Published on September 24th, 2011 | by Greg0
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.