It’s probably fair to say that Orbitsound aren’t the most high profile manufacturer in the ever-expanding soundbar market but that’s not stopped them from doing very nicely, thank you. Orbitsound was founded by British audio engineer and musician Ted Fletcher and has continued to go from strength to strength, achieving growth in the market ahead of the overall expansion. Considering the soundbar market is up by around 60% annually, that’s some impressive numbers. So they must be doing something right and now we have the opportunity to find out what. Here we have their M12 system featuring a wireless subwoofer and Orbitsound's ‘spatial stereo’ technology which promises no compromise in the listening sweet spot, no matter where you are in the room. Does it work? This and other matters covered below.
Design and Installation
The Orbitsound M12 doesn’t have the widest span and measures only 60cm across – meaning it will fit comfortably under even a 32-inch (possibly 28” too) TV without spilling over the outer edges of it. If you’re like us and don’t like the lines of your set-up to be disturbed by non-uniformity this is a plus but of course it presents potential stereo separation issues which we’ll tackle later in the review.
The M12 could be plainly described as a piano black, solid rectangular object but that would really do the attention to detail Orbitsound has so clearly invested somewhat rough justice. Build quality feels truly excellent and the subtly rounded edges of the main speaker unit lend it a demure, classical appearance. Perhaps you need to see it in the flesh but, trust us, it looks and feels great. Speaking of flesh, for those that prefer their audio au naturel, the M12 features a detachable, magnetic grille to the front - the removal of which changes the M12’s looks from understated to quite aggressive as almost the entire facia is covered with the speaker drivers. There’s 2 pairs of 2.5-inch main driver units each accompanied by a single 1-inch tweeter. Move to the sides and you’ll see the grilles for the 2-inch drivers that bookend the soundbar and provide the driving force for their proprietary Spatial Stereo technology.
Last year’s Orbitsound bars were availed of a dock for iDevices but perhaps as a reaction to Apple’s switching to the Lightning connection, there isn’t one on the M12 which might limit its appeal a tad although it’s perfectly capable of connecting with one – or most other mobile devices - via Bluetooth or the line-in or RCA jacks that are positioned to the rear. The big absence, connectivity wise, comes with a lack of any HDMI support, instead you’ll probably work it in to your set up (if it involves video) via the optical S/PDIF input. The lack of HDMI is probably more of a convenience deficit than an audio one as, of course, it’s a stereo source and not a 5.1 or higher system, but no HDMI CEC (consumer electronics control) or ARC means you’ll have to use the supplied remote control instead of that of your TV or AV Receiver.
Not that there’s anything wrong with the M12’s controller; like the engineering of the main speaker unit, it feels extremely solid and fairly weighty for something so relatively compact. Like the soundbar itself, the remote is predominantly cast of shiny black material to the front and has adjustments for Volume, Treble and Bass as well as a Mute button, Source selection and power. Something to note is that the audio controls are quite coarse, so if you have it down low for late night listening, beware that 3 or 4 quick clicks up on the volume can result in peace-breaking levels of output. We’d also like it if the labelling on the buttons was easier to read in low light conditions, or even better if there was a backlight, but since there’s relatively few buttons that's not a huge limitation.
Operation & Features
Where the iDevice dock once sat, in the middle of the main speaker bar on the top panel, now resides a new control panel, allowing for access to some basic operations – Source Select, Volume, Power and Bluetooth as well as a visual indication as to which source is currently selected. It’s elementary stuff but useful, nonetheless, when using the M12 with connected iPods and the like.
Orbitsound are proud of the included wireless technology that transmits communications from the main unit to the subwoofer. Latency is said to be around one 100th of a second, which should hopefully mean we won’t be lamenting a sluggish bass response later in the review; an accusation we’ve levelled at some of the M12’s competitors recently. The manufacturer says that although it uses the standard 2.4GHz wireless transport system, they’ve managed to chop down the inherent latency issues of the technology by deployment of high gain antennas and by a reduction in the amount of digital buffer at the receiver end. The (small) downside to this - the range is reduced from about 15 to 10 metres but we can’t imagine many would have the two speakers so far apart.
The inclusion of Bluetooth technology should almost make up for the lack of a physical dock and the M Series carries the Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP), which is more than capable of streaming high quality stereo audio, in most cases. Additionally, the M12 is capable of ‘Bluetooth Grab’, meaning a previously paired device that is present but not actively playing can quickly be brought back into the action by using the appropriate button on the Control Panel. We tested the M12 with a Nexus 7 and an iPad and, with those devices at least, set up, connection and pairing took less than 30 seconds and once paired, transitions between selections near seamless. The look on a child’s face when they’re watching a video on a tablet but with the audio coming out of the speakers is almost worth the entry price alone. Technology increasingly becomes magic for the masses.
Other party pieces include a setting memory, so that the likes of the source, volume, treble and bass settings are maintained even if the power is disconnected. There’s also something Orbitsound term ‘Party Protection' whereby a very loud setting from the previous use will be automatically turned down on next switch on. The M12 will also enter a muted state when no signal (or a very low one) is being received; this has two benefits – it reduces power consumption and cuts down on any unwanted sounds emanating from either speaker unit.
The major talking point of the orbitsound M12 lays in the efficacy (or not) of the spatial stereo drivers and technology. The M12, as mentioned earlier, has 2 side firing speakers that use digital processing to create a wider soundstage than the dimensions of the bar would inherently allow; and it works well. Whilst we’re not entirely convinced of the claims that the M12 eliminates the sweet spot, it does unquestionably sound at its best when listened to from flush on, but equally not in doubt is that it does manage to convey an impressive sense of stereo, almost wherever you are in the room.
Whilst the spatial stereo technology is probably the M12’s ace in the pack, that’s not to say it’s not holding some other useful cards. Where we’ve lamented some slightly tardy response with wireless subwoofers in the past, the Orbitsound showed no such sluggishness. Bass response feels crisp and immediate and perfectly in synch with the drivers in the main unit. It’s not a thumping woofer, there’s only so much that can be done with a six and a half inch bass driver but the tightness is fair compensation for the lack of natural oomph. That’s not to say the sub is insipid, in any way, just that it’s subtle and quite refined and, for the average living room set-up, more than capable of hitting the required low notes.
We gave the Orbitsound M12 a varied, if not always healthy, diet during its time with us and it managed a good balance between a music and movie player. In terms of its musicality, at default settings we did find it a little too bright and shrill but with some alteration of the bass and treble control, we settled upon something more appealing. We would say it’s more suited to electronic and dance music than acoustic or rock but there’s always an element of personal preference here. I tend to favour warmer sounding audio but your mileage may well vary.
Bearing in mind the design, not to mention the marketing, the Orbitsound M12 is clearly intended to be sat beneath a TV so it’s obviously important it can handle the demands of film and television - and it most assuredly can. The digital processing technology combined with the side-firing drivers gives multi-channel audio tracks a very convincing portrayal and some recent acquisitions – including Dredd and Madagascar 3 (we like to mix things up) – certainly were reproduced excellently by the M12. Madagascar’s dialogue can sound muted on some 5.1 systems but all was clear here. We waited for the family to be out before subjecting the M12 to the bombastic soundtrack of Dredd and its thunderous menace was almost certainly duly noted by the neighbours as the Orbitound M12 is capable of surprisingly lofty levels of volume without cracking under the strain. Naturally we’d always lean to a true surround setup where possible but if you can’t do that (we’ll stop short of the emasculating ‘not allowed’ phrase), you could certainly do much worse than spending the £300 asked here.
- Snappy bass
- Immersive soundstage
- Bluetooth compatibility
- Excellent build quality
- No HDMI
- Some might miss the lack of an iDevice dock
Orbitsound M12 2.1 Channel Soundbar with Wireless Subwoofer Review
The orbitsound M12 is a fairly trim affair, measuring only 60cm across, but it feels extremely sturdy and despite the plainish gloss black finish, it does look very nice in the flesh and, moreover, exudes a sense of solid craftsmanship in the quality of its engineering. Or, in other words, it’s built like a tank with the combative feeling only enhanced with the magnetic grill removed to reveal the naked drivers across the front. Orbitsound has added a new control panel to the top-centre in the stead of the iDevice docking station of last year’s models but the inclusion of solid Bluetooth technology should mean most won’t lament its passing. For less hands-on control, the dinky supplied remote will get the job done, even if its buttons are difficult to read in subdued lighting. Aside from the Bluetooth connectivity, there’s also physical inputs for optical digital audio and an Aux-in but no HDMI meaning it lacks the convenience of being able to control the volume with a TV remote that some of the competition provides.
Orbitsound make a few noises about their proprietary wireless tech which connects the main speaker unit to the subwoofer and rightly so, you don't want a loss of connection between the mid and high frequencies and the low end, something we’ve had to criticise other wireless sub packages for lately. This makes the M12 a very snappy performer - whether with music or movies – and although it’s not fair to expect miracles from a 6.5-inch bass driver, the sub certainly has enough presence to occupy the average living room. It’s not a real floor-shaker but its somewhat restrained performance is carried out in equal measures of assurance and subtlety. We were more enamoured of the Orbitsound M12 for movies and TV than as a music player; its dominant mid-range is more suited to electronic and dance music than acoustic or rock but there’s always an element of personal preference at play here and, of course, what you like to listen to will always be a factor. Orbitsound’s spatial stereo technology certainly does the trick with an impressively wide sense of sound when listening to 5.1 (or above) encoded content and despite the fact we’re not wholly convinced by the manufacturers claims of there being no sweet spot by its utilisation, the conveyance of a stereo image was maintained from fairly obscure seating positions.
The orbitsound M12 is a well packaged, sturdy little unit that manages to convey an enveloping sound from within its fairly compact construction. It looks good, feels great and sounds very nice indeed. Recommended.
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