mStation 2.1 Stereo Orb Review

The mStation 2.1 Stereo Orb-U is a fun little iPod speaker system...
The mStation 2.1 Stereo Orb-U is a fun little iPod speaker system...
The mStation 2.1 Stereo Orb-U is a fun little iPod speaker system...

Highs

  • Fun design; good sound quality; works with most iPods

Lows

  • Not for audiophiles; large remote control; no video outputs

Summary

In a market flooded with iPod speaker systems, companies like mStation have to provide innovative, unusual and high-quality products just to maintain an even keel and catch the attention (and dollars) of the consumer. mStation recently announced some new iPod speaker systems, one of which is the mStation 2.1 Stereo Orb. At only $100 USD, the Orb offers a unique spherical design, plenty of included adapters and support for older Firewire-based iPods. Read our review to find out how the Orb sounds and if it’s is a wise purchase.

Features and Design

Without a doubt, the spherical shape of the mStation Orb (better referred to as “the Orb”) is unusual and certainly grabs attention. Though the design is unique, most of the features are standard fare for iPod docking speaker systems. On the top of the Orb is the iPod dock itself. mStation supplies the Orb with a total of six dock adapters for a multitude of iPod models, including the iPod nano and video iPods. Just below the iPod dock is the array of control buttons – power on/off, volume down, volume up, reverse track, forward track, play/pause. Just south of the control buttons is the egg-shaped infrared receiver that communicates with the remote control.

On the back side of the Orb, near the very bottom, is a recessed bay where the power adapter, USB plug, optional Firewire cable and 1/8″ line-in port are located. The relative positioning of the recessed bay camouflages it pretty well.

Technical Stats

There are two stereo speakers and a single subwoofer. The two main speakers and the subwoofer push roughly 15watts each, though the peak power is listed as 50watts.

Frequency response is pretty good for a super compact, all-in-one system – 50Hz – 20kHz. The subwoofer ranges from 50Hz to 250Hz and the main speakers range from 250Hz to 20kHz.

The signal to noise ratio is >70dB (good, not great) and the total harmonic distortion is less than 0.5%. Neither of these stats are spectacular, but it’s slightly above average for a system that costs $100 USD.

Remote Control

The IR-based remote control for the Orb is simple in design. It’s also huge; easily double the size of remotes for other iPod speaker systems. I don’t know why mStation would design a cool and unusual Orb speaker set and then throw in a mondo remote. I can only hope that their design team will read this and agree to shrink the remote by at least 50%.

Bass and Treble

mStation deserves a pat on the back for adding bass and treble controls on the remote. If an iPod EQ preset doesn’t sound right to you (a common occurrence, for sure), you can further adjust the bass and/or treble to your liking. It’s quick and easy. The only thing mStation needs to add to the remote is a way to bring bass and treble back to default/neutral levels with the single push of a button.

FireWire

One of the most overlooked but appreciable features of the Orb is the FireWire port in the back bay. Unlike 99% of all modern iPod speaker systems, the Orb actually supports older FireWire-connecting iPods. If you’re one of those cool reactionaries still using a 1st gen iPod, you’ll undoubtedly appreciate the fact that you can hook that 5GB wonder up to a fun looking, good sounding speaker system.

mStation 2.1 Stereo Orb
The mStation Orb with adapters and remote control

Setup and Use

Setting up the mStation Orb-U 2.1 is very easy, although it can take a few minutes. Upon opening the box, one sees 11 separate parts. It’s not as complex as it sounds, though. Six of those parts are iPod dock adapters, so you could set five of them aside, keeping the one you’ll need.

First, pull all parts out of the box, remove them from any plastic bags and line everything up on a desk or table. Next, pull the volley ball-sized Orb speaker out of the box, remove the plastic wrapping and set the Orb on the table. The flat bottom of the Orb makes it terribly obvious which way is up. Ideally, face the front of the Orb away from you so you have access to the ports on the back.

First, pull all parts out of the box, remove them from any plastic bags and line everything up on a desk or table. Next, pull the volley ball-sized Orb speaker out of the box, remove the plastic wrapping and set the Orb on the table. The flat bottom of the Orb makes it terribly obvious which way is up. Ideally, face the front of the Orb away from you so you have access to the ports on the back.

mStation Orb
The back of the mStation Orb

To ensure your iPod syncs with iTunes while docked on the Orb, connect the Orb to your computer by using the USB cable (mini-USB goes into the Orb, regular USB goes into your computer). Dock your iPod on the Orb and so long as the Orb and iPod are turned on, the iPod will sync with iTunes. You should note that while your iPod is docked on the Orb and connected to your computer (syncing), you will not be able to play music from the iPod. You’ll have to eject the iPod from iTunes to use the Orb.

When tilting the Orb back to plug in the power adapter, you’ll undoubtedly notice the FireWire 400 plug. mStation is awesome – they added the FireWire port to help you sync your old FireWire-based iPods. How cool is that?!

When using your iPod on the Orb, the volume level should be selected on the Orb itself, not on the iPod screen. Clearly, when the Orb is on, your iPod will charge when properly docked.

Sound Stage & Impressions

Its unique shape and the resultant multi-directional placement of the speakers and subwoofer make for an interesting and refreshingly different sound experience. Instead of pushing two channels of sound straight forward, the Orb sends sound in an omni-directional pattern. Up close to the Orb, sound patterns are dramatically different every 90 degrees around the sphere. The farther away from the Orb you get, the sound fills out and seems to blend back into a comprehensive whole. In smaller rooms – private offices, bedrooms, dorm rooms, etc. – the Orb sounds very good. In much larger rooms or wide open spaces, the Orb loses some of its punch, delivering a limited zone of pleasing audio.

Under ideal conditions, such as in smaller rooms, the playback from the Orb is enjoyable. Don’t be mislead in thinking that the Orb is on par with expensive systems that would appeal to audiophiles. It isn’t, and it doesn’t try to fake that status. It’s a semi-budget sound system that produces good quality sound for just about $100 USD.

Conclusion

The mStation 2.1 Stereo Orb-U is a fun little iPod speaker system, ideal for use in dorm rooms, small offices, art studios, kids rooms, etc. The system produces good sound from such a compact little body. And though it won’t appeal to any serious audio buffs, it’s great for those who want a simple, casual way of enjoying their tunes. At only $100 USD, it’s a fair bargain too.

Pros:

• Fun, compact spherical design
• Good, enjoyable sound
• Works with nearly all iPods, including older Firewire versions
• Bass and Treble controls on remote

Cons:

• Not for audiophiles
• Remote is way too big
• No video out port for modern iPods