Osborn loudspeakers are designed and manufactured in the and down under, just like the excellent Redgum RGH900 multichannel amplifier I recently reviewed. Not really knowing anything about Australian-made audio products prior to receiving these components, I was a bit leery about reviewing them. However, I was very impressed with the Redgum amplifier and gave it a Reviewers' Choice recommendation. I therefore went into this review with my hopes buoyed for the Osborn home-theater speakers.
The Osborn speaker lineup is quite extensive, consisting of ten models of stereo speakers, four center channels, and four subwoofers. Prices for the stereo speakers range from $1150 per pair for the smallest bookshelf model to $17,950 for the Grand Monuments. Most of the speakers share a similar "chunky" look, being quite wide in relation to their other dimensions, and are finished with quality veneers, providing a simple, but attractive, appearance. Osborn speakers utilize Focal drivers almost exclusively, and are said to have "very high quality" crossover components -- including custom-wound inductors and capacitors imported from France.
The speaker system under review here consists of speakers from Osborn’s least expensive F series -- the F4s, which are the smallest floorstanding speakers, and the F2s, the largest bookshelf speakers in the line. Also included: the C2 center-channel speaker and the T12 subwoofer. The suggested retail price for the entire system is $6650 USD.
G’day, mate. Lemme introduce ya to these Osborns.
The design of this speaker system appears to be very straightforward. The speakers utilize high-quality components in attractively finished cabinets that are sturdy and well built. The F4 is a two-way design using an 8" PolyKevlar bass/midrange driver and a 1.25" inverted-dome Kevlar tweeter. The speaker stands 34.75" tall and weighs in at a hefty 74 pounds. It has provisions for biwiring or bi-amping and that is about it. OK, OK -- it has a claimed frequency response of 35Hz-19kHz, a rated efficiency of 90dB, and a minimum impedance of 6 ohms.
The F2 appears quite similar. Although it is a bookshelf speaker standing only 17" tall, it weighs 31 pounds. The F2 utilizes the same tweeter as the F4, while the bass/midrange driver is a smaller 7" Polyglass cone. It has a single set of binding posts. The F2's minimum impedance is 4 ohms; its efficiency is quoted as 89dB. It has a reported frequency response from 40Hz-19kHz.
The C2 is not your typical center-channel speaker. It features a fairly conventional driver complement of one tweeter flanked by two bass/midrange drivers, but that is where its similarity to other center-channel speakers ends. For one thing, the C2 is massive. It weighs a whopping 64 pounds and is 26" deep! It is designed to be placed under direct-view televisions and can accommodate even the largest, heaviest models.
The tweeter is the same unit used in the F2, although it is shielded to use near a video monitor or a variant of that. The 7" Polyglass drivers also appear different from those used in the F2s. The driver array is offset because the two front-firing ports are situated together at one side of the front baffle. The speaker itself is quite large and uses relatively large drivers, which explains its reported bass response down to 35Hz. Osborn feels that most center-channel speakers fall short of the mark by being outclassed by the mains. The C2 is closer in volume and performance to a floorstanding speaker.
The T12 powered subwoofer appears to be a fairly straightforward design. It features a low-pass filter that is continuously variable from 20 to 120Hz and has both high-level and line-level inputs, but does not have a high-pass filter, or outputs of any kind. Its only other features are a power switch (there is no auto-sensing circuit) and a level control. While the design of the subwoofer may seem simple, the 12" driver is said to be similar to the Focal driver used in Osborn’s much more expensive Monument speakers and Monumental subwoofer. The 180W amplifier is custom-designed and manufactured by Redgum.
Fair dinkum, I reckon.
The Osborn system that I received for review is expensive and it sounds that way. Its sound is big and dynamic, yet still detailed with plenty of low-level resolution and excellent imaging qualities. I would not say that the transition of sound across the front speakers and back to the surrounds is seamless, but it is very close, with all of the speakers providing a similar familial sound.
The F4s that were used as mains required a lot of break-in before they sounded their best, with the sound changing quite dramatically during that time. It took at least 75 hours before I thought that they had begun to settle in and over 100 hours for them to really open up. Once the speakers were properly broken in, the sound of the Osborn home-theater speaker system was quite thrilling. Imaging was very precise across the front of the soundstage, with sound effects, voices, and musical instruments placed precisely. The depth of the soundstage was good, although not in line with the absolute best I’ve heard. For example, in chapter 5 "The Magi Strike," from The Mummy: Ultimate Edition, bongos emanate from the back-right portion of the soundstage. They are not reproduced with the depth they should have.
One area in which this system excelled was the bass region. Both the F4s and the T12 subwoofer could pump out enough low-frequency information to overload my mid-sized room when played at high levels. The owner’s manual for the F4 states that they should be at least one meter from a corner. Unfortunately, my home-theater setup necessitates that the left-front speaker be fairly close to a corner. This caused the bass to become a little boomy in the home-theater setup, the result of room-related interactions rather than any fault in the speakers themselves. The Dolby Digital soundtrack of the Star Wars: Episode 1 Japanese import was incredibly powerful through the Osborn system. The pod-race scene energized the entire room with bass that was not only deep and articulate, but that I could really feel.
Funky soundtracks were well served with wrap-around surround effects and excellent bass, even from the surrounds. There are several scenes that feature well-recorded music, but also introduce crowd noises from all channels that are perfectly integrated. The Osborns reproduced this effectively, such as in a party scene where pounding dance music envelopes you while little bits of conversations revolve around the perimeter of the room, giving the impression that you are moving through the crowd.
The C2 center channel is an absolute beast when compared to most other center-channel speakers and could handle anything that I threw at it. The C2 resolved the subtle nuances of the human voice, even when the information was buried in the mix. Yet, it delivered the wide dynamic range of musical instruments without a hint of strain. In fact, the C2 is such an exceptional center channel that at times it seemed even more natural and accurate sounding than the F4s.
The high quality of the C2 center channel was demonstrated when I played "Home Again," chapter 27 of Gladiator. In this scene, Quintus first speaks to Maximus in a normal tone of voice that is recorded diffusely and at a fairly low level as he is positioned in the background. He then speaks again, but this time in an obviously more hushed tone that is actually recorded at a higher volume level than in the previous shot as he is now positioned in the foreground. A center-channel speaker rarely reproduces this extremely delicate differentiation in the nuances of the human voice.
When I pulled the F4s further out into the room to do some serious two-channel listening, the boominess in the bass cleared up as the left speaker was extracted from the corner. The imaging specificity of the F4s was excellent and there was added depth to music in this arrangement. Just for fun, I also utilized the F2s for stereo along with the T12 subwoofer and found that this combination sounded very similar to the F4s and perhaps might have even sounded a little bit better. On Madonna’s "American Pie" from Women & Songs 4 [WEA WTVD 39171], the F2/T12 combo imaged at least as well as the F4s if not better and the bass was definitely more responsive and had more definition.
"That’s not a knife. This is a knife."
Compared to my usual reference home-theater speaker system, built around the (discontinued, $3500 USD when available) Infinity Composition P-FRs, the Osborn system lacked a little refinement and smoothness, but it was at least as dynamic. The biggest difference was in the bass of the F4s, which suffered from sensitivity to placement resulting in bass that could at times become overwhelming, and which did not always integrate well with the rest of the system if the speaker was badly placed.
The Osborns reminded me a lot of the excellent and similarly priced Mirage HDT system ($7050 USD) that I reviewed many months ago. The Osborns, however, had more bass and were perhaps a bit more neutral than the Mirages, which were slightly darker sounding. The C2 center channel was certainly as good as the Mirage model, and it could go much lower. The F2s used as surrounds could also go sufficiently low enough to reproduce the bass that is sometimes present in the rear channels of discrete digital soundtracks. The Mirage HDT-Rs could not always do this. Overall, the Osborn system had better macrodynamics, but the Mirages possessed superior microdynamics and a slightly more refined sound, but at a much higher price.
The T12 subwoofer may seem simple in design, but it can produce prodigious amounts of accurate and extended bass when called upon. It was significantly better than any of the other less-expensive subwoofers that I had in house for review, since it played louder and lower. Even though it has been sometime since I have heard it, the sound reminded me of the Mirage BPS-400 ($1300 USD) subwoofer that was part of the HDT review system. There was plenty of deep solid bass that easily filled the entire room with no lack of extension, but there was a still a touch of overhang, which is what usually separates very good subs such as this one from reference-quality subs.
No worries mate
The Osborn home-theater system is a relatively expensive speaker system, but as with many things in life, you get what you pay for. Whether used in multichannel or stereo mode, this system could play loud without strain, resolve fine detail, maintain precise imaging, and provide enough pounding bass for even the most demanding movie soundtracks.
Some might find the C2 center channel and the F2 surrounds to be overkill -- and Osborn does offer smaller and less expensive speakers for those individuals. One might even consider foregoing a subwoofer -- or adding one later on, as finances permit -- considering the near full-range capabilities of all the speakers in this system. And, for those so inclined, Osborn offers even larger models, as well as an even more expensive product line.
The Osborns are excellent-sounding, handsomely finished, and solidly constructed speakers. The F4 mains seem a bargain at less than $2000 per pair. Although the other speakers are a bit on the expensive side, they are all exceptional performers as well. Don't let Osborn’s unfamiliar name scare you away from these speakers. They deserve a listen. After spending several weeks with this system, I have only two words for Greg Osborn -- good onya.