Orb Audio Mini-T Amp and Speakers: Like Trying to Pull an Ox Cart With a Cat [Review]

Orb Audio Mini-T Amp and Speakers: Like Trying to Pull an Ox Cart With a Cat [Review]

Our story so far: For the better part of a decade, Orb Audio proceeds to build a stellar reputation for high-end home audio with their award-winning, modular systems based around the iconic spherical speaker for which the outfit is named.

But then the iPod and its iDevice cousins sneak into a rapidly-growing number of pockets, creating a massive, swollen market that’s eager to be introduced to high-end audio, yet yearns for a more compact, less complex setup than the traditional high-end home audio layout. And what about all those computer users stuck with tinny PC speakers? Surely they deserve siren-like audio too.

So the company comes up with a solution: Take a pair of the celebrated spheres, marry them to a tiny amplifier and call it the Orb Audio Mini-T Amplifier and Speaker Package ($299): bam, instant Orb Audio experience for your iDevice or Mac!

No, not quite.

The Good:

There’s certainly no problem with the way the speakers sound.  The little burnished balls sing like canaries, with crisp, beautiful, room-filling high-end — everything sounds bright and clear. The Orbs also do an excellent job of imparting depth and dimensionality. There’s almost zip from the bass department though, and you’ll understand why later.

As expected from high-end audio stuff, proper speaker cable is the connector of choice, and connects the Mini-T amp to the speakers; hooking the speakers up is pretty easy, as the cable slots through two sprung terminals at the back of each speaker. The only 3.5-inch cable you’ll have to mess with is the connection between your iDevice or Mac and the Mini-T.

Because the orbs are, well, little balls, they’re pretty easy to set up anywhere on the supplied bases. And because of their modular nature, there are a bunch of configuration options should you decide to add more balls, including stand options that allow multiple Orbs to be mounted on a single stand. They’re also fairly attractive, and available in different finishes — like  black, white or silver — to complement practically any decor.

This modular, custom approach is really a big facet of the system. Users can mix-and-match from the tightly integrated pool of components to create the perfect system. But this approach isn’t exactly the best approach for a small desktop system.

The Bad:

Let’s begin with build quality and design of the Mini-T Amp, which fell far short of what’s expected of a $300 audio system. The amp housing and single volume/power knob feels very plastic-y, and the whole unit  is completely devoid of charm; it’s like something fished out of the bargain bin at the local Radio Shack (no offense, Lance). The disappointment is especially noticeable considering how much effort Orb Audio puts into making their speakers look so appealing.

Which brings me to another issue: the bass-colored pair of speakers given to us for review were mismatched, and one was noticeable lighter than the other. It was probably an unusual error, but it just added to the impression that the set was unpolished.

But here’s the meat of the problem: The set has a gaping hole. The speakers do a great job at what they were designed to do, but they just don’t have any low-end punch. There’s simply no bass. Of course, that’s because they were probably designed to be used with a subwoofer — at least, they sure sound like they were. So it seems like what we have here is half of a great, high-quality (we’ll call the speaker color mismatch an aberration) system that’s been hastily pressed into service as computer or MP3-player speakers. And considering there are some great systems out there that either, for the same price, come with a subwoofer, or don’t and are designed to be used without one, and still sound great (and usually cost less), the Orbs are a tough sell.

Verdict:

A perfect example of a great product shoehorned into a product category it wasn’t designed for. If you’re looking for computer or iPod speakers, there’re better choices.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Orb Audio Mini-T Amp and Speakers: Like Trying to Pull an Ox Cart With a Cat [Review]

Orb Audio Mini-T Amp and Speakers: Like Trying to Pull an Ox Cart With a Cat [Review]

Orb Audio Mini-T Amp and Speakers: Like Trying to Pull an Ox Cart With a Cat [Review]

Orb Audio Mini-T Amp and Speakers: Like Trying to Pull an Ox Cart With a Cat [Review]

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  • Phil Menger

    Bose

  • Scot Mcphee

    When you say “no bass” exactly how much bass is lacking? I mean, those speakers look like they are only 3.5 inches or so … no speaker that small will have great bass (BTW speaking of 3.5 inches, with the jack and cables … I think you meant 3.5 mm). But also looking at the picture of the back of the unit, a crappy consumer-grade 12 V DC power connector is a dead giveaway that probably the amp is hugely underpowered. There’s a reason that “proper” power amplifiers weigh a ton … huge transformers for the power supply (and lots of metal to carry the heat away from both the power rectifiers and the final-stage amplifying transistors). If you look at audiophile reviews of such equipment they will spend a reasonably amount of time discussing the power supply as much as the details of of the stage design and characteristics.

    It always made me suspicious of buying any sort of transducer stage from “computer” companies like Belkin or Logitech because the quality is so affected not just by the “chipset” you stick in it but by the materials you use for the casing and the unsexy stuff like the stability of the power supply not to thrash its power rail when under load. It looks like audio companies fall into this trap as well to capture the mass-market (build for a price). I suppose the mass-market doesn’t really care that much — I increasingly go to parties nowadays where the music is driven off an all-in-one ipod dock (including one where they hired lights (!) but still used an ipod dock for the sound!).

  • Ramón

    Except for the stand, they look like Anthony Gallo orbs.

  • Janne

    Just buy a pair of Genelecs and be done with it. Prices start at around 500 bucks, and they even come In white. Theres a good chance that the music you are listening to was made with Gehelecs. Hell, Steve Jobs himself used Genelecs!

    And to the person who recommended Bose: I thought we were talking about hi-quality speakers, and not crap designed to be sold to gullible people?

  • laals811
  • laals811
  • Fred Maxwell

    I am totally in your camp on this and use quality gear for my sound (Rotel, Hafler, Creek, VMPS, Linn, etc).  Even for my computer, I have a set of Yamaha speakers and a powered subwoofer (not “multimedia” plastic crap — real speakers with dense, heavy, particle-board enclosures).

    You ask “how much bass is lacking?” And then you go on to correctly point out that you aren’t going to get great bass out of a tiny speaker.

    I don’t grade on a curve. Speakers don’t get a “pass” because they are small.  Either the sound is acceptable or it is not.  In this case, it’s clearly not.

    Now I know that some people will say that they don’t have room for large speakers.  Well, if you don’t have room for something bigger than these little spheres, then use headphones — show a little respect for the artists that created the music that you are listening to.

  • Fred Maxwell

    Ouch!  I’m sure that these speakers are bad, but comparing them to the crap that Bose comes out with is just harsh.

  • likethepear

    Couldn’t you have at least taken out the Swiffer and dusted the things off before you took the picture for this article? Sloppy and unprofessional looking. 

  • Beauty_Eye_5433

    @WakeUp:disqus This is cr?zy…Sist?r’s girlfri?nd makes 73 h?urly ?n the ??. Sh? has b?en fir?d from w?rk for 11 m?nths but last month her paych?ck was 7756 USD just w?rking on the PC for a f?w h?urs. Read about it on this w?b sit?……http://alturl.com/5v4wb

  • Aaron

    I wonder if they came from the factory that way… does Orb Audio care enough to use a Swiffer before sending them out for a review that they know will likely include photography?

  • likethepear

    Judging by the curly hair on the table in the last picture, I doubt they came from the factory like that. Seems more likely the pictures were taken in some dude’s bachelor pad. CURLY HAIR. EW!

  • gareth edwards

    For a few dollars more you could get a mini system from these guys – much better, super hi-Q kit and looks like it’s from a frickin’ space ship!  Nice stufff…mmmmmmmmmm

    http://www.fergusonhill.co.uk/… 

  • Harold King Linaza

    The bass looks cute..But i think it was an old one because there’s a lot of graze outside of its form.. :) better to fix that one so that it may look cool and had a quality sounds. :)

  • Harold King Linaza

    The bass looks cute..But i think it was an old one because there’s a lot
    of graze outside of its form.. :) better to fix that one so that it may
    look cool and had a quality sounds. :)

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About the author

Eli MilchmanWhen he was eight, Eli Milchman came home from frolicking in the Veld one day and was given an Atari 400. Since then, his fascination with technology has made him an intrepid early adopter of whatever charming new contraption crosses his path — which explains why he's Cult of Mac's test editor-at-large. He calls San Francisco home, where he works as a journalist and photographer. Eli has contributed to the pages of Wired.com and BIKE Magazine, among others. Hang with him on Twitter.

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