Are you ready for high-end transconducance amplification? Having heard the Orbitsound Air D1, we at T3 sure are! Orbitsound is a British audio company best known for low-cost soundbars and wireless speakers. But last night it unveiled perhaps the ultimate 'Sonos rival': a premium active speaker with an innovative design, a unique approach to getting stereo out of a single box… and a more than reasonable, £12,000 price tag.
It's being called the world’s only high-end one box luxury loudspeaker. Even compared to the likes of Master & Dynamic's MA770 – a £1,700 concrete speaker designed in conjunction with award-winning architect David Adjaye – the Air D1 is really high end, and quite the objet d'art. Its beautifully finished wooden cabinet is held aloft by an industrial grade stand. If you squint, it does look a little bit like a Naim Mu-so on its side, attached to a steel frame.
The key to the way it produces stereo from a single box is a slice of wizardry called Airsound audio processing. This proprietary technology allows a single enclosure to produce an omnidirectional stereophonic image and has turned up in Orbitsound's soundbars and speakers before but here, as you'd imagine, it’s elevated to a whole other level. Through a combination of front and side firing drivers, it presents a spatially wide stereo image without a sweet spot, wherever you stand.
Warning: audio science follows
We had a listen to the Air D1 in full flight, and it does indeed deliver an unwavering sonic image even if you literally walk around it. The extension, from two 10-inch neodymium bass woofers, is deep, while vocal clarity, from the forward facing textile dome tweeter and midrange array is crisp and clear.
However, while the soundstage is lush and impressive, its two-channel delivery does take some getting used to. It’s not actually stereo in the traditional sense, it's more like binaural or something along those lines. Two midrange Airsound drivers either side of the unit, handle stereophonic information and operate out of phase. This gives a sense of indeterminate width, which somehow sounds spatially accurate, without the obvious stereo 'ping-pong' characteristic.
Of course, there’s a more practical benefit to Airsound: the Air D1 can be placed anywhere you want in a room, provided you have the space (it stands 1.13 metres tall and weighs 50 kilos).
Connectivity comprises Bluetooth aptX, optical digital and an analogue input, with various streaming services supported over Wi-Fi and ethernet. Hi-res audio up to 24-bits and 192kHz is supported although you'll need a wired connection for the very highest resolution.
The speaker is also the first loudspeaker we’ve heard that employs a 'transconductance' amplifier design, here dubbed Airamp. This reduces distortion and improves clarity by dynamically monitoring the behaviour of the loudspeaker in relation to input voltage. In short, the idea is that the amplifier ensures the loudspeaker is always receiving a perfect current. It’s certainly not short on welly. The Air D1 boasts 2x150w sub bass amplifiers, 2x100W for the mid and Airsound drivers, with 70W going to the tweeter.
Daniel Fletcher, who along with his engineer dad Ted Fletcher, designed the Air D1, told T3 that this transconductance technology can be applied to lower cost products, and hinted that it could soon trickle down to bring similar benefits to the brand’s affordable soundbars.
• 100 Air D1s will be hand-crafted by Orbitsound in the UK. If you fancy one for your downstairs loo, they’re available now via Harrods. But not online; you'll have to actually visit the shop.