Before I started working as a blogger, writing to earn a living, and spending 8-9 hours behind a computer I didn’t think too much of my desktop audio set up. In fact, you’d more often than not find me working in silence without music at all. But times have changed, and since my office is where I spend the majority of my waking time, I have to have a permanent soundtrack and it needs to sound great. While I was on the lookout for a good system, a company I’d never heard of approached me and asked if I’d mind checking out their products, so I thought “why not”, and agreed to give Orb Audio’s Classic One and Mini-T amplifier a try.
The Mini-T is a small, standalone amplifier with a built-in volume/power knob and a selection of inputs and outputs at the back. It’s small enough to fit inside the Twelve South HiRise stand for iMac making it incredibly convenient and easy to hide away. Perfect for anyone looking to reduce desk clutter.
Connected to it in my case were two globe-shaped speakers and the 200W Super 8 subwoofer, which together make up the ‘Classic One’ system. I have to say, they’re some of the most beautiful and minimal speakers I’ve used. The stands are made of a thin aluminum. What I particularly liked about those was that they weren’t completely rigid, there was something of a spring to the stand which helps absorb any vibrations coming from the Orb speakers.
And then, there’s the subwoofer. Design clearly wasn’t the key focus here, it’s essentially a cuboid box with a circle cut out of the front for the speaker. On the back is a huge selection of audio connection points, and a couple of neat toggle switches. There’s enough there to get any geek excited. It’s properly nerdy looking. Although the speakers themselves are beautiful and minimal, the whole setup sets a clear picture of focus on the audio and technical aspects rather than the aesthetics and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Saying that, the Orb ‘Mod 1′ speakers are a real work of art. They’re hand made in the U.S, and for an optional extra you can have hand-polished steel or copper. The work that goes in to them is incredible.
For the spec conscious of you: The two Orb ‘Mod1′ speakers lowdown:
“Our Mod1 satellites are constructed with a custom-designed, elite quality, full-range 3″ driver, set in our exclusive 4 3/16″ steel sphere enclosure. They are rated at 110W power handling and will work with all of the popular home theater receivers on the market. If your receiver has more than 110 watts of power, they will work as well, so onlg as basic care is exercised. The Mod1 satellites feature gold-plated binding posts, high-power neodymium magnets and oxygen-free internal wire. They are assembled in the United States by skilled craftspeople with years of experience in electronics assembly.”
Setting it up was an immense joy too. I would warn any of you with any phobia of wires and DIY, this probably isn’t the audio set up for you. To connect the speakers to the amp, Orb Audio can ship some stereo cable (another added extra). Once you’ve snipped the wires, split them in to, and stripped some of the isolating plastic to expose the copper, you then fix them to the connecting points on the back of the amp and the same on the speakers. There’s no mainstream black+black/red coverings either. You have copper colored and silver colored wires to correspond to the left and right channels. The whole process was a tremendous joy to me.
Connecting the sub-woofer to the amp was a lot simpler. It has its own designated cable with their own connectors which look something like the antenna cable connectors on for connecting an old-school TV aerial to your television set. I was sent the Uber Cable Ultra High Performance Digital Coaxial Audio Cable (Another $26 extra), the entire length of the cable was insulated by a thick, woven covering. Not only did it look like the business, it felt very durable.
On to audio, and again, there’s some geeky-ness required here and I did have a few frustrations. On the back of the subwoofer are three controls. One is volume, one changes frequency and the others for optimizing it for where it’s placed in the room, from directly in front of you 180 degrees around to directly behind you. While I enjoyed the physical set up of cutting wires, I found balancing the bass levels from the subwoofer with the higher frequency sounds from the speakers took considerable time. Since the Mini-T amp has a single volume control that controls both subwoofer and speaker volumes, getting the balance was a challenge.
Once they were set up to my preferences, the sound was incredible. I have to warn you though, if you don’t like bass, you probably won’t like having a subwoofer on your office floor. But then, that kind of goes without saying. With the small desktop speakers taking care of the higher frequency sounds like vocals, guitar and the like, the subwoofer painted the rest of the picture filling the spectrum (and my room) with sound.
One thing I will say is that without the subwoofer on, the Mod1 speakers on their own don’t really cut it for me. They’re clear and they’re sharp so there’s no denying that. The issue is that they lacked any kind of oomph, it was almost a little too sterile for my lacking. Don’t get me wrong, you can crank them up to an almost ear-bursting volume, but you really do need the subwoofer to get the bass right. What I will say is this, that with the Super 8 subwoofer mixed in, it takes the sound to a whole new and – almost literal – gut punching territory. At one point while I was still trying to get the balance right, I could feel the bass vibrating my rib-cage and almost felt nauseous. Almost. It made me smile. A lot.
Now, my set up isn’t the only one you can go for. OrbAudio.com offers a huge range of customizations. You can have a more powerful and versatile amp if you like, set up a 5.1 surround system, or replace the two single speakers with two twin ones. The choice is yours. Packages range from $239 up to $1499. And, although the price may be considerably more than what you’d pay for your bog-standard, dull stereo speaker set, you more than get what you pay for. If you already have a great amp and subwoofer and want some fantastic satellite speakers, the Mod1 satellites are a great addition a relatively low cost.
All in all, it’s hard to explain exactly how much I love these speakers. Everything from the look and hardware engineering through to sound is impeccable. In terms of cost, the Classic One system (Mod1 satellite speakers + Super 8 subwoofer) costs $549, and the Mini-T amp costs $69 if you buy them direct from OrbAudio.com. Cables are extra. Comparing this system to others of a similar cost, there’s just no competition. In fact, if you’re in the market for a high end desktop audio system, or home theater audio, you’d be doing yourself a serious disservice if you don’t at least check out Orb Audio. They cost a fraction of the cost that you’d pay for the premium manufacturers and deliver as good a sound.