Sonic LAB: Artiphon Orba Review

Self contained looper/instrument and controller      16/02/21

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Orba by Artiphon is what they describe as "a musical instrument designed for your hands" and I would say that's a pretty accurate description. It certainly struck a chord (sorry!) on Kickstarter as it raised almost $1.5 mill at launch.

Orba is a small, dense, plastic hemi-sphere with 9 touch pads (8 segments and a central button), it has a built in speaker, power switch, volume control,  on board sound engine with a 9 sound drum part and three melodic (bass, chords, lead)

There's an on board looper and a number of gesture controls  - pressure, radiate, spin move, tilt, shake slide, vibrato and bump.

You'll need an app (Windows/Mac/iOS/Android)  to configure it and load the pre-made sound packs into each of the four parts - sadly there is no editor, which is a shame - the sound engine seems pretty capable and has FX too, editing would be pretty useful.

Sound is handled but the on board speaker which is OK, but you can also send audio out from the stereo minijack. Power and MIDI data is USB-C, and as it happens, Orba can function as a USB sound card output. MIDI happens either over USB or Bluetooth MIDI, though there is a little latency when using Orba and loading the sound packs takes a fair while longer.

Recording and playing loops is pretty straight forward, what you play is what you get, but also the gestures, if pre mapped to elements of the sound are recorded too, the looper will quantize to the nearest bar at the set tempo. The app will also allow you to save songs and sound assignments (at time of writing, this was imminent and may already be implemented). You can only have one loop in memory at a time, but it is retained at power off as is the sound set. 

After a bit of practice, you'll be able to throw down a few ditties and sketches, settings in the app allow you to set the scale of the 8 pads, but the loop is common to all parts, so no poly metric action.

It's a nice and easy thing to use, with elegant use of LEDs and button combinations to get things done. Though there's no level control of parts and it appears to be easy to over saturate the maxmum level, with "loudest" sound wins.

What is also effective is using the Orba to send MIDI externally. It transmits a ton of MIDI data, per part and can be set to use MPE.

Each part gets it's own MIDI port so can be routed to multiple instruments in the DAW on specific channels, the sound engine can be turned off and gesture control can be mapped to filters, levels or whatever you can think of. The only issue is that it can be quite hard to isolate the difference between the gestures, this thing spits out a lot of MIDI data.

You can download a set of MIDI filter presets that can limit the amount of data that it transmits, and for Live users there's a custom Max for Live device which makes assignment easier.

These can all be found on the Orba downloads page: https://artiphon.com/pages/downloads

Overall, the amount of utility Orba offers is impressive. The firmware is definitely a work in progress, but the enthusiastic and helpful team are responsive and it appears to be on-going and active.

I would like to see instrument level control, and also individual drum level control as there's nothing you can do about that as it stands, and song saving (when it arrives) will be useful too. But the main thing would be an editor for what sounds like quite a capable sound engine.

For £99/$99 it seems like a reasonable price, it's nicely built, and may have the perfect gesture for your working method - I found the shaker to controller particularly suited me, but there are many other applications I'm sure. And it fits in your pocket and may be something you can give to a child to entice them into the world of music technology..

Orba is available  for preorder via the website (the next batch is available on15th march 2021) and from some dealers.

 



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