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REVIEW: Linkwitz Lab Orions Speakers

Model: Orions
Category: Speakers
Suggested Retail Price: $5300
Description: 3-way Open Baffle Active Loudspeakers
Manufacturer URL: Linkwitz Lab
Manufacturer URL: Linkwitz Lab

Review by Doc Jr 8156 (A) on September 23, 2005 at 13:36:20
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Designer’s Background
Siegfried Linkwitz is an accomplished electrical engineer (retired) with 30 plus years of designing test instruments. He worked at Hewlett-Packard and while there, together with his colleague Russ Riley; they developed the famous crossover topology called “Linkwitz-Riley” which is the most commonly used crossover alignment in the world. To mention Linkwitz as “just another speaker designer” would be an insult. Linkwitz is well known in the engineering society and published numbers of “peer-reviewed” articles in AES (Audio Engineering Society). Luckily, aside from designing testing instruments, Linkwitz passion is of audio. He was the force behind the company known as Audio Artistry (defunct), chief designer of the Dvorak, Vivaldi, and the Beethoven Grands, which won the speaker of the year for different publications when it was available. Linkwitz foray into high-end audio did not last long. The world was not ready for his designs (active cross-over requiring multiple amplifications).

Physical Attributes and Design Philosophy
The Orions are 3 way active speakers, open baffle (dipole) using Seas tweeters and mid-drivers and a –pair of Peerless 10-inch XLS. The Orion in many ways broke conventional notions of speaker designs. The Orions are around 46 inches in height, 12 inches in depth (but measured 16 inches on the widest dimension of the side panels) and about 13 inches in width. Tweeters and mid -drivers were mounted on a separate baffle. The 2 Peerless 10-inchers were mounted on an H-frame below the Mid-Tweet baffle. The tweeters used were not ribbons (one notion) but the Orions are flagship speaker. The mid-drivers are 8-inch in diameter (notion #2) unlike the conventional 6-inchers that other designers used to avoid beaming. The 2 Peerless XLS drivers were mounted in a push-pull configuration and one woofer was wired out of phase (notion #3) from the other. There is nothing incidental or arbitrary regarding the Orion’s design. Every component from the width of the baffle to the bracing of the woofer frame were measured and tested and contributes to the overall performance of the speakers. Linkwitz designed every aspect of the Orion with a purpose. He wanted these speakers to stand the test of time. He wanted these speakers perfect. There is nothing in the Orion that the owner can change or improved. Linkwitz tested all configurations and variations, to meddle with his design will only result in degradation.

The heart of the Orions is their “active cross-over”. It might be a misnomer to call this component as just an active crossover because it does much more. The “crossover” consisted of 2 separate pcbs, identical to each other. You will not find “magic-capacitors”, “Divine-inductors’ or “World’s-best resistors” in this design. No gimmickry, no hype. The crossover, however, use 2% caps and 1% resistors of high quality (Yageo and Philips). The power supply is a tabletop regulated wall-wart. No garden hose power cords and brightly lighted meters but it was chosen because it will deliver the required power for the design. The “crossover” was housed on a 17-x8-x1-½ black box. No shining knobs, polished enclosure or vibration absorbing feet. Just an ordinary black box that will not win aesthetic competition. The “cross-over” will not command attention (for its looks) but it was designed to do its job and nothing else. There are few (21 actually) components in the “cross-over” that were not part of conventional ones that will send jitters to “purist audiophiles”. These are the OP amps. The Orion “cross-over” use no less than 21 Burr-Brown OP2134 amps. Yes, OP amps. While the purist will cringed from this, it is remarkable why other designers does not utilize OP amps in their cross over design The OP amps are stupidly quieter than any inductor-capacitor combination available, can drive anything, and timelessly stable. This Linkwitz guy knows something eh!

I mentioned earlier that seemingly it wouldn’t be appropriate to call the Orion’s “crossover” as such. The “crossover” designed by Mr. Linkwitz in this application does more than cross the woofers and mid drivers (@ 120 hz) and mid-drivers and tweeters (@ 1440 hz). The crossover compensates for the driver alignment, for the dipole cancellation of both the mids and bass drivers, for the physical offset due to driver mounting and for the resonance of the mid drivers. Another important job of the “cross-over’ is to provide boost for the bass regions so that the bass response can extend to 20 hz (yes, that’s right. 20 hz extension from an open baffle speaker).

Subjective Assessment

In my years in audio, I’ve never heard a speaker as good as the Orions. As I never heard all of the great speakers available, this assessment is based on my experience and prejudice.

First time I had a set-up that is utmost satisfying without using megabuck cables and power cords. The Orions were accompanied by 4 pairs of DIY interconnects using Radio Shack RCAs and 12 cents a foot video cables. My speaker wires are nowhere near the value of my previous ($500-$1100 per 10foot pair) and I’m not using highly regarded amps with digital supply, linear power supply or glass bottles. No voodoo, no magic but the satisfaction these speakers giving me is immeasurable.

There are several unusual things that the Orions can do that I’ve never heard from any other set of speakers I heard and owned:

a. The Orions convey music as it is, and how it is intended to be. The dynamics of the music does not suffer in lieu of the volume level. When a song is fading (ending) the Orion’s dynamic presentation remains the same but you will hear that the performers are moving away from you farther and farther till you hear no more. I’d never experienced this in any other speakers, never.

b. It is very disturbing to one’s acoustical memory and beliefs how the Orions produce music. When listening to trios, quartet or big bands its like listening to “4” speakers at once, all timed and phased-aligned. The coherence and integration of the Orion’s drivers gave me goose bumps. Imagine listening (closed-eyed) and be able to discern the illusion that its like the soloist sound or vocals from the material you are into is coming from 2 different set of speakers up-front and exactly in the middle but the accompaniment (rhythm section) are coming from 2 other different sets of speakers on the sides all integrated and weaved seamlessly from each other. Amazing.

c. In some materials, the Orions will startle you. There will be instances when you can hear sound coming from your sides, 90 degrees from a source, like a headphone. The 3d effect of the Orions is something to behold. It will produce the wall of sound that other great speakers can do but what is different is that, here are no wall boundaries for these speakers, provided that they will be set-up as recommended by the designer.

d. Another unusual illusion that the Orions can deliver in spades is that there is no “sweet spot” for these speakers. You can walk around and hear the same thing as you were in the center. You can stand directly in front of one speaker and still hear what the other speaker is doing. My audio room is sandwiched between 4 rooms and no matter which room you go (aside from the audio room) the sound that you will hear is like the sound in the audio room, lifelike. No roll off highs and muffled lows, vocals are clear as if you were in the room where the speakers are. Unbelievable.

You might notice that I never went to specifics regarding the sound of the Orions. I never mentioned specific recordings or material that sounded great using these speakers. No matter what you throw at the Orions whether pop, rock, hip-hop, classical, jazz or even the ordinary spoken material everything sounded wonderful and life-like. Jazz trios had the intimacy, pop had the sway, big bands had the swing, rock had the bite and classical had the grandeur and subtleness when called for. The voice of the Orions are big, bigger than their physical dimension will portray and bolder than what deemed as conventional. The Orions speak the truth.

It was well known that great speakers should be able to provide the illusion of either bringing the “performers in your room” or “ bringing you to the venue where the performance was recorded”. The Orions did neither……….but BOTH!

There was a mantra that Orion owners keeps on mentioning, “When you own the Orions, everything else is irrelevant”. I did not believe this at first, but I guess they heard what I’m hearing………………………they were right!

Associated Equipment:

Teres 160 with Origin Live Illustrious arm (analog)

Ah Njoe Tjoeb CDP with Siemens 7308 and Upsampler (digital)

K&K audio SE transformer coupled phonostage

Lundahl 9206 step-up transformers

S&B TX 103 step-up transformers

Tribute Cobalt Core step-up transformers

ATI 6012 SS amp (12-channels, 60 wpc in 8ohms)

Bent Audio NOH preamp

Transcendent balance power supply.


Radio Shack RCA cables constructed from cheap video cables.

Sound King Ofc speaker wires (zip cord)

Dayton connectors

Stock power cords for the amps

Faith…trust…but no pixie dust.

Product Weakness: Not enough exposure.
Product Strengths: Life-like musical presentation. Big musical voice in compact package

Associated Equipment for this Review:
Amplifier: ATI 6012
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): Bent Audio NOH
Sources (CDP/Turntable): Teres 160/AH Njoe Tjoeb 4000
Speakers: Orions
Cables/Interconnects: DIY
Music Used (Genre/Selections): Big bands, classical, jazz, pop, light rock
Room Size (LxWxH): >24ft x 16 ft x 8 ft
Room Comments/Treatments: minimal treatment
Other (Power Conditioner etc.): Transcendent balance Power
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner

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Topic - REVIEW: Linkwitz Lab Orions Speakers - Doc Jr 8156 13:36:20 09/23/05 (16)

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