Orion; listening

As commanded by the Orion instruction manual, it’s better to start with the accompanying CD with test tones. Although the final wiring setup with three amplifiers should be a no brainer, my quick two-amplifier setup wasn’t connected properly and I had bass set up from maximum cancellation. Naturally, solving this problem helped the quality of the sound tremendously.

A second problem that was less easily solved was that first the left speaker, and unnervingly, later the right speaker, started to produce an annoying buzz. Using frequency sweeps from 20 to 200 Hz the resonance frequency was determined at 60-75 Hz with the buzz appearing to come from either the front panel or midrange support (It’s very difficult to try to find the source of the sound; it changes position as you walk around the speaker). At first I thought that I should have glued the midrange support to the woofer cabinet as that is the only part that is screwed and not glued. Some ad-hoc repair didn’t help. Perhaps the midrange was too close to the midrange baffle? Adding more spacer rings did appear to help, but now I could more clearly hear the midrange hitting the foam strips that should seal up the gap between driver and baffle. A better strip was added solving the problem I just created; I have to admit that using good strips is recommended in the manual. But the buzz remained. I finally traced the buzz coming from the top side panel hitting the top panel of the woofer cabinet; the fake row of box joints doesn’t allow for a good connection between those parts and wasn’t glued. Adding some glue and a few clamps for an hour or three solved the problem. This played out over a period of a few weeks.

When you hook up your new equipment, there is a crucial break-in period. Some people will literally spend days playing white noise to let the speaker get used to hearing itself. Of course, the break-in is completely between your ears. Although you know you have bought something worthwhile, or so you hope, you still listen for errors and shortcomings and worry that you might have made the wrong choice. With this project spread out over a few years and even being aware of this break-in period I still couldn’t listen entirely relaxed. This feeling dissipated over a while and I started to listen to the music and not the speaker. It took some time though, strangely coinciding with the time it took to solve the rare buzzing.

Now, I noticed that many people will write passionately about listening with their eyes closed, being very emotional and literally reaching out to ‘touch’ the performers as they appear to be right in front of them, even when they are just testing a new power chord (power chords are really important to people who sell power chords). For the Orions it is claimed that they nearly disappear acoustically as a source and this enveloping sound field is wonderful to listen to. That second part I can agree with more easily than the first as from time to time I find it quite apparent from what direction the sound is coming. Still, for many recordings the sound does appear to originate from a location right between the speakers and the ‘soundstage’ of the Orions is huge.

I had to get used to the Orions and unlearn appreciating my old speakers that do not really have any bass to speak off. I compensated by running most of the low-frequency content through a pair of very good subwoofers. Getting the balance right between speakers and subwoofers is something I really never managed to accomplish; always too much or too little, always missing a bit of the music. With the Orions this problem is fully solved and the subwoofers can go back to their menial business of playing movie effects. Although the subs are not really required for music, they do really add for some movies (but not the movies that matter). The bass kicks in around 30Hz; frequency sweeps do not really show a response between 20-30Hz. Is it the Orion or my tinkering with the woofer cabinet? But above 30Hz the bass is really nice and I had to convince myself that the subs were really not playing.

The sound of the tweeters is also much improved. Not really surprising as the costs of a single tweeter is about 60 times higher than for my old speaker. Really high and loud sounds such as a piccolo can now almost be enjoyed (I think piccolo’s are only used to wake up people who dozed off during a concert). Brass and wind is more lifelike. And so on. It’s not as if every CD you thought you knew sounds radically different; that only happens when you start listening to good speakers for the first time. But the Orions are much clearer; compared to my old speakers there is no deformation to speak of. The entire project has been very much worth it. Are they better than the better speakers? I do not know; I haven’t heard many. But, the sound of the Kef Reference is in a distant past and there it shall remain.

So, the sound of a pair of Orions is just as good as advertised to me and the detail of the sound is much better than my old speakers. However, compared to the 5.1 setup, a few things are not accomplished. Linkwitz reports on his website that he experimented with a center speaker and concluded it is not really required. It wasn’t even always clear if the center speaker was working with my old setup and it’s not surprising that a center is even less useful for the Orions. Indeed, I did not miss the center speaker at all when watching a movie by myself. However, the lack of a center becomes very apparent when sitting off-axis, even when moving only one hip to the side; the volume difference between the two speakers is enough to not convince you that the sound isn’t coming from the screen. My significant other agrees with the huge improvement in sound quality but more so on the absence of the center. Fortunately the television is mounted high enough that a center Orion will not block the line of sight.

Although the sound field of the Orions is very good, they do not give you any sound from the rear. This sound is missed when playing well-recorded multi-channel music or when watching movies. I’m not referring to those cheap rear-speaker sound effects or overreaching multi-channel recordings. The immersion in sounds of a 5.1 system is more complete than a stereo sound image, even for the Orions. Rear speakers have a low priority though; the costs for full-range rear Orions is a bit excessive.

So what is next? I want to upgrade the Orions to the latest versions. This means replacing the woofers and upgrading the filter. Then, perhaps, I’ll order some more walnut and start producing more cabinets. They take long to build so I should be able to save up to outfit a few in the coming years. The cabinets cost about €100 in wood each and a lot of spare time; most of the other costs have been made; amplifiers and filters are already present, tools lie on a shelf. As there is no need to buy drivers before a cabinet is finished I could hobby on for a while before committing myself to actually buying new drivers. I’ve been even entertaining the thought of replacing the current cabinets with new versions that do not have the shortcomings you can only see when you are standing really close to them. You know, that debilitating trait called perfectionism. But for now, I decided I will do nothing except enjoying my latest completed project!

Do you want to build your own pair of Orions? Visit the Linkwitzs Labs Website.

The plan
Design changes
Signal processing
The listening room