You many not have heard of Orb Audio before, but this small US-based company is generating a bit of buzz in its home country with a range of impressive-sounding yet enticingly-priced speakers, which in their words deliver the ‘best bang for the buck’.
Orb is able to undercut many of its rivals by selling products directly from its website, which means it can plough the money it would have spent on overheads into buying the best components. But it also means that British buyers can get their hands on them despite the company not having an operational arm in the UK.
The most interesting thing about Orb Audio’s systems is that they’re modular, which means you can team up one, two or four speakers on each channel to create a sound that’s as big and potent as you want it to be. Each individual ‘orb’ (or Mod1) is sold separately, but you can join together two Mod1s to create a Mod2, or link up four Mod1s to create a Mod4. Still with us? Good.
In each case, there are bespoke speaker stands to house the multiple speakers, which are daisy-chained using the supplied jumper cables. It’s an unusual but appealing approach, as it allows you to build up your system over time, perhaps starting with single Mod1s then adding extra Orbs when you have the cash to upgrade.
The system on test here is the People’s Choice, which as the name suggests is the company’s most popular package. It’s made up of three Mod2s for the front and centre channels – the fronts use a Boss desk stand that places one Orb above the other, while the centre channel uses the Boss Center stand that places them side by side.
For the rears you get single Mod1s (mounted on a basic steel desk stand), but if you’d prefer Mod2s at the rear then you can add the extra Orbs yourself or go for the Mod2 package, which supplies double Orbs for all channels. Completing the system is the Super Eight subwoofer.
We’ve cast our eye over a few ‘compact’ speaker systems of late, and impressive though they are, none is as distinctive or well-crafted as this. The Mod1’s spherical shape and unobtrusive size immediately demands your attention, but the best part is the Hand Antiqued Bronze finish, which gives them an elegance that no amount of gloss-black plastic can match.
Orb Audio kindly sent us a selection of Mod1s in different finishes to ogle (including Gloss Black, Pearl White, Hand Polished Steel and Copper) and all of them are stunning, but the steel finish is by far the sexiest.
On the back of each Mod1 is a screw hole which allows you to attach them to the various stands, which is incredibly easy to do, and a pair of gold binding posts. Cleverly these contain springs, which means you simply press them in to expose the hole, feed in the exposed cable then let go.
This would be perfect, except that the hole is far too small to accommodate thick speaker cables, and when the Orbs are attached to the desk stand in the Mod2 configuration the binding posts are difficult to access. What’s more, the Mod2s require jumper cables to link the two Orbs together, which means two cables have to be inserted into the same post – all of which makes things a little fiddly to set up.
The Super Eight powered subwoofer is the perfect bass box for this system given that it’s acoustically matched to the Mod1/Mod2 satellites and has suitably compact dimensions. It features a 200W BASH hybrid amplifier and a long-throw 8in woofer on the inside, but we’re not sure about the outside – it’s coated in a weird sparkly textured finish that makes it look like it’s been left out in the rain. However it’s built like a quarterback and stands on sturdy rubber feet to absorb vibrations, and on the back you get all sort of dials and switches to control crossover frequency (which can be set between 40Hz and 180Hz), phase and volume, as well as high- and low-level inputs.
Performance from this innovative speaker set is nothing short of sensational. It never ceases to amaze us when manufacturers get such a big sound out of small speaker cabinets, but Orb is the latest to achieve such a feat. The sound these speakers produce is obscenely powerful and bursting with energy, and it makes mincemeat of Hellboy II’s DTS HD Master Audio track on Blu-ray.
Hellboy’s battle with the Elemental in chapter 12 is breathtaking – the Mod2s at the front deliver fierce, forthright effects with no harshness or distortion, even when we cranked the Onkyo amp up to Environmental Health-baiting levels, and Johan Krauss’s futile cries are clearly audible as the 50ft tree tears up the city. From tinkling glass to crunched-up cars clattering past the camera, there’s real purpose behind every sound these speakers produce.
On their own, the Mod1s also do a great job as rear channels, conveying subtle detail crisply and creating a surprisingly wide soundstage with their expansive reach. Nowhere is this more evident than during the Troll Market scene – the delicate tapestry of sounds, including winged creatures flitting around, is sparklingly clear and puts you right there among the crowds.
The subwoofer is a force to be reckoned with, offering the sort of wall-shaking bass tones that you expect from a bigger unit. It has power in spades, but it’s also accurate, tight and responsive – the perfect combination.
The Orbs are at home with music too. We fed them Corinne Bailey Rae’s version of Since I’ve Been Loving You and it’s an absolute delight, her voice sounds pure and natural and the double bass is warm and solid. Sublime.
We know it seems like a bit of a punt shipping speakers over from the States – particularly with the hefty fee involved – but if you do you won’t regret it. The unusual design and elegant build quality is unlike anything else we’ve seen at this price, and the fantastic performance is as good if not better than the KEF KHT2005.3 system that bowled us over earlier this year. On the downside, we don’t like the small, fiddly binding post holes, which may cause a problem if you have thick cables, but otherwise this system absolutely deserves to be the People’s Choice.
Score in detail
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