by Rory Buszka on June 13, 2007 in Audio & Media
Here’s something that’s a bit different for Techgage â€“ we have an in-depth look at a multichannel speaker package from ORB Audio, a new direct-selling speaker manufacturer that’s quickly gaining popularity. And for good reason, as we soon find out.
One of the most interesting newcomers to the internet-based direct-selling audio manufacturing scene is ORB Audio. In the few years they’ve existed now, they’ve made quite a reputation for themselves for producing a high-quality product and selling it for way less than they could get away with in the industry — thanks in part to the direct-sales business model, which is shared by other manufacturers like SVSound, Onix, Aperion Audio, Home Theater Direct, and Ascend Acoustics.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret that makes the high-end audio world go ’round: markups on loudspeaker products are enormous. High prices keep the ultra-high-end exclusive, and keep ordinary consumers wondering what could possibly be so special about three or four speaker drivers (hunks of metal, plastic, fabric, and rubber) in wooden enclosures with some internal circuitry. Some of that markup is distributed back to the dealer, as a “thank you” for giving extra-special sales treatment to a particular loudspeaker brand. Some of it even ends up back in the pocket of the salesman.
Now, let’s be real; some high-end loudspeaker manufacturers truly push the envelope, and the sheer amount of engineering and fine-tuning involved in achieving a synergistic result is enough to justify a stratospheric price tag in some cases, since they truly advance the state of the art in audio reproduction. These products are usually sold in boutique dealerships; you won’t even find them in specialty A/V stores like Tweeter or Ovation. But when more of the money you pay for the product goes back into marketing, sales, and legal departments than into the actual engineering and development of more innovative products, it’s no surprise that many consumers find these manufacturers’ priorities to be somewhat misplaced.
Like the other direct-sales marques I listed above, ORB Audio stands outside the main cluster of audio manufacturers, throwing rocks at the windows of the rest of the industry with their direct-sales business model that allows them to avoid many of the expenses that could otherwise drive up the price of their product. And, of course, the company abstains from placing enormous unnecessary markups on their products to make up the difference.
The product itself is the Mod series of loudspeakers, which feature a distinctive spherical “orb” shape â€“ the namesake of the company itself. Small, spherical loudspeakers were first made popular by Anthony Gallo Acoustics, but the Gallos will cost you quite a bit more than Orb’s offerings. I’m not sure quite what is meant by ‘Mod’. The spherical speaker pods lend themselves to a modular design â€“ the Mod1 system uses only a single pod, and the Mod2 system uses a pair for increased output potential. At one point, a four-pod floorstanding design (Mod4?) was in development, but beyond some preliminary photos, it seems the idea didn’t go much further.
“Mod” could also stand for Modern Art. The design of Orb’s products makes extensive use of steel â€“ beyond the driver pods themselves, the stands are also made from stainless steel tubing and flat stainless steel plate. In the case of the HOSS floor-stand, the base is a massive cylindrical hunk of stainless. Combine that with the availability of a mesmerizing polished steel or breathtaking hand-antiqued copper finish on the spheres themselves, and these speakers are works of art, not to mention a display of meticulous craftsmanship.
Even though we’re not what some might consider the distinguished audio press, Techgage has long been an advocate of advancing home theater PC (HTPC) technology. And that’s precisely why you might be interested in products from this new company. So ORB Audio took a chance on Techgage, and sent us their flagship Mod2 home theater system, a 5.1-channel package that sells for just under $1230. It contains five Mod2 satellite speakers and a “Super Eight” powered subwoofer with an 8″ driver and a built-in amplifier.
Wait a moment â€“ if that’s the price of their most expensive system, what do their less expensive products sell for? The Mod1 Home Theater System, which is essentially ‘half’ of a Mod2 package, includes five single-sphere satellite speakers and Orb’s Super Eight subwoofer, for a paltry price tag of $779. Two-channel systems are also available, and those start at $529. With a continuum of available options and upgrades on ORB’s web site, it’s possible to build a custom-tailored ORB Audio system for a very reasonable price.