Audiophiles often end up forced to compromise their principles in the workplace by resigning themselves to standalone PC speakers, headphones, or – heaven forbid – the tinny drivers built into laptops.
Boutique sound-system manufacturer Orb Audio hopes to offer some relief in the form of its new Mini-T, an amplifier designed to bring low-volume but high-end aural flair to your office.
Its gray body, which houses a class-T amplifier integrated circuit, is no bigger than a pair of Blu-ray cases stacked on top of each other and has just one control: A power button that pops out to pull double duty as a volume dial when depressed. It feels a bit plastic-y, but is otherwise agreeably minimal in design and footprint.
The back of the box features wire connectors for left and right channels, a mini jack to let you connect a laptop, phone, MP3 player and a power port – though one imagines this last will rarely go used, given the amp's attractive ability to draw power from an octet of double-A batteries and keep from adding power cord clutter to your workspace.
That's all there is to it. Well, almost. The other piece of the puzzle is speakers, which Orb is happy to supply as well. The American manufacturer is renowned for its small, modular speakers, which are about the size of a grapefruit and can easily be linked together in groups of two or four per channel to increase volume output and create fuller sound.
I connected an Orb Mod1 single-globe speaker to each of the Mini-T's stereo channels. Then I jacked in my iPhone, cued up a few albums and hit play.
Alas, the resulting audio was disappointing. It had gorgeous mid- and high-range detail, but lacked any sort of bass punch. Clearly, Mini-T users don't want to earn any noise complaints from their office neighbours, but one still wants to be able to hear the richness of a sultry baritone and get the urge to tap a toe when listening to something with a beat.
So I decided to add a subwoofer. This isn't an ideal solution for a system one of the chief selling features of which is its compact size, but it's easy enough to do, thanks largely to those copper wire connectors. I plugged in a 200-watt Super Eight powered subwoofer, which Orb (likely not coincidentally) included in my review kit. The difference was immediately evident, even with the subwoofer volume dial spun up just a couple of ticks.
Ratatat's guitar-driven electronica album LP4 came through lush and full. I heard high, medium and low nuances in the duo's synthesized and analogue sounds that simply aren't present when I listen through my own middle-of-the-road two-speaker Bose system.
Leonard Cohen's just-released Old Ideas was an even better treat. When I leaned back and shut my eyes it became easy to believe Canada's pop poet was in the room, speak/singing in his deep, throaty rasp just for me.
The problem, of course, is that to achieve this lovely sound I needed five wires to connect five separate devices, including the amp, two speakers, a subwoofer and a source. This just isn't a reasonable arrangement in most office-like environments.
It might be more suitable for certain rooms of a house. However, the more powerful and versatile Orb Booster amp system – which can take advantage of Orb's modular design to be built out into a full home theatre should the need ever arise – would seem to make more sense for home deployment.
If Orb really wants to make its Mini-T systems work, it needs to develop satellite speakers with a bit of oomph instead of relying on its existing globes, which, until now, were always meant to be used in conjunction with a dedicated low-end channel.
The Mini-T goes for $118 in specialty audio stores, but you can purchase it directly from Orb Audio's website for the much more reasonable price of $69. Throw in a pair of Mod1 speakers and you're looking at $299.
However, I'd only recommend the system with a sub, in which case you'll likely add hundreds of dollars more to your total expenditure, find your workspace crammed with wires and components and risk backlash from your officemates and employer. You'll get your high-end, near-field audio experience, but at steep cost.
Orb Mini-T Amplifier: orbaudio.com