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DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes Blu-ray Review
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A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy Blu-ray Review
Aug 22 2015 02:50 PM
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Orb Audio People's Choice System ReviewZtagtest Hardware Subwoofer
Before I get into the specifics of the Orb system, let me note for the record that I've been a working musician for several decades and a guitar maker for about 12 years, with forays into speaker and amp design and construction. When it comes to home stereo and theater, not discounting the importance of an integrated system, I'll argue that speakers are the most important component every time. I have specific interest in small driver designs as my pop did marketing work for Dr. Amar Bose back in the early ‘70s: I heard what those could do and was impressed for life.
What Orb sells is designed, manufactured and assembled here in the US: I don't know about you, but that sure does make a difference to me.
Orb is employee-owned and dedicated purely to making great speakers. Contact the company and you'll talk to real employees who know what they're talking about and speaks with genuine passion for their craft. Everybody from owners to designers share duties answering phones and emails.
Orb is a direct seller, which means exactly that; the only place you can get their stuff is from them, (www.orbaudio.com, naturally). Anyone with significant experience in buying audio equipment is well familiar with the fact that there are indeed steep price mark ups within the industry. A true direct seller can and should deliver their products for significantly less than the market standard.
Orb states that they build high-end speaker systems and sell them for significantly less than comparable equipment. After a month of intense listening and testing, I agree wholeheartedly with that statement.
The Orb system is a simple, modular design that allows one to go from bare bones to full bore without having to replace to upgrade. At the heart is a handmade Mod 1 satellite speaker, a crossover-free, 3" full-range polypropylene driver with santoprene surround, and a compact, fully shielded neodymium magnet with a proprietary voice coil. All internal wiring is oxygen-free internal copper.
While they certainly have a small footprint, these speakers have a very solid feel, right down to the custom gold-plated brass binding posts. Weighing in at 17 ounces, these are not lightweight fluff. Standard finishes are gloss black or pearl white; hand polished steel, and hand antiques copper or bronze finishes are available as a $240 option. Cabinets are American steel.
Performance specs claim 89dB efficiency, 8 ohm impedance single 4 ohm double, power handling 15 to 115 watts, and 80Hz to 20kHz frequency response.
Orb offers two versions, the Super 8 and the Uber 10: Super 8s feature a 200 watt hybrid digital amp, (400 Watt Peak), an 8" driver and a 12" cabinet. This unit packs a phase switch, (0/180), a 40-160hz adjustable crossover, a high temp protection circuit, auto-on-off power switch, gold plated input and outputs, and a 12dB/Octave high-pass circuit. Orb notes that the Super 8 will meet the needs of 90% of us, and I agree.
The Uber 10, (Not reviewed) packs 300 watts/500 peak, 10" driver, 13.5" cabinet and a raft of high end features.
Orb offers speakers from single through a wide variety of stereo and home theater packages.
Front and surround speakers can be configured as one or more units, while center speakers are offered as a double or quad. Mod satellite speakers can be combined up to a stack of four if you need or want more firepower for main, center or rear speaker configurations, (And that's 4 all around, front, middle and back!). There are also options for system upgrades to 6.1 or 7.1 channel options.
Speaker components are covered by a 5 year warranty and subwoofer amps for 1 year, which includes all parts and labor; you pay to send the equipment to them, they handle everything else. You're also provided with lifetime tech support and a 30 day no-hassle home trial upon purchase.
There are a wide variety of floor, wall, and desk stand options, (For an upcharge, naturally), and the backs of each Mod satellite unit has a standard 1/4" insert that will adapt to a broad spectrum of 3rd party mounting options as well. If you take no other option, you'll get a basic steel desk stand.
I reviewed the People's Choice Home Theater System, which is Orb's most popular. Retailing at $1098, the system includes the Super 8 subwoofer, double orb front speakers including center channel, and single orb rears.
The components come well packed and set up was simple and straightforward. In examining things, I wondered about the lack of ability to rotate or aim individual speakers. I put that question to Orb, and Marketing Manager Will Christensen responded: “We have found that the best sound comes from having the two speakers in the array interpreted as a single point source for the sound the ear so by having both speakers pointed in the same direction and not staggered, you get the fullest sound out of the speaker. Also, the round shape of the speaker gives a very wide dispersion to the soundstage so they don't need to be directed or "aimed" as much as a traditionally shaped box speaker might. From a design perspective, we wanted to the speakers and stands to be as minimalist in appearance as possible, so this means the stands / parts / hardware are as simple as can be and therefore don't require a bunch of adjustability or moving parts.”
So, how do they sound? When Orb says, “The sound coming from our speakers will make your jaw drop,” are they blowing smoke? No they are not; not at all. The clarity and power are simply incredible, no BS. My system is regularly powered by a matched set of Infinity Studio Monitor series speakers; I’m afraid I have to admit that the Orbs blew them away.
For music testing, we used a Master Disc copy of Pink Floyd's classic Dark Side of the Moon, and a Blu-ray version of the Talking Heads Stop Making Sense. The results were more than impressive, they were simply stunning. Sound and power were incredibly clean and of greatest note, the listening sweet spot was profoundly broader than our Infinity’s. Everyone on couches and chairs in the media room reported killer sound; I tested each seat and found exactly the same. Phenomenal presence throughout.
I hate to date myself, but this was the first time I could clearly hear Patricia Watts whispered line, "I never said I was frightened of dying," through speakers, rather than having to resort to headphones and play the section over and over as we did in the 70's. Clare Torrey's free verse on 'The Great Gig In The Sky' raised goosebumps as it hasn't done for decades, and the Hammond B3 with the Leslies in 'On the Run' swirled around again as they haven't done since I listened on good headphones.
I saw the Talking Heads do Stop Making Sense a few days before it was recorded in L.A.. The Orbs brought the crowd noise in the back, the band all around, and the sheer power of the music home like I've not heard from a recording before: David Byrne, Lynn Mabrey and Edna Holt's vocals on 'What a Day That Was' carried damn near the emotional impact they did during the show itself. Potent, to say the least.
For DVD movie and action experience, we played a Blue Ray copy of Ronin; if the car chase and combat sequences in that don’t pop, you know right away. Again, the sound was simply amazing. I thought I had great speakers, and no offense to Infinity, but Orb blew them away. The clarity, depth and power was just all around impressive, with beautiful 3D effects provided by the system. I've watched this movie dozens of times and should be jaded, but with the Orbs doing their thing, I found myself gripping the side of the couch and leaning into the corners during the big chase scene, with the snarl of the Citroen XM and the BMW M5 riding somewhere down in my guts; that's what I call an 'in the drivers seat' experience.
For a final ‘what if’ test, I replaced the Orb front speakers with my Alesis Monitor 1 passive reference Studio Monitors that I use for recording, just to see. Orb won again, hands down. Setting the Orbs in place in my recording rig confirmed it. Oh boy, another set bites the dust.
I used iAnalyzer and Analyzer for frequency analysis and confirmation, to test the Orbs for stated frequency response. They’re dead on the money.
It was with some regret I packed the goods up and returned them to Orb. I am not a pushover, and my oldest two boys, also musicians with very discerning ears, were absolutely sold. We’ll be putting Orbs into our system as soon as possible. Oh, and for the record, I haven't received any compensation from the website or Orb for this review. Over time, you'll find out that I tend to call a spade a stinkin' shovel; if it's good I say so, and if it's bad, you'll know it in no uncertain terms. These things are very, very good and for the price, damn near unbeatable.
Reviewed by: Eben Atwater