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Published on September 24th, 2011 | by Greg

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Orb Audio: Same Quality Speakers, Now With A Desktop Amp

We’ve been re­view­ing a lot of au­dio gear re­cent­ly, but the vast bulk of it has been aimed at those who lis­ten pri­mar­i­ly through head­phones. There are plen­ty of folks out there that en­joy keep­ing their high-qual­i­ty sound on a per­son­al lev­el. But most of us like to share. The head­phone amps we’ve been check­ing out- but those with tubes and those with­out- won’t be a good fit to drive your larg­er speak­ers. Ei­ther you’ve got a sys­tem that us­es speak­er ca­ble and re­quires more pow­er, or you’ve got a sys­tem that us­es mi­ni-jack and has an amp built-in most like­ly. But some folks want au­dio­phile com­put­er speak­ers or a book­shelf sys­tem that of­fers bet­ter sound than your av­er­age mod­els from an elec­tron­ics com­pa­ny.

Orb Au­dio saw this niche, and jumped in. Since we love their speak­ers- we use them as our pri­maries on our home the­ater test­ing, and have a 5.1 sys­tem from them- it made sense to test out their lat­est com­bi­na­tion. TheOrb Au­dio Com­put­er / Book­shelf sys­tem is ac­tu­al­ly a Mi­ni-T Am­pli­fi­er & Speak­er Pack­age that us­es their nor­mal Mod1 speak­ers but adds a small class-T dig­i­tal au­dio am­pli­fi­er. You plug in the amp to your source, and it drives each speak­er with reg­u­lar speak­er ca­ble, pro­vid­ing 15W to each chan­nel. Of course, you can up­grade to a Mod2 sys­tem for a bet­ter sound­stage and ad­di­tion­al depth. Ei­ther way, you end up with a small and lightweight sys­tem, and they of­fer a va­ri­ety of col­ors to fit your decor or style (pearl white, glossy black, or a va­ri­ety of metal­lic fin­ish­es).

We’ve talked about the speak­ers in depth be­fore- see our pre­vi­ous re­view- but can re­state the ba­sics. The de­sign is classy and im­me­di­ate­ly ap­peal­ing, as well as unique- the ball shape looks and feels nat­u­ral and the stands are good enough and help­ful­ly in­clud­ed. Lis­ten­ing an­gle isn’t as ad­justable as we might like, and they are fair­ly di­rec­tion­al, so place­ment is key. Once you’ve got them in the right place, though, they shine- broad ranged, they can out­put plen­ty of vol­ume with no dis­tor­tion and make for pleas­ant lis­ten­ing to a wide range of mu­sic (and oth­er au­dio, in­clud­ing movies). They don’t of­fer a ton of bass, but you’ll want a ded­i­cat­ed sub­woofer for that (and their Su­per Eight comes rec­om­mend­ed).

The amp was new to us, as was this talk of “Class-T”. It turns out that this is most­ly mar­ket­ing speak, for a trade­marked tech­nol­o­gy that got a lot of buzz sev­er­al years ago un­til the com­pa­ny that cre­at­ed it went out of busi­ness. Plen­ty of prod­ucts used their chips, and re­views of the un­der­ly­ing dig­i­tal au­dio pro­cess­ing was quite pos­i­tive. Search­es on eBay and else­where though turned up few old­er Class T amps avail­able for pur­chase, so we weren’t able to com­pare against oth­er mod­els. That said, re­search in­di­cat­ed that the Son­ic Im­pact 5065 Gen 2 looks quite sim­i­lar to the new mi­ni-T from Orb- check out the pic­tures! As we test­ed over the past month, we kept re­turn­ing to the same im­pres­sions- the mi­ni-T is a sol­id, low-priced, amp. About the size of a pa­per­back book, it’s qui­et and min­i­mal. The cas­ing and es­pe­cial­ly the speak­er ter­mi­nals felt cheap and a bit flim­sy, as did the vol­ume knob- but it looks de­cent and held up through our break-in and tests.

The re­al trick here, though, was the im­pres­sive sound. Let down by some oth­er small am­pli­fiers re­cent­ly, this one ac­tu­al­ly sur­prised us with deep bass and full, wide tre­ble at any vol­ume. This is a fair­ly neu­tral amp- pic­ture adding some bright­ness and con­trast but not af­fect­ing the over­all bal­ance or fla­vor much. On blues and R&B tracks, vo­cals felt more pre­sent and ac­tive, but not re­al­ly more vi­brant. In­stru­men­ta­tion, es­pe­cial­ly per­cus­sion, was dis­tinct and pleas­ant, crisp with­out be­ing clin­i­cal. There was no noise, and even mediocre MP3 files were lift­ed and smoothed over. The mi­ni-T didn’t beat out some oth­ers, but was the best in it’s price range. That said, it felt a bit cheap for the ask­ing price of $88. Over­all, then, it’s a pret­ty good pack­age at $300. For an ex­tra $150, we love the Au­dio­engine and it’s bulki­er but more pow­er­ful amp and desk­top sys­tem. For a small­er sys­tem at two-thirds of the price, Orb pre­sents a com­pelling val­ue ar­gu­ment, square­ly edg­ing out many com­peti­tors.

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About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Apple’s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.



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