The practice of only listening to music while parked in front of a big stereo system with massive speakers is a bit antiquated these days. Music is often enjoyed via headphones, all sizes and shapes of Bluetooth speakers, laptop speakers, and smart speakers like the Amazon Alexa, not just on our main audiophile or home theater rig. One audiophile listening venue that I’ve struggled with recently, though, is nearfield computer audio. Simply put, I spend nearly all day, every day listening to a crazy collection of music from a vast collection of many thousands of ripped Compact Discs over the years. I have a 2.1 “invisible audio system” in my office that includes Nakymatone ECHT speakers and a Gray Sound S80 in-ceiling sub, but much like the 55-inch Samsung The Frame TV and the Crestron remote in my office, they get little use because they live in their own technical world that is pretty much disconnected from my MacBook Pro and 49-inch LG 4K curved monitor.
One time-tested solution that I have found is from Internet AV retailer and speaker manufacturer Orb Audio. The Booster 1 is a $879 2.1 speaker system that comes with two small round Orb Audio speakers (with stands to allow them to sit on your desk), a Polk PSW111 subwoofer, and Orb Audio’s Booster amp complete with a Bluetooth adapter. This system is very versatile, in that it can bring much more resolute and full-range sound to your TV, play music nicely in a mid-sized room, or function s a nearfield monitor system as I am using it. I had a Cabasse The Pearl Keshi system ($3,000 for 2.1 including both Bluetooth and Airplay connectivity) to take on the same challenge. How do the two systems compare? Certainly, not on price. Orb wins there by a country mile, but let’s dig into the deeper details…
What Makes the Orb Audio Booster 1 Special?
- Orb Audio’s round transducers are a time-tested speaker design. They’re made of metal and come in all sorts of colors and finishes. I had a dark gray or “hand polished steel” finish for mine, which looked great on my desk under my curved LG 4K monitor.
- Depending on your room and system needs, you can select from a number of powerful yet small subs for this 2.1 speaker system. I opted for the Polk PSW111, which is an 8-inch sub with 300 watts of power. It was only a few bucks more, making it worth the extra investment. There were less-expensive options and I could absolutely see why people might go that route, but the Polk sub matched to this system needed about 15 seconds of adjustment on volume to match the Orb speakers, plus another 30 seconds to find a good crossover point and I was off to the races.
- The Orb Audio Booster “amp” is small and very easy to set up. This little amp can take traditional optical or analog inputs. It has a small remote that is easy to use. It comes with a Bluetooth adaptor, which is how I connected to the unit. You can adjust the level on the unit via a nice-feeling volume knob when you like, or use the remote. For me, I set a reasonable level and then used iTunes on my screen to change the volume more often than not, but all options are on the table.
- Everything you need to get rocking is included in the Orb Audio Booster 1. Optical cable? Check. Pre-made speaker cables? Check. Quick setup guide? Check? Small speaker stands? Check? Everything is included in your shipment.
- The experience of buying online from Orb is as good as any as you will find on the Internet, and that has been true for over 20 years. You just can’t fake that many five-star reviews over that many years. They have people that will hold your hand through the setup process. They have a quick setup guide that allowed me to rocking tunes in mere minutes. Both the purchase and setup process were simply fantastic.
Why Should You Care About the Orb Audio Booster 1 2.1 Speaker System?
Imagine your parents can’t hear their TV’s internal speakers all that well, or that you’re in a smaller room and want upgraded sound. Or, like me, perhaps you’re just looking to up the game on your computer sound ysstem. If you want to add a real audio system at a very modest price in any of the above scenarios, the Orb Booster 1 demands your consideration. And as in my situation, the need for audiophile grade desktop music is ever present.
Some Things You Might Not Like About the Orb Audio Booster 1 Speaker System
- The Orb Audio Booster “amp” works via Bluetooth via an adaptor that is installed for you on the back of the unit. It lights up blue and works perfectly. Because that part can change with the ever-changing world of Bluetooth upgrades (are we at version 5.2 yet? I think so but it is hard to tell) this allows flexibility and a possible upgrade path. But…when it comes time to connect to it, you won’t see anything labeled “Orb,” as you might expect. It comes up under the brand of the OEM part that they use. I kinda like when I see the item that I am looking for to come up in System Preferences/Bluetooth branded correctly but I also understand such a compromise to keep a lower cost system like this relevant and updated.
- The Orb Audio Booster’s remote is very intuitive in terms of its design and button selection, but it is not backlit.
Listening to the Orb Audio Booster 1 2.1 Speaker System
On “I Can’t Quit You Baby” from Led Zeppelin’s first record (AIFF 1440 CD Resolution) from the first note, it is obvious how open a round speaker can sound in a nearfield environment. Audiophiles will perk up for sure. The Polk PSW111 handles John Paul Jones’ bassline with aplomb, and if you doubt me simply turn the volume down to zero on the sub and start the track over again, as the Orbs can only do so much bass on their own. They were never designed to be a full range speaker, thus the sub pairing. Midrange clarity is excellent, with vocals present and imaging nicely. Jimmy Page’s guitar has a raw but lively yet not brash sound to it.
On “Englishman in New York” from Sting’s Fields of Gold (AIFF 144 CD quality) you get a larger musical palette but with even more space and a far more modern recording. The Orb system just eats this track up. The pianos have a percussive feel, while Branford Marsalis’ soprano sax dances in air right in front of my computer monitor. There isn’t one bit of harshness or coloration. The Polk sub helps out quite a bit with the walking bassline at about the 2:20 mark. Manu Katché (wiki) (sounds elegant on the drums and is accentuated by additional percussion. It all blends together in a fantastic audiophile demo when played back on the Orb Booster 1 System on my desk.
In more of a torture test and with nobody home at the time, I put on “Atlas, Rise” from Metallica’s Hardwired…To Self-Destruct (AIFF 144 CD quality). Don’t get me started on modern Metallica records and the impact of having your life-coach play bass on a major heavy metal album, but this record is much better in terms of performance and recording than some of the band’s disastrous efforts such as 2003’s St. Anger and Lulu with Lou Reed. On “Atlas, Rise,” you’ve got an all-out assault on the musical senses that leaves you often banging your head in approval when listening to the Orb system. The mix isn’t as open as the earlier Sting mix, but it is very good and at volume it never gets too harsh or shrill. With the Orb speakers and the Polk sub, the energy that came from this system was more pleasing and enjoyable to listen to than the much more expensive Cabasse The Pearl Keshi system, even when using the Cabasse’s Airplay connection, which the Orb system doesn’t have. The Cabasse’s Bluetooth was beyond unrealizable and they had issues with Airplay, too, which the Orb Booster 1 system for one third the price didn’t suffer from.
Does the Orb Audio Booster 1 System Have Any Resale Value?
This is an interesting question, because you could always sell off the Orb speakers on their own and they would have some value. The Polk subwoofer likely has some value in the future on its own as well. I am not sure what the amp would be worth on its own. As a package, you likely can recoup some of your money, but by no means is this an audiophile investment like in a traditional system configuration. In most cases, you would likely move the system into other rooms or give it away to somebody in need for a little music in their life.
Who Is the Competition for the Orb Audio Booster 1 System?
The round speakers in a luxurious package, I can help but to compare the Orb Audio Booster 1 System at $879 to the recently reviewed Cabasse The Pearl Keshi system at $3,000. To my ears, the Orbs sound better – flat out. Better bass. More open. Just better. The system also works better, as the Cabasse system misleads you to think that you can hook it up via Bluetooth when you never want to do that. The $3,000 Cabasse system’s remote is next level cool, though. Their room correction on their app makes their physically round sub sound much better too. In the end, I think I still like the Polk in the Orb system better, however.
There are countless other products ranging from soundbars to HTiB (home theater in a box) systems but they rarely have any hopes of reproducing audiophile grade sound even when spending the same under-$1,000 money.
You might be able to piece together a Chi-Fi system with an affordable integrated amp like the S.M.S.L. for $169 and then stick some larger speakers and a comparably modest sub. You won’t have Bluetooth in that system, but you would have more of an audiophile upgrade path if this was your main system.
There are powered speakers that could possibly take on the challenge that an Orb Audio Booster 1 system attacks, such as the SVS Prime Wireless for $599 or the AudioEngine HD6 at $699 (buy from Crutchfield) but those are a bit taller and still would likely need a sub to compete.
Final Thoughts on the Orb Audio Booster 1 2.1 Bluetooth Speaker System
The Orb Audio Booster 1 is one of the more time-tested, affordable, and audiophile grade package systems that I can think of under $1,000. In the nearfield space as I auditioned it, I was able to get excellent imaging, tight and well-matched bass, as well as a believable soundstage while never hearing an ounce of brightness or harshness. Factor in excellent customer serve, easy installation, and Bluetooth upgradability, and there is a lot to like here.
There are a lot of options in the all-in-one music system space but few have audiophile level chops. The Orb Booster 1 does. Others that can hang might be dressed in a nicer suit, but they come with a much higher price tag. The Orb Audio Booster 1 is a notable audiophile value in the 2.1 speaker system space at $849.