HOLY SCHMIDT! The Schmidt Audio Ubiquitous V.2 Omni Loudspeakers
Review by Noam Bronstein
“What ARE those??”, asked a wide-eyed boy of 7 or 8 in the lobby of my building, as he watched Jon-George and I wheeling the Ubiquitous V.2’s out on their trolleys.
You’re probably asking yourself the same thing. These are some unusual looking speakers. They’re omnipolar – and while that’s not a new idea, it is still rare to see them, even in boutique audio circles.
Schmidt Audio is the work of Glenn Schmidt (builder/designer) and Jon-George Popowich (audio enthusiast and entrepreneur), with help from their engineering consultant, Felipe Bastain, who JG describes as a measurements guru. The Ubiquitous V.2 I spent time with here is their floorstanding model, which is now going into limited production, and will list for $4800 Canadian. They’re also developing a bookshelf model, the Mini-Ubi.
I’ve known Jon-George for a number of years, and when he called to tell me about this project, I was in the middle of reviewing the Finalé F-300B EVO. So naturally my first question was about the speaker’s sensitivity. Seeing his photos of the speakers, hearing “~95dB”, and his offer to bring them over for a week or two, I thought, why not?
I think “why not” might make a good motto for Schmidt. The designs are a bit out there, and these guys follow their curiousity and passion. They’ve experimented with a range of drivers, cabinet sizes and diffraction aids.
And though they’re just getting started as a company, the ideas seem evolved, and there’s a level of enthusiasm and commitment that’s undeniable, and contagious.
The Ubiquitous V.2 is a moderately big floorstander, it’s a two-way with upward firing drivers, fitted with custom-crafted waveguide housings, for omnidirectional dispersion. The bass port is downfiring, and it also has a diffractor which helps distribute sound 360 degrees, and provides ~2dB bass boost while eliminating “chuffing” from the port. Cabinet edges are rounded to reduce unwanted diffraction/reflections of the cabinet, which can cause “smearing” of sound. The crossover is a Linkwitz-Riley second order design, the circuit boards are all hand assembled using Solen air coil inductors and capacitors – the design also provides an option to use ‘tuning’ fuses if one desires, in place of the standard 1v tweeter protection fuses.
The silk dome tweeters have a 1” aluminum voice coil, neodymium magnet, and cast aluminum basket for a smooth & flat frequency response. The bass driver uses two 12 Ohm voice coils made of CCA wire in parallel on the same bobbin, for a combined 7 Ohm impedance. The driver is very rigid, and displays a uniform breakup mode thanks to the polyproline cone, flat formed Conex spider, and diecast aluminum basket. An excellent Q factor allowed Schmidt to achieve tight, deep bass in a manageably sized cabinet.
The speakers are permanently mounted on solid bases, while the base’s footers are adjustable – providing the user an opportunity to upgrade, for example to isolation feet like the Gaia from iSOAcoustics. The crossover is exposed and can be left that way, or covered with the provided grills. Just above it is a precision potentiometer for attenuating the upper frequency response.
These speakers are very solid, with inert cabinets, and are fairly heavy. But they’re pretty easy to maneuver around, thanks to the very solid tweeter support – which doubles as a two-handed handle.
Since there isn’t really a ‘correct’ way to orient the Ubiquitous (think about it), you could even have the back side of the speaker facing you, if you like to stare at crossover boards, and fiddle with knobs. Heck, you could turn them partway if you want – the concept of “toe-in” doesn’t apply here. I faced them so the Schmidt badge faced me, while the business side faced the wall.
Fool In The Room
The Ubiquitous should be placed as far out into the room as possible, factoring your lifestyle and space needs of course.
My initial listens were somewhat baffling. I’m hearing a very capable speaker, with superb bass and excellent dynamics, but as I sit there listening, something seems off. I go to the adjoining kitchen in our open concept, and things sound better. I go into the bedroom, and it seems to sound even better still. I return to the couch like a good audiophool, and the anomalies are back. What the holy schmidt?!
This speaker forced me to sit down (and get up, and sit down..) and think about dispersion, and reflections. By and large we’re all used to our speakers being aimed at us, i.e. on axis. The omni principle is different. Your seated position puts you about 90 degrees off axis. Schmidt has of course tried to account for this in their design and development. But it’s different, in that your side walls and especially your ceiling are now part of the reflected sound path.
I realized that this phenomena was messing with my head a bit. A phone call to Jon-George helped. He noted the sliding glass doors I have on one side. Sure enough, closing the blinds tamed that reflection. D’oh!
JG also reminded me about the attenuators. I had completely forgotten…I’m not sure I’ve ever had speakers with them nifty things. Sure enough, the highs were being attenuated to -3. Turning them up all the way to 0 made a huge difference. Now, female vocals were back where they belonged in the mix. The dip I was hearing somewhere around 800-1200Hz was gone.
And the rest of my listening time was thoroughly enjoyable…
How do they sound?
These speakers are quite outstanding. First off, they played so well with the F-300B EVO, that I didn’t bother hooking them up to anything else. This is an ideal match as far as power. The EVO’s volume rarely saw 12 o’clock. I think a 2A3 SET could drive the Ubiquitous well, possibly even a 45. They’re easy.
The result of this amp-speaker coupling was a chunky, tonally saturated nature, with great sustain and decay. The sound is fat, meaty, juicy. Yet it isn’t slow or ponderous. The Ubi played orchestral favourites like Morricone’s The Mission with gusto, and without confusion. And dynamic as hell. Did I mention the bass?? These speakers could get you in trouble with the neighbours. If there’s good bass in the recording, you’re going to hear it. And in a good way. The bottom octaves are well controlled and very enjoyable.
Vocal classics like Norah Jones’s debut album were very well served. Norah’s voice sounded like her. And her piano sounded like a piano (a challenging test for any system). The fretwork on Lonestar was right there as well. Enya’s Watermark also sounded lovely, even in redbook CD form. The Ubiquitous doesn’t fail to entertain, and brings out the magic in a SET amplifier.
Moving to jazz, Craft’s vinyl reissue of Riverside’s Chet was mesmerizing. So was Kenny Burrell’s self titled Blue Note session, by Tone Poet. Ben Webster’s Gentle Ben sounded like it should – Ben at his most soulful, melting the room with beautiful ballads.
And man alive, that off axis response. This would make an ideal party speaker. You really don’t need to sit down in front of the Schmidts to enjoy them!
All in all, I was very pleasantly surprised at the refined and engaging way the Schmidt speakers performed. Kudos. The one area where I thought they could be better was in the imaging and soundstage. This never really distracted me, and isn’t one of my main priorities. But lately I’m used to small speakers that tend to excel in those areas. Still, my feeling was that some room tuning could address that aspect – seeing how the fairly simple changes I made improved things greatly. And more to the point, I think that whatever the Ubiquitous ‘takes’ from the listener on the couch, it gives back twofold to everyone else who’s within earshot.
Whether this kind of system would work for you, is hard for me to predict. For those in Southern Ontario, I would very much recommend seeking out an audition. Well done, Schmidt.
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