It's safe to say that the Mirage Nanosat 5.1 Home Theater sounds unlike any box-type satellite/subwoofer combination system on the market. While conventional box speakers project sound forward, the Nanosat speakers are designed to produce a ratio of 30 percent direct and 70 percent reflected sound. The direct sound heads straight to the listener, while the other 70 percent is bounced off walls and the ceiling before finally reaching the listener. Mirage introduced this sort of omnidirectional technology--what the company dubs Omnipolar--in 2002 with the original Omnisat speaker. We recently raved about another Omnipolar Mirage system, the MX 5.1 Home Theater System ($1,200), but the new Nanosat 5.1 features larger satellites and a larger subwoofer. Incredibly, the larger system comes with a significantly smaller price tag at only $800. Even better, the $800 system sounds even better than the $1,200 one.
Design and features
The Nanosat 5.1 system comes with five satellite speakers and a subwoofer. The system doesn't include a dedicated center channel speaker; instead you get five identical satellites, which produce a better surround experience than a system with dedicated front, center, and surround speakers. Each Nanosat speaker is 5.8 inches tall and weighs 2.9 pounds.
Conventional box speakers have drivers mounted on their front baffles and project sound forward. The Nanosat 2.75-inch titanium/ polypropylene mid-bass driver and 0.75-inch pure titanium hybrid dome tweeter are mounted on the speaker's top-angled baffle. Top mounting isn't the only factor responsible for the MX's omnidirectional dispersion, as the speakers feature an Omniguide module, which has two deflectors itself. One tiny curved deflector is positioned over the tweeter, and the other is mounted atop the midbass driver's deflector. The deflectors project sound directly toward the listener, all while creating a 360-degree radiation pattern that reflects sound off your room's walls, ceilings, and other surfaces.
The Nanosat speaker's dome-shape perforated metal grille is covered in black cloth. Instead of pins or clips, the grille is magnetically attached to the speaker, which lets it easily snap into place when reattached.
We think the pod-shape Nanosat has more of an upscale look and feel than the black plastic satellites we found in the MX system. The matte black, molded-plastic cabinet and brushed aluminum is a much more attractive design. In terms of connections, the Nanosat speakers are fitted with gold-plated binding-post connectors that accept banana plugs, spades, pins, or stripped-bare wire ends.
Each of the five satellites comes premounted with a metal swivel wall bracket. Should you want to mount the rear-surround channel speakers higher than 6 feet off the floor, Mirage recommends mounting the speakers upside down. That way, they project sound down and out. If you're not going to wall- or shelf-mount them, you may want to use the optional Mirage MS-STB-1 floorstands.
If you wish to run a 6.1 or 7.1 channel system, extra Nanosat satellite speakers are available for around $125 each. If you already have a subwoofer, you can buy the five-speaker Nanosat bundle for $550. Meanwhile, the five-speaker Nanosat Prestige system includes a dedicated center speaker.
The Mirage S8 subwoofer has a down-firing 8-inch woofer and built-in 75-watt (300-watt peak) amplifier. The medium-density fiberboard cabinet is rather plain, but the smoothly rounded edges and satin black-painted finish are a nice touch. Connectivity is limited to just stereo line-level RCA inputs and stereo spring-clip speaker-level connectors.
The subwoofer is 11.7 inches high by 13.5 inches wide by 13.5 inches deep, and weighs 20.1 pounds. It's well built, but doesn't have the inert feel of the MM-6 sub that comes with the much smaller MX 5.1 system.
We'd recommend using the Nanosat 5.1 system with a receiver that allows for adjustable subwoofer crossover settings (some receivers are fixed at 80 or 100 Hartz). Mirage doesn't offer a specific crossover setting, so we set ours to 120 Hz.
With the room lights turned off, the system's five satellites literally disappear as sources of sound. With conventional box speakers, you can always tell where the sound is coming from, but this isn't the case with the Nanosat speakers. Their sound bouncing/reflecting technology creates a truly immersive, room-filling sound. In the midsize CNET listening room, we certainly didn't feel the need to use a 7.1 channel array to complete the front-to-back, wraparound soundstage.
That said, some listeners may find that the system's imaging lacks focus. For one, it's softer than the Definitive Technology ProCinema 800 satellite/subwoofer system--a unit in which imaging can be pinpoint specific.
Watching the "From The Basement" music DVD, we found the sound quality to be well above average. When Sonic Youth performed a couple of tunes, we not only heard the sound of the instruments, but also the band actually filling the "basement" they were performing in. The three channels in front of us produced remarkable depth and dimension. This was even more apparent with PJ Harvey's quieter acoustic music.
Action films didn't deter our delight with the system, as the bellowing and car-tossing antics in "King Kong" had plenty of oomph. We attribute some of that to the Nanosat 5.1 system's spot-on satellite and subwoofer blend. Not once could we hear the subwoofer as a separate sound source. While the system's tonal balance is on the warm side of neutral, it handily avoids the thin, cool sound we've heard from some of the smaller systems in the past.
We enjoyed listening to the system in stereo, but like the smaller Mirage MX 5.1 system, the speakers don't do such a great job localizing stereo images. Phantom center sounds, such as vocals, played out rather vague. That said, we did find the stereo image width spread wider than the actual locations of the left and right front speakers. Also, we found that the larger Nanosat system sounds better than the smaller MX system when played at higher volumes.
The Mirage Nanosat 5.1 system really shines with its surround-sound performance. The way it creates an immersive, wraparound soundstage can't be replicated by similarly priced box speaker systems. In addition, the Nanosat 5.1 has a sweet, refined sound that's easy to listen to over extended periods of time.
For the money, the Mirage Nanosat 5.1 is one of the best "lifestyle" satellite/subwoofer systems we've heard. While it's a steal at $800, those looking for small-but-great-sounding 5.1 systems should also check out the Energy Take Classic, which is available for just $400. Just don't expect it to replicate the omnidirectional sound of the Nanosat.