Orb Audio is an Internet-direct retailer that is out to own the “little speaker, big sound” market. In a marketplace cluttered with pint-sized products that deliver on the former promise, but fail on the latter count, the manufacturer stands out as a company dedicated to offering not just big sound, but high-quality audio as well. Pair their premium products up with a “no retail markup” attitude and a commitment to building a solid product in the USA, and you’ve got a slam-dunk system you can truly be proud of.
Out of the box
Orb wants it made clear: This is NOT a Home Theater in a Box. The negative connotation associated with compact home theater solutions is well-earned. Indeed, often these inexpensive, sometimes flashy-looking products put out pretty pathetic sound and tend to make more noise than music. Not so with the Orbs. In fact, Orb seems out to save the world from bad sound by offering an accessible, attractive product designed from the ground up around one simple concept – top-quality performance.
While opening the first of three boxes, we noticeed the rather typical badge of shipping damage in the form of a box that looked not entirely unlike an accordion. Fears were misplaced, though: As it turns out, inside the box, Orb had done a killer job of packaging their speakers in custom cut foam slots that virtually guaranteed a flawless product on delivery.
Features and design
We were sent four Mod2 satellites along with one Mod2 center channel, mated with the company’s Uber Ten subwoofer. Orbs come standard in Gloss Metallic Black and Pearl White. (Hand-polished steel is available for an additional $200.00 and hand antiqued copper or bronze for $300.00.) We received the very handsomely finished Antiqued Bronze satellites and took a moment to admire their build quality. It’s clear just from holding the speaker that some time and attention was put into its design. This attention to quality has trickled down to the floor stands that are available for these speakers. Unfortunately, the cool aesthetic seems to end with the subwoofer. While not unattractive, the Uber Ten has a rather common satin black anthracite-like finish and cube shape that doesn’t really seem to match up with the rest of the system. Its compact size is a big plus, though.
The Mod2 is essentially two of the company’s spherical Mod1 speakers installed on a high-quality, heavy gauge steel desk stand and wired together. Each Orb contains a 3” full range polypropylene driver cone with a special surround material; fully shielded, high density neodymium magnet; and a slew of other fancy stuff that adds up to a well thought-out design. The frequency response of the Mod1 and Mod2 satellites on their own is not published. Instead, Orb claims a total system response of 28-20,000 hz. The Mod1 is listed with an 8 ohm nominal impedance, the Mod2 at 4 ohms nominal, and are considered to be safe to use with just about any receiver or amplifier. You can check with Orb about higher power amps and receivers. On the provided desk stand, the Mod2 measured 4 3/16” W x 9 ½ “ H x 4 7/8” D.
Holding down the bass fort, the Uber Ten subwoofer uses a 300 Watt BASH amplifier (500 watts peak) that optimizes the best of both the digital and analog worlds to give you a very efficient, lightweight amp that packs a mean punch. The amp drives an audiophile-grade 10” front firing woofer in a 13.5” square, ported cabinet. On the back are all of the controls you could really want: Volume, 40-160hz adjustable crossover dial and 0-180 continually adjustable phase. A 12dB/octave hi pass circuit is used in the crossover section which can be defeated with the flip of the provided crossover defeat switch.
The Mod2 satellites feature a small pair of binding posts on each of the speakers. As previously mentioned, the two are tied together in parallel with two small sections of what appeared to be 16AWG wire. Right away, we could see that we would not be able to use our speaker cables pre-terminated with banana plugs. Further, the 12AWG wire that we had on standby was far too large. Fortunately, we happened to have some wire pre-terminated with pin connectors that fit in well, but we couldn’t help but notice this was a major roadblock in terms of simplistic setup. Only the tightest wound speaker wire will fit into the small holes that are provided, and even that can be a bit of a chore with the jumpers already in place. While a bit of a hassle, you do benefit from the smaller binding posts. Any larger, and they would call undue attention to themselves.
Orb Audio Mod 2 Speakers and Binding Posts
Orb recommends that you break in their speakers before you make a serious evaluation, and so do we. Though the units sounded impressive enough out of the box, we found the initial lack of midrange presence a little disconcerting. Gathering that they had not been previously broken in, we gave all 5.1 channels a 40 hour burn in session in our listening room. What we returned to was a significantly more balanced sound. This experience brought to mind many conversations we’ve had with folks who may have hastily judged a speaker right out of the box.
We started out with some two-channel music to gauge the Mod2′s prowess at difficult music reproduction. In our experience, speakers that sound good for home theater use don’t necessarily sound great at reproducing music accurately. Thankfully, we’re happy to say that the Orbs didn’t fall into this category.
Since bass management is rare with many two-channel setups, we decided to connect the Uber/Ten and Mod2 satellites via the high level ins and outs on the subwoofer. Orb doesn’t indicate where the Mod1 and Mod2 start rolling off in the bass in any of its literature. Since the firm recommends a 120hz crossover setting in home theater receivers, we rolled the subwoofer’s adjustable crossover dial to the approximated region of 120hz as a starting place.
Our first selection needed to include some upright acoustic bass and some vocals, so we grabbed the SACD version of The Girl in the Other Room and queued up the title track. The tune opens up with Anthony Wilson’s guitar outlining the chord changes followed shortly with Diana’s breathy, close mic’d voice. We noticed right away that the guitar was nicely resolved with lots of separation in tonality and plenty of great attack. Soon thereafter, bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton joined in, creating a sudden crescendo that relaxes into the tune’s groove.
Here we noticed good definition in Clayton’s bass work, but stealing our attention was the sizzle of Hamilton’s ride cymbal. It was more forward than we had experienced in previous listening sessions, but not annoyingly so. This carried over a little in the reproduction of Diana’s voice, which we always felt was a little hot on this track anyway.
What really got our attention was the amazing sonic image these speakers painted: There seemed to be seamless coverage across the front of the room with pinpoint center vocals and instruments reaching beyond the outside of the speakers. We attribute this mostly to the lack of baffle on these speakers. While the sound stage was not as deep as we’ve heard with much larger units, the Mod2s did very admirably and not just for their size. We can think of many larger satellite and bookshelf speakers that really can’t hold a candle to the Orb’s in this regard.
Next, we decided to push the stereo setup with “Telegraph Road” from Dire Straits’ Love Over Gold album. We like this track because it really tests the dynamic capabilities of a speaker. From Mark Knopfler’s barely perceptible guitar flurries to the bombastic tom-toms on Terry Williams’ drum kit, the Orbs handled it all in style. At no point did we find it necessary to adjust the volume to hear the finer nuances or avoid crushing compression. The Orbs held together very well, indeed. While there wasn’t as much weight to the lower midrange as we normally like, it was easy to overlook. The zeal of the Mod2 satellites was engaging and the punch of the Uber Ten subwoofer well integrated and under control.
Orb Audio Mod 2 Speakers
Finally, we switched the system over to our Onkyo Home Theater receiver. We connected all of the satellites and ran a subwoofer cable over to the Uber Ten. We also disabled the sub’s internal crossover and selected 120hz in the Onkyo speaker setup menu. After a quick calibration, we popped in the DVD of Iron Man. And what a rock and roll show it was. Not only does the flick have amazing, low frequency bass, but the effect steering is also quite impressive – so much so, that at about 12 minutes in, we realized that we weren’t taking any notes!
Mind you, the center channel did lack a little upper midrange push that we’ve gotten used to with many dedicated center channels, but this proved to be to the device’s advantage during multi-channel listening sessions. The Uber Ten subwoofer handled itself well, and only at the most extreme volumes did it show signs of bottoming out. It did a great job of producing low, visceral bass and only occasionally chuffed with some of the loudest, lowest passages. We were very impressed considering the compact size of the subwoofer enclosure. Effects panned extremely well from one channel to another to boot. It seemed that excellent stereo imaging we had heard earlier was revealing itself in this 5.1 format and really added to the overall fun of watching the film.
In summary, we have to give this system and the company that builds it two enthusiastic thumbs up. The perfectly-matched satellites add an immersive aspect to movie watching and music listening that you just won’t find in most competing systems, including those that cost thousands more. Those seeking high-end sound from an attractive, compact package are in luck: This system fits the bill perfectly, and Orb offers a wealth of different home audio options to suit your needs, providing an affordable, streamlined and high-performance speaker system for just about everyone.
- Hip, modern design
- Handsome finish
- Solid hardware
- Very good overall sound.
- Binding posts are difficult to use
- High frequencies may be a little forward for some listeners
- Subwoofer finish not on par with its satellite mates