Review: Orb Audio Home Theater System

Quick — what’s the secret to building a versatile surround sound system? Finely calibrated speakers, receivers, and subwoofers? Wrong! The correct answer is balls. Specifically, interchangeable and mountable speaker balls (not the other kind you freaking perv). Pricey brands like Bose have done a fantastic job of saturating the satellite surround system market, but Orb Audio has decided to strike back. The company’s US-made Mod4 system is an attempt at the ultimate home theater trifecta: the delicate balance of power, performance, and price into one space-saving system.

After cracking open the 8 separate boxes the system set comes in, it’s clear that Orb is going for an eye-catching industrial look. Copper finished front/left/center speakers look steampunkish but still manage not to clash horribly with living room decor. The easily assembled HOSS (Hunk Of Solid Steel) speaker stands essentially work as an all-purpose base, keeping the towers from tipping over. Between all the hand crafted copper balls and stainless/carbon steel components the system screams “polished industrial loft living” — or just “eyesore” if you reside in a modest apartment like mine.

But really, it all comes down to the balls. Instead of opting for typical box speakers, Orb Audio draws on its namesake for hardware design. The front left, right, and center speakers of our Mod4 system were made up of quadruple banks of the company’s signature orb-shaped desktop speaker. The “People’s Choice” package we received also sports a pair of Mod2’s (the Mod4’s two-speakered cousin) to handle the the rear surround. Bringing up the low end was Orb’s 300 watt, 10-inch “Uber Ten” sub woofer, which, no joke, played a lot like the following clip in our tests.

Ultimately, this brings us to the question of the hour. Even with all the design-related sweetness, does the Mod4 actually bring it in the sound department? Believe it or not, those copper balls actually pack a punch. Rock, Jazz, and even Hip-Hop sounded surprisingly clear out of the box, producing both impressive mid-level presence and resonant highs. I even switched things up by changing receivers, and was still able to produce rich audio across a number of musical genres. The Uber Ten did its share of the work too by delivering deep, natural bass with precise thumps rather than indecipherable rumbling.

However, changing gears by popping in a Blu-ray presented a couple of minor snags. By about halfway through an advance copy of Rambo (2008), I noticed that most of Sylvester Stallone’s dialogue grunts were hogging the audio field. After some investigation, I discovered that the speakers’ sound fields are slightly narrow when playing digital content. A quick repositioning fixed this, and I was back to enjoying a chorus of grunts, gunfire, and screams in no time. Save for this small setback and some prohibitive pricing issues, the Mod4 system is a smart choice for DIY audiophiles who don’t mind going off the beaten path to design their system. And hey, doesn’t everyone want their home theater setup to have some balls?

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