$200
Speakers

Palo Alto Audio Design Cubik Speakers

Clearly catering to the NeXT logo enthusiasts among us, Palo Alto’s Cubik Speakers ($200) promise a whole bunch of sound in small, deliberately off-axis cube packages. One thing that’s unique about these speakers is how the audio signal is transmitted from your computer; instead of using the standard 3.5mm audio connection, Cubik is pure digital. All over the sound is pumped over from your Mac via USB, reducing the opportunity for analog audio conversion to introduce noise into the signal. Updated August 6, 2012 with hands-on impressions!

Cubik amplifies the Mac’s raw digital audio signal without converting it to analog first. Because the signal is digital all the way up until the point that it hits the drivers, there is no sound degradation, resulting in what Cubik claims is the clearest possible signal. One possible issue: each speaker has only one 2.5” driver to represent the entire frequency range, but it’s a metal-cone speaker that’s more expensive and impressive than the plastic parts commonly found in low-end audio gear. Even the stands are designed to improve the sound, positioning the speakers so that they fire towards your ears rather than straight into your chest. If you’re interested in conserving space and don’t want a system with a dedicated subwoofer, these might be worth checking out.

Updated: We’ve (finally!) had the opportunity to spend some quality time with Cubik, and though it’s seriously late to render opinions on a model that’s more than a year old at this point, we did want to share some additional photographs and details from our testing experiences. On the plus side, Cubik delivers much better sound, design, and build quality than might be expected from a two-channel speaker for the $200 price: the diamond-angled boxes look fantastic despite their considerably plastic frames, thanks to dimpled textures, front facets, and solid metal stands that suspend them an inch above your desk’s surface. They also deliver clearer, wider-spectrum sound than might be expected from the one 2.5” driver-per-channel design, rivaling some—not all—more expensive units until you really crank up the volume, at which point popping and bass distortion become evident. At lower and “safe near listening” volumes, they create a very nice soundstage with plenty of high, midrange, and mid-bass detail. The angled, side-mounted buttons are also really nice; a “B” button presents a heavier bass emphasis if you want it, with “M” for mute and +/- for USB-mirrored digital volume controls.

Apart from the higher-volume distortion, there are other issues worth considering. Palo Alto’s sole interface here is digital USB, with no aux-in, meaning that you’ll both need to give up a USB port to use these speakers and not be able to use them with non-computer audio products. The $200 asking price is only an issue given that you don’t get frills such as a remote control or a subwoofer, which are found in some multimedia speakers at or below this price level. Huge problems? No. These are definitely nice speakers, and worth considering if you like how they look; just bear in mind that you’ll be paying a design premium over the raw value of the actual audio drivers.

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