Orb Audio Mod2 Sound Quality and Conclusion
Right out of the box, I was impressed with the performance of this system. I expected to immediately hear a profound difference between the Orbs and my reference system. Honestly, I did not - at least not immediately. That, in and of itself, is a huge compliment as my subwoofer costs only a few dollars less than the entire Mod 2 system I was reviewing!
The first thing I listened to with this system was the Marillion: Marbles on the Road DVD. I have, in recent months, become a huge fan of this group and though the video quality of this DVD is not great and the vocals are a bit recessed, it has become one of the most listened-to DVDs in my home. This is not in a small part due to the fact that it is one of the only DVDs my wife and I both like. I found that the Orb Mod 2 system held up well and provided much of the same punch and impact that I came to love from this DVD. More importantly, many of the imperfections that I knew were present were still present with the Orbs. What does that mean? Well, I half expected things to sound different (if not better) because imperfections in the frequency response hid those issues. Not so. The Orbs showed off all the flaws as well as the strengths of this DVD.
Next, I put in select scenes from U-571, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Extended Edition), Matrix Revolutions, The Incredibles, and more; and I was constantly amazed by how low that little 8" subwoofer would extend. I kept expecting to hear it bottom out or break up, but it didn't, at least not until I put on the tap scene from Finding Nemo. At that point the sub pretty much went nuts (in a "put on a Captain Kirk mask and work coveralls" and not an "Uncle Charlie that grows tomatoes in the bathtub" kind of way) and made sounds that God never intended a sub make (it bottomed out). Now remember, I have a small listening room (12.5 by 14.5 with DIY absorbers ) so this type of system is really made for my size room. With the room reinforcement it is not hard for a good quality sub to fill the space convincingly. In a larger room, don't expect too much out of an 8" woofer.
The satellites were remarkably able to reproduce quite a bit of bass without losing too much on the high end. When evaluating the sub, I would walk around to see if the bass was coming from the sub or the sats. More often than I would have expected, it was the sats - and there was very little breakup or sound degradation. One test that I felt sure the Orbs would fail is the Elmo test. All you parents out there know what I am talking about. Those children DVDs are quite possibly the worst recorded things since the nails on chalkboard scene in Jaws. I stuck in my child's favorite, Sesame Street - Kids' Favorite Songs which features questionable acting, a potentially unethical plot, and enough sibilance to silence a Communications 101 class at the local junior college. This DVD is so bad (sound-wise) that I usually have to play it at least 20dBs lower on my Denon than any other DVD in my collection. I fully expected the Orbs to roll off the highs so that it was more bearable. Sadly (for my poor ears) they did not. I found it just as unbearable as my reference speakers (which was a little disappointing as I was looking forward to a few headache-free weeks).
So, the sub hits respectable lows and the satellites aren't rolling off the highs. What are the problems? Let's face it, you are just not going to get the detail out of a 3" one way speaker design that you will from a speaker with more drivers. It's asking a lot for a 3" driver to reproduce all those frequencies at the same time. When I stuck in the Blue Man Group: The Complex , it became readily apparent that something was missing. Now, does that mean that it is so obvious that any Tom, Dick, or Harry, will immediately notice it - absolutely not. Chances are, if you are not intimately familiar with a challenging disc, you will probably not know you are missing anything. My wife and I have the dubious honor of having a son that LOVES the Blue Man Group (guess which one I root for when he's trying to decide between the Sesame Street and Blue Man?) and my wife and I have probably heard it... oh... about a million times. So when I say it was immediately apparent that something was missing, you need to understand the context. One thing in that little sub's favor was that it managed to hit and maintain many of the low, sustained noted on The Complex DVD. I was particularly impressed with its performance on Track 7: "Piano Smasher". This track has the sub alternating between two very low notes, which the Orb Audio subwoofer reproduced admirably.
One thing that is true of direct radiators in general is that pans (especially across the back of the room) sound AWESOME. The Orbs were no different. I found that when music or sound effects panned between the rear speakers, the effect was extremely dramatic and convincing. The downside is that stationary rear effects tended to be VERY localizable. Because of the room size and other constraints, I had to put the surrounds on either side of the couch. While I feel this is a fair test of performance, as many of Orbs customers would have a similar set up, I think I would have preferred the speakers a little farther back. In many rooms, I'm sure I would recommend that users wall mount them.
To test the soundstaging ability of these speakers I listened to a variety of multi-channel music and movies. The verdict? The Orb Audio Mod 2s have very good soundstaging abilities. Albums and movies that I was very familiar with had all the correct location of independent elements. If I have one complaint I found that at times, the fronts did not mesh together with the center as well as I would have liked. This may be a set up issue as my fronts are spaced a little wider than is typical due to the presence of an entertainment center. When I moved them a little toward the center speaker (though I could not have kept them in this configuration indefinitely), I felt that the blend was better.
I found that I had to pump a few more dBs into the Orbs than my reference speakers to feel the same impact that my other speakers provided. While I never felt the speakers were "breaking up" at lower or moderate listening levels; at higher volumes, I did run into a few problems. Source material that is poorly recorded (perhaps a tad fatiguing or sibilant) tended to become unbearable at significantly high volumes. Some of my favorite (though not the best recorded) multi-channel albums, the ones I usually like to play very loudly, I simply had to turn down. I didn't find this to be much of a problem with movies, however, though occasionally dialogue would sound harsh. This may be because movies tend not to have as many sustained high notes as music. Given that the average customer is probably not trying to wake the neighbors with bone-crushing bass, this may not be that much of an issue.
Understand that these speakers are nearly perfectly marketed and designed for their target audience. However, we do have a few recommendations to Orb Audio:
- Powder coating option for the floor and desk stands (we've been informed that Orb Audio is working on this very product as we publish this review)
- Either a black grill for the sub or a more attractive finish for the cabinet
- Dedicated horizontal stand for center channels (this is also being readied for release in the next 60 days)
- Vertical adjustment abilities
Conclusions and Overall Perceptions
We all know what to expect from small satellite speaker systems with a "sub" woofer box right? Rolled off highs, bloated mids, no LFE to speak of... blah, blah, blah. Well, I'm here to tell you that you can take all those preconceived notions and throw them out the window! Is this under-$1200 system going to replace one of the Audioholics Reference Systems any time soon? No. But if you are looking for a good system for someone with a... shall we say... non-audio-friendly spouse, you can look no further. It will perform admirably for music and great for movies. I would especially recommend this system for someone's first foray into HT. With a high WAF, good performance, very, very, VERY reasonable price (considering the boxy competition) - you can't lose. If you have a smallish room, you will be blown away by the sound of these little speakers.
The Score Card
The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:
Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating
Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.
Audioholics Rating Scale
- — Excellent
- — Very Good
- — Good
- — Fair
- — Poor
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