Palo Alto Audio Design’s (http://www.paloaltoaudio.com) CUBIK digital audio speaker is a computer speaker system that designed with the audiophile in mind. Though US$199.95 seems a bit pricey for a speaker system with no subwoofer, the sound is as good for a subwoofer-less speaker system as I’ve heard.
The unusual looking (more on that in a moment) CUBIK relies on full-digital amplification, lossless digital USB streaming and a long-vent advanced enclosure for its sound quality and a highly dynamic range without the noise of digital-to-analog speakers. The CUBIK amplifies the Mac’s raw digital audio signal without converting it to analog first. More speaker systems should use the USB port and its digital signal in this way as it reduces the opportunity for analog audio conversion to introduce noise into the signal.
Where the CUBIK falls short sonically is when it comes to bass. For less-bass heavy audio — such as classical and folk music — the quality is more than acceptable. Vocals are clear and crisp. But bass distorts a bit at high volumes, even with Palo Alto’s bass boost feature, so the CUBIK isn’t the ideal speaker system for rock and movies with thumping sound effects and soundtracks. (You can beef up the CUBIK’s audio a bit with Global Delight’s Boom software; see our review at http://macte.ch/AoyEN).
When it comes to aesthetics, the CUBIK excels. The speakers are small (6.5 x 5.3 x 5.4 inches), cube-shaped, tilted at an angle and come with stands that lift them a couple of inches off a desktop. There are only four buttons controlling the volume, mute, and a bass mode They have a black design, feel very sturdy, and come in a matte plastic finish. Underneath the matte, soft-touch coating is a dimple pattern. The CUBIK speakers certainly look good sitting by a Mac, though, for better or worse, you can’t adjust the tilt. Also, there’s no remote or aux jack with the speakers.
Installation is easy. Just connect the speakers to each other (though the connecting cord is a bit too short, it seems to me), connect ’em to your computer via USB and plug ’em into the power cord. No additional driver or software is needed.
Overall, there are cheaper computer speakers out there that, on the whole, might not be as linear in sonic performance but sound very good. Or you can spend twice as much and get the best computer system I’ve ever tested (and which I own): the Bose Companion 5 speakers. See our review at http://macte.ch/Gi0Eg .
That said, the frequency range the CUBIK speakers cover are smooth and warm. If you’re into classical music, songs that emphasize the vocals and jazz, this is a speaker system you’ll want to at least consider — especially if you don’t want to make room for a subwoofer. But if you’re into a deep bass response, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
Rating: 7 out of 10
— Dennis Sellers