Orb Audio modular stereo speaker systems review

Hey, do you like things that sound good? That's funny, we do too. In a world jam-packed with mass-produced, perfectly adequate home-theater-in-a-box solutions, it can be really hard to differentiate between speaker solutions for your computer, TV, or stereo system. It takes a lot for small-scale, high-quality systems to stand out and justify their costs, especially when entire surround kits can be had for under a hundred bucks. But like that song said that one time, you can't put a price tag on love. Orb Audio's eponymously constructed speakers are little works of art that you can rearrange to suit your taste, budget, and decor -- but are they a good solution for you? It's a good question! Read on to find out just how the Orb family might or might not be the best decision you've ever made.

Orb sells its systems component-style, the high-end coming from Mod1 four-inch spheres that will run you $119.50 each (small table stands are included, and they're available in a variety of colors). The speakers look kind of alien, but in a vintage way, not in the art school-tastic way JBL's Creatures or Scandyna's Pods do. We reviewed them in a couple of different configurations.

The simplest package you can go with is the $299 stereo combo that includes a small amplifier with three paired RCA inputs for connecting a computer or any other standard stereo source. It's a good solution if you're looking for something to up the quality of your current setup: the Mod1's reproduce exquisitely in the mid-high range, providing clarity through a variety of applications, but without any bass to be reckoned with. If you're looking for something straightforward with a little kick, we'd probably point you to something like M-Audio's Studiophile AV 40 -- a stereo pair with built-in amplification, good reproduction, and built-in bass that will also give you a good amount of rumble if you're sitting at your desk, for around $150. All of Orb's options require a separate amp as well, which can be cumbersome for the casual user.

If you're willing to step into to a higher price range, a subwoofer is a good thing to drop money on. If you've never installed a subwoofer in your system, nearly any sub will make you re-tool the way you think about listening to music -- cheap offerings from Logitech and Cambridge Soundworks can provide a punch that gives your tunes more body than you're used to. Orb's $549 Classic One system includes their Super Eight subwoofer, a twelve-inch cube of power that we fell for the moment we turned it on. Cheaper options tend to flatten bass, giving it hard edges, less tonality, and an emphasis on "knock" that sucks character out of the low end. There was something different about the Super Eight. We've never heard bass so creamy and pure in a sub of this class. There's a lot of loud electronic music that puts emphasis on bass detail, but we were surprised by the low-end bits and pieces we got out of a simple harp recording coming out of the Classic One. The bass sounded... harpy in a way that had nothing to do with an 808 techno kick. 808 kicks, for the record, also sound great and 808-kicky through the Super Eight. We guess there's just something classier about this sub than what we're used to.

As most home audio solutions trend toward simplicity, Orb takes a delightfully anachronistic approach that no doubt colored our impression of the sound. You can't buy these systems at Best Buy -- all sales are conducted direct through Orb's site. Everything is handmade in the USA, and instead of shipping with pre-cut lengths of thin speaker wire you'll get an industrial-sized spool of the heavy-gauge stuff that you'll need a wire cutter to make use of. You'll need to play around a bit with the phase and crossover settings on the subwoofer to make things sound right, which the (over-written) manual will help you with.

And you can also grow the system over time. While the Mod1 configuration is perfectly capable, we also tested the speakers in a Mod2 setup, with two Mod1's daisy-chained on a custom stack mount. The difference in sound quality is subtle, but we found that the extra frequency response and volume the Mod2's offered increased our enjoyment significantly. But, again, we're sure that we just really loved how two orbs stacked into the air looked on our desk. At $698, the Classic Two system isn't for the faint of heart or light of paycheck. But we found ourselves missing it when it wasn't around. Orb will be happy to take you as far as you're willing to go -- if you're ever in the frame of mind to take a $2288 surround system into your home, they've got you covered.


All of this certainly may not be for you. If you're looking for a quick, cheap, good-sounding solution, Orb doesn't have it. But if you're a little bit of a tinkerer looking for an entree into an audio world most people aren't a part of, it's right here, and for way less than many other high-end manufacturers will let you in the door for. You like other worlds... don't you?