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After programming the speaker set-up and running test tones, I was ready for action. Clean and detailed are two words that kept coming to mind as I played dozens of discs through the People's Choice system. And that detail and sparkle wasn't just from the Orbs but from the subwoofer, too. If you're used to flabby or loose bass you'll be pleasantly surprised – if not totally astonished - at the tautness and rhythmic drive of the SUPER EIGHT. This 12-inch cube contains a 200-watt BASH hybrid amplifier rated to peak at more than 400 watts, an 8-inch long throw woofer and a high-power magnet. It's an excellent mix of sass and subtle that simply delivers the goods. There's real synergy in this pairing, where the Orbs and subwoofer complement rather than clash with each other. I never felt like the sub was trying to push to the front of the stage at the expense of its smaller siblings.
I know home theater fans will use the system primarily to enjoy DVDs, and there's a lot to enjoy playing movies and concert films through the Orbs. But first I had to had put the Orbs through a few musical paces, grabbing a stack of SACDs and DVDs to audition.
Pink Floyd's classic Dark Side Of The Moon received a remarkable surround mix for its 30th Anniversary re-release on hybrid SACD in 2003. The detail and depth are stunning, even after listening to the disc dozens of times I'm always hearing something new with each play. And this recording came alive through the People's Choice system. The heartbeat at the album's beginning on “Speak To Me” was almost scary, sounding as if coming through my living room floor in some progressive-rock incarnation of Edgar Allen Poe's “Tell-Tale Heart.”
As well, Jeff Beck's instrumental tour de force Blow By Blow remains one of the definitive guitar records ever. Beck blows through rock, funk, fusion and jazz in his singular way. The SACD surround mix of tunes such as “Cause We've Ended As Lovers” and “Diamond Dust” capture many nuances that unfolded through the Orbs. I was constantly taken by how full the little Orbs sound and how I could be happy with that sound in place of a typical bookshelf cabinet speaker, or even a floor-stander. The dispersion, as well, was very impressive, carrying into my adjacent dining room and kitchen with enough oomph to make for enjoyable listening even so far off-plane. Give the Orbs some break-in time and they get even better.
Another favorite concert film is Nektar's Pure Live In Germany 2005, a double-DVD set where the progressive rock legends revisit 35 years of music. The 5.1 Dolby surround mix is very detailed, whether guitarist Roye Albrighton is picking a delicate arpeggio or the band is bringing the epic “A Tab In The Ocean” to its thrilling conclusion. Again, the Orbs fleshed out details with ease and made sense of each musician's place in the mix.
Iron Maiden's Live After Death DVD captures the metal legends on tour in 1984-85 in support of their Powerslave album. The band put on performances for the ages and the cameras and tape were on to preserve it all. The 5.1 Dolby mix is very good, and the Orbs provided such separation that I could watch guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith play their individual parts and follow each in its respective channel. It was like taking a visual guitar lesson. And the Orbs did a likewise amazing job bringing to life the drum and cymbal sounds from Nicko McBrain's monster kit. The drums sounded like drums being played at a live show. Very impressive.
Where the sound truly shone was on DTS-formatted discs. Unfailingly, they had a presence and scope that most of my 5.1 Dolby mixes couldn't match. The Black Crowes' Freak N Roll Into The Fog features a 2005 concert recorded at San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium. This intimate affair bursts with energy, and the 5.1 DTS mix powerfully reproduces what was a great-sounding show. Whether it's the horns on “(Only) Halfway To Everywhere” or the stirring gospel-like backing vocals to “Remedy,” the Crowes took gorgeous flight through the Orbs.
2008's The Soloist features a soundtrack dominated by Beethoven, and the scenes of Jamie Foxx as Nathaniel Ayers conjuring the maestro's music via cello have a lovely warmth and richness. That tone is carried further by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, when the orchestra tackles one of the composer's symphonies. The Orbs brought out the sweep and majesty of these great works, bringing the listener into the concert hall.
For big and bold, there are few films and soundtracks that match the Lord Of The Rings trilogy carried out by Peter Jackson with Howard Shore's evocative scores. Because there is so much action and drama, punctuated by sound, the individual movies can be almost overwhelming; after three hours or more a listener can be excused for wanting to turn down the sound. That's where another of the Orb's strengths were revealed: This setup of 4-inch rounders and sub were never shrill or fatiguing, just well-rounded performers that impressed me more and more over time. Watching and listening to The Return Of The King via the 6.1 DTS mix through the Orbs was nothing short of amazing. Epic battles, horses charging, fires being lit, horns sounding, Nazgul shrieking – the dynamic and emotional range of every scene was reproduced as closely to being in an actual movie theater as I could want. That the Orbs could wring such sound from a sextet of 4-inch satellites and a sub is a remarkable achievement. Just pass the popcorn please!
Near deadline, I received a Blu-ray disc player and hoped to incorporate my experience with this format married to the Orbs, but alas, my player hiccuped out of the box and had to be returned for replacement. The same People's Choice system I was fortunate to review is slated to go to a lucky AVRev.com reader. I hope he or she will get to experience what I did. These plucky little speakers are sure to capture your imagination and keep your home theater a happy and great-sounding one for many years. Orb does home theater – and music – right.