Linkwitz Lab “Orion++”

  • 30 Mar 2008 05:47
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Linkwitz Lab “Orion++”

Designer: Linkwitz Lab, 15 Prospect Lane, Corte Madera, CA 94925. E-mail: sl@linkwitzlab.com. Web: www.linkwitzlab.com. Constructor: Wood Artistry, L.L.C., 408 Moore Lane, Healdsburg, CA 95448. Voice: (707) 473-0593. Fax: (707) 473-0653. E-mail: sales@woodartistry.com. Web: www.woodartistry.com. “Orion++” loudspeaker system, $10,350 and up for two complete channels (custom-built, complete with two electronic crossovers, all necessary cables, two “Thor” subwoofers, and ATI AT6012 twelve-channel power amplifier). Kit versions available in various stages of completion at lower prices. Tested samples owned by The Audio Critic.

This is a sequel to the February 2005 review of the original Linkwitz Lab “Orion.” It is recommended that readers go back to that review (via Archives below) before getting too involved in this one.

Siegfried Linkwitz is unique in that he understands transducer physics, room acoustics, and auditory psychology equally and has no preconceived engineering biases. That’s why he has been able to develop a superior concept of loudspeaker design. A superior concept always ends up with better results than a less good concept, no matter how perfectly the latter is executed. A “monkey coffin” (i.e., a closed rectangular box housing forward-firing drivers) will not sound as good as Linkwitz’s simple boxless “Orion” concept, no matter how big, beautiful, expensive, elaborately designed, and prestigiously labeled the monkey coffin is. The Stereophile cultists will find that hard to accept but it’s an audible fact of life.

The “Orion+” and the “Orion++”

The “Orion++” is an improvement over the original Orion but not nearly as great an improvement as the original Orion was over ordinary loudspeakers. I am not going to repeat my comments on the original Orion (see the link above); this review is strictly about the changes and improvements. In any event, it would be a waste of bandwidth to go into an extensive discussion of the Orion and Orion++ design principles, since Siegfried Linkwitz himself has done the job far better than I could possibly do it on his brilliant website, www.linkwitzlab.com. Siegfried knows more than I do and dislikes audiophile hype and voodoo at least as much as I do, so I have really nothing to add to what he says. What I am providing here is merely an independent validating opinion.

The main change here is the addition of a rearward-firing tweeter, another Excel T25CF002 “Millennium” by SEAS, placed back-to-back against the forward-firing tweeter and wired in parallel with it, but with reversed phase, so that both domes move simultaneously toward and away from the listener. This one change makes the speaker an Orion+, in Linkwitz’s nomenclature. The Orion+ is therefore basically identical in radiation from the front and back of the dipole, although there are minor differences due to the physical structure of the speaker. There is nothing new about a rearward-firing tweeter (the Snell Acoustics Type A, for example, goes back to the ’70s), but the way it is integrated into the Orion to form a completely symmetrical and uniformly phased dipole is unusual. Linkwitz devotes considerable space on his website to the enlistment of a reflective rear wall for better sound, contrary to the traditional let’s-dampen-everything approach. I am not going to repeat here what he says; go to the website and read it. It’s great stuff.

The Orion+ sounds different from the Orion. (I’ll come to the Orion++ in a moment.) The rear tweeter works in mysterious ways (again, go to the Linkwitz website), opening up the sound and taking the listener further into the venue of the recorded music and away from the acoustics of the listening room. When everything is trimmed in properly—speaker location, toe-in, tweeter level, overall volume, etc.—you are transported to there and no longer aware of here. It’s quite critical, however; the Orion+ is not as forgiving as the Orion. It took me long hours of extremely focused listening to adjust the tweeter trim pots on the crossover circuit board so that the treble sounded absolutely natural. Just a hair up or down made a surprising difference. Siegfried is not at all happy about that, but that’s the way it is. Now that it’s done I wouldn’t have it any other way—both structurally and texturally the best sound I ever had in my main listening room.

The “Thor” Subwoofer

When you add a pair of “Thor” subwoofers and a second crossover/equalizer to the Orion+, it becomes the Orion++. This is a luxury, and an expensive one at that, because the Orion+ and the Orion++ sound the same on most recordings. The superiority of the Orion++ becomes apparent only on recordings with a lot of bass energy (organ, double bass, synthesizer, and such), in which case you can play the music much louder with less bass distortion. The low-frequency rolloff of the Thor is about the same as of the Orion woofers, so there is no bass extension as such—the bass was extended all the way to begin with, without subwoofers. That’s why the Thor is not really a subwoofer in the conventional sense but rather a kind of superwoofer.

The Thor’s driver is a 12-inch Peerless Xtra Long Stroke (XLS) Model 830500 from Denmark; the enclosure is completely sealed, with an internal volume of approximately 50 liters (1¾ cubic feet); the crossover frequency is 50 Hz. The response profile is a combination of the sealed-box rolloff and electronic equalization. The latter is provided by the dedicated electronic crossover/equalizer, which also has pushbuttons to switch the two Thors in and out. In most cases, but not all, you hear nothing when you do that. I listen to more music with the Thors out than in. When you need it, however, there’s a complement of six woofers, four 10-inchers and two 12-inchers, to pump out the bass. That’s the equivalent, and then some, of a pair of 18-inch woofers—and more effectively deployed, more accurately crossed over, and lower in distortion than 18-inchers in conventional big systems. The Linkwitz crossover is of a highly sophisticated design to assure a totally seamless transition from the open dipole woofers of the basic Orions to the sealed boxes of the Thors. That would not be possible with a crossover frequency higher than 50 Hz. (Once again, read the website.)

The Measurements

My usual MLS (quasi-anechoic) loudspeaker measurements are limited in accuracy, as Siegfried Linkwitz himself has repeatedly pointed out. I would still perform them and publish them here if it weren’t for Siegfried’s much more sophisticated and authoritative measurement data on his website, which I trust implicitly; they are the very antithesis of the promotional graphs hyped by the typical loudspeaker manufacturer. In any event, the rear tweeter of the Orion+ has exactly the same response as the front tweeter, which is shown in the graph accompanying my February 2005 review of the original Orion. The nearfield response of the equalized Thor is basically the same as the nearfield response of the equalized Orion woofers. The f3 appears to be around 20 Hz. (Yes, see the Linkwitz website.) Of course, the in-room response of this extremely complex system has little to do with the anechoic or quasi-anechoic response, accurate or not.

The Sound

Regarding the extraordinary sonic characteristics of the Orion+ and Orion++, I wish to be a little more specific than above. The basic neutrality, i.e., lack of coloration, of the sound is due mainly to the SEAS and Peerless drivers and, to some extent, the extremely sophisticated electronic crossover. The unprecedented openness and vividness of the sound are probably due to the well-integrated 100% dipole design and correct placement at a distance from all three walls. (The latter requirement undoubtedly eliminates many conventionally furnished rooms from the Orion’s deployment possibilities.) The almost magical sonic disappearance of the listening room and immersion in the acoustics of the recording venue are the result of the mysterious interaction of the rear tweeter and the rear wall, discussed in detail on the Linkwitz website. The impact of the bass drum, of organ pedals, etc., is effected by the perfect synchronization of the Orion woofers and the Thors by the second crossover/equalizer. It’s a complete package, with nothing missing and no part overemphasized at the expense of another. It’s still two-channel stereo, but so far I haven’t heard a 5.1 or 7.1 surround-sound system that gave me as much audio information and brought me as close to the performance as the Orion++.

You could save a lot of money (at least $2150) if you don’t order a ready-made pair of Thors with the bass crossover/equalizer, in which case you’ll still have the same sound if you don’t listen at high levels to bass-rich material. Or you could save a lot more money if you choose one of the many kit options to construct part of, or most of, the system yourself. (See http://www.linkwitzlab.com/DIY%20products.htm and http://www.woodartistry.com/speakers-and-cabinets/index.html.) I can tell you one thing: if you buy a $50,000 pair of monkey coffins with one of the iconic high-end labels, the sound in your listening room still won’t be as lifelike and musical as if you had bought the Orions. The only problem is that a side-by-side listening comparison isn’t available anywhere, to the best of my knowledge. You’ll just have to trust me. Or never know the ultimate audio delights…


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Nicolas Ward By, Nicolas Ward

Nicolas Ward is an elite author with many years of experience in the music field and the owner of many engaging articles at TheAudioInsights. He studies music production and has many years of passionate research into sound systems. Appearing in many popular newspapers, Nicolas Ward provides useful knowledge and the latest information on music and sound.

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