The state of the art for digital music streamers these days is a system that can play music from your hard drive and from the Internet in multiple parts of your house, with a full colour, touchscreen remote control. If you purchase a Sonos system, a setup of that kind can cost a thousand dollars or more. Or you can buy the Orb MP-1 for £45 and get something close to the Sonos experience.
That's not to say that the MP-1 is a match for Sonos equipment in sound quality, functionality, or user interface, it's not. But if you're looking for an inexpensive way to port music around your house, it's well worth considering.
The MP-1 hardware is about the size and shape of a hockey puck. It has no buttons and only two ports: a mini-USB connection for power or to connect to a PC, and an audio jack to connect to a stereo. Since the MP-1 has no amplifier, you must connect it to a full-fledged stereo or to powered speakers. As for the touch controller, you have to supply that yourself, by loading Orb's free controller app on your iOS or Android device. And to stream music, you need to have Orb's free Orb Caster music serving software up and running on your computer.
Once all of the pieces are in place, you can play music from your local hard drive, including music and playlists in your iTunes library. Or you can play Internet radio stations or streams from the Pandora or Sirius music services.
Setting up an MP-1 is pretty simple. After downloading Orb Caster, you connect the MP-1 to your Windows or Mac PC. A wizard configures the MP-1 to work on your wireless network, then you disconnect the puck from your computer and plug it into your stereo. You can set up multiple MP-1 units throughout your house and control them all from your mobile phone. You can't, however, play the same music in sync on different MP-1s throughout your house, a function that Sonos systems support.
One thing about the MP-1 setup struck me as strange: Though your computer must be on in order for the MP-1 to function, you can't control what's playing from your computer, only from your mobile device. Still, the interface in the mobile app (I tried the iPhone version) is attractive and relatively easy to use.
Some glitches persist. When you choose an Internet radio station, the controller offers not only to play the station but to record it. Unfortunately, whenever I chose the recording option, the Orb Caster software on my computer crashed. Another oddity: The controller app has entries for accessing video and photos, even though the MP-1 streams only music. That's because the Orb Caster software can serve video and photos to your mobile device, though not to the MP-1.
The sound you get from the MP-1 will depend largely on what you connect it to. Connected to my very old receiver and a nice set of Paradigm bookshelf speakers, it sounded just fine with no obvious digital artifacts.
You can get a digital music streamer with more functionality and fewer oddities than the Orb MP-1 offers, but it'll cost you a lot more. The Orb is a good alternative for people who want a cheap and convenient way to stream music to their stereo or powered speakers.