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Artiphon Orba

   (1 review)

Orba - A musical instrument designed for your hands. A portable synth, looper, and MIDI controller that lets you create songs in seconds.

Hold out your hands and meet Orba, a new kind of musical instrument. It’s a synth, looper, and MIDI controller that lets anyone make music immediately. Orba’s minimalist design resembles a cross between a gaming controller and a half a grapefruit, and its feather-touch sensitivity translates gestures from your fingers and hands directly into sound. Orba introduces a new and fun way to make music anywhere, even if you’ve never played an instrument before.

Orba lets you play every part of the song on a single instrument. Switch easily between Drum, Bass, Chord, and Lead parts, then layer them to create a song with the built-in looper. It takes just a few seconds to loop a beat, and then you can play along for hours.

Orba adapts to the way you want to play, and there’s no right or wrong way! Orba’s touch and motion sensors combine to capture even your most subtle gestures. Pick it up and hold it, or just reach over and play a few notes while it’s sitting on your desk. Play it with one hand or both, with your fingertips or thumbs, or shake and wave it through the air. You can slide around each pad, or go crazy with some vibrato. Circle your fingers over the top like a singing bowl, or strum an invisible guitar. It’s all you!

Orba builds on Artiphon’s design theory of the multi-instrument: a single instrument that you can play as many. Where the INSTRUMENT 1 reflects traditional instruments like guitars, violins, and keyboards, Orba lets you play with simple gestures we use every day on smartphones, trackpads, and game controllers.

We started by looking for a shape that would suit all hand sizes, was just asking to be picked up, and could break the mold of conventional keyboards and grid controllers. In designing Orba, we were inspired by musical objects like shakers, rattles, kalimbas, hand drums, and bells. We also found ourselves obsessed with circular objects in the kitchen: grapefruits, cupcakes, teacups, beets, and bowls of miso soup.

We baked a lot of fancy tech into such a little package. Orba’s playing surface uses capacitive-sensing technology, like your phone screen or computer trackpad. We made it velocity-sensitive and wonderfully responsive to even the lightest micro-gestures. The onboard accelerometer and gyroscope allow for a range of natural movements like shaking, tilting, and waving. LEDs respond to your notes, and the haptic engine offers vibrating feedback as you play.


+ Eight capacitive-sensing pads for feather-touch control

+ Accelerometer and gyroscope capture a range of gestures

+ Center menu button accesses four presets, the looper, and other functions

+ Onboard synthesizer and built-in speaker offer an immediate playing experience

+ Connect to the cross-platform Orba app for more sounds, songs, and settings

+ Use MIDI over Bluetooth or USB to plug into any of your favorite music apps

+ Use the ⅛” (3.5mm) output to listen on headphones, speakers, and amps

+ Multicolor LEDs respond to the way you play

+ Embedded haptics offer vibration feedback

+ USB Rechargeable battery

Technical Specifications
Type: Digital
Synthesis: ROM
Oscillators: 1
Polyphony & Tuning
Polyphony: 9 + Drums
Timbrality: 4
Tuning: Standard
Modes: Polyphonic
Patches RAM: 1
Storage: Internal, USB
Editing: Bluetooth, USB
4 parts
Up to 8 bars
Case: Desktop, Keyboard
Case Details: 8
Keyboard: Touch Plates, Plastic
Controls: Aftertouch, Velocity, Buttons, Motion Control, Tempo Tap, Sequencer
Display Type: LED
Audio Output Connections: 1/8" Phone Jack, Stereo Main
MIDI Ports: OUT, USB, Blutooth
Power: USB Charged Internal Battery
Year Released: 2020

Product Links
Company Product Sites:
[+] artiphon.com
MSRP List Price: $99 - convert

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The Artiphon Orba is a controller, synthesizer, sequencer, drum machine, keyboard, and speaker the size of a baseball. Altogether, it is a mobile studio you can use to compose music anywhere without anything else. Hard to believe, what looks like a toy is actually precision-engineered and works great from the highly innovative controller with accurate touch-sensitive keys to the beautiful sounds you can record. The Orba is a great tool for musicians on the couch, in the studio, and live performance.



Taking Controller

Orba works out of the box once it is charged up via the USB-C 3.0 connector port on the side. The blue power button activates the unit that makes sounds with a touch of one of the eight circular keys. The Ixef® PARA glass-infused plastic pads combined with the IMU Accelerometer do more than trigger the sounds, they send notes, velocity, pressure, vibrato, rotate, tilt, spin, move, shake, and bump controls to the internal synth engine and over MIDI. The instantaneous response feels natural and with a little practice, one learns to control dynamics easily with simple fingering techniques.

It would be easy to discount this as a micro keyboard, but it is a lot more than that when brought together in the ergonomics of the device. What fits in the palm of your hand can be played and moved in 3D space at the same time to enable a range of new playing options. Where most keyboards are simply ON or OFF switches, the Orba allows you to fade in and out, modulate, and change a sounds' timbre dynamically as you play. The circular keyboard is a wonderful feature I never knew I needed allowing you to glide between notes, play simple sequences, arpeggiations, and chords easily. The Orba has more dimensions than just touch, you can also tilt, spin and even slap the device to change pitch, intensity, and other aspects of the sound. This is all quite impressive inside the small box, but the Orba really expands when you consider all of the controls can be transmitted as MIDI or MPE via USB or Bluetooth to external devices.

You Got the Touch

Basically, the Orba is a micro 4 track recorder with percussion, bass, pads, and lead parts. The percussion is section offers 8 different sounds laid out in a drum kit with bass drum, snare, and a mix of different cymbal and percussion sounds. The other three parts are tuned to a scale with eight notes per octave. This is a very straight forwards approach that isn't as limited as it seems.

What brings it all together are the high-quality touch-responsive sounds inside the Orba synthesizer. They have done a wonderful job of including useful sounds that can be used right away. The preset drum samples that are clear and respond well to velocity are complimented with FAT bass sounds, clear leads, and evolving pads, that play well together so you can get into composing without worrying about arranging things. Additional pre-made sound banks are available to download via the app. Unfortunately, you cannot make your own to banks to store internally, a minor issue since the Orba works is a full-on MPE controller for other synthesizers.

Getting Into Step

It is as simple as 1-2-3-4. Just set the tempo, select a track, start to record, and play. The Orba Looper records all note and touch expressions just as you played them. So you can be as dynamic as you like playing note soft or loud are all captured to the recorded loop. The first track sets the length of the song up to a maximum of eight bars at the current tempo. As a looper, notes are overdubbed when the sequence repeats so you can add as much as you like without using up memory on notes.

Something worth noting is I don't want to call the Orba a groove box because it can do whatever you want. Certainly, creating beats with bass and leads is right up its alley, but the added controller functions are quite handy for ambient and experimental styles too. The Orba with its wonderful expression abilities is great for improvised evocative pads with aleatoric effects coming and going. The built-in speaker makes this a great device to program and leave playing tucked away in the corner of the room for an ambient afternoon of chilled DIY atmospheres.

The Orba APP

What I hope would offer intimate control of the Orba hardware device is mostly a preset manager and configuration utility for the Engine, MIDI and Firmware. This seemed like a mistake at first, but not needing the app means you can just get on with making music. The app allows you to name and save the current composition and reload it later. It also includes a handful of new sound sets that you can load into the internal sound engine. These are quite good and nicely contrasted for different styles of music. 

In the Studio

As fun as the Orba is in hand, I found myself thinking outside of the sphere (pun intended) with what I could do with my favorite synths and other devices. Connecting by USB is straight forwards being recognized by Plug And Play it just shows up in my DAW as another MIDI device.

Artiphon has done a great job here, offering settings optimized to work as a standard MIDI and or MPE controller. Using Orba with other synths is much like any controller via your favorite DAW or Tablet. It can serve as a host to control synthesizer software or other hardware via a connected MIDI interface. Orba sends just about everything you could want over MIDI except for clock sync, play, and stop controls. Otherwise, the notes are fast, and with things assigned properly to the many built-in controls, it can be used just like the internal Orba synth engine.

Connected to your phone or tablet, Orba makes your music apps sing in a way the touch screen never did before. The Bluetooth connectivity is simple and fast and I found myself suddenly using my iOS synth apps a lot more with Orba by my side.

What's great is the Orba is so small, I have permanently plugged it into my DAW so I can mouse with one hand and control sounds with the other. This is a great improvement to my workflow that allows me to play and edit much faster than a traditional keyboard. Oh, and Orba works great to control effects and other plug-ins as well in ways I would never have used a keyboard for.   


Overall, I love the Orba. It has become my new MIDI controller for composition and live performance. While the device is small, it is BIG on functionality that while limited in the number of keys, offers more expression than standard controller keyboards. The built-in looper and sounds are a nice bonus that I found quite useful for sketching ideas. The device needs to offer a bit more control of the track compositions for me to give up my DAWs and dedicated hardware loopers just yet. Considering the price of only $99 USD, this is beyond a bargain that has a place in most studios and rigs as a powerful controller for the growing number of MPE devices coming to market.

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