Very often in this modern hectic world we don’t really listen to music. We may have it on but is background whilst we busy ourselves doing something else. It is high testament to the British designed Orbitsound T12v3 Soundbar that it made me stop and truly listen.
It wasn’t always like that however. When I first unpacked the box, took out the 2ft long shiny speaker-bar, the accompanying tall and shiny passive subwoofer and then plugged them in, the sound was anything other than enthralling. Very thin with overpowering bass it was like the soundstage was non-existent. Knowing audio equipment sometimes like to warm up I left it for a while which turned into a couple of days and then suddenly magic happened. It was a revelation the sound just opened up with a clarity and definition I just would not expect from a sub £300 system. Now I may have been unlucky with my system that it took this long, Orbitsound says any warming up should be very short, but it was certainly worth the wait.
This is not your ordinary speaker-bar. Most speaker bars are designed for movie playback and either use clever projection technology to bounce sound off walls to produce a surround sound field or use some form of psycho-acoustics to fool the listener into thinking there is surround. The Orbitsound does not try to offer 5.1 sound instead just looking to produce fantastic stereo. Indeed the Orbitsound does not even provide any form of on-board Dolby or DTS decoding. Send encoded output to it and all you will get is hiss. You can send a PCM signal over SP/DIF Toslink but it does not have HDMI.
What it does have is a solution to a problem that bugs many home audio systems – the limited sweet-spot. Most traditional stereo systems only sound perfect in one sitting position. Move away form that position and you have to adjust the balance to avoid being blasted by one speaker or the other. Most sound-bars also suffer from this issue as well. The Orbitsound is very different and provides what might be called an unlimited sweet-spot.
Unlike conventional speaker arrays which have distinct left and right speakers, all of the speakers on the front of the Orbitsound are effectively mono. There are two speaker ports on each end of the bar which produce the magic that convinces you that the sound from the front speakers is effectively stereo and does so, amazingly, wherever you are in the room. Cover these panels up and, well, the magic is gone.
What is also noticeable is that the volume level is pretty consistent no matter where you are in the room with little drop-off.
In many ways this makes the Orbitsound brilliant as a replacement for a conventional TV speaker especially in a family watching situation. No matter where anyone is seated they will hear the same clear and well formed stereo image. The clarity and precision of the audio also makes hearing dialogue very easy.
I was pleasantly surprised how the Orbitsound handled movies. Despite not having any form of surround being reproduced, the soundtracks were very engaging . Explosions resonated whilst quiet dialogue was noticeably clear.
With music the Orbitsound proved excellent. Treble – although the frequency response did top out at around 16K – and midrange response were excellent and precise . The lack of a specific sweet-spot meaning it was perfect for party type situations. I wasn’t totally happy at first with the subwoofer which was at times a little overpowering but taking it a notch or two back from the almost credit card sized remote sorted this. This brings me to my main area of complaint. There is incredibly little user feedback on the Orbitsound – only an on/off light which flashes when an infrared signal is received – and it is very difficult to work out what setting you have the bass, treble or volume at. This is made way worse by the fact that the Orbitsound loses its settings when turned off at the mains. This meant I tended to leave it in standby mode.
The controls are also not very precise with each press on the controller bringing quite large jumps. I would like to see this improved.
Having said that the audio quality makes up for this. Whilst it may not compete with expensive high-end audio systems, and it certainly isn’t intended to play HD audio, it is better than anything I have tested at this price range. It definitely gives every other iPod dock I have tried a pasting – yes, the Orbitsound is also an iPod and iPhone, although not iPad, dock. The dock works well with the remote control being able to access the iPod menus and select tracks, play, skip and pause. It can also send iPod video out through composite video.
Playing compressed music was interesting with poor bitrates definitely being shown up. I think this was emphasised by the Orbitsound spatial stereo technology which seems to really not like low-bitrate audio. Although it might be that the clarity of the speaker-bar was just really showing them up.
Whilst I am on bitrates I should note that the Optical input doesn’t handle high sampling rates and whilst Redbook CD and DVD playback is going to be fine anything over 48Khz isn’t going to play.
One other nice thing with this technology is that the speaker bar doesn’t have to be placed directly under the TV as again you do not have to worry about the sweet-spot. Having said I did find in blind testing I could always locate where the speaker was placed but as long as it was not too far from where I perceived the source should be it was not noticeable in a real-world environment. I tried the same trick with a Denon sound-bar and found it totally disturbing placed even a few inches away.
For the fashion conscious the speaker grill can also be replaced by a variety of other coloured options.
So is the Orbitsound any good? Much like the music it plays the answer is resounding: yes. There are a few foibles I would like resolved and I was certainly concerned by the initial results before the warm in but as I said in the introduction it actually made me want to listen to music and that has to be a good thing. The best thing you can say about any review unit is that you will be sad to send it back and I most certainly will.
By the way did I mention it will go really loud.
Technical Specification & Facilities (from Orbitsound https://www.orbitsound.com/default.asp#):
Controls, rotary digital volume control (on rear of soundbar), sequential input selection by pressing volume control. All functions available on remote control plus full control of iPod/iPhone.
- Frequency range +/- 3dB [Hz] 40 – 16K
- Maximum SPL [dB] 96dBA
- Amp. power [Watts at 0.1% dist.] 80 + 50 + 50 Watts
- Total power output [RMS] 180W
- Crossover frequencies [Hz] 160/5,000
- Loudspeaker Drivers:
- Soundbar (main) – 2 x 1” m/c, 4 x 2.5 “
- Soundbar (spatial array) – 2 x 2” full-range
- Subwoofer – Tuned reflex with 1 x 6.5” woofer
- Connection input(s)
- Stereo line level -10dBu on 2xRCA Phono
- Stereo line level -10dBu on 3.5mm jack
- Digital stere0 optical (TOSLINK).
- iPod / iPhone dock
- Connection outputs 2 X RCA composite video
- Dimensions (H x W x D) [mm]
- Soundbar – 100 x 605 x 110 mm
- Subwoofer – 460 x 230 x 230 mm
- Power consumption
- Standby, 2.3 watts.
- Idle, 5.6 watts
- Weight [kg/lb] 8/18
Package contents: Soundbar, Subwoofer, inline AC power supply, 1 metre fibre-optic connecting cable, phono (RCA) and 3.5mm connection cables, subwoofer connection cable, iPod adaptors, remote control, handbook.