There are upsides and downsides to engineering and selling a product with a design that is elegant simplicity incarnate, not to mention reflected in the name of the company. Such is the case with Orb Audio's gorgeous little spherical satellite speakers. For a little over a decade now, Orb Audio has made a name for itself selling American-made, three-inch, single-driver globe speakers direct to consumers. The upside to such a design? You really don't need to mess with it. The downside? There really isn't much you can do to tweak it. That's why the company's new tenth-anniversary offerings look virtually identical to the Orb Audio speakers that first hit the market back in 2003.
Of course, the new speakers - dubbed Mod1X, Mod2X, etc., to set them apart from the original Mod1, Mod2, and so forth - do feature some noteworthy under-the-hood tweaks to earn their new designation, the most significant being a newly designed aluminum "full-range" driver, which replaces the polypropylene driver that Orb Audio relied on for a decade. In most respects, though, the company's satellite speakers remain the same - which is a good thing, because I know of nothing else on the market exactly like them. What sets Orb Audio apart is that its spherical speakers are modular and upgradeable. A Mod2X is simply two Mod1X orbs bolted and wired together in a sleek K'NEX-like stand. So, if you purchase an Orb Audio home theater system built on five of the company's single-enclosure Mod1X speakers, move your system to a larger room (or save up some extra coin), and decide that your current setup isn't enough, your original investment isn't wasted. Simply buy five more orbs, bolt and wire them together, and now you have a complete Mod2X home theater system. Genius.
Most Orb Audio customers, it seems, opt for a system that includes three double-orb speakers up front and a pair of single enclosures at the back of the room, along with one of the company's subwoofers. I auditioned the People's Choice system awhile back in its original incarnation (three Mod2s, a pair of Mod1s, and the Super Eight subwoofer); so, when Orb Audio offered to send along one of its tenth-anniversary systems for review, I opted for the same configuration. The new People's Choice system ($1,198), in addition to including Orb Audio's X-branded satellites with their new aluminum drivers, also includes the new subONE subwoofer, which features some serious upgrades of its own, despite looking quite similar to the original Super Eight. Cosmetically, the subONE is now offered in a beautiful walnut finish (for $118 more than the standard black finish), but it retains virtually the same size, shape, and down-firing tuned port as the Super Eight. Its eight-inch driver is also identical, but its internals have been tweaked to improve low-frequency performance and provide better thermal and signal overload protection.
Unfortunately, one thing that I had hoped would change about the design of the Orb Audio speakers remains the same: the connectors. The new tenth-anniversary models rely on the same spring-loaded binding posts as the old design, which makes hooking them up quite tricky if you're using speaker wire of any appreciable gauge. I swapped out the 12AWG speaker cable I normally use in my secondary home theater for some decent-quality 16AWG wires and, although I was able to thread them into the binding posts for the surround speakers after some twisting and scrunching and squinting and cursing, it wasn't quite so easy to connect the fronts. This is due to the speaker's modular design. As I said, the People's Choice system employs Mod2X speakers for the front left, right, and center channels - and a Mod2X is merely two Mod1X speakers with jumpers between their binding posts. The only way I could make the connection work was to insert my 16AWG speaker cable about halfway into the binding posts, which pushed the jumper cable about halfway out. After quite a few weeks of use, though, neither the speaker connection nor the jumper cable between enclosures has come loose. So, thankfully, this was a one-time headache.
Despite looking very similar to its predecessor, the new subONE has been simplified a bit in terms of connectivity. The former's speaker-level inputs and outputs have been removed, but a second line-level input has been added. The crossover dipswitch has been removed. To bypass the sub's internal crossover, you now simply twist the crossover knob past the 160Hz point to the LFE setting. The variable phase knob has also been replaced with a 0-/180-degree dipswitch. Finally, an input for a wireless subwoofer adapter (sold separately, $129) has been added.
I connected the system to my Anthem MRX 710 AV receiver and ran Anthem Room Correction, with the Max EQ frequency set to 300 Hz. I know the fact that I applied equalization at all will be a point of contention for some but, in this case, I felt it was the only way to fairly review the system. Here's why: Orb Audio recommends a crossover frequency between 100 and 120 Hz for the system, but in practice that leaves quite a gap between the output of the satellites and sub. Both my ears and Anthem Room Correction agree that a crossover between 150 and 160 Hz results in a better blend, a smoother handoff from sub to sat. Of course, asking any subwoofer to blend seamlessly with sats at such a high frequency without some assistance, and without becoming overly directional, is asking a lot. And I think it's safe to assume that any receiver you'll connect the Orb Audio system to will employ some sort of room correction, so I didn't hesitate to use it here. Otherwise, I might never have found a suitable location for the subwoofer.
Why stop at 300 Hz, though? Many of the reasons were already covered in my primer on room correction. There's also the fact that the Orb Audio speakers - new and old - feature such a distinctive voice, especially in the midrange frequencies, and to modify that in any way would do a disservice to both speaker and listener alike.
Click on over to Page 2 for the Performance, the Downside, the Comparison and Competition, and the Conclusion . . .