The Good: Modular arrangement lets you add additional speakers; unique spherical design; superior sound
The Bad: Short connector cables, somewhat complicated setup
The Bottom Line: Powerful sound delivered from small, eye-catching speakers
One of the often overlooked areas of setting up a home theater is sound. Many of us spend thousands of dollars on a high-definition TV, then shell out several hundred more for a glitzy stand to display it. But speakers often get short shrift, except maybe for the audiophiles.
I can't point fingers. I own a high-end Pioneer Elite and a midrange Sony (SNE) multimedia receiver. But I have made do with a hodgepodge of relatively cheap speakers from multiple manufacturers.
At last, I am considering an upgrade, and to that end, I have been reviewing stylish, compact speakers that might fit nicely into my home décor without busting my budget.
Enter Orb Audio. As the name suggests, the company builds spherically-shaped speakers measuring a bit more than four inches in diameter (slightly bigger than a baseball). The design helps reduce the low-frequency vibrations that occur in typical enclosures with corners. I reviewed the $1,300 Mod2 system, which consists of 10 speakers, five desk stands, and a subwoofer—for delivering those low frequency sounds.
Most speakers come in basic black, cherry, or white. Orb offers custom orders of metallic black, white, antique copper, and antique bronze. The review unit I received came in a stylish-looking antique copper, which costs $300 extra, with a black front grill and rim. The entire system comes nicely packaged in a box that offers form-fitting foam receptacles to keep everything in place during shipping.
Rather than the typical four speakers and center channel offered by most companies, Orb ships its speakers connected in bundles of two. You can expand each with add-on speakers, for a total of four paired together, to deliver more sound out of a particular 5.1, 6.1, or 7.1 Dolby home theater channel.
Double the Pleasure
I have to admit, I was skeptical about this arrangement. But I quickly discovered that doubling the spheres is a clever way to create quite nice sound from such small packages. The balls are connected with a "jumper" speaker cable. This way, you need only connect one of the balls to a multimedia receiver.
The arrangement isn't complicated, but I did encounter problems. The review system came with the jumper cables already connected, but the company doesn't leave an inch of extra cabling to spare. Attaching the receiver cable on the back of each speaker can be tricky for anyone but those with the tiniest of fingers, because there's not much room between the desk stands and the rear of the speaker (my review unit came with the stands attached, though Orb considers them accessories). The process becomes even more complicated if you want to expand your system.
The Mod2 system includes the 8-in. Super Eight 200-watt subwoofer, which delivers amazingly powerful bass and can be adjusted to capture high and low ranges while searching for optimal sound. The company sells a $299 upgrade to a 10-in., 300-watt subwoofer. Most people won't need the larger size; the Super Eight has enough oomph to make your teeth rattle when you want it to.
Movie House Sound
With the 10 speakers and the subwoofer, the system pumped sound through my Pioneer system with aplomb. While not as dynamic as the KEF KHT5005.2 speaker system (BusinessWeek.com, 8/7/08), Orb does a nice job of making a midsize room sound like a movie theater. As in the previous review, I loaded up the musically themed August Rush movie on Blu-ray and was entranced as the main character conducts a concert in Central Park during the film's final moments. And I practically wept during Across the Universe, as I listened to the opening strains, a cappella and crystal clear, of Let It Be by the Beatles.
At times, during dialogue on television shows, I had to crank the sound higher than I would have with larger speakers. But this didn't happen so often that it became a big bother.
That quibble aside, the tiny Mod2 satellites deliver a solid, all-around performance that's especially noteworthy given their size. The system, which can only be ordered directly from Orb, comes with a five-year limited warranty and a 30-day return policy. But thanks to the speakers' unique looks and adept audio handling, my guess is you won't need the latter.