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Parts Express Orian 3-Way High Output Bookshelf Speaker Kit Review

by January 09, 2024
Parts Express Orian 3-Way Bookshelf Speaker

Parts Express Orian 3-Way Bookshelf Speaker

  • Product Name: Orian 3-Way High Output Bookshelf Speaker Kit
  • Manufacturer: Parts Express
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStar
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarStarStar
  • Review Date: January 09, 2024 00:05
  • MSRP: $ 674.98/pair
  • Buy Now
Parts Express Orian DIY High Output 3-Way Bookshelf Speaker Review
  • Design: 3-way bookshelf speaker
  • Tweeter/midrange: 5” poly mid + 1” silk dome tweeter in concentric configuration
  • Bass driver: long-throw 8” w/ treated paper & Kevlar reinforced cone
  • Power Handling: 150 watts RMS/200 watts max
  • Frequency Response: +/-3dB from 37-20,000Hz (+/-6dB from 30-20,000Hz)
  • Impedance: 4 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 83dB 1w/1m
  • Dimensions: 21” H x 11” W x 13” D
  • Weight: approx. 38 lbs. each when complete

Pros

  • Tremendous bass for a stand-mount speaker
  • Warm, easy sound
  • Can be used lying on side without sound quality loss
  • Extremely high-value audio system when complete
  • Wide, spacious soundstage
  • Usable in near-field as well as far-field
  • Good dynamic range for stand-mount speaker

Cons

  • Does not present the most precise imaging
  • Large

 

cx3 pair4Orian DIY Bookshelf Speaker Introduction

Any audio enthusiast in North America who has ever flirted with the idea of building their own loudspeaker will know what Parts Express is. It is the leading supplier of components and DIY audio gear in North America. Audioholics has done a lot of reviews of Dayton Audio products, a brand owned by Parts Express, but we have only ever dealt with their finished systems. Today, we are going to get some grease on our elbows and attempt to tackle one of Parts Express’s DIY kits: the Orian 3-Way High Output Bookshelf Speaker. While we mostly deal with finished products, we have long been toying with the idea of reviewing an unfinished kit speaker. Audioholics noticed the Orian design in our coverage of the 2023 AXPONA, and we found the design so interesting that it has finally pushed us off the ledge into covering a DIY kit speaker. As its full name indicates, the Orian is a 3-way bookshelf speaker that promises lots of displacement. It’s a large standmount speaker that has a coaxial driver for the midrange and tweeter and a beefy 8” subwoofer driver for bass. The chamber for the midrange cone is open so that it has a partial dipole acoustic radiation pattern. What we find appealing about this design is that it should be a good full-range solution for near-field listening due to the coaxial driver and good as a typical stereo or home theater speaker due to the amount of air displacement it is seemingly capable of. How well does it accomplish this? That is what we intend to find out  — assuming we don’t screw up the assembly process.

Parts Express Orian Bookshelf Speaker Kit Packing

Orion boxes

The parts for the Orian arrived in two boxes. A large box contained the enclosure panels and the other contained all other components. Both boxes used a generous amount of crumpled paper to protect the items inside, and it should be sufficient to survive the typical abuses of parcel shipping. The packages contained all the parts needed for the two loudspeakers. The kit does omit loudspeaker feet, but that isn’t mission-critical for a fully functioning loudspeaker, and people have a wide variety of preferences regarding speaker feet, so it isn’t a bad idea for Parts Express to skip that component. Of course, the user will also have to supply any paint, primer, or finishing items.

 Parts Express Orian Bookshelf Speaker Kit Design Analysis

Because the Orian is a kit that must be assembled by the user, we must view its design a little differently. We have to examine what parts are included and how they have to be put together in addition to our typical loudspeaker design analysis. As mentioned above, all the parts needed for a complete speaker are included, except the user’s finish of choice. This particular kit is a bit involved, so novice loudspeaker builders should carefully look through the instructions posted on the product page for the Orian before placing an order (Orian Assembly Manual). This kit isn’t as easy to assemble as a piece of furniture from Ikea, yet I was able to put it together without much experience in loudspeaker building. However, I had help from experienced technicians on certain aspects. I also took time to look up proper assembly techniques on points where I didn’t have any experience. 

Note: I asked the kit’s principal designer, Chris Perez, what level of difficulty he would give this kit, and on a scale of one to five with one being the easiest, he said this was a four.

Orion parts4 

The good news is that the Orian assembly manual is very thorough and clear. There are a lot of steps toward completing this speaker, but each step is covered carefully. Unlike directions for Ikea furniture where a dozen steps are grouped into one, each step described by the Orian manual is mostly an individual action, so there isn’t as much confusion as with many other consumer products that require assembly. Nonetheless, I would urge buyers to carefully read over the instruction manual in its entirety before beginning the kit; I did this and it helped me understand the logic of the assembly process which possibly helped to prevent mistakes later on.

Dayton CX150 8  Dayton CX150 8 cone side

As stated above, the Orian is a 3-way stand mount speaker that uses a coaxial driver in an open back cabinet. The coaxial driver is the Dayton Audio CX150-8, which has a 1” silk dome tweeter nested in a 5 1/4” diameter polypropylene midrange cone. The midrange uses a 1 ⅕” diameter voice coil in a large ferrite magnet and is spec’d to have 5 millimeters of one-way linear excursion, which is a healthy amount of throw for a midrange. The tweeter has a neodymium magnet and uses the cone shape of the midrange as a waveguide. The driver has a thick, cast aluminum frame and a very substantial feel.

Dayton Classic 8 motor side Dayton Classic 8 cone side

Bass is provided by the Dayton Audio DCS205-4. This 8” bass driver has nearly 9mm of one-way linear excursion. It uses a 4.7” diameter magnet with a 1” thickness. The back plate is bumped out to make room for more excursion. Venting is done through the pole piece which also has a copper cap to help reduce inductance. The voice coil has four layers and is wound around a 1 1/2” polyimide former. This is a much beefier bass driver than what typical bookshelf loudspeakers have and is something you would expect to see on a brawny tower speaker.

cx3 crossover assembly   cx3 crossover

The crossover circuit is a hefty 15-element piece that uses high-quality components usually seen in high-end speakers. Assembling it is a bit painstaking but not too difficult. The capacitors are mostly Dayton Audio units that have 5% tolerances. We get two chunky iron-core inductors and two air-core inductors. The included resistors are much more substantial than the tiny things I usually see in loudspeaker crossovers. What is very convenient is that Parts Express has included a printed circuit board with the conductive traces already laid out instead of blank breadboards, so all the user has to do is glue the components on the board and then solder them to the solder pads on PCB. Special attention should be paid to how the solder adheres to the board and wire. For those who do not have much experience in electrical soldering, I strongly recommend that they look over some tutorials before attempting this. The crossover frequencies are 500Hz from bass driver to midrange driver and 4kHz from midrange driver to tweeter. 

cx3 mid chamber assemblyAll of the enclosure paneling is made from ¾” thick MDF. The complex dado and rabbet joints that are CNC’d into the panels mean that duplicating this kit with your own woodworking skills would be very difficult unless you had a CNC machine as well as the plans. In order to assemble the enclosure, users will need wood glue and 2-foot clamps. I had a bunch of 1-foot clamps and thought I was covered but unfortunately found out that the enclosure had a greater depth than 1 foot. The good news is that users will not need clamps with really powerful clamping forces, and the light -light-to-medium-force clamps that will suffice for this kit are not expensive. I was able to get everything done with two 1-foot clamps and two 2-foot clamps. Before starting to glue everything together, I would advise users to test fit all the panels together to ensure all the panels conform nicely. Some of the dado joints were pretty tight, and I found it did require a bit more force than I expected to get everything together; I am glad I found that out before I started gluing anything so I knew what to expect.

I decided to round all of the edges of the Orian speakers that I built because I thought it would be easier to paint evenly than the hard 90-degree edges of the MDF. Sharp edges also dent much easier if they make contact with anything, and I wanted something that wouldn’t dent or chip the finish so easily. For this, I bought an edge chamfer with a rounding bit that made it easy to round the corners. I also decided to put internal edge braces in the speaker to help reinforce the enclosure to make it sturdier — not that the cabinet wasn’t sturdy as is, but I decided to make it extra durable in case I ever wanted to ship it anywhere.

Orian pair bareThe most difficult part of constructing the Orian was painting it, but that was a difficulty I brought on myself due to the finish that I desired. On this point, I strongly urge buyers to look up tutorials on how to properly paint MDF. It is not a wood that will give you fabulous results from just going over a couple of times with a primer-and-paint-in-one finish. For my speakers, I gave them a couple of layers of Zinsser FastPrime oil-based primer/sealer and sanded down the wood for a very smooth surface before applying each coat. I decided to paint the speakers blue because nearly every speaker that I have reviewed is either black or wood veneer, and I wanted something unique, so I went with a dark blue. Rust-Oleum’s ‘Sapphire Blue’ satin protective enamel was the closest approximation to what I had envisioned. I ended up using four cans since I made my fair share of mistakes and had to sand off quite a few sections to redo them. It is important to allow for enough drying time for each coat of paint, and since I had applied many coats, it took about a week of applying a new coat daily to get the nice, uniform finish that I wanted. While the final results weren’t perfect, I was still pretty happy with them, and I wasn’t expecting perfection anyway since I was a novice at this kind of painting.

cx3 pair12 

Once the cabinet finish is complete, the next step is to install the acoustic damping and then the crossover circuit. Parts Express gives you just enough acoustic stuffing to cover the interior of the enclosure. I had some extra acoustic stuffing of my own on hand, so I applied some on the back panel as well as in the space between the midwoofer chamber and side panels. The extra that I applied probably doesn’t make a significant difference, but I wasn’t doing anything else with it, so I figured why not. Installing the crossover circuit on the bottom panel was a bit tricky because there was not a whole lot of space to work in the enclosure itself. Wiring up the crossover to the drivers and input terminals is easy, but it really pays off to have all of the wires, as well as binding posts, clearly labeled with stickers, or else that process will become very tedious. It’s very important to make sure the tweeter wire is going to the tweeter and the midrange wire is going to the midrange. The tweeter can be destroyed very quickly when amplified if the leads are accidentally swapped out of the crossover and it is being fed the midrange signal.

It will be around this point when users decide whether to put damping in the rear chamber or let it emit all of the rear midrange energy. The purpose of the open back to the midrange cone is to add more late acoustic reflections, which add a sense of spaciousness and depth to the sound. We will get into the audible differences, both subjective and objective, further on in this review, for those who want a more informed choice in this decision, but it is also easy enough to just install and uninstall the ‘Acousta-stuff burrito’ that damps the rear energy output, so users can hear the difference for themselves. 

cx3 rearBefore powering up the speakers, users may want to double-check the impedance to make sure everything is working properly. The easiest way to do this is to use the Dayton Audio DATS V3 test system from Parts Express ( Dayton Audio DATS V3 Product Page) and compare their impedance plot to the measured response in this review. However, that is $130 for something that the user may only use once if they are only interested in this kit and do not already own the DATS V3 system. A less expensive but much more involved process to measure impedance can be done with Room EQ Wizard and a 100-ohm resistor (Impedance Measurement using REW), but that isn’t really a method I would recommend to anyone who doesn’t have any training as an electrical technician. Alternatively, users with measurement microphones could perform on-axis acoustic measurements of the speakers and compare their measurements with our acoustic measurements or the measurement shown in the Orian assembly manual.

With Orian speakers completed and verified to be properly functioning, it was now time to hear what they could do, so I sat down to finally hear what I had put together…

Parts Express Orian Bookshelf Speaker Kit Listening Sessions

In my 24’ by 13’ (approximately) listening room, I set up the speakers with a few feet of stand-off distances between the back wall and sidewall and equal distance between speakers and listening position. I angled the speakers with a toe-in to face the listening position. The listening distance from the speakers was about 9 feet. Processing was handled by a Marantz 7705, and amplification was handled by the Monoprice Monolith 5x200. The speaker stands were some Monoprice Monolith 24-inch Steel Stands. Subwoofers were not used.

Music Listening

For something that emphasizes human vocals, I listened to a recent release titled “Ligeti: Complete Works for a Cappella Choir.” The title aptly describes the content: all music composed by Gyorgi Ligeti for choir sans instrumental accompaniment. While Ligeti composed a wide range of music, he is most popularly known for his experimental choral pieces that were used in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” However, much of his choral compositions took a more traditional style, although that was mainly the stuff that he produced before fleeing Hungary after the failed uprising in 1956. This two-hour album is a comprehensive record of all of his acappella efforts. It is performed by the SWR Vokalensemble under the direction of Yuval Weinberg. This album is beautifully produced by the SWR Classics label, and I streamed it in hi-resolution from Qobuz.

This music was gorgeously realized by the Orian speakers.

This music was gorgeously realized by the Orian speakers. The soundstage projected by the speakers was fairly wide, and I had the impression of listening at a close seating proximity to the performers. This is possibly the result of the performance being recorded with overhead microphones, which is common practice with these types of recordings. Imaging wasn’t super sharp, but choral music doesn’t normally have sharp imaging unless there is a lead singer present. That being said, it was easy to hear where the groupings of the voice types were. I did not hear anything amiss tonally, and all of the voices sounded full and natural. The concert hall setting came through nicely, and the speakers helped to make my room sound larger than it was. I started listening without the acoustic damping in the midrange chamber and then filled the chamber later on. Although a difference certainly existed, I can’t say the difference was major. Without the acoustic stuffing, the soundstage seemed broader and perhaps a bit deeper, but I think that the inherent spaciousness of this recording does not make it a great example for discerning that type of difference. In the end, the performance of this music was sublime, and the voices and singing were beautifully reproduced by the Orian speakers. I was left wanting for nothing while listening to this album.

 Ligeti Acapella Choir  Dionysus

These are bookshelf speakers that sound like full-range tower speakers.

Dead Can Dance can always be counted on for an interesting sound, but it can be hard to keep up with their output since they keep breaking up and reforming. I hadn’t heard anything new from them for many years, but recently I discovered a concept album from them called “Dionysus,” released in 2018. This album has two lengthy tracks which encompass seven movements with a total runtime of 36 minutes. This music celebrates the rituals for the title deity Dionysus, the ancient Greek god of wine-making, drunkenness, fertility, religious ecstasy, disinhibition, and other related subjects (basically, he is the god of partying). Dead Can Dance’s primal yet epic sound was certainly appropriate for the celebration of an ancient deity. As always, their production is impeccable, which makes this, as well as any of their albums, terrific for showcasing the capability of a great sound system.

The first thing I noted was the full sound that these standmount speakers produced. These are bookshelf speakers that sound like full-range tower speakers. The bass drums and bass guitar had a meaty thump that lent the sound a realistic depth. The imaging ability of the Orian speakers was better demonstrated on this music, and lead instruments and singers were given a center placement, albeit a somewhat broad one. It wasn’t the most precise imaging, especially when the rear midrange wasn’t damped, but I knew going in that this dipole design probably wouldn’t have laser-like imaging. The difference that acoustically damping the midrange chamber made was much more appreciable in this music. Without the stuffing, the soundstage was wider, but imaging was much more ambiguous. Damping the rear chamber of the midrange considerably sharpened up imaging, but it was still somewhat broad; I preferred the soundstage when the midrange rear was damped since it was already fairly wide even with the damping, so I left it in that configuration for the rest of my listening. Instruments and voices sounded natural, and I did not get a sense of uneven tonality, with or without the rear damping. In the end, I quite enjoyed “Dionysus,” and I felt it was every bit on the level of Dead Can Dance’s other album, even though it is a concept album (concept albums can often be gimmicky and quickly tiresome).

For the kind of soundstage that only purely electronic music could deliver, I listened to “Best Unknown,” an album that falls under the subgenre of ‘dreampunk’ which is characterized by a mellow and futuristic sound with compositions that suggest alienation and melancholia. This album is a collaboration between The Microgram and Sangam, who are two major artists within this genre. The aesthetic of “Blade Runner” casts a shadow over the genre as a whole, although most of this music takes that as a starting point to explore other emotional flavors. “Best Unknown” is a good representation of the sound of dreampunk, and I think this music is good at illuminating a loudspeaker system’s soundstage width and precision due to the atmospheric sound and production techniques used.

When I started listening to this album, the depth and power of the bass was the first thing that caught my attention, much like “Dionysus.” In fact, I noted that the bass was a bit hot relative to the rest of the frequency band, although not annoyingly so. It was easier to hear on this album than on other content since the bass notes here can have a very long sustain. There was enough bass weight to tilt the overall sound into a warm presentation, but not enough to give the sound a droning quality, which I was thankful for. With respect to soundstage, the Orian speakers projected a broad, enveloping sound that stretched out well past the width of their placement. Many of the lead synths in these tracks were arpeggiated electronic bells that danced across the soundstage with well-defined movement (such as in track 7, “Adapting”), and they were often accompanied by reverberant, phasey strings that had a panoramic reach. The breadth of the soundstage of the Orian speakers was very fitting for this type of music, and as much as I hate the word ‘synergy,’ I have to admit that these speakers got along with this music especially well. They nailed the sweeping atmosphere as well as the intricate synth sounds to create a cinematic, vivid musical setting. It sounded great, and I don’t know what a more expensive speaker system could do beyond my listening experience with the Orian speakers on “Best Unknown.”

 Best Unknown  Dance with the Devil

Large bookshelf speakers with 8” subwoofer drivers ought to be pretty capable in bass, and to test that theory I enlisted “Dance with the Devil” by Drone. Even though this is a newer release, having come out in April of 2023, it does have a stripped-down old-school garage/dubstep/trap taste but with very modern production techniques. The bass in this album hits hard, and the volume knob doesn’t need to be pushed very far before woofers are really starting to move on any sound system. How would the Orian speakers withstand this assault?

the Orian speakers could affect an almost subwoofer-like quality.

From the first track onward, the Orian speakers could affect an almost subwoofer-like quality. I did notice a rattling sound from one of the speakers during some of the bass notes, and a bit of investigation found it to be one of the wires, which was vibrating against the underside of the port. I solved the problem by applying some adhesive padding, and after that it was all clean, deep bass. Users will want to make sure that any place where wires could contact the port surface is addressed, and a good way to do that is to apply some kind of soft padding over the port surface and then strap the wire against the padding. But back to the music; I cranked up the volume, and the Orian speakers could handle the wider dynamic range without breaking a sweat. Beats had a tactile punch, and basslines had a palpable growl. I didn’t notice any distortion or compression at higher volumes, but I didn’t absolutely blast these speakers as I might with a 15” subwoofer or large tower speakers. It may have been a tad hypocritical on my part, but I didn’t want to risk damaging these speakers that I spent so much time constructing. Besides that, while Parts Express calls them ‘high output’ speakers, their specified sensitivity is actually on the lower side at 83dB for 1 watt at 1 meter, so I wouldn’t expect their dynamic range to be endless. That being said, they certainly have greater air displacement ability than most other stand-mount speakers, and on “Dance with the Devil,” they proved that they could pound hard, especially in bass frequencies. Those looking for a stand-mount speaker that can handle heavy electronic bass music without the assistance of subwoofers have a terrific option in the Orian speakers.  

Movie Watching

the pair of Orian speakers provided an immersive experience.

I like to use horror movies in loudspeaker testing because so much is suggested through sound rather than shown outright (at least in competent horror movies). And so, a loudspeaker’s ability to render a soundstage, as well as sharp dynamics, can be effectively demonstrated in a well-produced horror film. One that looked like a good tool toward this end was the 2023 release “The Boogeyman,” adapted from a Stephen King short story. I hadn’t yet seen this movie, but it concerns the two grieving sisters of a family that lost their mother. Their father, a therapist, is too preoccupied with his own pain to take seriously their claims of sinister happenings in their home, which started to occur after the visit of a distraught patient. As a major Hollywood production, I expect this movie to have top-shelf sound engineering.

“The Boogeyman” did rely heavily on sound to produce its scares, and the Orian speakers were up to the task of delivering them. The monster of the movie arises from dark spaces and has a preference for closets and underneath beds. As with the better horror movies, very little of the monster is shown until the end, so it is largely up to the sound mix to conjure the creature. The Orian speakers did a great job of depicting the menacing sounds of the creature and where those sounds spatially emanated from. One of the tricks of the monster was that it could mimic the voices of nearby people, albeit in a distorted manner, and the Orian speaker was able to reproduce its speech with the appropriate looming undertones and also where that voice was coming from. Effects noises were given a lively reproduction, and all the crashing, slamming doors, and jump scares could be flinch-inducing as startling noises. At times, a deep rumbling bass was generated to indicate a monstrous presence, and the Orian speakers could affect an almost subwoofer-like quality. in those instances. Adding to the tension was Patrick Jonsson’s effective orchestral score. The music could impart subtler emotional dimensions to scenes as well as creepy ambiance and violent pandemonium. It was a terrific score that was delivered impactfully by the Orians. “The Boogeyman” probably would have benefited from the all-encompassing spatial cues of a full surround sound system, but the stereo pair of Orian speakers with which I watched this movie managed to provide an immersive experience nonetheless. It was a creepy, well-made movie and deserves to be seen with a serious audio system such as a pair of these potent bookshelf speakers.

 TheBoogeyman  Covenant

Another movie I was interested in seeing was Guy Ritchie’s “The Covenant,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal. This new action-drama on Netflix concerns an Afghan war veteran who returns to Afghanistan to save the life of an interpreter who had previously saved his own life during the war. “The Covenant” has received much praise, and its action scenes looked like they could be a good exhibition of the Orian’s dynamic range. 

“The Covenant” turned out to have more action than I was expecting, since trailers made it look more like a drama, so I was glad to have such capable speakers on hand. Action scenes were recreated with intensity by the Orian speakers. Gunshots and explosions were given a solid punch and deep rumble. The low-frequency whooshing of helicopters in flight sounded truly full-range on the Orians, and again I was not left wanting for a subwoofer at all. A subwoofer might have been able to contribute some infrasonic elements that would be beyond these speakers’ capabilities, but I don’t think anyone would have known unless they were intimately familiar with the original sound mix. Dialogue intelligibility was excellent, at least when the characters were not speaking Pashto (my Pashto is a bit rusty). There are scenes where military chatter over the radio is subtitled, but I didn’t need captions since I could hear it all clearly with the Orians. Chris Benstead’s evocative orchestral score goes heavy on strings and percussion, and it sounded fabulous on the Orian speakers. This sound mix was a bit unusual in that it brought in many moments of subjectivity from the lead character’s perspective, and that effect was strikingly represented by the Orians. Overall, I enjoyed “The Covenant,” and would strongly encourage viewers to see it with a great loudspeaker system like the Orians to get the most out of its intricate sound mix. 

Parts Express Orian Bookshelf Speaker Kit Measurements

The Orian speakers were measured in free air at a height of 7.5 feet at a 1-meter distance from the microphone, and the measurements were gated at an 11-millisecond delay. In this time window, some resolution is lost below 250 Hz and accuracy is completely lost below 110 Hz. Measurements have been smoothed at a 1/12 octave resolution.

cx3 spin o rama 

The Orians produced broad and deep soundstage in exchange for pinpoint imaging.

The above graph shows the direct-axis frequency response and other curves that describe the Orian’s amplitude response in a number of ways. For more information about the meaning of these curves, please refer to our article Understanding Loudspeaker Measurements Part 1. The results here are fairly smooth until we get into the tweeter’s band which looks to be a bit lower than the midrange’s. While I thought the Orian speakers were on the warm side, I didn’t notice much missing treble, and I think the explanation can be seen in the directivity indexes. As the on-axis and listening response declines in treble, which looks to start around 6kHz, the directivity index also declines, meaning that the dispersion in that range widens out. In other words, more acoustic energy is being spread out over a wider angle, at least out to 10kHz where the dispersion narrows down again. That means that the lowered on-axis treble is being supplemented by acoustic reflections from elevated treble at far off-axis angles. Since a significant chunk of higher frequencies is composed of late reflections, one byproduct of this approach is that precise imaging is pretty much impossible, and this is what I heard. We get a very broad and deep soundstage in exchange for pinpoint imaging; some listeners will enjoy the broad imaging that this serves, but others will prefer a more focused soundstage. I can appreciate both approaches, and I would say this is purely a matter of personal preference. It makes for a strange graph, but I enjoyed the sound that it resulted in.

cx3 3D waterfall response

cx3 2D waterfall response

 

The above graphs depict the speaker’s lateral responses out to 90 degrees in five-degree increments. More information about how to interpret these graphs can be read in this article: Understanding Loudspeaker Review Measurements Part II. In these graphs, we get a closer look at the story that was only hinted at in the previous ‘spin-o-rama’ family of curves. A splurge of off-axis treble begins to shore up a decline in ‘listening window’ treble above 5kHz or so. I think this is the result of the way that the tweeter dome interacts with the midrange cone as a waveguide rather than the dipole design in which the midrange is mounted. The on-axis response is admirably linear until 8kHz or so, and that is the frequency band in which most content lies. We do see some mild off-axis cancellation lobes above 500hz, and this is likely a consequence of the dipole design; I was expecting more severe off-axis nulls from the dipole cancellation, and these artifacts are probably not audible in any normal listening situation. They are not particularly wide nulls and also shift in frequency per angle, so acoustic reflections will likely fill in any dips in the in-room response at a listening position in a normal room. We can see in the far off-axis response that the midrange doesn’t have perfect directivity matching with the tweeter, but perfect directivity matching was never in the cards for a loudspeaker with a dipole midrange, so I don’t think that matters too much.

CX3 polar map 

The above polar map graphs show the same information that the preceding graphs do, but they depict it in a way that can offer new insight regarding these speakers’ behavior. Instead of using individual raised lines to illustrate amplitude, these polar maps use color to portray amplitude, and this allows the use of a purely angle/frequency axis perspective. The advantage of these graphs is that they can let us see broader trends in the speaker’s behavior more easily. For more information about the meaning of these graphs, we again refer the reader to Understanding Loudspeaker Review Measurements Part II.

As can be seen in the above graph, the Orian speakers constrict in dispersion as the midrange crosses over to the tweeter. The tweeter expands dispersion again but in a somewhat erratic manner. This polar map makes it look like the speaker is beaming like a laser above 8kHz or so and thus would have a very small ‘sweet spot’ where listeners must be on-axis to hear treble, but in practice, I found the speaker did not greatly change its tonality within a somewhat broad angle — I would say +/- 25 degrees is about the range I experimented with. Nonetheless, I did settle on having the speaker aimed directly at my listening position, and that is what I would recommend for most listeners for the most even tonality. Outside of that range, listeners might get hit with some sharp nulls, but I don’t think they have a wide enough frequency band to have a major effect on the sound, although they probably do have an overall effect of softening the sound of the speaker.

cx3 2D waterfall response Vertical 

The above graph shows the Orian’s response behavior along its vertical axis where zero degrees is directly in front of the tweeter, negative degree values are below the tweeter, and positive degree values are above the tweeter. One of the charms of a coaxial design is that it doesn’t change its acoustic behavior much if the speaker is standing upright or lying on its side. Laying the Orian on its side may increase some baffle reflection and diffraction effects along the horizontal axis, but I wouldn’t guess that would make a major impact on the sound character. The vertical axis response of the Orian is going to be roughly similar to its horizontal axis response, so those users who have a wide space for a standmount speaker — but not a tall one — have a very interesting choice in the Orians. Traditional bookshelf speakers are two-way speakers that are simply not suited for use on their side since they are engineered for a much better horizontal response over a vertical one, and a sideways orientation flips these axial behaviors. The problem with that is the horizontal response is almost always much more important unless the listener has to be seated way above or below the speakers. This is not a dilemma for the Orian, and it has wider vertical and more even coverage than traditional stand-mount speakers.

cx3 low frequency response 

The above graphs show the Orian’s low-frequency responses that I captured using groundplane measurements (where the speaker and microphone are on the ground in a wide-open area). In my listening, I did get a sense that the bass region was overall a tad elevated compared to higher frequencies, and we do see that here, although not as much as I was expecting. On the whole, the woofer level looks to be maybe two to three decibels hot on average, and this contributed to the warmth of the sound. While I thought it did pull the sound away from a more neutral signature, I didn’t mind it, nor did I find it obtrusive. For my own tastes, hot bass can be intrusive, but more so in cases where port tuning is very hot to make some bookshelf speakers sound bigger than they really are. These end up having big spikes in lower mid-bass, and that can give those speakers a monotonous hum that makes their bass a one-note wonder. In the Orians, the subwoofer driver’s entire range has a slight elevation, and this lends it a weightiness without hammering on a narrow range. While my ideal is bass that is even with the rest of the range, the voicing of the Orians doesn’t bother me, and most people seem to like it. The bass range can be easily tamed by equalization for those who prefer a more balanced presentation.

As for low-frequency extension, this bookshelf speaker impressively digs down to about 34Hz before the roll-off begins. Room gain should net a solid response down to 30Hz or even a bit lower unless the room is very large. That kind of extension matches what we see in most tower speakers.

cx3 rear damping difference 

The above graph shows the difference that applying the acoustic damping to the rear chamber will make to the Orians. The most affected frequency band starts at 400Hz and ends around 3kHz. The stuffing doesn’t fully stop rear acoustic radiation but rather attenuates it by about 6dB on average. 6dB is not an insignificant reduction, although the Orians will still produce enough sound out of the rear chamber to have an audible effect. As would be expected, the affected region is primarily just the midrange. Above that range, the output is too low to matter at a 20dB drop-off. As was stated in the listening sessions section, the difference between damped and undamped operation was audible. While imaging was not razor sharp with the damping installed, it was considerably tightened from a fully open midrange chamber. When fully open, the soundstage was extremely wide but the imaging was very broad, at least in my listening room. Those who want “bigger-than-life” imaging will enjoy the sound character of these speakers with the rear chamber fully open. It can produce a pretty epic sound that is appropriate for the right content. The acoustic stuffing ‘burrito’ is easy to insert or remove, so it’s not hard to dial back the rear radiation to minimize this “big” sound character on content where it’s not wanted.   

CX3 impedance

The above graph shows the electrical behavior of the Orian speakers. This has to be considered a 4-ohm speaker since most of the mid-bass dwells in that range, but it’s a relatively benign load on the whole. Few amplifiers would have trouble driving these speakers. We can see from the dip in the low-frequency saddle that port tuning seems to be about 34Hz, which matches what we see in the low-frequency amplitude response.

I measured sensitivity to be 85.5dB for 2.83v at 1 meter, and that would seem to be significantly above Parts Express’ sensitivity specification of 83dB for 1 watt at 1 meter, but when we factor in how the relationship between impedance and voltage affects power as measured in wattage, the difference makes perfect sense. Hoffman’s Iron Law dictates that the Orian can not be a particularly sensitive speaker; in the trade-off between small size, high efficiency, and low-frequency extension, Parts Express opted for low-frequency extension and small size over high efficiency. As was said before, it has the displacement to produce high output, but the required power must be supplied. For some nice dynamics, I would recommend at least a 100-watt amplifier.

Parts Express Orian Bookshelf Speaker Kit Conclusion

The Parts Express Orian speaker kit is a bit more difficult to assess than a normal loudspeaker since the user has to build it. That raises the question: how much do you like building things? The value proposition of this goes way up if you do enjoy the assembly process. However, in my opinion, it is still a great value if you just want a serious bookshelf speaker and view the assembly phase as just a chore, but then you have to consider the time spent constructing it as a part of the cost. The time spent building it will vary according to each person’s experience; an experienced woodworker or loudspeaker-building hobbyist will make quick work of it, whereas a novice like myself will spend a lot more time trying to understand each aspect of assembly to make sure it is being done correctly. I have to say that there is a sense of accomplishment after the speaker is complete, and that is worth something, although that investment is not monetary but rather how much effort is put in to make sure everything is done right.

cx3 pair10 

As a DIY kit, I think that while this is a rather complex loudspeaker, a huge plus is that the instructions are very clear and easy to follow. The instructions are so well done that even though I was new to loudspeaker building and this is considered a higher-difficulty kit, I was still able to get it right in the end with few mistakes. It also helped that there weren’t really any curveballs, and the assembly process worked just as the instructions had anticipated, so I never felt confused or like I was missing something at any point.

Orian Associated Strengths & Weaknesses 

Let’s now discuss the finished loudspeaker and its strengths and weaknesses. In summarizing a product, I always start with the weaknesses since I am the kind of guy who wants the bad news first. The Orian is an unconventional design, and there are inevitable trade-offs for what it is trying to accomplish. Its dipole midrange is intended to create spaciousness and depth, but that comes at the cost of precise imaging. That can be mitigated by inserting the supplied acoustic damping in the rear chamber, but that only reduces the dipole imprecision, and it still can not match a traditional monopole design with respect to sharp imaging. I do think one of the contributors to the imprecise imaging is the way that the tweeter interacts with its surround, as well as the midrange cone shape. It creates an odd dispersion pattern that has off-axis flares that reflectively fill in for on-axis dips. The result of the dipole design and strange tweeter dispersion is that the Orian speaker does project a wide and spacious soundstage, but imaged objects do sound larger than on typical speakers. This doesn’t bother me, but those audiophiles who are after pinpoint imaging will want to steer clear of this design. On the other hand, there are a lot of people who would enjoy this ‘bigger-than-life’ sound character. It can create a pretty epic feel that suits some material fantastically. If you want a colossal ‘Imax’ sound, try these speakers in full dipole mode.

cx3 final enclosure adhesion2 

I don’t think that the Orian speakers have any other major weaknesses outside of their inexact imaging. If I wanted to pick nits, I could say that the upper-bass and lower midrange response is a bit rocky, but the overall response in that region does adhere to a baseline, so that region should sound more or less neutral. And, realistically speaking, the room’s acoustics will have a lot more to do with the sound in that range than the speakers, so long as there isn’t a recession or elevation across a wide band. Speaking of which, the range of the bass driver does have a slight but audible rise because its elevated response does extend over a wide bandwidth, and this does take it a step away from rigorous neutrality. I wasn’t bothered by it, and most people like their bass hotter than I do, so I don’t think this will be a problem for anyone.

It should be kept in mind that these are large standmount speakers, much larger than typical bookshelf speakers. This is not a criticism, and most prospective buyers will know this going in, but it does limit the situations they can fit in on account of their size.

With discussion of the Orian’s weaknesses out of the way, let’s now recount their strengths. One of the main strengths of these speakers is their bass capability. As was mentioned before, these are bookshelf speakers with tower-speaker bass. Few people will feel the need to add a subwoofer to these as a system. They should yield a strong response down to 30Hz in typical rooms, and they have the muscle to back up that extension. In movies or music, they had a real thump or rumble that affected a full and deep sound.

cx3 pair3 

The Orian is an eminently listenable speaker that will not cause any listening fatigue.

Related to their bass authority is the Orian’s overall dynamic range. If you give them a decent amount of power, they can move a lot more air than a typical bookshelf speaker. In other words, they will stay clean at much louder levels. With a 500Hz crossover frequency, the midrange driver is not tasked with playing mid-bass, and the 4kHz crossover to the tweeter spares it from trying to reproduce lower treble. This means that none of the drivers are burdened with high excursions unless you really blast some deep bass, in which case the bass driver might want some assistance from a subwoofer.   

Another advantage is that listeners do not need to sit dead on-axis to get a full sound. While listening at the on-axis angle is ideal, they can also sound full at other angles, and the coaxial midrange/tweeter gives them the flexibility to carry that ability to vertical angles as well as horizontal ones. As was said before, you can use these just as easily on their side as standing upright without paying a high price in sound quality. If you are in a situation where you need full-range speakers that aren’t able to be placed at the perfect height or in an upright orientation, these may be a great choice. The coaxial driver should enable them to work fine in near-field applications if you have a place to put such large speakers. The sound of the drivers should cohere at a very close proximity to the speaker, so it might be possible to use them as desktop speakers for those who have a lot of desktop space.  

Another strength of the Orians is their tonality. Those looking for a smooth, warm sound will enjoy the tonality of these speakers very much. The midrange is beautifully neutral, the bass is a tad elevated, and upper treble is a tad recessed. This is an eminently listenable speaker that will not cause any listening fatigue. Those who want sizzling hot treble for exaggerated “detail” will want to look elsewhere. While I would describe the Orian’s overall sound character to be warm, I wouldn’t call it overly soft, and upper treble articulation still came through.

cx3 pair5 

The Orian speaker kit from Parts Express largely accomplishes what it promises. Those willing to put in a bit of elbow grease will be rewarded with full-range bookshelf speakers that have a big soundstage and lots of placement flexibility, and they would save a lot of money over purchasing a finished loudspeaker with the same capabilities. A comparable bookshelf speaker completed with a nice finish from a traditional manufacturer would easily cost multiple thousands of dollars for a pair, but the base cost for the kit from Parts Express is $675 shipped (currently on sale for $540/pair shipped). I probably spent an additional $120 for the paint, primer, and extra tools that I didn’t have, and that would have put my pair just south of $800. That is still a phenomenal value in light of the abilities of these speakers. I normally return review units to the manufacturer after the review, but, of course, that is not possible with a kit speaker that has been built, so they are going to be staying with me, and I am happy to have them because they sound great and look cool. While assembling these particular speakers was a bit involved, it was still an enjoyable process overall. If you are looking for a unique loudspeaker and have the time and patience for a project, I think even novice builders should consider the Orian kit. It took me some time to complete, but I think the time and effort were well worth it in the end, not just for the speaker itself but also for the experience of building it.  

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

  • StarStarStarStarStar — Excellent
  • StarStarStarStar — Very Good
  • StarStarStar — Good
  • StarStar — Fair
  • Star — Poor
MetricRating
Build QualityStarStarStarStar
AppearanceStarStarStarStar
Treble ExtensionStarStarStarStar
Treble SmoothnessStarStarStar
Midrange AccuracyStarStarStarStar
Bass ExtensionStarStarStarStarStar
Bass AccuracyStarStarStarStar
ImagingStarStar
Dynamic RangeStarStarStarStar
Fit and FinishStarStarStarStar
PerformanceStarStarStarStar
ValueStarStarStarStarStar
About the author:
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James Larson is Audioholics' primary loudspeaker and subwoofer reviewer on account of his deep knowledge of loudspeaker functioning and performance and also his overall enthusiasm toward moving the state of audio science forward.

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