If you're looking for an IEM with of the very best bass, a full yet clear articulate midrange and refined treble then it's hard not to recommend the Orb as one of the very best value for money on the market! A no brainer in my opinion.
- Outstanding bass at any price point striking a superb balance of power, control, punch and rich textures
- Engaging and lively midrange with good balance and good instrument timbre
- Forward and clear vocals
- Energetic and refined treble
- Excellent soundstage with a coherent image (stage height is outstanding)
- Scales with better sources
- Good fit with very lightweight shells
- Very tight 2 pin socket on my unit (your mileage may vary)
- Isolation is average (but shells are very lightweight)
Product Page : https://penonaudio.com/penon-orb.html
Price : 259$
Fit, Build & Isolation
The Penon Orb features a fully transparent medical grade resin material shell, highlighting excellent craftsmanship of its internal. The Shell is on the smaller side and very lightweight. I found the Orb to have only average isolation, but the shells are so light I am not too suprised. This shouldn’t be an issue in real world condition for most with music playing except for noisier environment if you’re a low volume listener like me. Note that the shell is quite deep to lodge it’s dynamic driver meaning it protrudes significantly, something that can be of importance if you want to listen in bed lying on the side.
Other than this disclaimer and unusual use case, the Orb is very comfortable IEM to wear with an average depth insertion and very lightweight it’s quickly forgotten and disappears in the ear.
The Orb features a 2 pin socket and comes with a low footprint small gauge 8 wire cable in my case a 2.5 balanced version but the Orb comes with a 3.5 cable unless you take another option. The cable is supple and with good ergonomics. The sockets on my unit was fairly tight, better be careful there at first and plug – unplug a few times with the stock cable before trying out upgrade cables.
Like most people I know I have enjoyed Penon as an online shop, a trusted distributor of many brands I love like Dunu, Astrotec or ISN to name a few. Penon started building IEMs (the BS1 earbud in 2017) and great value for money cables (like OS849).
In 2019 they launched their first IEM the Sphere and it was a success. Lately they have been on the roll with many highly praised products : the Orb and the flagship Volt IEM as well as cables such as the OSG cable (I’ll soon review it) and the flagship cable Totem.
As can be seen in the picture above the Orb packs a dynamic driver. This is a fairly unique design that I know of as its a custom 10mm driver is made of graphite fiber silk with a paper dome driver featuring a grainless overhanging diaphragm. Interestingly it also packs a full range balanced armature, quite an interesting choice as it implies a crossover-less design. Overall quite an advanced design at this price point.
The Orb is not just another hybrid IEM, Penon clearly had an intent to build something different there and it’s very nice to see this kind of effort at this price point. Penon advertises punchy bass, crystal clear vocals, crispy and sparkly high frequency with a holographic soundstage.
Does that hold true? How does the advanced technical design translate in terms of sound quality? Let’s check it out!
Upon the very first listen (after proper burn-in), it’s clearly apparent that Penon’s tuning goals are fulfilled : the Orb features powerful and physical yet controlled and refined bass, full and smooth mids, energetic and well extended treble. The stage has very good width and depth but more impressive is its height which is excellent, with a very coherent image.
The Orb is a very engaging listen, a clearly fun IEM built on solid technical foundations. Let’s dive a bit deeper!
Bass is clearly an outstanding feature of the Orb and is nothing short of impressive : it’s a powerful bass but strikes a rare balance of power, control, punch and rich textures. Usually IEMs tend to fall either towards faster, snappier attack and quicker decay for a punchy and clean bass or towards a smoother attack and a bit slower decay with richer textures. The Orb is quite singular in that respect in my opinion as it seems to have squared the circle with usually contradictory qualities.
Could that be that the full range balanced armature is complimentary to the dynamic driver in the bass section providing both the qualities of the BA and DD? Just a theory but I think Penon has built a very special IEM there : it’s both punchy and richly textured, detailed and physical with good slam.
The sub bass is well extended with good rumble and a welcome physicality and presence is to my ears spot on. I like to have enough sub bass to feel the subs but not too much as to not overshadow the main message. The Orb is able to provide a sub woofer like bass like few can, only other IEMs that come to mind are ISN H40 (comparison at the end of this review) or Campfire Solaris. My usual test tracks like Sohn “Falling” and Aphex Twins “Ageispolis“, Marian Hill “Differently” and Phanee de Pool “Amstram” were so enjoyable with the Orb.
The mid bass is very balanced in terms of presence with the sub bass and there is no tilt either way. The bass line is strong with beautiful textures, in Ruben Gonzàles “La Lluvia” the double bass is really sublime and as good as I have heard it with lot of interpretation nuances conveyed. The deep percussions on Ayo “Throw it away” is equally impressive, as is Nenad Vasilic “Lupafte” or Okvsho “Algoriddim”. Again, regardless of price point the Orb is simply one of the best bass around, please Penon keep the recipe for future IEMs as it’s really something special!!!
Let me say I spent much more time on the bass section for this review than any review I have done for a while, as it’s so enjoyable and impressive. I just kept delaying going into the mids testing all the tracks in my bass review playlist. I really was shocked at how good the Orb is again at any price point, especially with cable upgrades like PW n°10. I would need to compare but it’s reminiscent my memory of 64 Audio N8. The maturity of the bass tuning and its performance is a shocker. Hats off!
The Orb mids are full bodied but with good bite, with clear vocals that are forwardly positioned. It’s an engaging and lively midrange with good balance and good instrument timbre.
The lower mids have good presence, the Orb doesn’t rely on lower mids dip for clarity but rather as we’ll see on its upper mids presence and treble extension. Instruments are full bodied but not thick either, a wise choice as given the bass presence it would have made the Orb congested. Instrument separation is not the greatest but it’s quite good for a full bodied IEM thanks to its upper treble presence.
The upper mids are tuned both for forward vocal placement and for instruments to provide good energy : snare drums are crisp, hi hats and cymbals have good sizzle and brass have a nice bite making for an engaging presentation and a good balanced with the full bodied mids. This makes the Orb a versatile IEM as well and I enjoyed jazz very much there.
Both male and female vocals are a treat on the Orb. Thanks to the full mids male vocals are deeply seated with good power, Pete Alderton “Malted Milk” and Jack Savoretti “Written in scars” gritty voices were adequately portrayed with both power and nuances. In a very different register, James Blake “Vincent” benefits from the upper mids bite conveying a lot of emotion. Depending on tips, on some tracks like Diana Krall “Let’s fall in love” I found hints of sibilance though but it’s very slight (your mileage may vary) and is also source dependent. Only DX160 exhibited this, while Lotoo PAW S1 and AAW Capri lightning cable didn’t. Cable rolling can also help there, I tried the 8 wire copper Null Audio Tiburon and PW n°10 with the DX160 and it definitely smoothens out the issue.
The Orb treble is very balanced with slight lower treble emphasis. It’s an exciting treble but not a fatiguing one either.
The lower treble energy is spot on to my ears with an accurate tone. The Orb is energetic and it shows, electric guitars in Spin Doctors “So bad” have satisfying buzz, piano notes in The Hot Sardines “Come love (l’amour s’en fout)” have good weight, presence and overtones are faithfully portrayed. The Pixies “Where is my mind” is a good test of how safe your treble is and the Orb does a great job of being totally engaging the hi hats sizzle as well as guitar riffs play with the limit without ever crossing the threshold and I loved it on the Orb.
The upper treble has less presence than the lower section but it packs very good extension and is what I consider to be a refined presentation with the right amount to provide air and boost resolution without placing details too forward like some IEMs which I always find detrimental to the musical message. The Orb doesn’t disappoint and tracks like Guthrie Trapp “Buckdancer’s choice” or Laurie Anderson “Born, never asked” are portrayed with a level of refinement that I didn’t expect at this price point.
If you’ve read my ISN H40 review you know it’s among the best value for money of its segment and given their respective tuning the Orb and H40 will naturally be compared. How do they respectively fare against each other? Let’s see!
The H40 massive bass presence was a memorable aspect of its signature and it holds true : the H40 sub bass extends a bit more but more importantly it has more presence and is clearly into bass head territory. The H40 sub bass is more physical and is more prominent in the signature while the Orb is physical but with a more balanced signature. The Orb bass has less presence but it doesn’t mean it lack punch or physicality, just that it’s less predominant. I also find the Orb bass to be more detailed with richer textures so I’d give the Orb the edge on bass quality where the H40 has the edge if bass quantity is your priority.
The midrange is maybe where the H40 and Orb are more similar than different with a full bodied midrange with good bite. Despite the similarities there are significant differences. I hear the H40 being fuller, more forward with a more forward vocal placement as well as more upper mids bite. The Orb has better clarity and transparency and is the more balanced of the two, with also better instrument separation.
The H40 treble is again not too far off the Orb at least in the lower treble department : both feature very good energy and remain safe of any hotness with the Orb being a bit smoother and nuanced. The main difference lies in the upper treble were the Orb clearly takes the edge with more extension and presence. This is where the Orb leaves the H40 behind in terms of sheer resolution as well as better air and separation between instruments. The H40 has the edge on soundstage size but the Orb features a much more precise imaging.
If I had to sum it up the H40 and Orb share quite a bit with great bass, full exciting mids and energetic treble but the H40 is the more physical and powerful while the Orb is the more refined and mature tuning.
If you’ve read my DK-2001 review you know how high I rate it in the segment in fact it might be my favorite along with H40 so far. Given it’s pricing and tech, it’s only natural to compare with the Orb. Let’s see how both fare against each other!
Bass wise the DK-2001 has good slam but comparatively to the Orb a softer attack and decay and the Orb is therefore the punchier bass of the two. This is furthered by better sub bass extension on the Orb providing more physicality on top of a snappier attack and quicker decay. Both provide very nice textures but the Orb packs more detail. Overall DK-2001 is engaging but more relaxed than the focused and more energetic bass of the Orb.
The midrange is somewhat of the same story, the DK-2001 is a more relaxed IEM with a more linear midrange. The Orb has both a bit more lower mids presence as well as much more upper mids bite and more forward vocals. It’s both fuller and clearer and overall more articulate with better separation. Both feature surprisingly refined mids for the segment, but the DK-2001 is more relaxed and linear where the Orb is more exciting and forward.
The treble of the DK-2001 shares the same balance as the Orb treble with no particular focus on either the lower or upper treble in terms of presence but they differ in how this is executed. The DK-2001 has a slightly warm tone to its lower treble where the Orb is accurate. The Orb also has a bit more energy and again the DK-2001 is more relaxed. Both have good note weight but the Orb has slightly more and piano notes for instance are more accentuated. The upper section is more of the same story, the DK-2001 is well extended and has good upper treble presence and good air smoothly delivered but the Orb has a snappier treble with faster decay. I hear the Orb has having more air and being more resolving.
If I had to sum it up, I’d say the DK-2001 like the H40 shares quite a bit with the Orb in terms of the general tuning but with very different execution : the DK-2001 is more relaxed with softer attack and longer decay where the Orb is snappier and more energetic across the range with better resolution and imaging.
It’s really hard to believe that it’s only Penon second IEM after the Sphere given both the maturity of its tuning and the price to performance ratio reached by the Orb. The Orb is up there with the best in the segment namely ISN H40 and Dunu DK-2001 which is no small feat in my opinion. As we’ve seen there are similarities but the Orb is both snappier than the DK-2001 and more refined than the H40 so it will come down which tuning fits your preferences best. Note that the Orb also scales very well with better sources, I plugged it into my Hiby R8 and let me tell you with more power and headroom, it reaches even more impressive performance and refinement levels. If you have a desktop amp handy, plug it in and see!
If you’re looking for an IEM with of the very best bass, a full yet clear articulate midrange and refined treble then it’s hard not to recommend the Orb as one of the very best value for money on the market! A no brainer in my opinion. If you’re a basshead then the H40 might suit you best and if you’re looking for a more relaxed listen then the DK-2001 should be on your list.
About the title
The title was inspired from a Shakespeare quote from the Merchant of Venice : “There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st But in his motion like an angel sings”
I spent approximately 30 hours with the Orb, listening on iBasso DX160 and Lotoo PAW S1 using the stock cable, Null Audio Tiburon 8 wires and PW n°10.
Thanks to Penon for providing a review unit of the Orb. As usual, this review is my honest opinion. No incentive was given for a favorable review.
- Hard leather carry case
- Stock 8 wire SPC cable
- Driver: Balanced Armature full frequency + custom 10mm Dynamic driver graphite fiber silk with a paper dome driver featuring a grainless overhanging diaphragm
- Impedance: 10 Ω @1khz
- Sensitivity: 112 ± 3dB @1khz
- Frequency response: 20hz-20Khz