When Bert came to our house with his friend Ron immediately after the Triode Festival in Aarhus, Denmark, I was quite excited. Finally I was going to listen to the much praised Oris horns and meet Bert after weeks of email dialogs with him. Mailing with Bert is something unusual in itself, in that, before you realize it, you have reached an incredible number of mail exchanges with him, because he always responds within a few hours of receiving your mail.
I had bought the horns, he was using at the festival, in advance, and talked him into driving to my place and set up and measure my system which he generously did at no extra charge. Bert and Ron spent a whole day in the house, measuring the frequency response of my Duelund bass horns to find the correct values for the low pass filter and the best possible placement of the speakers in the room. Our listening room is an average sized living room of about 35 square meters. Being a traditional Swedish log house everything you can set your eyes on in the room is made of wood. Ceilings are high, with walls going to the roof of the house.
As it turned out the driver that I had in mind for the Oris, the PM2 mkII, did not fit the Oris, so the only sounds we got out of the system that day were the signals from the tone generator that Bert used to measure the Duelund horns. I am sure Bert and Ron would have liked more complex signals, such as music, to be evoked from the system, so they readily accepted my invitation to come and listen after next year's festival in Denmark, when, hopefully, the system will be playing music.
Several weeks have passed and the system is in fact playing, and quite well at that, I must say. I got a pair of PM4s for the Oris from a friend and for the Duelund bass horns I bought a pair of heavily modified Monacor 10" drivers from Duelund himself.
It took me quite a while to figure out how to place the two speaker systems and blend them well together. Initially I was admittedly not at all impressed with the sound. The upper midrange seemed very forward sounding, to the point of being aggressive, and the bass did not blend well with the Oris.
Many hours and a lot of experiments later (having learned, among other things, that I had connected the subs in the wrong absolute phase...) not only have I changed my mind, but I have reached the point where I can say that this is by far the most fascinating speakers I have ever used, or heard for that matter. In a way the whole process of getting to know this speaker system has been the reverse of what I have hereto experienced. When I had speakers like the B&W 801s, the Quads, the Martin Logans etc., I was initially very impressed with their strengths and only later realised what I had been missing and eventually found out that I could or did not want to live with those shortcomings. The worst part of it was that there did not seem to be any way of improving on it.
With this system, however, there does not seem to be an upper limit. The Oris/Duelund system is by far the most complex and hard to set up system I have had so far. Even the worst electrostatic speakers are a breeze compared to this. Everything you do with those speakers is critical to the sound: the position of the Oris relative to the bass horns, the angling of the Oris and the attenuation of the volume level on the bass to match it well with the Oris, let alone the associated equipment, such as the front end and amplifiers. Everything becomes critical with those ultra-revealing speakers.
Perhaps this is also the very reason why this speaker system is so good. The road to excellence is very narrow. In that sense this system reminds me of a great cartridge. A good but not great cartridge will sound well in most positions and is not particularly fuzzy about having the correct VTA setting, whereas a great cartridge opens up and is magical in only one spot, which means you might have to fiddle a lot with the VTA and listen carefully before it is right on.
So, in other words, if your Oris do not sound great, it is very likely that you have not reached their full potential.
Another aspect of this complexity is that you have in fact not only one system but many. It is possible to tailor the sound to almost anything you like. The presentation can be very direct and focused or it can be diffuse and ambient, depending on how you angle the horns. Here it is also important what drivers and diffusers you are using. With the PM4s the level of the upper midrange is, in my view, too high for direct on-axis listening, except when used with a bulb-shaped diffuser. Otherwise a few degrees off-axis gives the best presentation. The PM4s are incredible drivers in terms of resolution and dynamics. In the Oris they give me a feeling of listening to a pair of Quads with turbo. Same speed and resolution, but, in addition to this, real life dynamics. A rare combination indeed. Still the PM4s are a little wild in their behavior, reminding me of a thoroughbred Arab stallion: very swift but also a little bit crazy at times.
To talk about the Oris system alone is a bit misleading, as the Oris is only part of a speaker system, though an essential part. Being a front horn the Oris rolls off naturally at about 150Hz, and while this is very satisfactory in the sense that only a low pass filter at a fairly low frequency is needed, there is still much music below 150Hz. Much of the energy of low male voices, cellos, double bass and brass instruments lie below that frequency, so it is highly important to get both the subwoofer and its amplifier right.
If done right the reward is a speaker system that excels in virtually all aspects of sound reproduction. The sound stage is effortlessly BIG and expansive, extending well in all directions. Particularly impressive in my place is the height of image. Front to back depth of image is also convincing, but perhaps not more so than with a handful of other high end speakers. The presentation is mostly up front, but even recordings that are more laid back are faithfully resolved the way they were recorded. On many good recordings like the Harmonia Mundi, France, Blumlein setups are heard for what they are: two microphones in a natural space, where you can hear instruments and voices distributed in a superbly recreated space and the natural reverberation from the walls. You may have to work to achieve this, perhaps more so than with certain other speakers, but they are well capable of throwing all kinds of sound stage depending on the recording.
The resolution of inner detail and macro- as well as micro dynamics is breathtaking. Naturally the Lowther PM4 plays an important part in this, but the Oris with its huge horn magnifies all the subtleties even more, like a microscope, and makes you sometimes feel as if you are sitting inside the double bass rather than listening to a good recording of it.
Any weaknesses? Perhaps a slight tendency to nasality in the midrange, which I guess can be attributed to resonances in the material of the horn or even to the form of the horn(?). I think this imprint on the sound character is of a benign nature and, though noticeable, it does not get in the way of the musical experience.
And, of course, this is definitely a speaker with a 'sweet spot'. There is music in the room all right, but there is a world of difference between walking around in the room, just getting a general picture of what is going on, and sitting where all things fall into place. But then again, all seats in the concert hall are not sold at the same price either.