In terms of audio systems for small spaces, home users are not too demanding: they simply want something that sounds fantastic, looks great, is incredibly small, and is affordable. That might sound like a simple enough goal, but the subset of companies able to meet all of those requirements is incredibly small. Orb Audio recently launched the Mini-T Amplifier as well as compact systems that provide complete solutions for desktop or home speaker systems. Do they make the grade? Read on and find out!
The Mini-T is based on legendary T-Class amplifier technology, known for its audiophile sound quality and low harmonic distortion (just .04%). Like Orb’s speakers, the Mini-T produces a rich, brilliant soundstage with detailed imaging. Together, the speakers and amp create an immersive listening experience that will not disappoint.
The Mini-T is also small, measuring six inches wide, one and a quarter inches high, and five inches deep. Finished in an attractive charcoal gray, with black gloss front, the Mini T complements any of the six available Orb speaker colors.
“Our new Mini-T solves the common problem of getting home speakers to work with a computer, iPhone, TV or similar device,” said Ethan Siegel, co-founder and CEO of Orb Audio. “It’s the perfect alternative unsightly, underperforming computer speakers, especially as more people rely on their computers and mobile devices for music and video. Our customers have told us over the years that they want to use their iPod, laptop or PC as their main sound system, and Mini-T is the solution they have been looking for.”
The folks at Orb Audio sent me a bunch of great stuff to check out: the Mini-T along with the Quick-Pack, and the Booster amplifier with the Super Eight powered subwoofer. Let’s take a quick look at each:
The Mini-T and Quick-Pack combine for a great desktop audio solution. The Mini-T Amplifier is a tiny (6″ x 5.5″ x 1.25″) and light unit that is minimalist in design: you get a 3.5mm stereo input, bare-wire speaker clips, power connection, and a single dial on the front that operates as power switch as well as volume. (MSRP $88)
The Quick-Pack is a simple set of speakers with desktop stands, bare wire connections as well as included heavy-duty cable. The speakers are light and small, and they look amazingly stylish. But don’t let that fool you – the main draw here is the sound clarity. (MSRP $239)
The Booster Amplifier provides a more full featured experience than the Mini-T … with a price to match! You get four inputs (2-RCA, 2-3.5mm), sub-woofer output, remote control, and a simple terminal strip for connecting speakers. (MSRP $198)
Finally, the Super Eight powered subwoofer is a 27 pound behemoth of sound. It has a huge driver, high-quality RCA connection (gold-plated for minimal loss), crossover switch with frequency adjustment, and more. (MSRP $399)
As great as a speaker might look – and let me again state that no one will mistake these for the generic speakers most of us have linked to our computers or sitting our kitchens – it is ultimately all about the sound quality.
There were only two configurations worth testing: the $299 Mini-T/Quick Pack combination, and the full-on setup featuring the Quick-Pack, Super Eight and Booster … which would combine for just under $750.
The main comparison was captured on video, but let’s step through how it was all done.
We have a pair of decent computer speakers from Altec Lansing on the counter in our kitchen, so naturally we hooked up the Orb Audio systems right alongside those, with the subwoofer on the floor. This allowed us to play some music with our existing speakers and then move to the Orb Audio products.
The Mini-T/Quick Pack combination was quick and easy to set up and took up a minimum of counter space – and looked fantastic on our dark marble counters. And when we plugged in my iPod and started listening to music, we were impressed by the quality of sound. Very impressed, in fact. Regardless of the volume setting on my iPod or if I turned up the Mini-T to maximum, the sound simply wouldn’t distort. The volume wasn’t ear-shattering, but it was perfect to fill the small room so we could all work together cooking and cleaning with the music playing loud and clear.
The clarity of sound from the Mini-T was stellar – instrumental separation and the ability to discern distinct frequency ranges regardless of the musical density made these and instant hit in the family. Check out the video at the end for more details and a demonstration.
The only thing with the Mini-T/Quick Pack combination I noted was that the low-end response – my younger son loves trance/electronica/dubstep, and my older son is a fan of hip-hop … both of which rely on booming bass. That is something you will NOT get from the Mini-T/Quick Pack combination. So if that is a requirement, look elsewhere … or read on …
After thoroughly testing the Mini-T/Quick Pack combination, we couldn’t wait to check out the combined Quick-Pack, Super Eight and Booster setup.
The initial test was done without the subwoofer powered on, and we found that the Booster provided the same level of clarity and excellent frequency response as the Mini-T, indicating that the low-frequency response was more an issue with the small Quick-Pack speakers. The moment we switched on the subwoofer, we heard … thunderous bass. But with clarity and a certain punchiness I would expect from a specific bass amplification system, whereas too many subwoofers I have heard merely rumble and push air and have a rather vague sound quality.
Turning up the volume on the full setup never compromised the sound quality – but it DID get to the point of being simply too loud for us to bear! My younger son took the setup down to his basement ‘studio’ where he hooked out his sound gear to perform his own ‘rave’ … and the sound was amazing: clear and loud throughout the house.
Obviously there is a rather large price differential, but if you are looking for a simple but stylish setup with great sound – or a thunderously powerful system to over-fill your house – these systems provide excellent quality sound to meet that need.
Recently I saw a question about why you would need $200 headphones when the Apple earbuds sound good enough. My thought on that was – if the basic earbuds sound good enough to you, then you don’t need the high-end headphones. Similarly, in our master bathroom I have installed a Logitech 2.1 setup with small speakers and basic subwoofer that we can hook up to our iPods whenever we want. It sounds pretty good and has a decent bass response. You can get that setup for ~$50 on sale.
But in the same way I am amongst those who have no qualms with the cost of the Bose Wave Radio because it delivers superlative sound, so too do I look at the Orb Audio equipment as an investment in good sound. They are not cheap – neither in price nor build quality. You are truly getting what you pay for – well made equipment that has stunning clarity of sound and frequency separation. The desktop audio is competitive with other high quality systems in terms of sound and price, and if you add on the subwoofer you have a tremendously powerful audio system.
There are loads of options when buying speakers and amplifier systems, based on your expectations of size, sound, style and price. If you have high expectations for sound quality you need to have Orb Audio on your short list – and when you get their speakers you also get some great looking gear that won’t fill up your room.
Ultimately it comes down to how you value your audio quality and whether you can justify the price. But if you can get the Orb speakers, you won’t be disappointed.
Here is a fun video I made looking at an array of music types on both of the setups mentioned above. My only disappointment is that the gut-wrenching bass
Review: Orb Audio Mini-T Amplifier (and Much More!)
Where to Buy: Orb Audio Store
Price: $88.00 (currently on sale for $59)
Note: the Mini-T is available as a standalone product for $88.00, but can also be purchased as a package with two Orb speakers for $299.00
What I Like: Excellent sound quality; great looks; portable and easy to set up; Super Eight subwoofer adds thunderous bass; did I mention the sound quality
What Needs Improvement: Bass response of the Mini-T/Quick Pack setup was underwhelming.
Source: Manufacturer provided review unit