track has a cowboy on a horse running around the room. You can hear every hoof hitting the dirt, every snort and whinny of the horse like he is really in the room.  Gunfight at O.K. Corral  has great vocals by Frankie Lane and a series of gunshots that will scare you if you are not prepared… so brace yourself!  The Walsh driver’s transient capabilities renders the gunshots without any smearing of sound or strain, and the bell tolling afterwards has an otherworldly quality.   If you do not have Round-Up, it is a fantastic demo CD and I highly recommend it.

While no speaker is perfect, I can’t find much to nitpick about these speakers.  While a comparably priced mini-monitor may yield a bit more fine detail and pinpoint imaging (while sitting in the sweet spot,) you would give up the Ohm’s deep bass, spacious sound, and magical quality.  Some users may prefer a set of direct radiating box speakers for home theater use due to the way it projects sound, but you give up the Ohm’s naturalness and convincing reproduction of music.  It’s hard for me not to gush and be a cheerleader for a product that appeals to me so much, to the point where I placed a banner on my website so others learn about the speakers and can enjoy them as much as I do.  No pay-per-click or affiliate; I just want to spread the word about a great company with a very special product.

For audiophiles and those shopping in the higher price ranges, the Walsh speakers are a bargain as they outperform a lot of much more expensive speakers.  For the general consumer, perhaps the biggest drawback to the Walsh 3000 and the other Walsh speakers is the price.  If you shop smart you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get very good sound these days.  For example, you can build a pretty darn good home theater from The Speaker Company for $1,000, and speakers from Axiom Audio or Paradigm don’t cost much more than that.  For those who are looking for something special and who really love movies and music, Walsh speakers are worth stretching your budget a bit as you will get something clearly different and better than the typical box speaker.  If you can afford $1,000 per pair or more for speakers, Ohm Walsh products belong on your very short list.  They are a lifetime investment that will pay off for a long time to come as you are likely to keep a high quality pair of speakers for 15 years or more.

Epilogue

About the same time I was due to box up the Walsh 3000s and send them back to Ohm, I received an email from a reader in the State College, PA area.  His name is Charlie and he was looking for a very good sound system for his wife Martha, who spends a lot of time listening to music every day.  We exchanged emails discussing his options, and I realized the Walsh 3000s would be a good fit.  I made a call to Ohm and  they offered to sell him my review samples, and I offered to drive them to State College and set them up for he and his wife.  Though they cost a good bit more than he had anticipated spending and they were used to listening to a circa 1980 Technics rack system, he quickly agreed, my enthusiasm convincing him and secure in the knowledge he had Ohm’s 120 day home trial to test them out.  I had no apprehension whatsoever recommending them, even to a senior citizen couple replacing a circa 1980 Technics rack system. The Ohms can work some real magic and I knew they would be thrilled.

I had Charlie order a 120 watt/channel Harman/Kardon HK 3485 stereo receiver from www.harmanaudio.com, spending a mere $229 for a refurbished unit.  The HK is recommended by the ultra-picky folks at Stereophile magazine and it offers lots of clean, strong power- a perfect match for the Walsh 3000s and very affordable as well.   For CD duty we added a Sony DVD changer from amazon.com for around $150.  All the equipment was there when I arrived with the Ohms.  I took the turntable from the rack system and surprisingly, it was not a bad unit so  I connected it as well.  I set up the speakers in their room and has Martha pick out one of her favorite CDs.  I sat her in her listening chair and started the music.

To make it simple, they were blown away and when Martha first heard them it literally brought a tear to her eye.  She handed me CD after CD, saying “play this” and “play that” and said it was like hearing them all for the first time.  Charlie brought out Beethoven’s 6th Symphony on vinyl.  Even with a modest turntable, the Ohms wove real magic in the room and I will never forget the delicate, lilting notes and the sheer emotion conveyed in the music.

After a pleasant afternoon of music, conversation and fresh coffee and brownies served up by Martha I hopped in the car and headed home.  When I got home I sent Charlie an email thanking them for their hospitality and wishing them much enjoyment with their new system. Charlie’s reply said it all:

“The pleasure in the meeting was all ours.  We really thank you for going to all the trouble of traveling here and introducing us to some really fine audio reproduction. The look on Martha’s face when those first notes came through made me sure that you had picked the right equipment and that I had done the right thing in paying the price (dollar wise) for speakers that cost about 8 times more than my first car (a 1937 Chrysler Royal w/ OD).”

Learn more about Ohm Walsh speakers at www.ohmspeakers.com.  You can call the toll-free line at 1-800-783-1553 and discuss your needs with Ohm’s President and Chief Engineer, John Strohbeen, an MIT-educated electrical engineer well known for his speaker-design acumen.  Of course, you can always send me an email with your questions as I never tire of discussing audio!

See you soon for another Product of the Day!


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