Introduction

In our line of work, how we carry and protect our equipment while on the job is almost as important as the equipment that we are using. The demands of location work can be arduous, and as such, as sound mixers, our equipment has to be able to adapt to any particular situation we may throw at it. The bags that we use to carry all our gear can (and should) greatly compliment its usage, making an effortless balance between functionality and adaptability. Until recently, the the biggest contenders for production sound bags were Petrol (now branded Satchler) and PortaBrace. While both of these companies had decent offerings, truly in my eyes, they were lacking on many perspectives. Today, we have great offerings from K-Tek, known for their boom poles and other audio and video accessories, and from new comer Orca Bags. We shall focus on the latter.

Edit: It should be noted that within the last year, PortaBrace has remade their AO lines, greatly improving on what I thought to be the biggest flaws of that line-up.

Orca Bags

Orca Bags Display

Orca Bags line-up: OR-34 (top), OR-41 (mid-left), OR-32 (mid-right), OR-30 (bottom).

While Orca Bags has been in the game for a little less than a year, and I have been an involved user since day one, I have refrained from writing any final reviews until now, as this company continues to improve their products, addressing the feedback that its users have given. As they currently stand, Orca Bags line of audio bags is pretty amazing.

Orca Bags comes in 4 sizes (pictured above), which are:

  • OR-30: this is Orca’s smallest offering. It fits small mixers and recorders such as the Sound Devices 633 and Zaxcom Maxx.
  • OR-32: this is the medium size offering. It fits most mixers and recorders including the Sound Devices 664, 788T, and the Zaxcom Nomad.
  • OR-34: this is the large size offering. Same width as the OR-32, but longer, to fit more wireless units or other pieces.
  • OR-41: this is a new bag made after much feedback from the community requesting a bag that better fits the Zaxcom Nomad. It would likely fit the 788T very well too. It’s slightly narrower and shorter than the OR-32.

Update (01/04/2016): Orca Bags has since announced two more new bags; the OR-28 Mini Sound Bag for the Zoom F8 and similar sized recorders, and an upcoming one for the Cantar X3.

Design Matters

Orca OR-30 Opened

Orca OR-30 Opened

Immediately upon grasp, you notice the craftsmanship of these bags. They are made from high quality materials, and look and feel amazing. The key differences you will see immediately between these bags and the rest of the available bags in the market are the internal aluminum frame and its accessibility to all sides.

The internal frame offers maximum protection to the gear inside the bag, as well as help the bag stand up on its own. I cannot tell you how aggravating it can be when your sound bag flops on its side. The bag has zippers on all four corners, allowing you to open it up and pull down its sides, affording incredible accessibility to your mixer and/or recorder, wireless, cable connections and media. The sides attach to the top portion of the honeycomb frame with velcro and snap buttons, and then the zippers on the corners are pulled up to fully close the bag. On the bottom side is a flap held by a snap button, which allows you access to the bottom part of the bag.

Not immediately obvious as the aforementioned, but still an amazing and unique feature is Orca’s lift system. This clever system is comprised of two adjustable “lifts” that can be hooked on the included bag dividers, or, my personal preference, on the honeycomb frame. These lifts allow you set your mixer or recorder up at the ideal height within the bag, regardless of the size of the mixer/recorder. Additional to the lifts, on the two back columns of the bag are two movable, adjustable straps with hooks at the ends, used to clamp onto the top corners of your mixer or recorder. These secure the mixer or recorder down. Once you’ve set up the lift system appropriately, the mixer or recorder will not go anywhere, even if you flip the bag upside down. Sweet.

In the main compartment, you will find one to three dividers with RF shielding to help prevent RF spray between your mixer/recorder and other devices. These dividers have two to three elastic bands useful for holding your wireless receivers. Initially, the dividers could bend easily with the weight of heavier mixers or recorders. Orca Bags took immediate action by making improved, stronger dividers with fiberglass, and sending them to all their users free of charge. Also in the main compartment are a few “pillows” that can be used to help cushion the devices inside the bag.

Front Pocket & Removable Pouches

Front Pocket & Removable Pouches

There is a two-zippered front pocket which can hold more receivers, transmitters, cables, pens, markers, etc. This pocket has access to the main compartment via an internal magnetic flap, which you can use to route connections. The front pocket also has a smaller outside pocket in front which is good for storing small items such as antennas, small batteries, etc. There is also a thinner zippered back pocket in which you can store large batteries among other things. This pocket also has access to the main compartment via magnetic flap. The left and right side panels have zippered doors, which allows you to run cables into and out of the bag. I would have liked to see more zippers for each pocket and door, as I can find myself often routing cables through them, and like to keep my bag tidy.

The Orca audio bags comes with two removable pouches (or four in the case of the OR-34). These pouches are great for holding receivers or transmitters, and are mounted on the sides of the front pouch (and the sides of the bag in the case of the OR-34). To mount them, you must lock them into position by attaching them sideways, and rotating them upright by 90 degrees. This makes for an easy and secure mount. To make sure that they don’t rotate off by mistake, there is a snap button on the bag to which you can snap a small strap on the pouch to. Orca also offers a small size pouch (OR-38), as well as a double pouch (OR-39). The position of these removable pouches (on the sides of the front pouch) is not bad, but makes for tight spacing on the front corners, which can make it just a tad bit difficult to zip down the front corner zippers when in a hurry. Not a big deal though. Also worth mentioning is that in the original production run, there was only one zipper for each front corner, making routing cables to the devices with bottom connections in the removable pouches more difficult. After getting a lot feedback from the users, Orca added a second zipper to each of the front corners, making it much easier to route cables.

The front side also features two bungee cords to hold a boom pole or cables. While a good idea, the execution could have been better. I refrain from using these because while my short pole fits fine, a longer pole makes my frame too wide when wearing the bag on a harness or waist belt, making it harder to go through door frames and narrow spaces. It is also too low for my taste, and your pole can get banged up a bit when setting the bag down. These are also a bit harder to reach if you are wearing the larger OR-34 bag for example.

Clear TPU Rain Shield

Clear TPU Rain Shield

There is a removable rain shield. One side attaches to the top honeycomb frame by velcro, sandwiched between the top frame and the front or back side of the of the bag, and the other side attaches to two snaps at the other end of the bag. The shield is great, but my issue with it was that when not in use, you would either have it hanging or would have to remove it altogether. A simple and elegant solution is to use some velcro straps to hold the rain shield while rolled up (see featured image at the top of this page).

Additionally, there are two detachable handles for easy carrying of the bag by hand. If you don’t need to use them, you can remove them easily, and voilà, you’re good to go.

TPU Covered Loops

TPU Covered Loops

The bag comes with a padded shoulder strap, which attaches to the quiet, thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) covered loops on the top sides of the bag. Alternatively, you can use a harness or waist belt with the bag, by attaching them to the loops closest to the body on the top of the bag, and the two blue metal rings on the bottom corners. While highly effective, I would’ve preferred if the TPU covered loops were on the honeycomb frame itself, instead of on the side panels. This way, I could open either side if needed, while still wearing the bag in a harness or waist belt. Currently, this is not feasible as the harness is pulling the weight of the bag from these loops, which are on the side panels. If on the frame itself, I would’ve also liked the loops to be closer to the back, so that the attachment points would have been closer to the body. So far, however, it really hasn’t been a problem.

One interesting thing that resulted from the usage of these loops, was sound mixers wanting to hang cables and headphones from them (read my DIY headphone mounting solution for Orca Bags here). These were not really meant to be load-bearing, however, I could see the appeal of doing so. Using these loops as such, resulted in the snap buttons snapping off, and the zippers starting to slowly slide down, opening the sides of the bag. Since, Orca has added velcro in between the snaps for reinforcement, and has also added some special velcro straps that you can wrap around and inside the loops and sandwich in between the frame and the side. After doing so, it is much more capable of bearing the weight of my heaviest headphones hanging from the included extra bungee cord. Once again, Orca is listening and quickly responding to its users.

Design Philosophy

How does this bag fit your needs? How does your mixer and/or recorder fit in it? How many wireless receivers will you hold in there? These are all important questions, because these will dictate which bag you would use, and whether or not Orca Bags is even for you. Much like its predecessors, the Petrol Deca / Earganizer and the PortaBrace Audio Organizer (AO) bags, the Orca Bags line-up follows much in the style of the “organizer” type bags. Additionally, while these bags were designed to be used with more than one brand and model, the sizes were clearly made with specific popular offerings in mind.

 

For example, the OR-32 and OR-34 are wide enough to fit what I think is the widest mixer/recorder in the market, the highly popular Sound Devices 664. It is quite the perfect fit in fact; both bags fit the 664 like a glove. What will determine which bag you would choose from the OR-32 and the OR-34 is whether or not you are pairing the CL-6 input expander to the 664, and how many wireless receivers you want to have in your bag. Likewise, the OR-30 is made small enough to fit both the Sound Devices 633 or the Zaxcom Maxx, along with a couple of receivers. While these pairings do make for a perfect fit, it does come at a cost. It is highly recommended that you use low-profile, right-angled connectors to avoid any potential cable and/or connector strain on the sides or bottom. Don’t get me wrong, the sides do have a bit of flex in them, so straight cables can work, but having low-profile, right-angled cables will give you worry-free peace of mind. Additionally, because of the honeycomb frame, if your mixer or recorder fit like a glove, you may have a very tight space for connections on the top sides of the mixer/recorder, as is in the case of the headphone connector in the Zaxcom Maxx. A right-angled connector fixes this issue.

In summary, understanding what the design philosophy is with Orca Bags is important. If you are looking for a light weight, organizer style bag with an internal frame and high accessibility, that makes for a compact fit, then Orca Bags is for you.

So What? What’s it Like on the Field?

This is also one of the main reasons why it took me a while to write a review, as what really determines whether anything made for production will succeed or not is how it performs on the field. At the time of this report, I’ve been using Orca bags for about half a year, and I have been nothing but amazed at how great this bag has been. Check some pictures on the field below:

Product Review Summary

The Good

  • Craftsmanship is noticeable. Great build quality and materials. Bags just look great.
  • Aluminum frame, allowing the bag to stand on its own, and providing best possible protection to the gear inside.
  • Despite its aluminum frame, still very light weight.
  • Accessibility to ALL six sides of the bag.
  • Lift system, which secures the recorder. Even if you flip the bag up-side down, it will go nowhere.
  • Removable handles, which means you can use them when you need to carry your bag by hand, and remove them when you don’t need them.
  • Ample space in the front pouch to store extra receivers, transmitters, makers, etc.
  • Amazing user support and response.

The Not So Good

  • May require low-profile right-angled connectors to avoid cable strain depending on the bag and recorder.
  • More zippers should be added to the side doors, front pouch and front pocket.
  • The placing of the front pouches can be awkward, as they can be hard to mount and un-mount due to the tight spacing, as well as make it less easy to unzip the front corner zippers down to open the front or sides of the bag.
  • The rain shield just hangs when not in use. Nothing some velcro won’t fix after rolling it up though.

My Rating

4 1/2 Stars

This one is a hard one to rate. In all honesty, I personally think that currently Orca Bags offers the best bag line-up in the market FOR ME. Their design philosophy aligns best with what I look for in an audio bag, but may not work for everyone. The bag is not perfect, but it is pretty close to it in my opinion. Depending on what your mixer and/or recorder is, there are inconveniences that may come with choosing this bag, and these may not necessarily be design flaws from Orca as much as they could be from the respective manufacturer of the mixer / recorder.

However, this bag best reconciles what I think should be the balance between functionality and adaptability, all while giving you a beautiful package loaded with features you never thought you would want, but unconsciously needed. Orca Bags line of audio bags gets a four and a half stars rating, shy of a perfect score only because I doubt there could ever a “perfect bag” for every choice of recorder and for every person making such choices. What Orca does seem to be providing is amazing user response and support.

Please feel free to leave any questions, reviews or opinions in the comments!