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cuibono 18th July 2008 04:16 AM

My week with the Orions, or 'why do we bother'
Recently, I had the good fortune to both be wedded, and to spend a week long honeymoon at Siegfred Linkwitz's Honeymoon Cabin on the Sea Ranch, in beautiful Sonoma county (

At said ranch, besides having an absolutely wonderful time, there were a pair of his Orion+ speakers in the house, which greatly contributed to my wife's and my enjoyment. I have long been interested in Linkwitz's work, having built the Plutos several years ago, and recently built my own open baffle speakers. If you haven't read much about Mr. Linkwitz's work, please check out Its a goldmine.

Anyway, while there, I wanted to take a real good look at what might be 'my last speaker', and I kept a log of notes taken over the first couple of days of listening to the Orions. The list is more or less written in the order of what struck me. And to cut to the quick, I thought these speakers were AMAZING. So here it is - basically unedited:

1) Incredibly smooth frequency response - similar to the Plutos

2) Bass is deep, powerful, and clear - each CD has new octave of room shaking bass - incredibly true and clear - dynamic, room shaking - lots of texture, very natural - sounds real

3) Presentation is incredibly true and clear - due to low distortion drivers? sounds just like being there (almost). Human voice is exactly real. Bass is exactly real. Only reservation is highs are missing sparkle or air (could be due to 'non-audiophile' components - same problem in plutos - highs are not 'hair raising')

4) Acoustics of the recording space are very clear - its easy to imagine being there

5) Albums sound 'quicker' - not due to treble increase, more due to great dynamics across the whole range and excellent image separation

6) Very well controlled dispersion - exact same tonal balance at the sweet spot as standing in another room [really!]

7) Very powerful speakers - no compression of dynamics at higher powers [they played REALLY REALLY loud!! :devilr:]

8) Image depth/soundstage is excellent - good live recordings sound JUST like being there

9) All albums sound GREAT - even old (circa 1970) low budget recordings sound clear and beautiful - they sound almost as clear and new as any other - new live recordings are stunning

10) Speakers are both incredibly accurate and musical - each instrument can be given lots of attention due to excellent separation, detail, and depth, but not at cost of total involvement - every album is more enjoyable. I listen to many songs off a 'test' album before I want to change the disc - very involving

11) Speakers benefit from large rooms - the music (not speakers as much) need space for recorded acoustics not to sound cramped

12) Incredibly smooth, both frequency response, driver crossover and image separation - no hint of discontunities anywhere - more smooth than anything I've heard

13) Bass is so much clearer, deeper, powerful and truer than my speakers [Alpha15 in H-frames], which is strange considering they have the same f3 of about 30Hz

14) Absolutely quiet - particularly at seat - with ear to midrange/tweeter, I can hear tiny hiss - strange, as active circuitry is unshielded, and the same circuits in my Plutos had a large hiss problem - no 60Hz hum at all [Later I found I could detect a tiny hiss at the listening seat, but the Orions still seem especially quiet - I think this impression was due to how very quickly they could become loud. There was something special about this I can't quiet describe.]

15) Due to ultimate lack of detail/sparkle in the highs, acoustic guitar and symbols stop one step short of 'perfectly real' [I used to play acoustic steel string guitar, along with several other family members, and also drum players, so I'm fairly familiar with their sounds, up close and personal]

16) With eyes open, performers are here - with eyes closed, you are there

17) Moving ones head side to side produces no frequency change, only a shifting in the soundstage

18) Plutos, compared to the Orion, lack bass authority and texture, open baffle 'openness' of the soundstage, and low distortion clarity, but in terms of frequency response and crossover smoothness, are very similar [SL repeatedly states on his website how difficult is to tell the two apart - I'm sure he does better comparisons than I can, but the things the Orion does better are major improvements to me]

19) These speakers are artistic masterpieces - very beautiful.

Now, the necessary audio disclaimer, the associated equipment (and more surprises):

Source - Pioneer DV-563A DVD/CD Player
Preamp - Harmon/Kardon HK3375 receiver
Line level active crossover/filter - Orion ASP
Amplifier - ATI AT6012 12 channel, 60W per channel
Speaker cables - Belden 1811A, 8conductor 14AWG, 20feet each
Interconnects - Radioshack RCA cables

There are so many things about these speakers and this experience that have been mind blowing! Just looking at the above list of associated equipment, none of it is the least bit audiophile - even I wouldn't use RS interconnects! SL, being an extremely practical person, inadvertently had given 'subjectivists' a huge setback - he developed the Orions through a long series of measurements and modeling, then doesn't use a single 'high end' component, and ends up creating something more convincingly real than anything else I know of! I'm on the fence between scientific method and high-end 'common knowledge', but it isn't really surprising that the more practical approach wins out. For instance, I would never have believed that five(!) drivers could have been so totally seamless - I (used to) believe full range drivers were just inherently better in that regard. Not so any more. And they way the tonal balance didn't change no matter where you were, I never even imagined speakers were capable of that - it really is something to be heard. I used to perform a lot of live music, and am used to the sounds of an actual, live bass end, and the Orions reproduction was flawless! I never even knew loudspeakers were capable of that either...

Now, I don't want to seem unfair to those who like capacitor swapping - I have one (and only one!) contention with the Orions, that being the lack of top octave air. I strongly suspect it is due to the 22(!!!) opamps per channel, and the non-audiophile associated equipment. I'm sure SL doesn't care for capacitor swapping and expensive CD players, but if these 'tweaks' were to bring improvements, the end result would be astounding indeed. For what its worth, I found the highs in my Plutos similarly disappointing (a lack of fine detail), and swapped out all 200 Panasonic capacitors on the ASP with Auricaps and Blackgates, and felt the large cost was worth the difference (and I almost got to do a A/B comparison with a pair of unmodified Plutos, dam it!)

So I wonder, why do we bother with all this diyAudio stuff - right now, it seems to me we are just fooling around (and having fun at it). I'd guess I could build the Orions for about $3000 dollars, including the 8 channels of amplification. I'd guess I've spent almost this much in the last couple years on audio - and what I have to show for it is not half of what the Orions are! Similarly, in my enthusiasm, I almost feel like I can't afford not to build the Orions - is there anything better for the money? Is there anything better at all? If they were my reference, my ability to listen would be years ahead of where it is now! This experience, besides being really fun, has been very educational. It showed me a lot of areas to improve my own speakers, but it also made me wonder, why beat around the bush? Maybe a group buy is in order. Well, we'll see.

So one final paragraph, just a few notes. The Honeymoon Cabin at the Sea Ranch is an absolutely wonderful place, and I highly recommend it. Not only that, but it has very nice acoustics - its basically an open, two story raw wood interior, with dimensions roughly 20*20*25 feet, and suites the Orions very well. I think we should organize a listening weekend up there sometime. And there are a couple of caveats to this whole experience, but I don't think them very important: the Orions we were listening to are partially prototypes - particularly, the rear tweeter was not a Seas Millennium, but a Seas 27TDFNC/GW, which is still probably a very decent tweeter, and was padded with a resistor. Also, the mid-driver was not magnet mounted, and the cabinets were prototypes, according to a note from Mr Linkwitz. Maybe not important, but I listen to baroque (classical), small ensemble and folk music, and a bit of early eighties punk mostly, with some pop music, like Lucindia Williams.

So, all in all, very amazing! I highly suggest people try and find a pair to listen to. I have a very strong feeling there may be a pair in my future, but then I'll have to have a real nice listening room to go with them! :devilr:



gainphile 18th July 2008 04:28 AM

What a great reading. Especially coming from the perspective of an already OB follower and also have a Pluto.

This makes me think long and hard whether there is still a need to "fool around" with more OB designs, importing Alpa's etc. while a truly tested implementation is already there (albeit $3000).

I've spent about $1000+ for "experiments" here and there and surely now will stop doing more and DO IT PROPERLY later using SL's Orion design.

Thank you for sharing this. I bet you had a great honeymoon too :D

Nuuk 18th July 2008 07:48 AM

Yes a fantastic review, and I guess Mrs Cuibono must like hi-fi a lot to go along with such in-depth auditions on her honeymoon! ;)

I aspire to the Orions one day although they do not necessarily lend themselves to reviewing (I can't see suppliers offering four - or is it eight - amplifiers for a review).

Also of note is that Cuibono makes the above comments having listened to a bunch of chip amps! I wonder if anybody has tried a different chip for the Orion set-up?

Anyway Cuibono, thanks for that fascinating review. I am yet to read anything negative about the Orions so my dream remains alive! :)

sreten 18th July 2008 09:47 AM

Re: My week with the Orions, or 'why do we bother'

Originally posted by cuibono

13) Bass is so much clearer, deeper, powerful and truer than my speakers [Alpha15 in H-frames], which is strange considering they have the same f3 of about 30Hz



That is because f3 on its own is fairly meaningless. f3, f6 and
f10 all count, the high Qts approach rolls off quicker below f3.


sreten 18th July 2008 10:01 AM

Re: My week with the Orions, or 'why do we bother'

Originally posted by cuibono

13) Bass is so much clearer, deeper, powerful and truer than my speakers [Alpha15
in H-frames], which is strange considering they have the same f3 of about 30Hz



That is because f3 on its own is fairly meaningless. f3, f6 and
f10 all count, the high Qts approach rolls off quicker below f3.


cuibono 18th July 2008 02:54 PM

Hi Sreten,

Good point - I got a look at the transfer function of the ASP for the Orion while there, and starting at about 600Hz, the bass is equalized to +20dB at 20Hz. I'm sure the quality of bass has more to do with just the frequency response. I like the use of two 10" drivers in stacked H-frames, rather than my single 15" - it ends up being narrower. I'm sure with MJKs worksheets, we could come up with something good that doesn't require +20dB of gain. I guess the first 'limit' you hit with the Orions is the woofers clipping.

Nuuk, I'm glad you appreciated it. I was wondering if the ATI was a chip amp - do you know what chip?

Gainphile, thanks for the comments too. I'm glad you've enjoyed it. I'm similarly on the fence when it comes to the Orions - should I build them and be over it? Should I take his principles, and update things a little - for instance, the newer Peerless 810921 looks like an improvement on the Millennium, at least in terms of harmonic distortion, which even SL says is one of the top limiting factors in his system. Also, I've been using my computer to do what his ASP does - active crossover, frequency response correction, and time alignment (its thuneau's Allocator), and I think there is a good chance it would 'sound better' than 22 OPA2134 opamps and 100+ caps in the signal path. My only reservation is the computer is inelegant and analog sources would have to be digitized...

Nuuk 18th July 2008 03:08 PM


Nuuk, I'm glad you appreciated it. I was wondering if the ATI was a chip amp - do you know what chip?
SL was suggesting the LM3886 last time I looked. I prefer the LM3875 but the LM3886 has more power for the bass drivers and I guess it is sensible to keep all the amps with same sonic signature. If I were doing the same project I would probably go for OPA549.

I agree, it is good to look at possible improvements but as we know, a big percentage of the work in such a project is getting it to work well, and SL has done that work with the drivers he uses.

DSP will no doubt get less expensive in future and that will allow more possibilities in creating an Orionclone! ;)

gtforme00 18th July 2008 03:17 PM

Thank you for the review of the Orions. I have long admired the design, and hope to successfully clone it in the near future (after I finish my 'honey do' list). Congratulations on your marriage, I hope that you have a long happy future!


cuibono 20th July 2008 02:01 AM

My noodling continues: I really should build the Orions, shouldn't I. Or should I use what I learned with the Orions, and improve my current speaker project. Or should I clone the Orions with more recent drivers! Or maybe I'll just do nothing, its easier and cheaper...

Zaphs site is great - open up a couple of these and do a little comparison of midrange drivers. Linkwitz first brought the Orions into this world circa 2002, I believe, and a lot of the work he put into them was an extension of his work on the Phonenix, in the 90's. So it is possible, there are newer drivers, particularly drivers with lower distortion. The mid in the orions is the Seas W22EX001, and he uses it from 120 to 1440 Hz, and it costs about $200 each. In Zaphs applet, compare it to say, the Usher 8945P (at $110 each) - the Usher has about the same 2nd and 5th harmonic levels, but the 3rd and 4th are dramatically reduced! That seem golden to me, particularly at half the cost. Their FR's are almost the same, with a small dip in the ushers at 1200, which wouldn't be hard to fix, particularly digitally. In fact, there are a number of other drivers that would be possible candidates, including the 18w8531g (a little more expensive), peerless 830883, sb17nrx35, and the discontinued accent audio poly 6.5. Maybe different FR, dimensions, etc, but food for thought.

Similarly, the tweeter can be compared with a different applet. Linkwitz uses the Seas Millennium from 1440Hz, and it costs $225 each. My favorite competitor was the Vifa D26NC55, lower third HD, WAY lower 4th and 5th. It costs $200 LESS. Sure, it has lower power handling, but is only 50W rms a compromise? There were some others I liked too, like the peerless 810921, vifa xt25, seas 27tbfcg and aura nt1.

I'm sure there are other considerations - my first has been harmonic distortion, and second, a comparable FR to the Orion units. Power handling and dispersion would be my other concerns, along with price and availability.

Unfortunately, Zaph doesn't have any comparions for subwoofers, but luckily there aren't too many out there. MJKs worksheets should make short work of narrowing the field. The only question is how their HD spectrums would compare....

Food for thought :clown:

cuibono 20th July 2008 02:15 AM

surprise, surprise, here is a two way very recently built using two of my favorite drivers mentioned above, the usher 8945p and the Peerless 810921. Hmmm...

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