Affordable and compact soundbar system with a top-mounted iPod dock
From a standing start in 2008, Orbitsound has made quite an impact in the soundbar market, and the T9 reviewed here offers a more affordable and compact alternative to its well-received T12. It's aimed equally at movie enthusiasts seeking an affordable TV audio upgrade and, thanks to its top-mounted iPod dock, the generation of music fans who want somewhere to berth their iDevice.
The dock seems a little odd to me, though. With the advent of AirPlay and APTX-Bluetooth audio streaming, surely the writing is on the wall for physical docks, and its presence here does spoil the soundbar's aesthetics somewhat.
Dock aside, the T9 is an attractive, well-built shoebox-sized unit which is available in gloss black or white. Alone on a shelf it looks delightful, stick it on a stand in front of a TV where it's meant to go, and the look is more jarring than a Metallica song on a Spice Girls CD. The soundbar’s 300mm width is out of kilter with any decent-sized screen and there’s a danger of it encroaching on your viewing thanks to the 90mm height.
A magnetically attached metal mesh cover detaches to reveal twin 2.5in full-range drivers and a 1in tweeter. The magnets ensure the cover reattaches with eager solidity. There are additional 2in mid-range drivers at either end of the bar, which play a major part in generating Orbitsound's ‘spatial stereo’ sound with music rather than a specific sweet spot.
This works by mixing mid-frequency sound waves from the front-facing drivers with the spatial drivers at either end of the bar. It means that listeners don’t have to sit opposite the soundbar, although chances are they will be when watching TV, especially movies.
The T9 comes with a unremarkable-looking passive subwoofer, to which it is tethered using speaker wire and spring-clip terminals. A decent run of cable is supplied and the relatively compact dimensions of the sub provide greater flexibility in terms of placement than most. Cables are also supplied for all three sockets on the back of the soundbar, namely 3.5mm line-in, stereo phonos and an optical digital input. Controls comprise the main on/off switch and a volume dial, which is replicated on the slimline remote. About half of the remote is given over to iPod control, with awkward lozenge-shaped buttons taking care of volume, treble and bass adjustment.
There are no surround sound decoders built-in here and no LCD display. Visual information is limited to a small blue LED that glows when the unit is on and flashes when you adjust the volume.
Considering the soundbar’s compact size, its performance is truly remarkable. The battle scene in ...Prince Caspian has tremendous visceral impact as the subwoofer integrates well with the main unit. Dialogue has good clarity and the effects of fighting swordsmen – and, er, swordsmice – clang in to the room with wincing realism.
Switching sources often requires some adjustment of the bass and treble settings, a task made all the harder thanks to large jumps between each press of the button. Also both bass and treble need to be on minimum in order to get the best out of dialogue-heavy material such as Mad Men and Sky Sports' news channel.
With music the ‘spatial stereo’ effect is certainly convincing from a room-filling point of view but the effect is more mono than stereo: my Talking Heads’ track lacks a real sense of imaging.
While good at low to medium volume, Orbitsound's T9 doesn’t like to be driven too hard. At least the £200 asking price goes some way to making up for that foible. Those on a tight budget, or on the hunt for an iPod dock with an extra trick up its sleeve, should give it an audition.
HCC Verdict: 3/5
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