New Orion Versions
peteraczel | 12 July, 2011 11:53
Powered 3-Way Dipole Loudspeaker SystemsLinkwitz Lab "Orion 3.3" and "Orion 4"
Designer: Linkwitz Lab, 15 Prospect Lane, Corte Madera, CA 94925. E-mail: email@example.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: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web: www.woodartistry.com. Orion 3.3 loudspeaker system, latest small revision, at this point available only as a DIY project. Orion 4 loudspeaker system, available soon, $14,750 custom-built, with electronic crossover/equalizer (necessary cables and power amplification extra). Tested samples of Orion 3.3 owned by The Audio Critic.
Advancements on the cutting edge of loudspeaker design are very small and very subtle at this stage of the game. The resolution of free-field acoustical measurements, whether outdoors or in anechoic chamber, is almost certainly no better than 0.2 dB. The changes in the last few iterations of the Orion crossover/equalizer are smaller than that (remember, electronic signal paths are measurable with nearly infinite resolution). I know from years of experience that we can hear differences not much larger than 0.1 dB in the electronic signal path. We seem to have reached the point where the audible benefits of tiny changes in equalization upstream from the loudspeaker can only be ascertained by listening. (Before the voodoo audio subjectivists rejoice, let me remind them that this does not apply to larger, but still very small, changes that are measurable with a microphone.)
Siegfried Linkwitz, a man of science if there ever was one, is understandably not very happy about the not-quite-perfect alignment of theoretical, measurable, and audible information. Still, unlike some other engineers, he refuses to let abstract desiderata trump the reality in front of his nose. That reality, once again, is that small crossover and equalization changes to version 3.2.1 (see my December 4, 2010 posting for a review of that version) result in small but audible improvements in the sound of version 3.3. The entire presentation is a bit smoother, more solid, more relaxed, more real. Imprecise words, but without the availability of the older version after the changes were made, that’s the best I can do. Needless to say, I can’t guarantee that this is it, no more changes. The history of the Orion 3 revisions seems to indicate the contrary. In any case, the conversion of the crossover/equalizer from 3.2.1 to 3.3 is strictly a DIY project; the Linkwitz/Wood Artistry connection is not available for it. Go to http://www.linkwitzlab.com/orion-rev3.htm and http://www.linkwitzlab.com/orion-support.htm for the details.
It should be pointed out that this kind of endless massaging of the crossover/equalizer would not be necessary with powered loudspeakers that are less sophisticated than the Orion. Siegfried Linkwitz has repeatedly said that he would not have believed before he designed the Orion that tiny adjustments in the electronics could make such a significant sonic difference. It flies in the face of all previous experience. The original Orion, no suffix, was a bit more tolerant in this respect; the rearward-firing tweeter in the Orion+ and subsequent versions, resulting in completely symmetrical dipole radiation, made it more critical.
The crossover and equalization changes that resulted in the Orion 3.3 were actually inspired by the new but not yet available Orion 4, at this writing still in advanced prototype form. The Orion 4 is basically an Orion 3 with a different woofer configuration. The tweeters are the same, the midrange driver is the same, but the old Peerless woofers have been replaced by a new long-throw SEAS model, which is not yet in full production. The new woofers are mounted in an upward- and downward-firing position, instead of forward- and backward-firing. This allows the woofers to operate in force-canceling opposition, eliminating the slight rocking or vibrating tendency of the older model’s frame, which could resonate wooden floors (not the floor of my listening room, which is concrete covered by industrial carpeting). Since the Orion 4 is still a full-range dipole, open in front and back, the different woofer mounting requires a new and more complicated frame, called a “W frame.” (The older Orions have an “H frame.”) The crossover frequencies and equalization of the Orion 4 are also slightly different, and extensive listening to the prototype led Siegfried Linkwitz and Don Barringer to the realization that the electronics of the Orion 3.2.1 should also be changed accordingly. I have to repeat that these changes are very small and subtle.
For pictures showing the redesigned woofer configuration of the Orion 4, go to http://www.linkwitzlab.com/orion-rev4.htm.
I had a chance to audition the Orion 4 at the AXPONA show in New York, in the slick preproduction format that Don Naples of Wood Artistry will manufacture and market for $14, 750 (with crossover/equalizer but no amplifier and no cables!). To me it sounded very much like the Orion 3.3 (because it is very much like the Orion 3.3), and the theoretical superiority of the SEAS bass (excursion, power handling, distortion) was partly masked by the low-frequency characteristics of the smallish hotel room. That it is one of the world’s greatest loudspeakers was quite evident. That’s all I can say about it at this time.
Siegfried Linkwitz says that his next project is the Orion 3.4, which will adapt the new SEAS woofers to the H frame. That will undoubtedly necessitate further small changes to the crossover/equalizer, after which the bass performance should be equal to that of the Orion 4, minus the vibration benefits. Early deliveries of the SEAS woofers will obviously go into the first production run of the Orion 4, so I am not holding my breath. Eventually, I expect to go for the 3.4 revision myself, the Orion 4 being too rich for my blood.
Ah, to think how happy I was with the original Orion, no suffix, back in 2005…