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Orb Audio Booster Review
Used within its limits, the Orb Audio Booster is a surprisingly powerful little stereo amplifier for desktops and small spaces.
(3.5 out of 5)
- Clean sound quality
- Flexible inputs
- Tiny for a stereo amplifier
- Useful high-pass filter with speaker size selector.
- Remote has limited range
- Fiddly volume adjustments
- No headphone jack.
The Orb Audio Booster ($164 direct) is a miniature, 20-watt-per-channel stereo amplifier designed for use on desktops, in dorm rooms, or small apartments. It lets you hook up an HDTV, cable box, game console, iPod, or other source, and gives you just enough power for listening at reasonable volume levels. Used within its limits, it’s a good choice for powering a small pair of speakers for a desktop system or small-space home theater.
Concept and Design
Orb Audio also sells a set of unpowered Mod1 speakers that work great when connected to the diminutive Booster amplifier, as well as a companion Super Eight 200-watt powered subwoofer. But the Booster will also work with just about any set of unpowered speakers, and you can drive the Mod1 speakers with just about any amplifier.
For all of its products, Orb offers a 30-day home trial, plus $9 for shipping, and the company manufacturers all of its products here in the U.S. For this review, I’ll concentrate on the Booster amplifier; feel free to head over to the Mod1 and Super Eight reviews for our test results for the speaker and subwoofer, respectively.
The Booster amplifier measures just 6 by 6 by 1.75 inches (HWD). It’s made of aluminum, with grooved, indented sides, and a matte front panel with exposed screw heads in the corners. The front panel features LED lights corresponding to each of the four inputs, plus volume buttons, a mute button, an input selector switch, and a power button. A series of green, red, and yellow LEDs also offer a real-time level meter.
Unfortunately, there’s no headphone jack. Switching between headphones and speakers will require some cable-swapping if your source doesn’t have multiple outputs, a common situation with laptop computers.
Inputs, Crossover, and Remote
The back panel contains four sets of stereo inputs, two of which are RCA, and the other two of which are standard-size 3.5mm auxiliary jacks. There’s also a subwoofer output, an infrared input, a small/large speaker selector, and a DC power input. The proprietary speaker connector is a little bizarre, but you can attach it to any existing speaker wire using the included screwdriver, and Orb Audio also sells a roll of speaker wire separately for $26.
The Booster’s subwoofer output means you can hook up a powered subwoofer that greatly extends the power and range of the system, while relegating the small, main 20-watt-per-channel amplifier to driving just midrange and high frequencies, thanks to the companion speaker selector. When set to “Small,” the Booster engages a high-pass filter at 160Hz; set it to “Large,” and it defeats the high-pass filter and gives you full-range response. The latter is perfect for driving a larger pair of bookshelf speakers, such as PSB Alphas or Paradigm Atoms, where you would want as much extended low end as possible.
The small, credit-card-sized remote control features bubbled, membrane keys. It’s made entirely of black plastic, and offers volume controls, a Mute button, four input selector buttons that correspond to the above stereo inputs, and a Power button in the top right corner. The remote works well enough and can be operated blindly, but you need to point it directly at the Booster, and not be too far away from it, either. The volume buttons deliver minute adjustments, which is good, but if you hold down a button (for a smooth increase or decrease) and then tilt the remote slightly, it will lose the signal, leaving you to wonder why it’s not responding. It won’t pick it up again until you let go of the button, reposition the remote, and start again. This is relatively minor, and I eventually became used to it, but it’s worth noting.
Performance and Conclusions
Driving a set of Orb Audio Mod1 speakers, the Booster sounded clean, transparent, and suitably detailed. In Muse’s “Uprising” and the band’s more electronic-inspired “Undisclosed Desires,” the vocals sounded smooth and detailed, and there was this sense of limitless air around the instruments that I rarely hear in satellite speakers. And with the Super Eight engaged as part of the system, the low end had plenty of punch, and I could still easily distinguish the bass guitar from the kick drum. The complete $802 system may be on the expensive side, but it sure combines well.
Overall, the Orb Audio Booster a solid little amplifier, and one I can recommend for any small installation where passive speakers are still called for. As for alternatives, we recently tested a pair of home theater receivers from Denon and Yamaha, in the $400 range, although both manufacturers sell lower-specified versions that start at around $200, if you’re primarily looking for surround sound. But the main competition for the Booster is the plethora of powered speakers on the market that don’t need a separate amplifier, such as the Audioengine 5+ , the M-Audio BX5 D2 , and the NHT SuperPower with PVC-PC. All of these cost about the same as the Booster when you factor in a pair of passive $200 bookshelf speakers, or the $239 Orb Audio Mod1 set.
By Jamie Lendino, PCMag