When Orb Audio contacted me with a review opportunity I tried not to jump through my monitor with glee. I had been hearing good things about the company for a while and its most recent ad campaign was showing up in Google ad blocks all over the web. Orb is one of those companies that somehow managed to cultivate a word-of-mouth rep in the age of information overload, which told me one thing: they make a quality product. Audiophiles are a snarky bunch, and they don’t throw around phrases like “better than Bose” without cause. For all the good things I had heard about Orb, you’d think the company would have a tough time living up to expectations. Fortunately for all the audio freaks on a budget, that’s just not the case.
Orb shipped me the People’s Choice combo - a nice rig for your average home theater. The package includes double-Orbs for the left, right, and center channels, single-Orb satellites, and the company’s Super Eight 200-watt powered sub. My biggest concern on opening the box was design. I know, it’s an audio review, but you don’t live with my girlfriend. Our apartment is an eclectic mix of modernized antiques. She recently recovered an old horsehair-stuffed wingback with hip fabrics for my office. Could she possibly tolerate the modern industrial look of spherical speakers? I thought not.
I was wrong. The Hammered Earth finish fit surprisingly well in our living room. I know the sound nerds don’t care, but I really appreciate that Orb has made a product that’s versatile in both function and finish. If you’re going for a spartan, clean look, I’m sure the white finish will be perfect. For traditional tech, black’s perfect. Something a little rustic? Check out the hand antiqued bronze. Believe me, it will be much easier to convince the lady of the house to let you buy a speaker set if it doesn’t mess with her Feng Shui.
Now that you’re good and fatigued, wondering if I’ll ever get to the real point of this review, let’s talk sound. Audio reviews are always a little tough. There is no accounting for taste, and while I might like a nice, poppy mid-range with crisp but understated highs, I’ve been in a few “you-won’t-believe-your-ears” home theaters with nauseating bass and highs I wouldn’t force on a dog. You need to hear the speakers for yourself, which is why Orb’s 30-day home trial is such a great offer. You pay $9 shipping if you don’t want to keep the speakers.
The Orb system is designed for small to medium rooms. While the sound from this system could definitely fill a large room, provided you have a good receiver, in those cases you’d be better served by larger speakers. For everything else, I’d say Orb is a great fit. The very best thing about the system is its versatility. Running the subwoofer on crossover allowed me to really tune the sound the way I wanted. While stereo left and right were definitely responsive enough to handle whatever bass I pushed through them (music), they really started to shine around 140Hz. The mids were rich and full without drowning out the highs and the subwoofer was able to deliver a nice punch. I listen to a wide range of music, and from Miles Davis to Kanye, Gojira to Bela Fleck, I was repeatedly impressed by the balanced sound. Here and there I thought the low mid-range fell flat, but the feeling was occasional and quickly passed. It’s easy to forget such a small flaw with the rest of the sound is so nice.
A quick note about highs: please make sure you burn in your speakers. Fresh out of the box, the Orbs sounded a little tinny and flat. That’s a common problem with smaller speakers that haven’t had a good burn in period. Drive some 5-channel sound through the for at least 12 hours before you bother fine tuning your system. After about 10 hours my own system started to open up and really fill the room.
For film testing, I almost always turn to something like "Iron Man," followed by a few scenes from a more subtle film, something like the Coen brothers’ "No Country for Old Men." The bass during "Iron Man" was some of the best I’ve heard from an 8-inch sub. It was deep and rumbling during those rolling explosions and still punchy enough for impact hits. It’s a rare thing to be able to clearly discern effect steering across the left, right, and center channels, usually because they’re so close together. Sound panning was so flawless on the Orbs I almost felt like I was running side channels. I was seriously impressed with the sound clarity in hectic scenes like the F-22 chase.
Great film editing isn’t just about lots of sound, it’s often about silence. "No Country for Old Men" is one of the quietest films I’ve ever seen, but there are beautiful, subtle moments that are easy to miss without a decent set of speakers pushing the sound. When the film’s minimal score sneaks out from under the rumble of an old truck engine, the listener is left with an eerie, lingering feeling. That feeling is magnified when delivered with the clear ambience the Orb speakers provide.
For the quality sound Orb delivers, I would expect the People’s Choice combo to run above the $3,000 mark. I was shocked to see a price tag less than half that amount, at roughly $1100. As far as I know, it is not possible to get another speaker set that will sound this good for that price. Orb has put together an incredible product at one of the best prices on the market. Again, I can’t say enough how impressed I was by Orb’s versatility. If that $1100 is out of your price range, it’s easy to justify building an Orb system piece by piece. You’ll have great sound with your starter system and once it’s complete, you can happily enjoy the sound of an air-tank cattle gun punching through a skull in stunning clarity.