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Ohm Acoustics F5 speaker Review

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Physical description and performance differences of Walsh model F and F5

The purpose of this review is not merely a comparative discussion of two Ohm speakers of different eras, but a proper review of the F5. I will leave it to others to wax eloquence on the desirability of either design. The Walsh Model F is a full range speaker, and the vintage set has quite limited capabilities compared to the F5. For instance, the newer speaker has an active subwoofer with attendant controls to give full flexibility in rooms, and this makes it suitable for higher level HT applications, both in terms of configurability and LF output. After all, the bass/subwoofer module has an impressive 15” downward firing driver with a 500 wpc ICEpower class D module. Few specifics are shown on the Ohm website; in keeping with the culture of the company, their message to customers is, “Let us handle the specifics; it’ll be good enough for you.” To all but the most hard-boiled audiophiles, it will be.

The active bass module uses a typical 15A IEC power cord, which I strongly suggest be replaced with a premium aftermarket cord. As with other powered subs, the F5’s subwoofer is influenced sonically by the power cord, the Clarity Cable Vortex Power Cord offering better fullness of low end, and the Belden BAV Power Cord offering a touch more linearity with less weight toward the bottom.

There are a couple of other significant design differences between the legacy Walsh Model F and the current F5, including completely reworked primary drivers (note the plural “drivers”), an extensive set of four contouring controls for those drivers, and an enclosure over them. The F5’s top driver assembly is ensconced in a metal meshed housing that does not allow for unrestricted wave launch, which was a hallmark of the Model F. The F5 has both grill cloth and metal mesh barriers, not the best for absolute cleanness, detail presentation, etc. In defense of this build, that sturdy cylinder houses both a delicate dual driver system that can be damaged quite easily, and a sensitive switching network for contouring the sound. It is difficult to envision how durability and ergonomic efficiency could be optimized in a different package.

Readers should not, however, conclude that the Walsh Model F is superior in terms of detail retrieval and overall cleanness to the F5 simply because its grill can be lifted off to reveal the naked driver. In fact, when it comes to absolute precision, the Model F is rather poor in comparison to the F5, despite its freedom from having a permanent grill. How can that be? Speaker systems are a combination of many different parts and design decisions, and it is common for vintage speakers to holistically underperform contemporary designs. The absence of a grill is not enough of an advantage for the older speaker to outperform the newer. Would a restored, not simply refurbished, Walsh Model F or similar compete well against the F5? Perhaps, but I was not going to spend better than $7K to find out. A fair comparison in terms of speakers having grills would be between the F5 and a speaker such as the Paradigm Persona 9H, as both utilize metal mesh covers and have powered woofers.

In a departure from the full range omni driver, the F5 uses a similar but smaller downward-firing full metal cone, but its radiation pattern is constricted partially toward the rear by acoustical attenuators, which appear to be widened frame assemblies that hold the driver above the bass cabinet cavity and allow alignment of the surround, and vertically by a collar called a Tufflex Transmission Block. This collar sits atop the driver to ensure it does not simply blast waves vertically, as do the Model F drivers. In addition, a tweeter has an associated circular metal plate —would it be crass to call it a blast shield? — bent at a 90-degree angle to create a floor and back wall for that driver, forcing the wave launch forward toward the inside front corner of the speaker’s cabinet. Consequently, the F5 is properly a hybrid omni speaker with controlled directivity downward and outward, and particularly forward via the high frequency driver.

The reader can see an illustration of this driver here:

One might say that the company currently sells in the F5 an omnidirectional speaker with limited vertical dispersion and directed tweeter response. Is it better or worse than a true omni? It is not as good as the Model F in one parameter: creation of the mushroom cloud soundstage. However, it exceeds the Model F in all other performance parameters. Though the F5 does not have the classic mushroom cloud soundstage, neither does it have all the stray reflections associated with it. It has far more adjustability and contouring controls to make it mesh with a very wide array of components and rooms. It is also a much more visceral speaker, with macrodynamic capacity that dwarfs the Model F. There is a fundamental, perhaps even radical, performance differential between these two speakers, both by Ohm Acoustics, but built in different eras of the company’s history. It provides a reminder to the uninitiated that simply buying a speaker on impulse due to name recognition does not ensure one understands its performance capabilities.


Shuffling a deck of settings on the F5

Card games are enjoyable because of low probability of predicting combinations, or hands. An enjoyable aspect of HiFi is the ability to contour the sound, to build different combinations of gear, resulting in previously unheard combinations of sound characteristics making even familiar music seem fresh. When favored combinations are found, they are said to have high synergy. Most speakers are quite limited in the degree to which they can be contoured compared to the F5. One of the most limited is the Walsh Model F mentioned above. In stock form it has no adjustments for its full range performance. While I was having the drivers repaired, I had the fuse holder bypassed,  which puts the drivers at risk in situations where there may be an upstream problem, and eventually removed half of the dense fill inside the bass cabinet. These were effective changes to these speakers, bringing them further along toward the sound I wanted, but such adjustability pales in comparison to the F5.

I keep speakers on hand and revert to them to refresh my memory of their performance. It would be impossible to retain a perfect acoustical memory of their performance after shuttling between other speakers without having capacity to return to the reference. Audiophiles often display arrogance when they declare how a speaker performs in comparison to one that they have not heard in their room, or have not used in several years, perhaps not even with the current set of equipment! Hold tentatively any assertion that an audiophile knows the sound of speakers being compared if they are not actually compared. That, however, can be a bit of an advantage to the owner of the F5, because as the speaker’s sound is manipulated, the range of performance is so great that when dialed in to preference, the sense of it sounding correct is strong. The flexibility of controls between the top and bass modules nearly ensures a pleasing result.

How does one isolate the innate sound quality of a speaker that has 81 settings and is used in a myriad of rooms? Aside from nearfield measurement of drivers it is not possible; all that can be done is to find the general capabilities of the speaker, as opposed to one with far less functionality. Given the chameleon-like character of the speaker, I do not dare to make absolute pronouncements regarding its performance, but will discuss the general performance associated with the systems I set up, and concrete conclusions as to the speakers’ performance in different physical locations in my room.

3 Responses to Ohm Acoustics F5 speaker Review

  1. Lash says:

    10k for that? No thanks.

  2. Paul says:

    I really enjoyed this review because it gave me a great picture of what the speakers do well, don’t do as well, and would be like to live with. I wish all reviews were this helpful.

  3. Jerry Hajek says:

    Still imho, the F5 will still remain in the shadows of its’ namesake. The Fs’ and A s’ were hobbled by the technology of their era, the remaining suffering from that and their sheer age.
    There exist better examples of Walsh drivers; they still remain a bit ‘esoteric’ for many.
    But, not all shoes fit all feet, either….;)

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