This is obviously not a headphone. Actually, it’s pretty far from a headphone. It’s a speaker. And an amp. And a DAC. All for $99. It even comes in cyan! This is a Nuforce Cube, and it’s by far one of my favorite pieces of portable audio gear I’ve owned. But does it sound good?
The packaging of the Cube is pretty Apple-esque. The clear plastic displays the glory of the Cube’s design and protects it from falls (which I accidentally tested). Once the top part is removed, you are greeted by a small metal box. Under the compartment is a mini-USB cable, a 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable, a manual, and a fabric case. The cables themselves aren’t very good at all; the USB cable didn’t work for instance, but I’m fairly sure that’s a very isolated case. The 3.5mm cable is about the same quality as a Fiio 3.5mm cable.
The Cube itself, however, feels incredibly nice. The top and sides of the Cube have a metal (aluminum?) shell that looks very slick, especially in the cyan mine is. The rear is sadly black, but houses the mini-USB port, headphone jack, and line-out jack. The front has a removable grill of the same color as the metal. Underneath the grill is a 1 inch speaker and bass port. My one niggle is that the LED is REALLY bright. Other than that, I definitely feel like this is a $100 product. In fact, it’s something that I feel belong in an Apple store because of its combination of packaging and general usefulness. But does it sound good?
Well, that depends on what you’re expecting. The laws of physics simply will not allow much bass from the speaker at all. There’s a definite form of impact, but even iBuds have more bass. What bass is there is reasonably defined, but honestly, don’t expect too much.
When we move up to the mids, there’s finally some good qualities. Compared to the bass that is. Again, the midrange is reminiscent of iBuds, but honestly, that’s not so bad. No matter what anyone says, I’ve always thought that iBuds had okay mids. The Cube has a far amount more detail though, which is better than I expected. Most instruments are decently conveyed, but ironically, I’d recommend lower instruments for the Cube. Vocals and high instruments are a little bit too bright for my tastes.
Speaking of highs–and this is a problem I’ve come across with all portable speakers–there’s too much of them. Again, this is almost a universal problem, so I can’t complain too much. I struggle to call them sparkly–they border on harsh.
I did notice that the Cube sounds a lot better when it’s pointed directly at the user. Any deviation from direct center muddles up the sound a bit.
But if you’re buying the Cube for analytical listening, “You’re doing it wrong.” The Cube is not meant for analytical listening; it’s made for, well, life. I was supposed to have this review done a month ago, but I’ve been too busy actually using it. I keep it in my car just in case some friends and I have an impromptu party in a parking lot or something and don’t want to waste fuel by playing music through our cars’ speakers. It might not sound amazing, but it just works. And it works in more than one way. Headphone jack on someone’s laptop broken? No problem! Let me get my Cube. It has a DAC.
Actually, the DAC isn’t half bad. it’s significantly worse than my home system’s, but in a pinch, it sounds better than onboard sound. Bass is slightly more defined, mids are much clearer, and treble is a little less grainy. But the amp might have more to do with that.
Honestly, the amp isn’t that great though. It’s nowhere near as good as a CMoy and doesn’t really increase volume much because they don’t have a potentiometer. Like above, bass is tightened, mids are clearer, and treble is better. But again, that’s not the point.
In my eyes, Nuforce has achieved the impossible. Nuforce created a lifestyle product that actually makes a lot of sense. It’s a jack of all trades, master of none. But I’m okay with that. For only $99, I get a usable speaker, okay DAC, and an amp. None of its functions individually sounds amazing, but as a whole, I can’t imagine being without it. This is a relatively short review for a product that doesn’t really need too much introduction. Seriously, if you think you’d use this, there’s absolutely no reason not to buy it. I mean, it’s cheaper than an Audio Technica M50. It may not be fantastic at anything, but the wonder of the Cube is that it really doesn’t do too much wrong. Again, it’d make a very nice gift, and with Christmas around the corner, this should definitely be something to consider. Parents, if you don’t know what to give your kids for a birthday gift or something, take a good look at this.