Review: Orb Audio Booster With Super Eight Subwoofer

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Orb Audio is roundly seen as being a company that produces decent to excellent mini speakers at a price that is, at the very least, acceptable to a wide strata of the speaker-buying public. We reviewed a set of Orb home theater speakers and our reviewer found them excellent for cinema playback. The company, seeing a niche, has just released the Orb Audio Booster kit, a $356 package with two basic speakers and a little amp, for computer use.

Installation is dead simple: you plug in the speaker wires into a port on the back and then connect the speakers using simple, push-type mounts. You can then add up to four inputs – two RCA and two mini-jacks – and an optional $299 Super Eight subwoofer. Orb, to their credit, screws the speaker wire to the small green connector cage out of the box.

The front has power, volume, and mute buttons along with a light to indiciate current inputs. A clipping indicator rounds out the package. It has a “large/small” switch for use with the “Mod2″ configuration (two Orb spheres on top of each other, daisy-chained).

The Good
Orbs have excellent clarity. What do I mean? Well, when gaming and watching movies over my PC I often found cheaper speaker systems – most notably a Logitech set with tiny subwoofer – to mash most of the instruments and effects into one dense miasma of sound. These on the other hand, offer extremely distinct audio reproduction, allowing for a perceived separation of sound.

Even at high volume these little balls won’t distort and coupled with a Orb’s own subwoofer they create a sound-field that is unmuddied and quite listenable. They’re solid, American-made speakers that look fun and offer excellent reproduction for the price. They are all hand-polished and finished and contain a 3-inch driver.

Because of their small size and simple mounting system you can place these nearly anywhere in a room without much fuss. I usually hate setting up home theatre gear but because the Orbs are small, light, and surprisingly configurable I had no problems with this kit.

The Bad
Without the subwoofer you had better really enjoy the high-end. These speakers offer excellent separation and high-end reproduction but absolutely no bass without a subwoofer. If you have a powered subwoofer lying around the house – perhaps from an old stereo – you can quite simply add it to this kit and experience a considerable improvement in audio.

The Super Eight I tested is a 200 Watt BASH amp with a solid 12x12x12 cabinet and 8-inch driver. This subwoofer, when not tuned correctly, can really shake the room. Thankfully Orb includes a well-written manual so that novices can set their crossover frequencies and set the volume correctly.

That said, you can survive without a sub, but $300 extra will make you much happier.

Finally, one little problem keeps bothering me: the Booster itself. While it’s a handsome device – metal-clad and clearly labelled – it looks surprisingly generic. At CES each year there is a whole hall dedicated to OEM hardware straight out of the assembly lines in China. While the audio sounds fine, it would be a shame to discover that Orb is selling a $10 audio amp at a considerable mark-up and, given the generic nature of the device, I’m sure someone will find an example of it on monoprice or alibaba.com. I’m well aware of the value proposition of commodity hardware but folks who spend nearly a thousand dollars on audio gear may take umbrage at cost-cutting.

Orb Audio states that isn’t the case at all: rather, the Booster was designed and made in the United States, and sports a few features (subwoofer output, four inputs, large/small speaker switch) that are still uncommon on some other amps.

Bottom Line

High-end audio is, arguably, a maze. “Cheap” solutions abound and every audiophile will look down with disdain on your choice, citing various nebulous forum quotes in order to salt the ground before they begin their own exegesis on the value of carbon fiber over composite and how Amp X is better than Amp Y. But most of us just want our music to sound decent.

At $356 for two speakers and a Booster you’re not paying very much for excellent sound. For example, I’m a big fan of a pair of M-Audio studio monitors that are priced at about $800 and offer a full range of audio in a fairly small package. These little Orbs, on the other hand, offer similar sound in a much smaller package and with far-superior bass reproduction, provided you go the Super Eight route.

Orb audio deserves a look – they’re a strong, small company dedicated to direct-to-consumer sales of good audio gear. They aren’t “audiophile” speakers, whatever that means, but they are a far sight better than what came out of the box that your Dell came in and they’re far superior to anything you can get from your average pair of PC speakers.

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