Meet the latest of NuForce's audiophile-grade audio devices, the Cube. No this is not the Allspark in disguise, and although it looks cute, it'll tear your ears apart with room filling sound. What is it? The Cube is first and foremost a portable speaker designed to serve up big audio despite its tiny size. If that's not enough, the Cube is also an all-in-one portable speaker, headphone amp and at your computer desk it serves you as a USB DAC. Is this the wonder cube you've been waiting for? We go ears on in the full review right after the jump!
The Cube measures just above 2-inches and comes inside fine looking packaging as if it were designed to pay homage to Apple's iPod packaging. Included with the Cube is a 0.6m-long 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable and a 0.7m-long USB to micro-USB cable. We haven't yet gotten to talk about the Cube and we're already disappointed with what we've found inside the box. Contrary to NuForce's misleading Cube shots showing its supposedly higher quality, better looking Transient red cable being used, what you really end up getting is a cheap black cable with lower quality 3.5mm plugs which aren't as slim as the ones on the Transient cable and won't fit every smartphone or tablet that has a protective case on.
The Cube can be picked up in several different colors, and all of its multi-functioness will set you back $120. Build quality wise, the Cube feels well built with a part aluminum, part plastic body and svelte mesh speaker grille. The design is very clean, modern and looks like one of Nokia's Bluetooth accessories more than anything. It'll look good no matter where you use it.
When just about every portable speaker released these days prides itself at offering wireless music streaming, the Cube focuses more on audio quality by using wired connection for superior sound quality and better battery life. The Cube's built-in rechargeable battery life has been terrific nearing the expected 8 hours on paper.
If you're looking to enhance the audio quality that comes out of your smartphone, MacBook Air or tablet and still keep an ultra-portable setup, then the Cube will be your best friend. The Cube has a few things going for it, but its stronghold is its size. It can fit and be carried with you anywhere you go.
Using the Cube couldn't be any more simple. If you haven't yet noticed, there are no buttons or switches to be found. The Cube's body is smooth for the most part. Plugging in your audio source turns the device on and a tiny red LED light will turn on behind the mesh speaker grille letting you know the unit is powered on. The only way of turning off the Cube is by unplugging your audio source cable. So if you forget to unplugg the cable, the battery will drain quickly. The Cube has no standby mode to help conserve battery life unfortunately.
The Cube offers up two ways of connecting an audio source. It has a micro-USB input for charging and utilizing its USB DAC functionality for hooking up a computer as well as a 3.5mm audio source input for connecting just about anything like a portable audio device, and a 3.5mm headphone output. Either way, the Cube is very easy to user and user friendly.
NuForce's Cube literally blows away any speaker that shares its small cubic size. The Cube was built to be a pico-sized portable speaker without sacrificing sound quality. However, I wasn't expected much out of this speaker only because of its toyish size, but I ended up being blown away with just how great the sound came thru. The Cube has very impressive audio performance for its diminutive size which makes it a superb portable 'do-it-all' speaker for the price. And even though this is a mono speaker and not stereo, the audio is very much enjoyable and will be most suitable for on the go applications using a smartphone or a tablet more than anything else.
Obviously you aren't going to experience outrageously good sound quality using the Cube as a speaker. The Cube does lack bass and full, rich which in turn creates a flatter sound compared to other speakers. But what it lacks in it compensates for with sweet clarity and outstanding high end performance that really does a great job bringing out the vocals better than most portable speakers twice its size with twice as many drivers. I've noticed that instruments, and vocals in particular sound detailed and come out very clear. With such good high-end performance, the Cube delivers a treble heavy sound signature that's more suitable for listening to non-bass heavy music and watching YouTube videos with the occasional movie watching and game playing.
The Cube can spit out impressive loud, room filling audio for its size trumping the much larger portable speaker, the Jawbone Jambox, without distorting one bit. And that's no easy feat.
As for pumping out those headphones with extra amps, I haven't noticed a considerable change in audio quality nor volume. Other than roughly 10% slight increase in audio level and a hint of better bass performance, the Cube's headphone amp feature isn't going to be worth your investment alone. Than again, it might be because the Cube will be most helpful if you've got one of them power hungry headphones that require an amp in order to sound good with decent audio level output. For reference, we tried using the Cube with various types of headphones including the Aiaiai TMA-1 Studio, Incase Sonic and the Bowers & Wilkins P3 and C5.
Unfortunately I've had the same outcome while using the Cube's USB DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) feature while testing it using a 15-inch MacBook Pro. There wasn't any noticeable difference in audio quality, albeit the audio was as clean and clear as it was when directly plugging in headphones into the computer's 3.5mm port. In fact, the Cube's built-in DAC did not handle volume very well and has reduced the volume output when used as a straight headphone DAC.
When connected to a computer via a USB cable, the Cube is able to bypass your often times lower quality analog 3.5mm headphone output and serve up digital audio thru the USB connector straight into the Cube and out to your headphones thru it's 3.5mm output. If you're hearing interference, hissing or an unclean audio while using your computer, the Cube or any of NuForce's higher-end DACs will help eliminate that and improve the audio output thru your USB connection.
As far as we know it, the Cube is the best performing pico-speaker we've come across.
The bottom line is, if you're expecting night and day difference in audio quality while using the Cube's USB DAC and headphone amp features, you'll be sorely disappointed. With that said, we think that the Cube as a speaker is without a shadow of a doubt one of the more capable micro-sized portable mono speaker you can get. The Cube does a good job being a high quality speaker in itself without requiring any of these extra features. You won't believe the loud, clean audio that comes out of NuForce's Cube.
The Cube's $120 price tag is a little up there considering it failed to impress us with some of its advertised claims. However, we think it's good enough to be worth your consideration as a portable speaker greatly for its performance to size ratio and good battery life.