Ahead of its official unveiling we've had the latest Orbitsound M12 Bluetooth soundbar set up for a week. It's lived on our desk where it's pumped out choons day in day out, as well as taking up residence under the telly to churn out pepped-up atmospherics during dim-lit movie marathon sessions.
Compared to its T12 predecessor the M12 soundbar brings Bluetooth connectivity and adds an active subwoofer that also syncs wirelessly to the system. But advancing tech brings an advancing price which, at £399, is more than 30 per cent higher than its predecessor. Yet the Orbitsound price still undercuts much of the competition; is it a worthy investment?
READ: Orbitsound T12v3 review
A Sound Design
At 60cms long the M12 isn't as shrunken as its M9 cousin, but then soundbars needn't be huge to deliver the audio.
Tucked under the magnetic-connected grille on the front of the soundbar unit are four lots of 2.5-inch mid-high drivers, two 1-inch tweeters and, to the side, two 2-inch "spatial generators" as Orbitsound likes to call them.
That last part, despite it being a rather ominous-sounding term, is key to the Orbitsound's audio design. We chatted at length to Orbitsound's product manager Daniel Fletcher, who explained how the company's patented output delivers stereo from a single point system by minusing one stereo channel from the other to produce a "spatial sound" which is output from these side speakers. The result is akin to the "opposite" of the mid-side recording principle which provides a greater output depth. The processed signal is trimmed back to a fairly tight mid-frequency range which not only works well for vocals and the like but also keeps the overall output cleaner - it doesn't conflict with the front speakers' output frequencies.
And you know what, it does really work too. Or at least it works well with certain input where mid frequencies get the chance to "float". The kind of swirling atmospherics from a well-mixed TV show, or a well-recorded acoustic track will deliver aplenty. Even the claps in The Chemical Brothers' Star Guitar had a well-spaced, floaty presence to them.
But this design can also counter itself when it comes to stereo separation. Think of your favourite tracks with those heavily panned left or right guitar pieces - that's somewhat lost with the M12. Not that we were expecting headphone-style ear-to-ear separation.
The M12's job first and foremost is to fill a room with sound to make for an immersive experience wherever listeners are positioned. And with its 300W combined output that's easily achieved. The sound is loud and clear, although when at high volume some upper-mid to top-end can sound over-bright to the point of pushing distortion on occasion.
Add a 6.5-inch driver in the subwoofer that uses 2.4GHz receivers to connect wirelessly and bass is also more than catered for. The sub auto-syncs with the soundbar and the 10ms delay sounded tight to our ears. Best of all, however, is that this active sub can be independently volume adjusted as to avoid overwhelming bass - something that the T12's passive sub lacked - and the wireless nature means no trailing wires, bar that from the plug socket, which is great for positioning.
Combined the two devices sure do deliver plenty of oomph, helped along by the M12's new built-in digital amplification.
Design & Connections
The dock is dead, that's a given. Whereas the T12 had an iPod dock on its top, the M12 is all about its mini control panel. There's control for source type, Bluetooth pairing, volume up/down and an on/off button. Flip the device around and the rear houses AUX, optical and 3.5mm stereo inputs to cater for the majority of devices.
In addition there's a remote control which adds treble and bass adjustment. An essential to tweak the unit's output, yet there's no visual way to monitor which level each of these is at, which is a shame. An HDMI port with on-screen support would have been of use, as would the addition of sound pre-sets - but, for the price, that's probably asking too much.
Wireless connectivity is obviously the big sell for this unit and it works well. We've paired the Orbitsound M12 soundbar to a laptop and a smartphone with no difficulty or - importantly - discernible detriment to sound. The only blip is the odd pop or crackle when connecting or disconnecting.
Beyond that the lack of NFC's tap-to-connect feature is a shame, while other systems such as the Sonos Playbar now offer Wi-Fi connections for full network connectivity. Not so with Orbitsound.
Physically the Orbitsound M12 is a functional piece of kit. It doesn't opt for any unusual design quirks, instead carrying a simple black finish throughout. The soundbar has a plastic frame with a metal front grille that connects via magnets, whereas the subwoofer is made of wood with a PVC coating. The addition of the Orbitsound logo on the sub adds that extra visual edge compared to its predecessor. It's a look that will fit in with the majority of systems.
However we do think that a slight upright slant to the design would have worked better to project sound at lower volumes away from a TV rather than the flat, forward-facing design. A small thing, but when a soundbar is positioned low - which tends to be the case - it can miss some of that directional contact.
The Orbitsound M12 system delivers loud, quality audio for its price point. It may have seen a price bump in light of its wireless sync and Bluetooth connectivity, but it still sits well against many pricier competitors.
There are some shortcomings however: no HDMI output means no on-screen adjustments or pre-sets are available, stereo separation is limited, while we found some higher mid-to-top frequencies pushed beyond bright to almost distort when at volume.
Otherwise there's a lot to like: plenty of volume, adjustable bass output thanks to an active subwoofer and the spatial sound concept works well for room-filling, atmospheric sound. Whether as a stereo system or an affordable sound-booster for the telly, the M12 ticks plenty of boxes and is definitely a step ahead of its predecessor.