If you're looking to upgrade your computer audio setup, the Orb Mini-T Amplifier & Speaker Package offers outstanding sound at a surprising price. The version I tested would also be a great home audio setup if you're looking for something that can do double duty.
You might not have heard of Orb. They're an American company that manufactures their speakers here in the States and only sells their gear online at their website and via Amazon. That means your can't buy their products at Best Buy, Costco, Sam's Club or any high-end audio dealers. The retail markup on hi-fi gear is notoriously high and Orb aims to offer high-quality gear at a reasonable price by selling direct.
Of course, there's a risk there: how can you sell high-end audio gear without a demonstration? Isn't that like trying to sell cars without a showroom? Orb's relying on word of mouth, reviews in non-traditional media (like this one) and offering a 30-day home trial for the curious.
So, what are you getting with Orb? The idea was that I'd be testing this system with an eye towards using it as a desktop computer and PC gaming setup. Does it work for that? Yes, but the actual experience listening to the system was a bit more complicated and interesting than I was expecting.
If you're a person who's happy with $99 computer speakers from the big box store, these speakers aren't for you. You can definitely get an upgrade from your computer's built-in audio at that price. If you're someone who's curious about higher-end gear, Orb delivers exceptional performance for the price.
I checked out the Orb Mini-T Amplifier & Speaker Package with the optional Super Eight Subwoofer. The package sells for $598 and includes the Orb Mini-T Amplifier and two Mod1 speakers along with the subwoofer. You can get the amp and speakers minus the amplifier for $299. Since you can buy the pieces separately, I also checked them out in a few other configurations.
The speakers themselves look fantastic, like something from a 1960's vision of our 21st-century sci-fi future. Orb makes a big deal that they're made of "American steel" and they're definitely an upgrade from the MDF fake wood cabinets you usually see at this price point.
I love the sound of the Orb speakers. My reference is always albums I've worked on: I prefer speakers that recreate the sound we were going for in the studio and these deliver on that count. That means they're spikier than the smoothed-out sounds you'd get from a Bose setup and demand a bit more attention than the background aural wallpaper effect popularized by that brand.
They don't excel on the low end, but that issue is more than resolved by the booming subwoofer. The Super Eight Subwoofer is a great deal at $399 if you're looking to add one to your home theater setup and it's an incredible buy at the $299 it costs when you add it to the Mini-T setup. There's a bit of a contradiction here: the speakers and the amp and both impressively small and the Super Eight is a beast by comparison but they've emphasized sound over design consistency.
The Mini-T Amplifier is the heart of the setup and it's a spectacular piece of equipment, a steal at $69. It has a minuscule footprint on your desktop (5 7/8" W x 5 3/8 D x 1 1/4" H) and delivers a lot more sound than its 15W/ch output rating would suggest. The 2013 model adds support for the subwoofer and the setup could easily fill a 500 sq-ft. living room. It's more than enough for any office setup you're likely to have.
The box is incredibly simple: one single mini input, wire connections for left and right speakers and a subwoofer out. The front switch controls the volume and powers the unit on and off.
I also swapped the Mini-T into my usual desktop setup between a D/A converted attached to my computer's USB port and a pair of vintage Realistic Minimus 7 bookshelf speakers. The upgrade was spectacular. I've messed around with Minimus speakers in various setups for almost 30 years and they've never sounded this good.
So, $600 for the full setup. That's a lot of money. But that $600 delivers audio that surpasses almost anything else in the price range. If you're living in a small space and got your desktop set up in your living room or bedroom and play all your music from your computer, this delivers an amazing value. If you stream everything from your computer or phone these days, this setup paired with an Airport Express or a bluetooth music receiver is going to deliver an amazing experience.
Orb also markets home theater setups, either paired with a Denon receiver or just the speakers if you've already got an AV receiver. If you're just getting your feet wet with high-end audio, the system as reviewed can be upgraded later with additional speakers and an AV receiver.
Of course, all of this depends on how you feel about wires. If you've got a new-ish soundbar attached to your TV, you can play music through that but you'd be hard-pressed to get anything that sounds this good for less than a couple of grand. For desktop speakers, you can get the B&W MM-1's for around $500 but they can't really deliver the low end you get from this Orb setup.
If you're on a budget, the Mini-T amplifier by itself is a steal. If you've got bookshelf speakers gathering dust in your attic, you can bring them back to life and give yourself a killer setup for your office, workshop, garage or guest room for not a lot of cash. The Mini-T plus Mod1 speakers are a great value at $299 but you're really going to want that subwoofer if you can swing it. Gamers who also care about what their music sounds like and can get away with cranking things up are going to love the low-end rumble.
What Orb is trying to do is obviously really hard: they're trying to maximize audio quality and deliver it at a reasonable price. They're counting on word of mouth to create a demand for their product. You don't get any of the built-in wireless streaming options that are the rage right now but you're also not paying for slick magazine and TV ads when you write them a check. They manufacture their marquee product here in America and they're hoping quality and craftsmanship are enough to attract an audience. With their exceptional design and exceptional value, here's hoping Orb breaks through.