REVIEW: Origin Acoustics D86 in-ceiling speakers
After months of speculation, Origin Acoustics is finally available in Australia. Stephen Dawson looks at the company’s D86 in-ceiling offering.
The Dolby Atmos home theatre installation guidelines recommend for the ceiling channels the use of ‘high-power, full-frequency’ speakers. I suspect that by ‘full-frequency’ they are talking about the treble. Still, strong upper bass at least is vital for delivering directional cues to our ears. Too high a crossover to the subwoofer and the bass components of what are supposed to be overhead sounds become weirdly disconnected from their upper harmonics.
The Origin Acoustics D86 in-ceiling loudspeakers, from the company’s Director’s Collection, offer surprisingly deep bass, so they tick that box. And as for ‘high-power’, they are claimed to be good for up to 175W.
Once they are installed, visually these speakers seem totally unremarkable. They don’t even have a logo or brand marking on their white, paintable, magnetically secured grilles. But before installation, wow, they are very different visually.
The great majority of installation speakers that cross my desk are generally fairly shallow in design. Often they boast of this. Rarely do they exceed 100mm, which means they can usually be installed in wall cavity space rather than the ceiling. But there’s none of that here. The D86 speakers need 187mm of depth from the front surface. These are ceiling-only speakers. They’re perhaps a touch larger in diameter than typical, requiring a 227mm diameter round hole (I had to enlarge the holes in my test box). And they weigh quite a bit more than usual: 3.8kg each.
So why so deep? The answer is ‘three way’. Yes, these are proper three way loudspeakers, with a proper crossover between the woofer, midrange and tweeter. The three drivers are coaxially located, of course. At the rearmost position of this stack of drivers is a 203mm bass driver with a glass fibre cone. In front of this, cradled in four curved arms, is a midrange and tweeter assembly.
The midrange driver is a 102mm glass fibre coned unit fitted into its own enclosure so that it’s relatively insulated from the acoustic ministrations of the bass driver that’s right behind it. At the centre and in front of its cone is a 25mm silk dome tweeter, also with its own enclosure. The tweeter uses Origin Acoustics’ ‘Dual Plane Stabilised Diaphragm’. It explains that rather than the dome being connected to the suspension only around its circumference, it is also joined at the centre. That provides greater support allowing, as it says, a lower crossover to the midrange driver.
If that lower crossover is in fact used, then by reducing the size of the driver producing those frequencies a wider dispersion of sound is permitted. I’m not sure whether this offers much value in the three way system, and of course there are other constraints on the crossover, such as not requiring the tweeter to handle too much power.
In any case, to a certain extent dispersion requirements are reduced because the midrange/tweeter assembly can swivel quite significantly. Origin calls the module ‘FocalPoint’ for this reason, and says that up to 36º of swivelling in any direction is allowed. That would be the angle from one extreme to the other, so that would equal 18º from straight ahead. The swivelling was smooth and quite easy to accomplish.
Tuning is permitted by means of separate tweeter and bass three position switches. I did my tests with both in the centre position.
Instead of the usual screw clamps, these speakers use a ‘Zip Clip’ system, a very worthwhile innovation. The clamps are attached to a collar which you remove from the main speaker body – it rotates through a centimetre or so and locks securely into place with multiple locking lugs. The claps are on serrated straps, like zip ties, but rather more substantial with a spring metal tooth. You cut the hole, push in the collar and then draw the four clamps back to lock it firmly in place. These have a fairly wide footprint and are spring loaded so you have so flexibility about how tightly you wish to apply them. Because you can see precisely what you’re doing, you can be confident that you’re getting it right.
Once that’s done, you pull the speaker cable through, insert it into the spring clips, then push the speaker assembling carefully into the collar and rotate clockwise by a centimetre. Markings make it clear what the correct positions are. Swivel the ‘FocalPoint’ assembly towards the listening position, then just pop the magnetic grille over the top and you’re done.
If you need to take it out, then just turn the other way. The clamps can be released by pressing the metal tabs (with some effort).
As usual I installed the speaker in my 200L test box. The performance of an installation speaker always depends very much on the environment in which it is installed. In some ways, ceiling speakers often enjoy what could be called the ideal ‘enclosure’: effectively infinite baffle with, effectively, no acoustic suspension, at least in homes where the ceiling cavity is very large. Unfortunately the baffle itself, being made from plaster and cardboard (i.e. Gyprock), typically offers far from ideal rigidity.
All that is my way of saying that your results might vary, depending on your installation circumstances.
That said, these sounded rather less like installation speakers and more like high quality bookshelf models. I used a very high fidelity stereo amplifier and lossless digital audio music for a lot of listening.
With acoustic material – say Laura Marling’s Once I Was An Eagle, her close miked vocals presented with fine naturalness and just a touch of bite in the upper frequencies which seems to be a mark of loudspeaker precision with this music. Every element of the mix – at room filling levels – was delivered with that same precision, along with an attractive openness, and a lack of the type of constriction that marks speakers operating near their limits. The bass percussion was surprisingly full, solid and with the same nice reverberant ring that’s delivered by high quality high fidelity standalone loudspeakers.
Moving to totally electronic, 10,000Hz Legend by Air was remarkably solid in its bass underpinnings and again was delivered with the even tonal balance I’m familiar with from my normal speakers.
What about ‘high-power’? I wound up the self-titled Rage Against the Machine album to just about head banging levels – mind you, this is with just two of the speakers in operation – and they retained their composure, merely getting extremely loud. If anything, they sounded a touch quieter than might have been expected because of relatively low distortion levels. Yet the rhythmic delivery was as intense as you’d hope for, with the complex drum lines being clearly discernible through the mix.
I’d suggest that in a home theatre installation where you’re using the speakers as surrounds or ceiling Atmos units, you set the crossover for their channels to the 80Hz THX standard. These speakers will take the near full-range power and deliver the mid and upper bass with authority, without you having to risk an unfortunate disintegration of sonic integrity with excessive reliance on a subwoofer. With this setting the sub will be called upon to deliver only the bottom two octaves.
Or perhaps even a bit lower. Origin Acoustics own measurements suggest that in a large enclosure the speakers are effectively perfectly flat down to 80Hz, and are -3dB at about 56Hz, ‑6dB at 45Hz. If for whatever reason rear volume is constrained, the measurements with them installed in a 15L enclosure put the ‑6dB point down at 57Hz. With a well-designed 50L bass reflex enclosure, they are good down to below 35Hz, not that this is a realistic installation option.
In case you haven’t gathered this already, I was extremely impressed by these loudspeakers. But as I write this sentence and the previous one, I have no idea of their pricing. And now, after making enquiries, I know: $999 each. And, you know, that makes them excellent value for money.