The Orbitsound T12 is a relatively simple design that doesn't claim to deliver real 5.1 sound.
Indeed, it's not conventional stereo either. Its proprietary 'airSOUND' technology reproduces the main signal (mono) and spatial (the 'difference' signal, between the left and right channels) information, instead of the 'left/ right-channel' method associated with traditional stereo systems.
Virtual surround sound
The main signal is reproduced from the unit's front-firing drivers, while the spatial information emanates from the side-firing transducers in reverse-polarity to one another. When these combine in front of the soundbar, they produce a 'single-point' stereo soundfield.
The 'virtual' 5.1 systems sold by some manufacturers rarely sound convincing, and so this ingenious alternative is quite compelling.
As well as offering to boost the stereo output of your TV and give a wider soundstage, the T12 has an iPod dock located on top. This cunning addition suddenly turns it into a hi-fi as well. Clever, eh?
As soundbars go, this is the smallest I've seen, and can be easily wall-mounted underneath a flatscreen if you so wish. The tall passive subwoofer is best located somewhere near the screen, partly because the thin speaker wire provided is so short.
The only inputs here are a single pair of analogue line-level connections to run to your TV, and a stereo minijack for hooking up another portable device. There are no digital inputs at all, but Orbitsound told us that a digital input would present 'no advantage', not least because the airSOUND processing and amplification is analogue.
Does it work, though? To a degree, yes. airSOUND gives stereo sources a smidgen of depth and a wider field – an improvement over most TV's integrated speakers. The treble detail is quite accurate, and this makes TV dialogue a little more intelligible. And adding a subwoofer is a big advantage for a flatscreen TV, as they usually have trouble drumming up decent bass levels.
One for the iPod People
However, while the Orbitsound T12 offers a marked improvement on the audio of an average TV, it's by no means the best soundbar I've heard. The passive subwoofer is boomy and under-powered and, with no digital audio inputs, connectivity is oversimplified.
The integrated iPod dock wins back a lot of that criticism, though. Statistically, you probably own at least one of these MP3 players, and this is certainly a convenient way of accessing your music via remote control. There's even a composite connection to put the menu on screen. It's no PA system, but soundbar and dock will give you decent playback.
There are plenty of soundbars around at this price point, and the Orbitsound T12 might struggle to make itself heard. But the provision of the iPod dock will certainly broaden its appeal.