The Artiphon The Orba 2, which is about the size of an orange cut in half, looks more like an Echo Dot than a musical instrument. It’s designed to be held in your hand, where you can press its keys, strike them, tilt them, and physically manipulate them to create musical sounds. The visual surprise is impressive, especially if you are not a trained musician and find traditional instruments intimidating.
The device is easy to carry and start using immediately, even if you are playing music. Hit the eight levels above the Orba and it will emit different sounds at different levels. Sound comes out through the built-in speakers, or can be routed elsewhere using the headphone jack on the side. The music pads respond to the pressure and direction you press, allowing you to add vibrato and control the intensity of each note. A combination of pressing buttons with other hands allows you to add or change different filters and effects. For example, rotate the Orba while playing a note and the pitch will bend and rotate along with the movement. The buttons offer haptic feedback and have LEDs, so the entire Orba beeps and flashes like a game controller when you use it. All of these things work together to make your music more enjoyable.
Artiphon’s synthesis engine resides inside the Orba 2. Small audio packets are loaded onto the device; you get a variety of drum, synthesizer, and string tracks to play with. You can change the sound by connecting the Orba to a computer or phone using a USB-C cable.
Orba 2 is the second generation of this amazing grapefruit. It costs $150 – a big step up from the $100 price of the Orba 1, but one that comes with a few new features. The new Orba supports emulation, and allows you to record samples in the wild or import audio files from your phone or computer. It also allows you to create loops that are up to five minutes long, a big upgrade from the 45-second limit on the Orba 1. The Orba 2 also has a quantizer feature, so the rhythmically challenged among us can enjoy having our systems sync up. to the tempo grid to make everything sound tighter, and perhaps more visually appealing.
The built-in speaker isn’t clear enough to use during gameplay, but it can hear what you’re playing while fooling around. The headphone jack allows you to attach the cans to the sides for better sound quality. And really, that’s where the Orba 2 is at its best: you have headphones on, leaning on this little matte hemisphere while lying on your bed or ignoring everyone on the city bus. It is better to come up with trips where you will have a lot of free time, or to give to the child you need to be busy for a while.