OBsession 8™ Review by Brad Mitchell
One of the biggest “problems” with being an audiophile is that there’s always something better than what you currently own. We often convince ourselves that we’re totally satisfied with our systems and don’t plan any more upgrades, but this false sense of contentment is always betrayed by the next audio purchase. And it doesn’t help our cause when speaker and component designers are constantly innovating and improving the sound of their gear.
Earlier this year, I purchased the Hawthorne Audio OBsession Reference Monitors. You can read my review of the original OBsession here:
The components comprising my two-channel system and my listening preferences are listed in my profile.
The original MTM version of the OBsession is incredible, but something better came along – the OBsession 8 — which consists of the same AMT tweeter with a single 8-inch driver. I was particularly intrigued by the OB8 due to its new design, higher sensitivity, and its input from Danny Richie who designed the crossover and asymmetrical wings. Of course, the crossover includes high quality parts such as Sonicaps and air core inductors. But when Darrel mentioned that he planned to create a cultured marble mold, that’s when I decided to upgrade to the OB8. I wanted to be among the first to grab a pair. I believe the OB8’s will be priced at $2,500 – $3,000.
The OB8’s have a 98 db sensitivity and includes a “brilliance” adjustment on the back consisting of a precision resistor selector knob. The OB8’s are designed to be used with a subwoofer(s) that can play up to 150 – 200Hz. I’m using Danny’s DIY dual 12” stereo OB servo subwoofers for bass duty. And like all other open baffle speakers, you’ll need to place them a few feet from the back wall.
Fit & Finish
The baffle is comprised of cultured marble with a hint of ceramic, all of which contributes to the 32 pounds of each speaker. I worked with Darrel and Diana Hawthorne to choose the color I wanted for the baffle, and decided on a copper leaf, once again. Aesthetically, both my wife and I love the look of the OB8’s over the original OBsession because the darker, smoother copper tone blends in better with the décor. It’s such a gorgeous speaker, and I’m sure we’ll get plenty of compliments from family and friends. I also like the outriggers. I think it’s a nice touch and adds to the appeal of these speakers. The wings are cool, too. At first, I had the large wings facing inward, but the sound opened up a lot with the wings on the outside. It’s amazing how a minor change can result in a major improvement.
I’m not gonna spend a lot of time attempting to describe the merits of the sound with fanciful terminology and over-hyped enthusiasm. Instead, I’ll keep it short and simple: three words define the sound of these speakers – clean, true, and dynamic.
The OB8’s are a lot cleaner than any speaker I’ve owned. Really clean. They sound like a good power conditioner is plugged into each of them. The purity of sound unveils more natural sounding vocals and micro-details. Quite frankly, it took me a day or two to get accustomed to the cleaner sound. Every other speaker I’ve owned sounded congested compared to the OB8’s. I suppose part of the reason is that the rear wave is free of coloration. If you stand behind the speakers, they sound just as good as if you’re in front of them. Not every open baffle speaker can convincingly pull off that trick.
The OB8’s are true to the recording. In fact, their greatest asset is the ability to get the instruments right. Likewise, the vocals are utterly amazing in their realism. This doesn’t happen across the board. Of course, some CDs sound better than others. Nevertheless, I believe what every audiophile is searching for is the truth in the recording. With these speakers, my search is over.
The dynamics are on another level! Over the years, my system gained a reputation among my local audiophile buddies of being laid back, and that’s the way I convinced myself that I liked it. In reality, my system has always lacked the dynamics I knew was lurking on my CDs. Since this is my first high sensitivity speaker, I don’t know if the killer dynamics are an attribute of 98 dB speakers, or if the crossover design or drivers are the major contributor, or a combination thereof. At any rate, the dynamics are astounding without being annoyingly tipped up in the highs.
Initially, there was something a bit off about the presentation, so on the third day of critical listening, I towed them in slightly and everything locked into place. A huge smile engulfed my face, and that was the moment when I realized that I discovered the elusive sound I had been chasing for the past 15 years.
My wife is enjoying the OB8’s more than me, and that’s NEVER happened! Let that sink in… In fact, she’s pleaded with me several times not to change the speakers again because she’s so enamored with the aesthetics and the sound.
With every other speaker I’ve owned, I knew within the first couple of days that I’d eventually trade them out because I could hear the flaws in them. This is the first pair of speakers where I’ve truly said to myself that these can be my last pair of speakers. I have performed modifications on the last few speakers I’ve owned, but with these, I honestly cannot find any fault with them. No, they don’t have low bass, but they’re not designed to. Can they be better? Well, I’m sure you can upgrade some caps or something, but there’s no reason to do so.
The OB8’s have nearly all of the attributes many audiophiles would want in an open baffle monitor – a ridiculously good tweeter, incredible midrange, nice aesthetics, custom color options, cultured marble baffle, ability to adjust the treble, innovative design, and optimized crossover by Danny Richie. Just add bass and stir it up!
Without a doubt, the OB8’s are a better speaker than the original OBsession, and they should be. Since the OB8’s are the best speakers I’ve ever owned, I wholeheartedly recommend them.
OBsession MTM™ Review by Brad Mitchell
Speakers – the final frontier.
After years of swapping out gear, I finally settled on all of my components and cables, so it was time to reluctantly consider replacing my GR Research O3 omnidirectional speakers. I had a simple concept in mind – they must be a small, affordable, open baffle design.
The appeal towards open baffle designs stemmed from my acquisition of a GR Research dual 12” open baffle servo subwoofer. This sub is exceptional at bass articulation and realism with no boominess whatsoever. It’s the best bass I’ve ever heard. From this experience, I decided to take the logical next step and pursue acquiring open baffle speakers. The problem I encountered was that typical OB speakers are too large for a modest size room. (The real truth has something to do with the wife acceptance factor.)
Nevertheless, one day I got the itch and contacted Darrel at Hawthorne Audio to inquire about their “small” 10” silver sterling options. It was great timing because that’s when he informed me about the new MTM monitors he had just developed. So I took a leap of faith to become the first buyer of the Hawthorne Audio OBsession Reference Monitors.
The speakers’ dimensions are approximately 20″ tall x 10.5″ wide x 11″ deep with a sensitivity somewhere in the mid 90’s and an 8ohm nominal impedance. A very simple second order crossover with high quality parts is used. These speakers employ a variable L-Pad that allows for adjusting the highs to the listener’s preference. The highs are delivered by the highly regarded AMT 700 tweeter, and Beyma manufactures the 5″ drivers that extend down to 63 Hz. Incidentally, I don’t have the equipment (nor the desire) to measure it, but the sensitivity seems lower than mid-90’s.
My room is a 13’ x 20’ x 8’ rectangle with two doorway openings in the rear. I placed the speakers along the short wall about 4.5 feet from the back wall and 2.5 feet from the side walls; they are about 10 feet from the listening position and 7 feet apart with no toe-in. Initially, I pulled the OBsession far out into the room, but when I did that, the sound arrived at my ears too fast – like someone who is talking too loud.
In terms of aesthetics, the OBsession are finished in accordance with my specifications, so of course I like them. But the more significant question is – what will the wife think of them? Well, the moment she first saw them, she absolutely adored them, then walked behind them and remarked that the back looked so good it could also be the front. That’s when I schooled her on the open baffle concept. She understood immediately and intuitively the significance of an open baffle vs. a traditional box speaker.
OK, so how do they sound?
The moment I hooked these speakers up and pressed play, my wife and I were simply stunned at what we were hearing.
The magic in music starts and ends with tone. If a system gets the tone right, everything else seems to fall in line. Upon the hearing the OBsession for the first time, I knew that no other pair of speakers should bother submitting applications because the tone was extraordinary. Most importantly, the emotional connection to the music — it’s all there and then some.
There’s some inflections and smoothness in the vocals that my previous speakers were simply unable to capture. What’s really special is the sound of percussion instruments other than drums. I never paid much attention to cymbals, tambourines, triangles, etc., but that’s because I never heard them properly. I’m stunned by the crack, sizzle, and pop of those percussions. And don’t get me started on the awesomeness of guitar plucks and piano notes! That AMT tweeter is an exceptional performer.
What sets them apart is their unbelievable sense of clarity. Stated another way, these speakers are super clean, crystal clear, and extraordinarily precise with haunting imaging. They capture the music with an incredible sense of realism. I played a familiar CD and it sounded exactly like I was in the club along with the live musicians. [Emphasis on “exactly.”] The CD wasn’t recorded live, by the way. Additionally, the dynamics are on a completely different level from what I was accustomed to hearing. The transients alone are worth the price of admission.
An unexpected aspect of the OBsession was “less bass.” What often occurs with major component or cable upgrades is a cleaner sound, i.e., less muddiness. These speakers have contributed significantly to the veritable “lifting of the veil.” Initially, I thought something was wrong with my subwoofer, but eventually realized that on certain tracks, those apparent lower notes were never supposed to be there in the first place!
I believe the phenomenal clarity and tone of the OBsession gives rise to a realistic presentation. In lieu of resorting to frivolous audiophile language to describe the sound, I can’t overemphasize the importance of the system imparting the proper tone. Without true tone, you may have great sound, but not great sounding music. Of course, the quality of the recording plays a major role. Don’t expect mediocre recordings to sound much better. But if you pop in a well recorded CD or play an HD track, buckle up ‘cause you’re goin’ for a ride to Funkytown. LOL!
I’m glad Darrel put a brilliance button on these speakers. I appreciated the ability to dial in the highs to my preference. The speed and detail seems to improve as you dial them up, until you reach the point where it sounds fatiguing. Mine are set at the 11 o’clock position. However, I was baffled that the rear speaker grilles are not removable. This may confound the tweakers in the audience who enjoy experimenting with bypass caps, etc. I was personally looking forward to tweaking them.
One more thought — even though the OBsession are monitors, just like its bigger OB siblings, I think they need a large room to really shine. I’d love to place them in a larger room to hear what they can really do.
Needless to say, I’m thrilled with my OBsession Reference Monitors. The OBsession are, by far, the best speakers I’ve ever owned. The speakers provided me with everything I was looking for in terms of improved sound. I doubt seriously if one could buy or build a better speaker within this price range. Very highly recommended.
In addition to the many reviews found on the Hawthorne Audio forum, we have several professional reviews to help you understand how our products may fit in your system.