Modern day televisions are getting thinner and thinner. And so, therefore, is their inherent sound quality. That’s an issue that the Orbitsound SB60 Airsound Base looks to rectify.
This all-in-one box solution sits underneath the TV - literally, it can support plenty of weight on top, which translates into a TV up to 55-inches in size - and through its four 2-inch drivers and single 5-inch down-firing integrated subwoofer boosts audio output.
It’s an idea that more and more companies are getting on board with, a new category for home audio. Does the Orbitsound stand out from the crowd and, indeed, does the concept of a soundbar system that sits in physical contact with a TV work well?
Out of the box and you might not think the Orbitsound SB60 Airsound Base could handle much weight. But it does, trust us, we’ve stood on top of the wood-build cabinet and it remained in one piece.
For our tests we’ve been using a 46-inch telly that, given its a good couple of years old, weighs in heavy. Again, no problem for the SB60 - and we’ve been testing it for months, not just overnight, and it's caused no issues.
The soundbar-meets-box design measures 60cm across, 33cms deep and is an unimposing 8cms tall. Worth knowing just to ensure that your TV will happily nestle on top of the unit. Anything with an unusual shape built-in stand is probably best avoided too.
When we first saw the device we were a little concerned that the integrated sub would cause excess vibrations which, we pondered at the time, could vibrate the screen. But that’s not the case. The sub is soft rather than overwhelming, while the weight of the TV on top keeps everything firmly in place. If you were to get any desktop feedback then there are dampener foam feet included in the box, but we didn’t find we needed these at all.
Straight out of the box and the SB60 is really easy to set up. We unwrapped it from its packaging shroud, popped it under the TV and after slotting the power cable into the wall and the included optical cable up to the Blu-ray player we were ready to roll. The device's front mesh can be swapped between black and silver, but the main unit is a gloss piano black finish only.
As some older televisions might not have a use for optical output, there’s also stereo AUX and a 3.5mm input. Whether that means coaxial cables from TV to the Orbitsound device or, as we found when trying out an older telly, using the headphones out from TV to the device - and that didn’t result in any lag or echo. Simple, faff-free, easy stuff.
But to be critical - and that is our jobs - we’d have liked Bluetooth support thrown in so that the soundbar could double up for wireless music playback when the TV was off. As it is you’re stuck with wired connections only, which feels a bit out of date. There’s also no HDMI input.
One of Orbitsound’s selling points is the way it uses a side-positioned driver arrangement to throw sound around the room and envelop you in glorious audio. It’s this arrangement which gives added spatial depth to stereo and, as we’ve seen in previous devices from the manufacturer, it really does work to make you feel sat in among the action.
But that brings with it a "problem", if we can call it that. You’re stuck to stereo only. There’s no surround sound support, so no chance of 5.1 or 7.1 integration. Orbitsound’s position is that its pseudo-surround technology is all that’s needed. At this scale and price point that’s a fair comment, but if you aspire to get a bigger and better screen in the future then you’ll be stuck with the device’s own limits.
Saying that, sound-wise the SB60 is, by and large, impressive. We’ve got so used to using the device that we forgot how poor standard TV audio sounds. The addition of that built-in sub is the real deal maker with this device, as it adds plenty of kick to proceedings. Music sounds better, there's far more sensation from those swooping "wooom" down-pitched bass hits used in every sci-fi movie you've ever seen, and even the boost to vocals for your daily soap sounds better.
And if you want loud you can have loud. The 200W system kicks it out no problems and the included control - which is a bit small and plasticky rather than anything exciting - can be used to make live bass/treble EQ adjustments as you deem fit.
However, push it too far and the top end does sound somewhat "crunchy" - not that the whole sound is distorted, just the higher-frequency stuff. We only really spotted this when listening to music wired up via the 3.5mm jack.
That controller is the only real control you’ll have over the device. Yes, there’s a physical volume dial to the rear - one that you’ll set and leave in position, no doubt - but the controller leaves you working in the dark as there are no on-screen menus to figure out what you’re doing.
That makes adjustments a bit of a guessing game. And if you’re in the actual dark, going through a black-out movie marathon, then you can’t see any of the control buttons.
Typically we found that wasn’t too much of a problem as the volume level is likely to be set and left alone. And with our ageing TV we found that using the 3.5mm headphone out to duplicate the TV's output worked really, really well. It meant we could adjust our TV audio using its normal remote and the Orbitsound SB60 Airsound Base would receive this quieter signal and follow suit. No mash-up of controllers to tackle to over-complicate things.
Get used to the Orbitsound SB60 Airsound Base and you’ll quickly forget just how bad standard TV audio so often is. For the price the SB60 delivers plenty of audio thump and the adjustable EQ and built-in down-firing sub see that quality remains high.
However it’s not as good as a dedicated surround sound system with separate subwoofer, but such a system will cost that much more cash that it sits in a whole different product category.
The one other area Orbitsound has failed to cash-in on is wireless connectivity, namely Bluetooth. Even if it’s something a TV wouldn’t use for audio, the ability for this single box to act as a soundbar for your music would have removed the need for a second system in the room. You can used wired connections, but it's not as up to date.
We’d also like to see more integration between the SB60 and the TV screen for more visual controls. However, once everything’s set up as you like it we doubt that you’ll do much tinkering - so it’s not a huge problem.
We’ve been living with the SB60 Airsound Base for long enough to realise that it’s truly elevated the otherwise basic TV audio experience. And without causing a huge impact on physical space or over-complicating the setup it makes for happy days all round.