It is an irony that’s instantly familiar to most AV aficionados. We all want wafer thin, bezel-free TVs, but we also want fat audio. Sadly, ultra slim TVs have no room for decent sized speaker drivers, let alone tuned and ported speaker cavities, resulting in the audio supplied by most modern TVs leaving a lot to be desired.
Because of their affordability and simplicity, soundbars have proved a popular work-around for the reduced sound quality. But there are good soundbars and then there are average to awful ones as well.
Orbitsound, who’ve been in the soundbar game for ages have a solid reputation for high quality gear, so I was curious to see how their latest, the P70, performed.
From a design perspective, Orbitsound got the look and feel of the P70 spot-on. Build quality-wise, it is built like a brick you-know-what house. The speaker enclosure is hewn out of wood and covered in steel speaker mesh plus alloy panels. While stylish, it’s not over-the top, which is important as it’ll keep viewers’ eyes on the TV, rather than the soundbar.
Further helping things, the P70 is relatively uncluttered and free of distracting glowing displays with big buttons. Instead of looking like a prop out of a Star Wars movie, the P70’s right hand side has a small bevelled panel with a row of LEDs. These indicate volume/bass/treble levels and one LED glows red, green or blue depending on which input is used. Several discrete controls are located on the P70’s side to handle Bluetooth pairing, input selection and volume.
Subtle and tasteful looks aside, the P70 is no shrinking violet. At 75mm-high it won’t block the remote sensor of most TVs. It can be mounted vertically or horizontally, but it needs space. To this end, I had to move my TV right to the back of the AV cabinet to make enough room.
Another big win with the P70 is simplicity. This is the result of there being only three inputs – an optical SPDIF, a 3.5mm socket and Bluetooth. The lack of HDMI means everything connects to your TV, which then supplies audio to the P70. In use, this translates into a dead easy setup and a single cable from the P70 to the TV. Input sockets are recessed on the P70’s underside. The feet on the P70 provide enough breathing space for tidily routing cables.
Design aside, the big question is this: Does it sound any good?
Happily, my answer to this is a resounding “Yes!”. The P70’s speaker config consists of four 2-inch drivers – one on top, one on the front. Then there’s two airSOUND drivers on its left and right-hand sides (more on this later). This is fleshed out with a 5.25-inch woofer, which is in a ported and tuned bass reflex enclosure inside the P70.
So, airSOUND? It may read like some Apple branding gimmick aimed at rappers with a serious Ritalin habit, but in use it worked well.
The top and front drivers provide most of the audio signal. This may be intended for people with two ears, but the lack of any significant separation between the left and right drivers means that picking out left/right channel audio is tricky. That’s where the clever bit happens. Those side-firing drivers kick into gear to deliver left and right stereo information. Clever audio processing means all this audio output combines to create a workable and surprisingly nuanced stereo image.
Nicer still, this front, top and side channel setup meant I could hear a balanced stereo sound in most spots in my lounge. The whole room became a sonic sweet spot.
Overall, I liked the audio pumped out by the P70. For TV shows, the main drivers produced clear dialogue. Both movies and TV shows felt crisp yet stayed composed even when I bumped up the volume enough to get shouted at by my long-suffering wife.
I also liked that airSOUND delivered a wide soundstage. The hubbub of the Starship Enterprise’s bridge was rendered beautifully in stereo. Small background bleeps and blooms were lifted out and high-frequency detail was startlingly clear regardless of where I sat.
If this is the good, then one important caveat applies – airSOUND won’t deliver surround sound. That said, it sounded a lot better than many of the faux surround delivered from other soundbars I’ve previously reviewed.
The bass is also a pleasant surprise. While it won’t shake your house off its foundations, there is still plenty there. If you want to get low, feel it the pit of your gut bass, you’ll need to plump for a separate sub.
If there’s one audio aspect most soundbars usually suck at, it’s music. Interestingly, airSOUND delivered a cohesive and detailed rendition of nearly every recording I threw at it. Clever driver configuration and audio processing was helped along by excellent crossover design – there didn’t seem to be the usual hole in upper bass and midrange or lower treble that is so typical of soundbars.
The other small but crucial thing that won me over was the bundled remote. So many soundbars come remotes that are little more than poorly executed afterthoughts. Not the P70. Its remote comes with big chunky rubberised buttons that are intuitively laid out. It isn’t a button fest that needs serious RTFM (reading the flipping manual), instead there’s just Play and FFW/RRW keys for Bluetooth playback, as well as dedicated bass, treble and volume controls. Equally handy, the P70’s remote is also a learning remote. It can learn and mimic your existing TV remote. For simplifying things and decluttering the TV room, this must be a good thing.
All told the P70 raises the bar (pun intended). If offers up clear, punchy and expansive audio. It won’t deliver the gut rumbling bass of an external sub and it lacks HDMI ports. But in practice those issues really don’t matter.