More worryingly, the main unit doesn’t do a great job when it comes to clarity or high-end detail. Listen to something heavyweight with a lot of percussion or thick, distorted guitars, and the SoundOrb Aurora really struggles to make head or tail of it. Mastodon’s Divinations, for example, was transformed from a heavy metal monster track into a bit of a sibilant mess, with the cymbals and drums rattling away at the high-end, and the guitars burying everything else in the middle. For similar reasons, orchestral material is robbed of impact, with whole sections of the orchestra failing to rise above a muddled mix.
For simpler songs with basic acoustic instruments and vocals the news is better, but you never get that heartstopping crystal clarity that really makes a vocal line come alive. The sort of slick pop that’s been mastered with car stereos and FM radios in mind fares best of all, but at no point could I say that the SoundOrb Aurora delivered an exemplary audio performance. I’ve heard worse, but I’ve heard an awful lot better too.
It’s worth experimenting with the different sound modes. The basic stereo mode is best for most styles of music, but the 3D mode does produce a wider soundstage which works better if you’re trying to fill a big room with straight, punchy pop. The wide mode is, the manual claims, best suited for TV and movie-watching use, though in my experience, you’d be better off sticking to the 3D mode instead. However, if I wanted an iPod dock to double for TV or DVD sound, I’d probably invest my cash in Sony’s superior SRS-GD50iP system, or look at one of the various specialist home cinema systems with iPod docks instead.
In the end, it’s the old price/performance ratio that hits the SoundOrb Aurora the hardest. £200 is a lot to pay for an iPod dock, and for that kind of money I’d expect better sound. Sure, that nice, peaceful, colour-cycling glow compensates and adds some value, but to my mind it’s a fun feature, not one that you should be willing to forgo great audio to enjoy.
A cool, well-designed iPod sound system with some interesting features, and family and friends are sure to admire the glowing colours. The sound quality, however, isn’t nearly as exciting, and what’s there isn’t good enough to justify the price.