You want the wraparound effect of full surround sound--but without those ugly speakers taking over your living room. The Mirage Nanosat 5.1 System may be just the ticket. The five slick-looking speakers are little larger than a softball, but they use Mirage's Omnipolar technology to disperse the sound better than speakers twice their size.
Editors' Note: This is the old version of the Mirage Nanosat 5.1. Please see this review for the updated version of the product (available as of September 2008).
Viva la difference! Conventional box speakers project sound straight ahead, so it's easy to identify them as sound sources. By contrast, Mirage's Omnipolar designs, such as the Nanosat, radiate sound in a 360-degree pattern. That makes them far less localizable and accounts for the Nanosat's unique sonic qualities. The $800 Nanosat 5.1 system is the most compact and affordable of Mirage's Omnipolar designs--and it's well worth the price for those seeking a set of small surround speakers with impressive performance for their size.
Viewed from above, the Nanosat speaker is a smoothly rounded triangle, with its midrange and tweeter mounted on its angled top surface, visible under a curved, magnetically attached metal grille. The Nanosat's beautifully finished platinum/brushed-black aluminum cabinet is a mere 5.8 inches tall, 4.2 wide, and 4.3 deep. The speakers come with a metal L-shaped wall bracket attached to their bottoms. With that bracket, you can invert the Nanosats and wall mount them near the ceiling upside-down, so they'll direct sound toward the listening position. That may be an ideal arrangement for the front or rear/surround Nanosats, but if you can't wall mount the speakers or have them live on an open shelf, you can opt for Mirage's sleek-looking MS-STB-1 floor stands ($80 a pair), which give you lots of flexibility with placement.
The Mirage system includes five identical Nanosats, with no dedicated center-channel speaker. That's fine, but because of the way the speaker radiates sound upward, the center-channel Nanosat won't sound its best if you place it on a shelf under a TV--better stick with the top of your television. Wall mounting under a flat-screen model shouldn't be a problem, and if you're interested in a 6.1- or 7.1-channel system, extra Nanosats are available separately for $125 each.
You don't have to be an engineer or an audiophile to notice the Nanosat is a very different sort of loudspeaker. The Nanosats' perforated metal grilles don't hide the speaker's upward-facing dome-shaped "dispersion modules" strategically positioned above the Nanosat's 2.75-inch titanium-hybrid midrange and 0.75-inch titanium dome tweeter. The modules create the speaker's Omnipolar radiation pattern and use the room's reflections to create a deep, wide, and tall soundstage. The speaker's all-metal binding posts offer a solid connection with banana jacks, spades, or stripped bare wire ends.
As for the Nano sub, it's a neatly styled medium gray box with curved corners that measure 13.5 inches tall and wide and 11.7 inches deep, and it weighs 20.1 pounds. Its 8-inch down-firing woofer features Ribbed Elliptical Surround technology to lower distortion and increase the system's bass capability. Impressively, the sub's 75-watt amplifier is capable of delivering as much as 300 watts for brief periods of time. Connectivity is limited to a single RCA line-level input and a pair of speaker-level inputs. We noted the sub lacks a phase control that would help smooth the bass transition with the satellites in some installations. However, we experienced no problems in that regard.
The subwoofer itself doesn't have a crossover, relying instead on the one built into most A/V receivers (the Nanosat owner's manual recommends selecting a 120Hz subwoofer crossover). That's fine, but not all receivers offer that sort of adjustability and, instead, come with fixed 80Hz or 100Hz crossovers; we suggest you first consult your receiver's owner's manual to make sure you can tweak the necessary subwoofer crossover settings. The wrong setting won't do any harm but may cause a gap in the bass output between the Nanosats and the subwoofer.
Mirage also offers a higher-quality version of the speaker, the Nanosat Prestige, for $175 a speaker. The slightly larger Omnisat, now in its second incarnation, sells for $250 each and works with a wide variety of Mirage subwoofers, including the $500 Omni S10. The older--but still excellent--original incarnation of the Omnisat remains available from some retailers for $150 per speaker.
Some small speakers aren't suitable for larger rooms, but this system has no trouble filling moderately spacious rooms, and the subwoofer maintained its composure when the going got rough on special-effects-heavy DVDs such as the Star Wars discs. When the bass was at its most intense, we could actually feel gusts of air blowing out from the sub's front-mounted port, even though we were sitting about 10 feet away.
The speakers aren't without a couple of shortcomings, however. While the soundstage for DVDs was big and spacious, male voices sounded a little thin, lacking a sense of a body. That's not unusual for speakers this small, and even Mirage's advanced technology can't work miracles. It's also worth noting that the Nanosat's treble range seemed overly prominent and bright, though some listeners may appreciate the extra detail and air.
Turning from movies to music, Cream's Royal Albert Hall reunion DVD sounded especially powerful over the Nanosat system. The eerily convincing portrayal of the depth and space of a large concert hall let us forget the speakers' size. Jack Bruce's meaty bass lines had plenty of weight, Ginger Baker's drum kit crackled with energy, and Eric Clapton's guitar flash wasn't reigned in by the Nanosats.
Moving onto CD, we gave the new Dixie Chicks' Taking the Long Way a spin. Everything was nice and clear, but the Nanosats sounded a little disconnected from the subwoofer, so the Chicks' vocals, fiddles, and guitars sounded tonally anemic. Once again, we weren't all that surprised--with speakers as small as these, that's bound to happen. Still, it's a minor gripe, considering many listeners won't even notice the satellite-subwoofer discontinuity. And for those who do, we strongly recommend moving up to either Mirage's Nanosat Prestige or the larger Omnisat satellites and S10 subwoofer.
Nitpicks aside, the Nanosats projected a huge sound--something akin to what you'd expect from larger speakers--and the sound sometimes appeared to come from places further apart and higher than the actual locations of the speakers. The illusion was so perfect, it was hard to reconcile that all the sound was coming from five 5.8-inch-tall satellites and a baby subwoofer. For anybody looking for superior sound quality from an all but invisible speaker system, the Mirage Nanosats are an easy recommendation.