Loudspeakers come in every conceivable shape and size. Whether you want standalone hi-fi floorstanding speakers or an integrated PC or iPod dock sound system, it’s never been easier to surround yourself with music.
Of course, not all speakers sound the same or use the same technology. Omni-directional models are growing rapidly in popularity. But what exactly are they and what benefits do they offer?
What is an omnidirectional speaker system and how does it work?
Most of us are familiar with traditional point-source loudspeakers. These use forward facing drivers (tweeters and woofers) designed to be aimed at your listening position. This directionality creates a clear stereo effect, often referred to as ‘the sweet spot.’
Omnidirectional speakers don’t produce a sweet spot, but instead radiate a spherical sound pattern (imagine ripples on a pond). This sonic trick is achieved by having speaker drivers which face in multiple directions.
What’s so great about them?
Because omnidirectional speakers create a spherical soundstage, the actual source of the sound (i.e. the speaker itself) is much harder to audibly locate. This makes placing them a cinch, basically anywhere that’s convenient. As the sound generated by an omnidirectional speaker will bounce off a variety of surrounding surfaces, it can also sound more realistic than a similarly sized point-source loudspeaker.
Who are they ideal for?
Gamers and iPod users will both benefit from omnidirectional speakers. Gaming action on a PC can sound more involving because there’s no sense of moving in and out of that stereo sweet spot. Similarly, omnidirectional tech lends itself well to small iPod docks and personal music systems. The listening experience seems more comfortable as music ‘detaches’ itself from any physical enclosures which may be positioned close to your seating position.
Tell me something I don’t know about them...
While omnidirectional speaker technology is now increasingly the preserve of iPod docks and PC speakers systems, it actually originates from the high-end of the home audio market. For many years, audiophile hi-fi brands pursued so-called omnipolar designs in the pursuit of the most realistic listening experience. One popular argument was that pinpoint stereo sound was rarely if ever actually heard in real life (and certainly not at concerts), consequently it wasn’t particularly desirable in hi-fi.
Back in the early nineties, camera brand Canon produced hi-fi speakers based around the concept of 360-degree sound. However rather than use multiple tweeters and woofers, Canon took a more unusual approach, developing what it called a wide imaging stereo reflector. The drivers in these Canon speakers would fire downward onto an angled circular reflector creating an omindirectional sound field.
The system worked well, but the concept proved ahead of its time. Canon eventually abandoned its omnidirectional dreams to concentrate on imaging technology.
Which brands should I be looking at?
Logitech and JBL both offer great sound systems based on the technology. Logitech’s Z523 2.1 system is a fine example of how speakers with drivers facing in opposite directions can create a circular sound pattern. In this system, a separate subwoofer is used to deliver deep bass. This makes playing DVDs on your PC a truly immersive audio experience.
Another innovative use of the technology can be found on Logitech’s Z305 laptop speaker bar. This USB device clips to your laptop and uses two omnidirectional speakers at each end of the bar to create a wide two-channel soundfield. It’s the perfect accessory if your laptop doesn’t have a high quality sound system built-in.
Another variation on the omnidirectional theme can be found on JBL’s stylish On Time Micro iPod/iPhone speaker, which radiates sound up and outwards in a ‘halo’ pattern. This creates a surprisingly big noise for such a small device. Also check out Logitech’s Pure-Fi Express Plus iPod dock, which also offers a classic 360-degree sound pattern.