Orb Audio Mod2 Home Theater Speaker System

by | Sep 23, 2006 | Component Reviews | 0 comments

Orb Audio Mod2 Home Theater Speaker System
Direct Price: $1,169.00

Specs:
Speaker: Magnetically-shielded 3-inch full range (80Hz – 20kHz), polypropylene drive cone with Santoprene surround. High-density neodymium magnet with proprietary voice coil in high-tolerance gap. 89 dB efficiency
Binding Posts: Gold-plated brass, fit up to 14 gauge wire
Impedance: 4 ohms nominal
Power handling: 15 to 110 watts
Dimensions: On desk stand: 4 3/16″ W x 9 1/2″ H x 4 7/8″ D
Weight: 33 oz.
Construction: American carbon steel

Super Eight Subwoofer Specs:
Speaker: Ported bass reflex with flared snorkel port
Amp. type & power: 150w class AB amp with digital switching power supply for enhanced peak power output
Amp. THD & S/N: <.1% (100Hz at full power); >95dB
Driver: Long-throw 8-inch with composite paper/high density ABS cone
Magnet assembly: 30 oz. ferrite magnet
Freq. response: 28-180Hz; adjustable crossover (40-160Hz)
Max. SPL peak: 111dB
Features: Phase switch (0/180), adjustable crossover, temperature-protect circuitry, audio on/off power, gold-plated RCA and speaker-level inputs, 12dB/octave hi-pass circuit
Weight: 31 lbs.
Dimensions: 12″ H x 11 3/4″ D x 11 1/2″ W  (optional 1″ feet)

Orb Audio LLC
520 East 88th St.
New York, NY 10128
877-672-2834
www.orbaudio.com


Intro

While many of the 30 to 40% of American homes that now have (a very liberal definition of) home theater have moved beyond using the poor little speakers mounted in video displays, many of them have been sold separate HTIB (Home Theater in a Box) systems. The low pricing and the idea of getting everything at once seems attractive to many purchasers. But there are many comprises required to put together a low-priced system of five speakers plus a subwoofer plus the electronics (and often even the DVD player).  All the separate items usually suffer, with poor electronics, insufficient power for the speakers, plastic cabinets, and unmusical-sounding subwoofers in large ugly cabinets. Also, many of the HTIBs require hooking up all the smaller speakers to the subwoofer, limited where it may be placed in the room.  And some of the HTIBs don’t even use powered subwoofers, which is almost a requirement.

Bose was one of the first to come up with five tiny satellite speakers plus a small subwoofer, to fit into the room decor and sort of disappear – compared to standard large speakers. Now other manufacturers have their Bose-killer tiny speaker home theater systems, some of which are a giant step above the usual HTIB while providing better sound and less cost than the Bose. Orb Audio is one of those manufacturers, and among their advantages are the fact that they are made entirely in the U.S. and sold directly from their web site without the markups required by layers of different sales channels.

The Basic Steel Balls

The basic speaker upon which all the Orb systems are built – except for the subwoofers – is a single spherical seamless steel enclosure with a 3-inch full range driver mounted in it, plus two brass speaker binding posts and a single threaded shaft at the back for mounting on various stands. There aren’t any obstructions around the flush-mounted driver – it’s sort of out in space, so to speak – so the combination of minimal diffraction effects plus the single small driver results in often astonishing imaging.  You can set up a simple basic stereo system – for your computer, for example – for about $180, with simple desk stands provided.  That’s with white or black spheres – the hand-polished steel ones are a bit more and the hand-antiqued copper more yet. 

The beauty of it is that this can be the starter for a system which is added to, eventually comprising a complete top-of-the-line HT speaker system such as the Mod2 which I am reviewing herewith. For example, a similar center channel and two surround satellite may be added. You can have different color spheres for the surrounds from the front ones if you wish. Then the subwoofer would be added. The next step would be to double the balls on the three frontal speakers, mounting one  more above the existing ones and a second one next to the center channel ball on a special stand.  That combination, together with the Super Eight Subwoofer, constitutes the People’s Choice HT speaker system. Also doubling the balls on the two surround speakers brings us to the last step and the Mod2 system under review. Those captivated by the 6.1 or 7.1 gimmick can even add one or two more rear channel single or double-sphere satellite to upgrade to the ultimate system.

 

Setup of the Mod2 System

I’ve always been a proponent of identical speakers on all five channels, or as close to identical as you can get.  This results in the most seamless surround soundfield and especially for music in surround is a must as far as I’m concerned.  Therefore the Orb Mod2 system with its identical double-sphere drivers all around appealed to me and was what I requested for review.

I was provided a choice of the supplied simple stands or the BOSS Mod2 steel stands which go for $49 each.  For the double-sphere setup I would recommend the beefier BOSS stands. A simple manual with photos of every step is provided to mount the pair of spheres on the stand and then hook up the two spheres in parallel using the supplied wires, which are cut to the exact length required.  The center channel BOSS stand mounts the two spheres side by side on a special arm.  There are also HOSS solid steel floor stands, which might be ideal for your front left and right speakers, or all four satellites except for the center channel. They weigh in at 25 lbs. each, allow running the speaker cables up thru the poles for the neatest appearance, and look great with the polished steel finish spheres. They are $299 a pair. Orb also has two different types of mounts available for putting your speakers on the walls, and a multimount designed for either walls or ceiling mounting. I could imagine in many small rooms the ceiling or rear wall
mounting of the surround speakers would be an ideal solution to retain the decor-friendly qualities of this design, as well as the get the speakers located hopefully a similar distance from the sweet spot as are the frontal speakers. (It’s best to avoid speaker-delay processing if you can be having all five speakers close to the same distance away from you.) 

If you have garden-hose variety speaker cables you’ll have a problem hooking up to the Orbs, but 14 gauge should be good enough for the average user of these systems, and it’s certainly better than the typical 22 gauge speaker cables often provided.

The Super Eight Subwoofer

Before hooking up the Orb sub with the five Orb double-sphere speakers, I detached the LFE channel cable coming from my Sunfire AV preamp from my Von Schweikert subwoofer and plugged it into the Orb sub. Both are very compact and both have 8-inch drivers. The Orb is really just a 12-inch cube with feet, and has a full complement of inputs, outputs and controls on the rear. I found it almost identical in operation and sound to the more expensive Von Schweikert sub.

Since the stated low end limit of the spheres is 80Hz – which seems a bit difficult to grasp considering their tiny size – I decided to set the sub’s low-pass crossover to about 90Hz. That seemed to provide a fairly good match for the other speakers, without serious dips or peaks in the response when test tones ramped up from 20Hz to the mid-frequencies.  Of course speaker positioning in the room wasn’t perfect since I didn’t have floor stands for the left and right speakers and was just using the provided desk stands on stacks of CDs on the floor.  It was also difficult to try the Orb sub at different positions in the room, but locating right next to my reference sub – which is directly behind my sweet spot – seemed to work fine. I wasn’t getting much output to the sub from some of the stereo CDs and SACDs I was trying, even though I had my Sunfire preamp bass management set to route everything below 80 Hz to the LFE channel.  So I tried the “Bass Mechanic” CD designed for auto subwoofer testing. Wow! Plenty of room-shaking low end ensued. The Super Eight enclosure is very tight and I didn’t notice any serious resonances or vibrations even on the huge bass hits.  It seemed much like the Orb satellites – able to take high volume levels that would decimate most tiny speakers.

The Super Eight is to be commended for featuring both a phase switch (marked 0 & 180 degrees) and a continuously-variable crossover going from 40 to 160Hz.  Many subs don’t have either or just one of those options.  There shouldn’t be any problem – either using test CDs or just just listening to some of your favorite music with plenty of bass frequencies – in setting the Super Eight exactly right for your room and ears, so that the crossover from the sub to all the satellites is smooth and undetectable. I turned the sub off and on a few times while playing some stereo material using ProLogic II processing for surround. The presence or absence of the lowest frequencies was of course very noticeable, but what also came to the fore was the presence or absence of a more convincing surround field.  In other words, a properly set up subwoofer adds greatly to a feeling of immersion in surround sound reproduction – no matter where the sub is located.

Auditioning the Mod2 System

I first hooked up a double-pair of the Orbs in my office, sitting atop my normal Paradigm Atoms and powered by an 80-watt AudioSource amp. They were well-matched price wise: $180 a pair vs. $160. They operated in conjunction with a large Cambridge Soundworks subwoofer. I was very impressed with the results right out of the box; they sounded extremely similar to the Atoms.  As I lived with them a week or so it became apparent that they had a bit more clarity in smaller sonic details as well as better imaging qualities. Plus they looked great compared to the Atom boxes. I also disconnected the short wires between the pairs of spheres and briefly used only one sphere per channel.  In this entry-level hookup the Atoms had the edge in a comparison, giving fuller and richer sound.  (Actually, my normal office setup is stacked Atoms, similar to the stacked Orbs, but the second pair of Atoms is waiting in my main listening studio for playback of the 2+2+2 surround recordings from Germany.)

I then set up all the Orbs in my main listening studio, as well as the subwoofer. I should say that my initial impression was that the shootout with my reference six-channel Von Schweikert surround system was going to be like a fixed fight as far as the Orbs were concerned. After all, we’re talking about a c.$7500 speaker system vs. a $1,370 one (not including the various stands and mounts)! Plus my reference system is wired with garden-hose-sized Kimber cables throughout which are unusable with the Orbs, and none of the Orbs are mounted on the proper stands or at similar height. The front three channels are powered by 40 watt Consonance M400 tube monoblocks and the surrounds by two channels of a 200 watt Parasound three-channel amp.

I tried a variety of standard stereo material, stereo processed by ProLogic II for surround, and SACD surround discs.  The abilities of the Orbs to throw a sonic image as large as that from my V.S. tower speakers was surprising. Though they were close to the floor the sound seemed to emanate vertically above the frontal Orbs. In back the sweet spot in general seemed enlarged over my reference speakers. When sitting in the next room it was completely impossible to discern which speaker system was playing.  Even sitting in or near the sweet spot I sometimes forgot that the tower speakers were not on and rich sonic image in front of me was coming from the six little balls near the floor.

When playing surround material the soundfield was enveloping in a similar way to what my reference speakers accomplished – even though the Orbs were at different heights and not properly mounted.  I didn’t run any frequency test sweeps but heard little difference in the extreme high frequencies between the single full range drivers of the Orbs and the double tweeters on my Von Schweikert towers (one front and one rear).  High-frequency-demanding sounds such as brushes on cymbals had a similar timbre on both speakers in the comparisons.  I was auditioning a standard stereo CD of Boccherini Quintets and became annoyed with a steely and somewhat harsh aspect to the sound which I found unpleasant.  I suspected the Orbs, and not wanting to go thru all the speaker-cabling hassle I decided to use my patch bay to simply feed the stereo signal to my identical V.S. surround speakers muting the front speakers in the process. (Even though amplification is entirely different, the surround speakers sound identical to the front L & R speakers – which I mainly achieved by removing the metal jumper bars for non-bi-wired use, replacing them with stranded copper speaker wire.)  I was surprised to find the offensive CD sounded exactly the same on my reference speakers as it had on the Orbs!

I also switched to the Orbs during part of my reviewing of the recent DVD rerelease of Apocalypse Now, with its mix of mostly synthesized music and both subtle and room-shaking sound effects.  I felt little diminution in the impact of the movie’s soundtrack compared to my reference speaker system.  One might expect that the huge explosions and copter noises would be too much for such a diminutive system, but the Orbs held up about as well as did my V.S. speakers.  With some extremely subtle low-level jungle sounds I felt my reference system preserved just a bit more of the general ambiance, but I also suspect the Orbs would do better if properly mounted at the same height all around.

Wrap Up

The Orbs modified my ideas about super-mini speaker systems as well as about full range drivers.  I have heard a number of super-efficient full range driver speakers intended for the mini-wattage triode tube aficionados. None of these enclosures could be considered mini by any means, and none of them sounded like they were covering either of the two extreme ends of the frequency spectrum. Of course most didn’t have subwoofers.  The full range single driver concept is central to the Orbs, and it not only sounds convincing but fits in beautifully with the effort to offer small, reasonably-priced speakers which look great if you even happen to notice them at all. Add to this concept the ability to start out with as little as just two spheres and gradually build up to this Mod2 surround system, and you have a winning entry in the micro speaker class.

– John Sunier

Related Reviews
Logo Pure Pleasure
Logo Apollo's Fire
Logo Crystal Records Sidebar 300 ms
Logo Jazz Detective Deep Digs Animated 01