Orb Audio Mod4 Speaker System 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems
Written by Andrew Robinson   
Tuesday, 01 January 2008

Introduction
The Mod4 speaker system from Orb Audio is the Internet-based company’s attempt at a no-holds-barred home theater loudspeaker solution pointed directly at today’s design-conscious consumer. The system is rather compact and retails for a manageable $1,999 for a complete 5.1 system and comes straight from the factory to you via Orb’s website, as well as offering a 30-day money-back guarantee. For years, Orb Audio has been famed the world over for their stylish designs and quality sound at affordable prices, all made right here in the good ol’ U. S. of A., and their latest concoction, the Mod4 system reviewed here, is consistent with that tradition.

The Mod4 speaker system was delivered to my office personally by Orb Audio president Garry Pelled. I was able to chat with Garry about the Mod4 system for a bit, as well as Orb’s manufacturing process that takes place in Sherman Oaks, California (not too far from my office). While some parts come from outside of California, Garry assured me that all Orb products are designed, assembled and tested in their Sherman Oaks factory, and other domestic factories. When it comes to raw numbers, these little speakers add up. Orb buys more than 8 tons of American high carbon steel in a typical quarter and more than 20 miles of custom American made copper speaker wire. When I asked what parts come from places abroad, Garry replied, “We don’t make the BASH amp inside one of our subwoofers.” Then there was a long silence. Fair enough, as I wasn’t fishing for industry secrets, but I was impressed that you can still buy affordable speakers that are actually made here in the United States. Other “round” speakers cannot claim that and, in some instances, even cost more.

This is my first experience with Orb Audio. There is no denying the visual resemblance between Orb’s speakers and Anthony Gallo’s Nucleus Micro speakers. I’ve heard the Gallo Nucleus Micros and honestly didn’t much care for them. Clearly, the Mod4 system had an uphill battle ahead to win me over just on the negative association front. Gary and AVRev.com publisher Jerry Del Colliano, who is a big fan of Orb speakers, warned me not to be biased from my experience doing past reviews of other products.

The Mod4 system is aptly named, in that the front left and right speakers, as well as the center channel, feature four of Orb’s Mod1 satellite speakers, two sitting one on top of the other for the stereo mains and the others next to each other for the center speaker. The idea behind this configuration is to have an Orb system that could fill a large room yet still remain supremely functional from a design and budgetary standpoint. The rears for the Mod4 system are comprised of two vertically stacked Mod1s. Include a Super Eight subwoofer and you have the Mod4 speaker system. The entire system, minus the subwoofer, can neatly be wall-mounted, table-mounted or configured for a floor-standing solution. My particular Mod4 system arrived with the stereo mains mounted on Orb’s own HOSS floor stands with the center and rear channels resting on their custom tabletop stands. My review system was in the hand-polished (yes, it’s really hand-polished) steel finish. The Mod4 system, like all Orb systems, comes in either a metallic black gloss, pearl white, antiqued copper or antiqued bronze finish, all of which are absolutely stunning, especially when you consider the price.

The Mod4 system is comprised of two or four Mod1s, each with a three-inch full-range polypropylene driver with a fully shielded neodymium magnet, with a proprietary Orb Audio voice coil with a reported frequency response of 80Hz to 20,000Hz and an efficiency rating of 89dB into a nominal eight ohm load. Each of the Mod 1s is encased in a carbon steel enclosure, measuring a little over four inches wide by four inches high, weighing a minuscule 17 ounces. Each speaker has a single set of gold-plated binding posts capable of fitting bare wire up to a gauge of 14.

The Super Eight Subwoofer, which comes standard with the Mod4 system, features a single forward-firing eight-inch-long throw driver, powered by a 200-watt BASH digital hybrid amplifier. The Super Eight has a reported frequency response of 28-180Hz, with a 40-160Hz adjustable crossover. It also features an adjustable phase switch, as well as an auto power on/off switch, stereo line level inputs, gold-plated RCA style inputs and a 12dB Octave hi-pass circuit. The Super Eight comes with a textured black cabinet, measuring 12 inches tall by 11-and-three-quarter inches deep and 11-and-a-half inches wide, weighing 26 pounds. Customers can step up to Orb Audio’s new UBER Ten subwoofer, which features a 10-inch driver powered by an internal 300-watt BASH amp, for an additional $299.

Like I said, the Mod4 system can be mounted in a variety of ways, and all the necessary stands and hardware can be had from Orb Audio’s website, as well as cables and even receivers from the likes of Yamaha for a truly high-end home theater-in-a-box solution. Keep in mind the Mod4’s price of $1,999 includes wall mounts, but it does not include the receiver or any necessary cables needed to complete your home theater experience.

Set-up
Like I said, my Mod4 system came preassembled from the factory. However, assembly seems far from complicated. Simply mount the individual Mod 1 speakers to the support bars via the supplied hardware and, presto, you have a Mod4 speaker. Where it gets a bit tricky, or at least time-consuming, is that each of the speakers has to be bridged to another. However, Orb Audio supplies pre-cut jumper wire in the correct length and color to fit into the Orbs.

I set up the Mod4 system in my office, which features a new 40-inch 120Hz Samsung HD LCD TV, being fed by a Dish Network HD DVR and my Toshiba HD-A35 HD DVD player (also review pending). I powered the Mod4 speakers with my trusty Denon 4806 receiver, which was more than adequate in terms of power for the Mod4 system. For speaker cables, everything I had on hand was way too thick, so I dug up an old audiophile favorite of mine, Mapleshade’s Clearview Golden Helix and Golden Parallel speaker cables. I don’t use the Mapleshade cables as much as I’d like, but I keep them around for special occasions, as I consider them to be some of the best cables money can buy regardless of price; I really enjoy their open airy midrange and pristine treble capabilities, which is perfect for a speaker like the Mod4, since all the bass is going to be routed to the subwoofer. The rest of the cabling came by way of Ultralink and XLO, with power conditioning coming by way of Richard Gray’s Power Company.

I will say it is absolutely essential to break in the Orb speaker system for no less than 24 hours before critical listening. I know many speaker companies send speakers that are already broken in, but these Orbs needed to spend a day loosening up with some Internet radio. The difference after that 24 hour period of break-in was night and day.

Music And Movies
I started things off with Linkin Park’s latest album Minutes to Midnight (Warner Brothers) and the track “What I’ve Done.” The opening piano was delicate and natural against the airy cymbals. When the guitars roared in, the dynamic prowess of the Mod4 system was evident. The bass was rock-solid and exceptionally quick. I was a bit bowled over by the depths that the Super Eight subwoofer could reach. The high frequencies were very composed and showed little to no signs of glare unless I turned the volume up past a comfortable level. I wouldn’t classify the midrange as warm, but it was incredibly nimble and just ever so slightly on the lean side of neutral. Vocals still had tremendous presence and a fair amount of weight to them, locking them firmly in the center of the soundstage just in front of the loudspeakers, which I liked. Speaking of soundstage, the Mod4s aurally disappear, leaving a very large and seamless arching soundstage in their wake. Instruments were appropriately placed and kept their distance from one another, unless I got too giddy with the volume. At the extremes, the soundstage compressed a bit, becoming more or less a wall of sound, with all the instruments existing on the same plane. Dynamically, the Mod4 is quite impressive, pulling off a successful Jekyll and Hyde transformation at the drop of a hat.

I moved on to something a bit tamer and opted for Counting Crows’ greatest hits album Films About Ghosts (Geffen) and the track “Anna Begins.” The opening cymbal crashes exhibited tremendous decay with a great sense of air and space surrounding them. The accompanying snare drum strikes were equally impressive. Once again, the vocals reigned supreme. The bass from the lower midrange on down was seamless between the Mod4 speakers and the Super Eight sub, adding a good sense of weight and scale to the performance. Still, one has to keep it in perspective, for these are not cost-no-object speakers and, for what they are, they are very good indeed. I just found it hard not to compare the Orb Audio Mod4 system with speakers that cost four to five times more per pair.

Switching to multi-channel music for a minute, I cued up 3 Doors Down Live on Super Disc (Monster Music). Starting with the track “Kryptonite,” I found the disc’s Dolby Digital mix to be too aggressive for the Mod4 system, forcing them to shout when played at above-average levels. However, when I switch the disc’s audio setting to DTS, everything changed. The high frequencies settled down a bit and the midrange filled out, yet the bass seemed to go relatively unchanged. With the Denon’s Audyssey settings set to “flat,” the center channel took center stage, anchoring the vocals firmly in the middle of the soundstage. The cymbals had a good sense of air and shimmer, but it was the kick drum that caught my attention. For a small eight-inch driver with 200 watts at its disposal, the Super Eight subwoofer was an absolute champ. The depth and speed the mighty Eight is capable of is shocking, bordering on the insane. More impressive still was how seamless the small satellite speakers were, with the sub sounding more like full-range towers than a sub satellite combo. Across the board, the sonic presentation was effortless. There was a coherence to the sound that you don’t usually find with speakers in the Mod4’s price class.

Switching to the track “Away From the Sun,” I dialed things back a bit. The opening guitar sounded live and lifelike. When the rest of the band joined in, the scale and weight of the performance was very impressive. The drum kit had excellent detail, especially regarding to the snare and cymbal strikes. The kick drum was amazing, showcasing the Super Eight sub once again, and the Mod4s were able to plunge deep enough to add a bit of texture to the hefty slam of the mallet. On the whole, the entire Mod4 system tends to lack that last ounce of warmth, instead favoring speed and accuracy. That’s not to say the Mod4 isn’t musical, not at all; it’s just that there’s only so much weight and air a three-inch driver can move before you’re simply asking too much. What the Mod4 does so well is create an effortless and seamless musical performance, which is more than I can say for most of its competition.

Switching gears to movies, I started with the film adaptation of Frank Miller’s masterpiece 300 on HD DVD (Warner Home Video). Say what you want about the film adaptation (I thought it sucked out loud), it’s an impressive transfer to HD DVD, featuring some striking visuals and wonderful surround sound decoding. In the first battle between the Spartans and the Persians, the Mod4 system proved up to the task of conveying the epic conflict. The sounds of metal on metal as the two armies’ shields collided resonated throughout the room, as well as in my bowels. The wet slashing sounds for torn flesh and gushing blood were palpable and grotesque. When the battle went into slow motion, the balance between the score and sound effects editing was quite impressive, made all the more haunting by the moments of dead silence. Again, in terms of absolute dynamics, the Mod4 System is quite possibly in a class beyond its price tag. The sound of hundreds of thousands of arrows falling from the sky enveloped me in a way only a system comprised of these drivers can. The surround sound performance was excellent. The bass was, again, an absolute treat. I know of no other “small” subs, save maybe the Definitive Technology Super Cubes or the Sunfire True subwoofers, capable of doing what the Mod4 sub seems to do. Even amidst the onslaught of violence, the dialogue remained intelligible and natural-sounding. What the Mod4 may lack in total composure in the face of itchy volume finger, it more than makes up for with its amazing coherence and multi-channel balance. Plus, as a system, the Mod4s are just good fun.

The Downside
While I applaud the overall achievement that is the Mod4 system, there were a few things that bothered me. First and foremost, the Mod 1 binding posts are far from my favorites, even on inexpensive speakers. While they’re the same binding posts you’ll find on Gallo and Morel, and it’s somewhat the standard price of admission for “round” speakers, man, do I dislike them. Even with thin speaker cable, especially if you have to use bridging straps, getting more than a single run into the tiny holes is an exercise in patience. Also, because of the style of floor stand used with the Mod4s, it makes getting to the binding posts a bit more difficult. Still, I prefer the style of the Mod4 stands to the competition, so it’s a bit of a double-edged sword.

Conclusion
With a factory direct price of $1,999, the Mod4 speaker system from Orb Audio is quite an achievement. The Orb Audio Mod4 stands with larger systems just beyond its class and head and shoulders above those below it. With a robust bottom end that must be heard to be believed and a rather refined top end, the Mod4 system is about as complete a system as you’re going to find for a sub/satellite combo without spending some really serious coin. In addition, the Mod4 system is not just a "no holds barred" Orb speaker set. Orb has created the Mod4 system to be an upgrade path for those current Orb owners. Owners of the Mod2, or even the Mod1, can upgrade for a relatively small fee to the Mod4 system. For example, if you purchased the $1,289 5.1 Mod2 system last year, you can upgrade to the Mod4 for less than $200 per speaker. This ability to upgrade makes Orb Audio a true contender in the home theater speaker market. If you keep the system within its limits and have a large to moderate-sized room, the Mod4 system will reward you in spades. The Orb Audio Mod4 system is good fun and enjoyable at every turn, whether music or movies, not to mention being an absolute knockout in terms of style. There is a new king of round speakers in the AV industry and its name is Orb Audio.
Manufacturer Orb Audio
Model Mod4 Speaker System
Reviewer Andrew Robinson





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