Arriving at our offices literally right after we finished reviewing Kubxlab’s Earshots, Matrix Audio’s Qube 2 ($80) is as close to a modern counterpoint as we could have imagined for the old-fashioned wired Earshots speakers. Both products are sculpted from aluminum with two roughly 1″ audio drivers, rechargeable battery power, and a micro-USB interface for charging. They’re seemingly being marketed towards the same consumer: a budget- and size-conscious user who wants to spend under $100 on tiny, pocketable speakers with a bit more power than an iPad. And they both sound pretty similar to one another.
Yet they are profoundly different in user experience. Qube 2 is a rounded rectangular block roughly 3.25” long by 1.5” tall and 1.5” deep, holding everything—speakers, battery, and even a Bluetooth chip—inside one substantial-feeling, handsome enclosure. One short edge has a circular extension point for attachment of an included wrist strap, and the other looks almost identical to Matrix Audio’s original Qube, with a power/pause/pairing button alongside a micro-USB port. Once you’ve paired one time with your device, all you need to do is press Qube 2’s power button to turn the speaker off or on to re-pair them. The internal battery is rated to last for eight hours, depending on volume level, and the tested wireless range just matches the expected unobstructed 30-foot limit of normal Bluetooth; drop-outs and hiccups in the audio begin to become problematic when you leave a small room that Qube 2 is in, or block your iOS device with physical obstructions.
By comparison, though the $50 Earshots use similar drivers, they’re fully wire-dependent: each of the two speakers needs to be physically connected to separate cables and devices for audio and charging. Their batteries last for only five hours to Qube 2’s eight. And most oddly, the Earshots don’t have a power button; instead, you need to disconnect the audio cables from both speakers to turn them off. So what you save in dollars, you lose in convenience.
Matrix Audio goes further than the nice wrist strap in the name of convenience, including a drawstring carrying bag and a dual-purpose micro-USB cable that can be used for both USB charging and 3.5mm wired audio in purposes. The protective bag helps to offset Qube 2’s only less than premium component—a simple, slightly cheap-looking plastic grille that protects the speakers. While the grille doesn’t feel fragile, it attracts dust easily, which the carrying bag will help to reduce should you take it with you. Ideally, Matrix will come up with a better grille for future speakers.
There’s only one “real” issue with Qube 2, and it’s predictable: sound quality for the dollar. Qube 2’s sonic performance is highly similar to Earshots, which is to say that it’s best in the highs and mids and relatively weak in bass, though ever so slightly bassier than the Earshots with a similarly small reduction in the treble. Again, Qube 2’s 75% volume level is roughly the same as a current-generation full-sized iPad’s top level, while Qube 2’s peak volume level is noticeably louder than the iPad’s but similarly flat and non-dynamic. iPod and iPhone users will find the performance more strikingly different from the speakers already in their devices.
Because of the $80 price tag, which is very close to leading $100 portable speakers we’ve tested, we need to note that Qube 2 doesn’t compare sonically with the only $20 more expensive JBL Flip and Soundfreaq Sound Kick—superb models that aren’t pocketable, but are similarly portable and Bluetooth-powered. Thanks as much to their bigger sizes as other things, they both blow this tiny speaker away in all regards, including stereo separation; Qube 2 barely produces a stereo field given its small size. Flip also includes a microphone for speakerphone use.
If you’re considering Qube 2, you’re likely doing so with the understanding that there’s a premium to be paid for miniaturization and convenience—the only question is whether a tiny, pocket-sized wireless speaker is a better use of $80 than a somewhat larger, much better-sounding option would be at $100. Some people will certainly say yes, and Qube 2 is a handsome, highly simplified design that delivers better performance than any speaker currently inside Apple’s iOS devices. It’s a good option, worthy of our flat B rating and general recommendation.
Company and Price
Company: Matrix Audio
Model: Qube 2
Compatible: All iPads, iPhones + iPods except iPod shuffle 3G