Orb Audio Mod2 Speaker System 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems
Written by Ben Shyman   
Sunday, 01 January 2006

The proliferation of surround sound in movies, music and high-definition television has made five-channel speaker systems a virtual necessity in home theater. Advances in technology and engineering have made opting for an out-of-the-box satellite speaker system, particularly smaller systems, a worthwhile investment for entry-level buyers and high-end enthusiasts more than ever before. This is especially true for consumers on a limited budget and/or with limited space.

Orb Audio’s approach to satellite speakers is unique. Their core beliefs rest in offering consumers high-end audio without the high-end markup. In order to keep their selling prices low, Orb utilizes a direct sales model, selling their products only via their website at orbaudio.com. Furthermore, their product line is built on a simple foundation of only one four 3/16” diameter satellite speakers and a powered subwoofer. This should not suggest, however, that their product offering is limited. To the contrary, Orb satellites can be put together in different combinations to create a system that fits your budget and décor. You can utilize one driver for each channel (Mod1 satellites) or stack two satellites together (Mod2 satellites) for a larger system. While an entry-level system would combine their Super Eight Subwoofer and five Mod1 satellites (a $749 system), an advanced system would combine the same subwoofer with five Mod2 satellites (a system around $1,169). The satellites are available in four finishes, including gloss black and pearl white, as well as hand-polished steel and copper. The polished steel and copper satellites cost slightly more, but in my view are totally worth it. They have a unique and rich look that is gorgeous.

The company sent me 10 satellites and a Super Eight Subwoofer and I experimented with several Mod1 and Mod2 combinations before finally going with three Mod2 satellite speakers in the front channels and two Mod1 satellites in the rear (a $999 system). On their website, Orb calls this configuration the People’s Choice Home Theater Speaker System, as it is their most popular offering. Upon unpacking the Orb satellites, I was taken by their outstanding build quality. Each driver has gold-plated binding posts, which easily accept virtually any speaker wire, even my Transparent speaker cables with their significantly oversized connectors.

The Orb satellite consists of a three-inch, full-range polypropylene driver with santoprene surround and a neodymium magnet. While the Mod1 and Mod2 speakers are rated at eight and four ohms, respectively, I cannot imagine that a Mod2 system would pose a serious challenge for any standard amplifier from a mainstream receiver manufacturer. In contrast, the system I tested was easily able to handle the high power of my Proceed AMP5, which produces 125 watts per channel into eight ohms and 250 watts per channel into four ohms.

Building a Mod2 system was as simple as screwing two satellites into the company’s mini-stands and using the supplied wire to bridge two speaker terminals together. As should be expected from any satellite system, all Orb drivers are fully shielded and hence can be placed directly next to a traditional CRT monitor without fear of gaussing. The company offers floor stands, as well as wall-mounting brackets for their drivers. The Super Eight Subwoofer is also easy to set up. The unit weighs only 30 pounds and measures 12 inches square. The Super Eight utilizes a 150-watt Class AB amplifier and an eight-inch front-firing driver covered by a handsome round gray grille. I connected the subwoofer to the LFE channel of my Proceed AVP2, set the crossover at about 80 Hz and, in less than 15 minutes, I had the entire Orb system up and running. After playing the Orbs at modest volume for several days to break them in, I was ready for some serious listening and evaluation.

The Music
In 1996, Chick Corea gathered a group of young contemporary jazz musicians, along with legendary drummer Roy Haynes, to pay tribute to bop piano jazz great Bud Power. The result was a two-channel CD, Chick Corea & Friends, Remembering Bud Powell (Stretch Records, 1997). Bud Powell helped redefine bebop jazz piano in the 1940s and 1950s and was a clear inspiration to Corea. Only a few seconds into the opening track, “Bouncin’ with Bud,” I was struck by the clarity and cleanness of the horns, the presence of the rider cymbal and smoothness of Corea’s piano. I was easily wowed by the remarkable detail and instrument separation these small and inexpensive satellites were capable of reproducing. The soundstage was surprisingly broad and I experimented with the position of the front two speakers, gently toeing them in and out, to locate the exact point where they imaged their best. While the Mod2 system lacks some of the depth and musicality one experiences from a larger, more costly bookshelf system, I was struck by the fantastic integration between the satellites and the Super Eight subwoofer, which produced deep, taut bass that you can hear and feel. Even at high volume, the clarity of the Mod2 satellites did not falter and the subwoofer did not roll off much, if at all. On “Willow Grover,” a song featuring a high tempo bass performance by McBride, the bass and kick drum were surprisingly weighty.

“Tempus Fugit” best demonstrated the abilities of the Super Eight subwoofer on Remembering Bud Powell. Here the bass and drums carry the up-tempo pace of the track. Instrument separation was excellent in the mids and highs and even the most subtle details of the performance were rendered as well as on any system costing 50 percent more. At this point, the Orb Mod2 System had piqued my interest quite well and I was ready to up the ante with some rock and roll.

I reached for the Deluxe Edition SACD of The Who’s Tommy (Geffen Records, 2003) and immediately cued up “1921.” John Entwistle’s bass was well pronounced and deep and I quickly noted that the Super Eight subwoofer is definitely a core strength of the Orb People’s Choice System for music, reproducing the lower frequencies of drums and bass with delight. The layered vocal tracks in the chorus in the front and rear channels were extremely well balanced. I found the vocals even tastier on the short tune “Tommy Can You Hear Me?”, where the Orb’s exhibited greater smoothness than with my Chick Corea CD. This was particularly true in the midrange on Townshend’s signature layered rhythm acoustic guitars. Throughout Tommy, the lower-frequency reproduction of the individual Orb satellites was seamlessly tied in with the subwoofer. This was nowhere more evident than on the introduction to “I’m Free,” where the guitar rhythms were well supported by the subwoofer, which put forth a full and richly textured tapestry of sound. In addition, while Roger Daltrey’s vocals emanate predominately from the center channel, they are cleverly supported by background vocals from both the front and rear. This lent a three-dimensional quality to the soundstage, which I found highly enjoyable. I concluded my music listening at a higher volume with “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” I was impressed by the Orb’s ability to handle Keith Moon’s hard-hitting percussion while delivering on the more delicate vocal track through the chorus. The mix is aggressive on this track, with vocals and instruments emanating from all the speakers, and the music never sounded muddy or harsh. In this regard, I give the Orb satellites high marks.

The Movies
My evaluation of the Orb system with movies began with the Special Collector’s Widescreen Edition of “The Hunt for Red October” (Paramount Home Entertainment, 1989). Starring Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin, “The Hunt for Red October” is based on Tom Clancy’s best-selling novel about the intense search for a defecting high-tech, nuclear Russian submarine. The DTS 5.1 soundtrack is dynamic and contains deep bass from effects such as submarine propulsion systems and torpedo explosions. Surely the soundtrack would prove a great challenge for this small satellite speaker package .

In Scene 12, “Battle Stations,” the scream of the approaching torpedo toward the Red October packed quite a punch from the little Orbs, significantly startling me in my center listening position. Furthermore, the ricochet of bullets during the gunfight in the Red October’s missile room emanated from all the channels with a realism that I thoroughly enjoyed and which made me feel part of the scene. In Scene 8, “Crazy Ivan,” the takeoff of fighter jets and the helicopter propeller produced an admirable rumble from the Super Eight that I was able to hear as well as feel. There is no question that the Super Eight established itself here as a most capable product for deep bass, especially for its price.

I give high marks to the Orb’s ability to consistently articulate realistic-sounding and highly audible vocals, which cut right through the soundtrack. This is incredibly important, as the delivery of vocals is the most important aspect of a first-rate movie-watching experience in my view. In Scene 4, “Ryan’s Briefing,” the meeting between Ryan (Baldwin) and the Joint Chiefs was easy to follow, even when I moved to an off-axis position. If movies are incredibly important to you and you are considering a Mod1 system, definitely spend a few more dollars and upgrade the center channel to a Mod2 configuration, a move that in my opinion will put a serious premium on your set-up.

In concluding my evaluation, I reached for Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” (DreamWorks Home Entertainment, 2005). Based on the famous H.G. Wells classic science fiction novel, “War of the Worlds” is the story of Ray Ferrier, played by Tom Cruise, and his attempt to lead his family to safety during an attack on Earth. Although, in my view, “War of the Worlds” is one of Spielberg’s more mediocre movies, the 5.1 DTS soundtrack is topnotch, filled with tantalizing special effects and a bone-crushing LFE channel that can easily challenge the limits of virtually any home theater.

Scene 4, “In the Storm,” begins with Ray in his backyard amongst the sounds of gusting wind, rustling leaves and the flapping of the clothes on the clothesline. All these sounds were highly detailed and afforded an eerie realism to the moment. I was impressed by the Orb’s ability to handle the continuous, violent crashing of thunder. The Super Eight subwoofer performed its best here. After the conclusion of Scene 4, I realized that I was sitting on my couch with clenched fists and tensed shoulders. Such a reaction would not have surprised me if I were listening to “War of the Worlds” on my high-end Revel speaker system, but to have a $999 speaker system solicit this type of physical reaction is a testament to its abilities.

In Scene 13, “Hudson Ferry,” the fast-paced horns and drums in the suspenseful musical score by John Williams raised the tension of this already exciting scene. There is a lot in the soundtrack at this point, including the music, the screaming of a panicking and hysterical crowd, the splashing of water and the movements of the attacking machines. At no point during this scene was the soundtrack muddy or confusing and I felt the Orbs rendered the mix exactly as Spielberg’s sound engineers probably intended.

The “War of the Worlds” soundtrack is extraordinarily dynamic, but listening to a movie during its quietest scenes can also help distinguish between an average and great-sounding speaker system. It is not just explosions that are important. During Scene 15, “Harlan Ogilvy,” when Ray softly sings in a whisper to his daughter before she attempts to sleep, the Orbs were able to effectively communicate the intimacy of the moment with a most delicate touch. I was able to easily appreciate the smallest nuances, such as the sounds of swallowing and subtle breaths between their whispers. There is no question that the Orbs were fantastic on “War of the Worlds” and, in any small apartment, they could easily wow you and your friends.

The Downside
No system is perfect and, despite how much I enjoyed the Orb Mod2 satellites, they do have drawbacks. There were moments that I yearned for the dynamic characteristics of a larger, more robust system. This was especially true during the peak action of movies. While this may be more a criticism of small satellite speaker systems in general, it is nonetheless an honest appraisal of how I felt during my time with the Orbs. Finally, and this is critical, Orb Audio needs to offer a speaker stand specifically designed for a Mod2 center channel, which allows it to be configured horizontally. This would significantly increase the flexibility of locating the center channel, especially when used in front of a stand-mounted plasma.

The Orb Satellite System is a great product and I enthusiastically recommended it to be included in AVRev.com’s Top 100 Product of the Year. I would describe the Orb system as the ultimate apartment satellite speaker system under $1,000. You do not need a sophisticated ear to quickly conclude that the sound quality is beyond the price. Living in New York City, I know firsthand that people highly value their space. This makes the Orb satellite system an obvious choice if you are building a home theater in modest living quarters but I wouldn't be surprised if they would work well in larger rooms. Available in cool finishes, the Orbs are décor-friendly and can also be cleverly utilized throughout a larger home, such as in a kitchen or bedroom. The Orbs are inexpensive, fun, attractive, functional and will impress you with their bravado, especially for their size.
Manufacturer Orb Audio
Model Mod2 Speaker System
Reviewer Ben Shyman

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