March 05, 2012
| by Grant Clauser
I always hate it when people ask me what speakers they should buy. Either my answers are uncomfortably long or I tell them to get the black ones.
The truth is, selecting speakers can be complicated, depending on what you’re looking for. TVs are fairly easy—are you looking for picture quality, price, features or a combination. With speakers you’ve got a much longer list of “what do you wants.” Sound quality is one of them, of course, but each person will look (listen) at that differently. You can go for accurate speakers, but most people don’t even know what that means or don’t really care, plus most of the audio on movie soundtracks is artificial or enhanced anyway. Really, how many people actually know what a Death Star sounds like when it explodes?
So when people ask me what speaker to buy, I usually shrug and rattle off a few brands I like and tell them to go listen to a few speakers and pick ones that sound good to them.
The Orb Audio speakers that are the subject of this review certainly aren’t the “get the black ones” referenced above, and I can’t tell someone to go listen to them first because they’re only available online from Orb’s website. They have a 30-day money back guarantee, but you’re still making a leap of faith when you place an order. (If you call or email the company they’ll tell you where in NYC or L.A. you can listen to the speakers.)
But if someone asked, I’d tell them that I really like these speakers. They’re good-sounding, interesting-looking and reasonably-priced. I hesitate to use phrases like “sound as good as speakers costing twice as much.” Those comments, found on the Orb website, always strike me as odd because it’s pretty easy to find speakers that cost more or less than whatever you’re comparing something too, and while there are measurements you can take, sound quality perception can vary wildly from person to person.
There, I’m done with my rant. Let’s get to the speakers in question.
The Orb system I received is called the People’s Choice. With such an interesting look I’d hope for a better name (how about Hyperion—one of the smaller moons of Saturn?), but I’m not in marketing. Anyway, this system is mostly built around the company’s Mod speakers—softball sized metal speaker enclosures with a single three-inch diver pushing the air. A Mod1 speaker is a single unit. The Mod2 stacks two of them and wires them together externally. There are no tweeters involved, so no crossovers. The People’s Choice system consists of three Mod2 speakers for the front three channels, two Mod1s for the surrounds and a Super Eight subwoofer for the oomph parts. The center channel has the two spherical modules mounted horizontally, which my daughter says makes them look like bug eyes. That makes me like them even more.
Orb’s web site describes this suite as its most popular home theater system, and for good reason. It’s a bold-looking, good sounding system for just a little more than $1,000. If you want to expand to a 6.1 or 7.1 set up you can just add more Mod1 units. The company sent Electronic House a system in the bronze finish, which adds $240 to the cost. At the base price of $1,098 you can get them in black or white.
While the main speakers present a distinctive look, the subwoofer is fairly conventional. It’s on the small size, standing only 13 inches high, which means it won’t stick out like an ugly piece of furniture—but its sound will fill the room. The eight-inch driver is powered by a 200 watt amplifier.
Connection and set up is uncomplicated, except by the speaker’s spring clips. They’re small and won’t accept all kinds of terminals or larger speaker wires. The 12 AWG wires on my main system wouldn’t fit the spring clips on the Mods, but most home users will probably use the speaker wire Orb offers anyway.
After letting the speakers break in for a few days, I spent time listening to several movies and CDs, plus a variety of streamed music. Overall, the Orb system was warm and smooth. This is a great setup for movie and TV sound for the average-sized living or family room. Dialog was clear and well-placed, and the stereo and surround speakers did a great job with movie sound tracks.
Music performance was also good. As you’d guess, these did best with mid-range and bass tones since there is no tweeter in a Mod speaker. Highs sounded good at moderate levels, but when pushed hard, they lost a bit of clarity. The speakers provided plenty of detail, which was particularly noticeable when I played the CD soundtrack for Oh Brother Where Art Thou?
The highlight of the system is the subwoofer. This little box will more than satisfy most home theater enthusiasts’ need for lots of rumble while still sounding smooth enough for music. During the big train crash scene in Super 8 (I just noticed that the subwoofer and movie have the same name) the Super Eight sub created an enormous three-dimensional sound experience that was more than just mere unmuffled boom. The sub also did a lot to fill out the music experience.
In a time when many people are looking for ways to hide their electronics, I like that Orb is crafting speakers that stand out. They’re interesting to look at, but not so odd that they won’t fit into a typical home. More traditional home designers will probably like the copper or bronze finishes. More modern living rooms will probably accept the white, or steel. Black of course goes with anything.
I also like their sound—the Orb system delivers exciting home theater sound at a reasonable price so you won’t think you’re paying for hype or brand recognition.
Orb Audio People’s Choice 5.1 System
$1,098 (for Black or White finish. Add $240 for other finishes)
Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had audio training from Home Acoustics Alliance and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.