After some fairly diligent research, and careful deliberation, I decided to purchase speakers from Orb Audio for my home theater. Well, maybe home "cinema" is a more appropriate designation, because I didn't go the traditional route.
Unlike perhaps most of you I don't feel the whole 5.1/surround sound phenomenon provides all that much benefit. Personally, I find having sound emanating from all around me to be a distraction, and diminishes the viewing experience. Call me old school, old fashion, or just plain old, but having the sound originate from the same area as the picture is much more pleasing to me.
Regardless of my own proclivities -- or your feelings towards them -- I still have discerning tastes. So essentially what I did was create my own version of a 2.1 speaker system, but using quality components of my own choosing. I opted for the Classic Two
system which consists of two Mod2 satellites and a Super Eight subwoofer. In addition to the speakers I also purchased a small amp to power the Mod2's (the sub has it's own amp).
Note that I'm not a professional reviewer -- or even much of a writer for that matter -- so my version of a review will more then likely pale in comparison to what some others are capable of producing. But here goes anyway...For Starters
My viewing room is approximately 13x17x8.5, so it's rather small by way of comparison. There is wall-to-wall carpeting, no drapes and a few pictures hanging on the walls. The TV is positioned diagonally in a corner on top of a heavy wooden table, which contains doors and shelves underneath. Basically, a pretty common TV stand. The Mod2's are on top of the TV stand, mounted in pairs horizontally. The Super Eight is on the floor next to the stand. I've had this setup for almost 2 months now, and broke in all the components for over 50 hours before I wrote this review.
I probably should preface the actual review by saying that I purchased 'B' stock items, in order to save a few dollars. The equipment is all supposedly brand new, with nothing more then cosmetic blemishes to distinguish them from the other products Orb Audio sells. And what I received is definitely 'B' stock; 3 of the 4 Orbs have slight defects in the finish. The stands have a rough spot or two as well. The subwoofer, however, has no problems that I'm able to find. None of the defects are anything other then appearance-related. Only one of the Orb's has what I would consider a noticable paint flaw, and even that is relatively minor. Mine are configured horizontally -- side by side -- so I merely mounted that particular Orb so the mark was facing down, and now it's pretty much invisible. The remaining issues are not substantial in nature, so I was less concerned with "hiding" anything. Because I knowingly purchased 'B' stock I can't effectively comment about the quality of workmanship so I'll refrain, except to say that other then the cosmetic blemishes the components appear to be solid and well made.Mod2 Satellites
'Interesting' is the first word that springs to mind when you unpack them. They are literally the size and shape of a softball. I don't recall ever seeing anything like it before. I know once you start to spend extraordinary amounts of money on speakers you can find some pretty bizarre and esoteric looking units, but this is a new one on me. In general they feel like well constructed speakers.
The binding posts on the rear seem to be sturdy, but one learns rather quickly they aren't large enough for the wires you need to use. Let me clarify that statement a bit further; I suppose for single speaker setups (Mod1) the posts are large enough for wire up to maybe 14 gauge, but when used in pairs (Mod2) the posts quickly become a hassle. Wiring them in parallel, as you must when hooking up the Mod2's, is an exercise in futility; trying to get two wires into one set of binding posts, even when both are only 18 gauge, can be a struggle. If you posses a third hand that could mitigate the issue to some extent, because you would have more dexterity, but even then I suspect it would be a difficult. Of course, this is not something you'll need to do frequently, but when you do find yourself in that position you might end up frustrated by the whole endeavor.
Confronted with an aluminum softball that contains a mere 3" driver -- without a crossover, no less -- makes you think there will be some prominent shortcoming in the sound, but for the most part I found none. There is a small amount of "sizzle", often associated to the very highest frequencies, that's missing, but it's not terribly conspicuous. There's a slight hole in the lower midrange too, a bit of "punch" if you will, that's not there.
The latter of the above concerns is most noticeable if you happen to be playing music. Thankfully voices are not effected; those come through with great detail, which is especially critical in movies. I've attempted to adjust the crossover up on the sub, so it can take on a larger amount of those lower-mid frequencies, but that only served to make the sound a little muddy. That became quite obvious too, because the Mod2's have incredible accuracy and clarity. To be honest, the Mod2's project detail in a manner that surprised me; when you look at them they don't appear to be much of anything, but once they're broken in the sound they produce is remarkably smooth and precise. They can be a little directional, but that might be related to the fact that I can only separate them by about 30".Super Eight Subwoofer
At only 12" cubed it's also very compact. Not quite as diminutive as the Mod2's are, but still very small nonetheless. It's covered on all sides in a textured material, with a black non-gloss finish. It doesn't match the piano-black finish of the Mod2's, but it's not unattractive. The grill is held on with magnets, which is something I've never encountered before. Initially I was concerned it might not be tight enough, and could possibly vibrate during more aggressive bass passages. That concern hasn't proven true thus far; I've heard no untoward noises or rattling, regardless of the volume or intensity.
The purist I'm sure will say this is not actually a subwoofer, but more like a bass enhancing device, and I suppose to some extent that might be accurate (realistically, how much bass can you expect to get from an 8" driver?). But don't tell the Super Eight it isn't a subwoofer, because it's definitely an overachiever. Like the Mod2's I was pleasantly surprised by the sound this little unit puts out. Orb Audio's website is woefully lacking in specifications for their products, so I can't say for certain how low it actually goes, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was in the lower 30's range. I wouldn't be terribly shocked to find that it can go down into the upper 20's. There have been times when I've actually gotten "feel" from the lower frequencies, something I didn't anticipate from an 8" subwoofer. It could use a bit more clarity though, because not everything is as precise as it probably should be (made somewhat more obvious I'm sure by the astonishing openness of the Mod2's).
I found the amp in the sub could use a little work with Standby Mode. The volume it needs to "wake up" is too much, substantially more then what it takes for the amp to go back to sleep. For example, it might require a volume of 15 on the TV in order to wake the amp up, but 8 for it to go back to sleep. Seems to me like whatever the volume level is to wake it up should be virtually identical to what makes it go to sleep, but that's not the case. One thing the amp doesn't do is get hot, regardless of how long you use it or at what volume. Warm is about all it ever seems to get.Miscellaneous
Often times clarity and volume are mutually exclusive - if you have one you generally don't have the other, especially with smaller speakers. The Classic Two defies that stereotype. Not only do they have exceptionally clear and accurate sound, they can play loud
. I've turned them up far louder then I would dare listen for too long -- to the point where pictures on the wall rattled -- and the sound remained as precise and clean as when the volume was much more reasonable. It was incredible; I just kept twisting the volume knob and they simply got louder and louder. No distortion, no clipping, no drama whatsoever.
I do have one considerable beef with Orb Audio though; contrary to what their website heralds there speakers are not made in America. Not all of them, anyway. My Super Eight came in a box that prominently said Made in China.
I'm a huge Buy American person, so part of my purchase decision always considers country of origin. Much to my chagrin it's virtually impossible to buy electronics made in this country, so when I saw Orb Audio practically sermonizing about how their stuff is made in America I was thrilled. Turns out not to be accurate, which doesn't sit well with me at all.Conclusion
The aforementioned honesty issue notwithstanding, the bottom line is I love this speaker system. The quality of the sound is outstanding, with a precious few shortcomings. They make quite the conversation piece as well. Orb Audio unabashedly proclaims that their direct sales approach results in a significant savings, making it so you get far more for your money. I'm not firmly convinced it results in the phenomenal bargain they allude to, but I do believe you get a lot for your money (except for the stands they sell, which go from merely over-priced to ridiculously over-priced). However, if I had to do it all again I absolutely would. The definition, clarity and volume the Classic Two is capable of is very impressive, and worth the price you pay. If you're considering a speaker purchase you might wish to audition them for yourself. Like me, you may end up being pleasantly surprised.Update 2/22/11:
I inadvertently left out one topic from the original post - customer service. I've had the opportunity to contact Orb on several occasions, all but once via email. In every instance they responded within 24 hours, sometimes even the same day (there was one email that I got a reply to on Saturday, which is highly unusually). In every exchange I've dealt with the same person, who has been profession and courteous, so for me I'd rate their service as quite good. Too often now you get pathetic service and/or support, but thus far Orb has been the exact opposite.Update 4/29/11:
Since posting my original review I've had the opportunity to try the Classic Two speakers with a few different amps, so I thought it was time to update my findings.
The first change I made was ditching my old TV for a new plasma. This necessitated the updating of the amp. Honestly, I was never thrilled with the Pyle "solution" to begin with (as noted above) so I dug out of storage my cherished old friend; a Denon PMA-700v integrated amp. I bought it in the late 80's, but it's been packed away for a number of years so it's still in excellent shape. I connected that to the new TV via an optical connection -- and the Classic Two's of course -- to create a much better setup, with one notable exception; due to it's age the Denon has no remote control. That became a huge issue because the optical audio out connection on the new TV was unlike the older TV's analog audio out in as much as the TV's remote doesn't control the gain. Sadly that meant the Denon wasn't going to work either.
So I went shopping. Again. I now own a Sherwood R-904N. Not a great AVR I suppose, but I have space limitations which prevent me from purchasing anything more conventional. However, that means I've now used the Classic Two system with 3 different amps, so I'm able to draw some revised conclusions.
-- The speakers have more "sparkle" (high frequency presence) when using the Denon or Sherwood. The latter is not quite as good as the former, but it's still better then the Pyle. That was a big complaint of mine; the upper frequencies were lacking, but it appears as though the Pyle amp was the culprit and not the Mod2's. Now I have the upper frequencies I coveted, and they're quite distinct and precise too. Much more to my liking.
-- The lower midrange/upper bass is still not quite sufficient. I've tried all manner of crossover points, sundry configuration settings and now 3 different amps, but there's just something missing in that range. A lack of punch or depth if you will, but it seems like this issue is due to the Mod2's because none of the amps could rectify that. The Denon and Pyle didn't have any special adjustments for the crossover, as you would expect, so I used the one on the Super Eight subwoofer. Now that I have a true AVR I've disabled that and use the Sherwoods adjustments, which can be set for 40/80/100/150/200Hz. Sadly, it appears none of those are ideal; 100Hz exacerbates the midrange problem, but makes the highs sound better, while 150Hz brings in a bit more lower midrange, but can make the vocals "heavier" and less clear. What the Sherwood needs is a 120Hz setting, which is what seemed to work best when I was using the Super Eights crossover with the other two amps.
-- The subwoofer is now even more reluctant to "wake up" when the amp is turned on. With the Pyle and Denon the sub was hooked up via high level inputs. The sub would only come to life if you had the volume up past what I feel should have been necessary, more then the volume needed to make the sub go back into standby mode anyway. Now that I'm using the line level connection I find it's even more difficult to get the subwoofer out of standby mode. More often then not I have to wait until a commercial comes on (which general have a blaring sound track) or really crank the volume. The latter choice I don't consider optimal because that often leads to a less then graceful transition from off to on, which could potentially impact longevity.
The bottom line is that now the highs are definitely better, the lower midrange is still not what I hoped it would be and the sub is rather hesitant to come out of standby mode. The highs improved because of the better amps, the midrange "hole" is probably due to physics (3" speaker) and can't be fully mitigated, while the standby issue is just perplexing.
One other nit to pick; the cross-bar on the horizontal BOSS stand does not seem to be very sturdy, regardless of how much you tighten the anchoring screw. It doesn't take much pressure for the position of the orb's to change; seems like the slightest movement and they just flop down.
I ultimately eliminated one of the horizontal BOSS stands by changing my configuration from 2.1 to 3.1. As an unexpected consequence the sound actually improved further, counter to what I had anticipated. My assumption was having two dual-orb's for each channel (in a 2.1 configuration) would provide better clarity, resolution and depth, but for TV viewing that wasn't what occurred. What I found is the balance of sound is actually better using 3.1, and nuances that weren't fully projected are more evident now. When listening to music in 2 channel mode -- which utilizes just the single orb's on the FL and FR channels -- the subwoofer can overpower the satellites a bit, but while watching TV, which I do perhaps 90% of the time, the symmetry and cohesiveness is very evident.
About the only thing I don't like about the 3.1 setup is the FL and FR stands are black, while the center is brushed aluminum. Don't know how I'll resolve that, but right now it looks rather unbalanced. It sure sounds nice though.
One final thought, simply to reiterate what I said earlier... Orb's support is really second to none. I have had occasion to contact them several times recently, and in every instance my emails were answered in a timely and professional manner. You never have to fight to get assistance, unlike the vast majority of companies today. These guys put in the effort to make sure you're happy, which is a very pleasant surprise.