Blimey! With the latest speaker dock to hit TR, it’s all gone a bit ‘son et lumiere’. Just in case the product shots and the name don’t give the game away, Gear4’s SoundOrb Aurora is not your ordinary iPod sound system. Leaving other manufacturers to concentrate on such mundane, trivial pursuits as, say, wringing great sound out of a compact package, Gear4 has looked for a way to add some new excitement to this crowded product category. The answer? A cool, round subwoofer unit that isn’t just (gasp) wireless but (sharp intake of breath) illuminated. See? It’s sort-of spherical (hence Orb) and it dishes out a cool coloured glow (hence Aurora).
There are more advantages to this approach than you might think. For a start, while a lot of us want an iPod docking station, we also want one that’s small. The problem, however, with small integrated speaker systems is that they tend to lose out on bass and low-end warmth. Adding a separate subwoofer will help cure this, but then you end up with an ugly great box lurking somewhere near your dock. The SoundOrb Aurora fixes this by a) making the sub look attractive b) making it wireless so you can stick it anywhere in the room (or at least anywhere within range of a mains socket) and c) making the sub itself a feature, so you might actually want to have it out in the open.
Here’s how that works: using LEDs the SoundOrb sub emits a cheerful ambient glow from the top, which gently spreads down and out from the translucent white surface of the module. The glow covers the whole gamut of colours from red through to violet, and you can opt whether to stick with one tone, selecting it using a rotary knob at the back, or whether to have the unit cycle through the available colours at your chosen speed.
The effect is a little like Philips’ Ambilight system, only it doesn’t involve any processing or interaction with the material. If you want your own living-room disco then you’ll probably want something more exciting or intense, but if you just want a nice, soft, relaxing glow to add warmth or interest to a gloomy corner of the room, the Aurora does a perfectly capable job. In daylight, note, the effect is more subdued, and really rather difficult to spot at all.
The wireless bit, meanwhile, works transparently using a variant on 2.4Ghz technology. There’s no need to fiddle around with partnerships or settings, and the subwoofer can sit a good distance away from the main unit without affecting the signal (apparently up to 30m). For the sake of research I actually had it working in a completely separate room, about six metres and two thick walls away from the dock. Doing so was completely pointless, given that I couldn’t really hear the sub and the mid/treble speakers at the same time, but it proves that those of you with a large studio-sized space to fill needn’t worry.