Soundbar speakers are a clever one-stop solution for modern flat-panel televisions. They sit neatly just below or above an LCD or plasma TV, and replace the often dreadful speaker systems built into these displays.
Not at all visually immediate is the spatial sound facility, created not by potentially fidelity-sapping digital signal processing, but with the simple help of extra speaker drivers mounted on each end of the rectangular bar.
The real stand-out feature though is the Orbitsound Soundbar T12v3’s intrinisic sound quality. You won’t glean this from the spec sheet. The Orbitsound Soundbar T12v3 stands clear of the crowd by its quite convincing sound reproduction.
It’s not at all accurate in its stereo soundstaging; it’s not hi-fi in the traditional sense yet the big, confident sound the system creates remains more than a little compelling.
Orbitsound Soundbar T12v3: Design
Behind a full-width perforated-metal grille, fastened in place with magnets, lies an array of small speaker drivers to provide the principal midrange and treble coverage. Four small paper-coned mid drivers here are joined by two tiny tweeters, these sited close together in the centre.
That’s unusual – we’d normally expect to see tweeters sited as far apart as is physically possible, in order to stand the best chance of creating a sense of stereo width. Orbitsound achieves a diffuse soundfield a different way though.
All the front-facing speakers are wired together as one long mono array, rather than split into two notional stereo halves. The Orbitsound Soundbar T12v3 then creates its cloudy sound effect with the help of two tiny midrange drivers, one mounted in each end.
Ted Fletcher of Orbitsound described the setup as ‘sum and difference’: the front drivers get the combined sum of left and right channel stereo, while the end speakers play a ‘difference’ signal, comprising just out-of-phase stereo information. For the audio inclined, they’re wired in bipole rather than dipole fashion.
The result is a startlingly big soundstage, with great handling of all the central vocals and lead instruments that tend to be mono within the stereo mix anyway.
There’s no attempt to coax deep bass from this compact pseudo-stereo soundbar. Instead, an auxiliary bass box plays the deep notes, standing 46cm high and 23cm square. This sub-woofer’s speaker is not visible, as the 160mm bass driver within vents only through three rear reflex ports.
The Orbitsound Soundbar T12v3 is a solidly built bar, made from MDF and sealed with a thick piano-black lacquer. The bass box is similarly finished.
Inside the Orbitsound Soundbar T12v3 are three channels of class D amplfication to drive the system – Orbitsound claims 50W to the front speakers, another 50W amp for the endcap speakers, and 80W for the bass speaker, from the system’s two TDA8932 30-watt amp chips.
These are class D amplifiers on a chip from Philips subsidiary NXP, high-efficiency designs which let the whole system run from an external power supply the size of a laptop charger. Unlike regular hi-fi amplifiers, they run cool enough that no heatsinks are required.
And that power is enough to drive the system to surprisingly loud, clean volume levels.
A built-in digital-to-analogue convertor (DAC) takes care of purely digital sound sources, while we’re told an ADC digitizes analogue audio sources ready for the crossover filter. This splits sound into the optimum frequency bands for each speaker driver.
You can connect the Orbitsound T12v3 to four different audio devices. Aside from the iPod dock on top, there are two analogue plus a digital audio input on the back; the digital option is further divided into Toslink optical or coaxial. This will be particularly useful for flatscreen TVs, which often provide a digital audio output.
You switch between inputs with a supplied remote control, which also gives some control of iPod track selection.
Our review sample proved to be hand-made and pre-production version, and featured a handy switch that let us select between mono, semi-spatial and full spatial sound. We understand that final units are hard-wired to play only the full sum+difference effect.
Orbitsound Soundbar T12v3: Sound
Most impressive is the simple sense of tune and timing the Soundbar T12v3 brings out of the music. Integration between bass box and soundbar is excellent, such that there’s essentially none of the hole-in-the-middle problem found with many sub/sat combinations, where upper-bass and lower-midrange appear recessed.
Here we have a truly full-bodied sound that covered the lowest range of the bass guitar, for example, underpinning music with a palpable foundation. Acoustic piano and voices also benefit from this low-down sense of weight, making music far more life-like.
Thanks to the small midrange speakers, the crossover point to the tweeters is set higher than typical, around 5kHz, and crucially out of the ear’s most sensitive region. Voices project beautifully, yet naturally.
Only in the higher treble registers are we let down a little by the graininess of the amplifiers, class D types never being noted for their audiophile treble reproduction.
Heavily panned stereo mixes do sound somewhat different to how the studio mixed them – play music that pans effects hard left and right, and you just hear a spacier sound without any directional cues.
There is no display on the soundbar to indicate how it’s setup, save a blue LED that flashes when it receives a remote command. So it’s impossible to see which input is selected, or what volume the system is set to, nor the setting of the basic bass and treble controls.
In order to put the system into its nominal neutral mode, you can switch it off and on again to reset the tone controls.