Arcam rCube: A luxury iPod speaker

The top iPod speakers are all relatively large, compared with Arcam's petite and very portable rCube speaker.

Arcam

Arcam has a reputation for producing meticulously engineered high-end audio products, so I was curious to try its iPod speaker, the rCube.

I've shied away from reviewing all that many iPod speakers, mostly because they don't offer the best possible sound for the money. That's my beat, finding great-sounding gear, and iPod speakers rarely qualify. Convenient, you bet, sound great, well, that's another story.

The Arcam rCube is a portable iPod dock. Fit and finish are upscale; it's a truly elegant design. The top of the cube has five touch-sensitive buttons--source select, wireless on/off, volume up and down, and standby--arrayed in front of the flip-up door that conceals the iPod dock and the speaker's carry handle. The rCube is available in a black or white finish, and I think the white one looks great.

Arcam rCube Arcamz

It's pretty small, just a 7.9-inch cube, and it weighs 11 pounds. Connectivity runs to one 3.5mm input jack and composite and component video outputs. There's also a small bass boost button on the rear panel, but it sure would have made more sense to put that on the small remote control. Other design specifics are sketchy: the rCube has 90 watts of power, but that's all I learned from the owner's manual and Arcam's Web site.

The speakers are on the cube's sides, so there's no direct sound coming from the front of the cube. I suppose that was done to give the rCube a bigger, more open sound, but it sounded a little vague to me at times. I would have preferred some direct sound, and stereo imaging is not a strong suit of the rCube's.

Billed as the "Portable iPod Speaker System," the battery- (or AC)-powered Arcam has a leg up on the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air and most other luxury docks on that score, as you can take the rCube with you. You can stream music to the rCube from computers and iOS devices. You can also stream from one rCube to up to four other rCubes to create a networked, distributed sound system in your home. The rCube comes with one USB dongle for either your iDevice or your computer. If you want both, the extra one goes for $99, and that's pretty steep.

Sound quality is fine: the rCube is clear and clean, the bass isn't going to rattle your windows, but definition is decent. Volume capability is certainly adequate, but if rocking the house is a priority, check out the Monster Beats by Dr. Dre Beatbox iPod Dock ($399). I think the rCube sounds better overall, but the Beatbox plays louder.

How does the rCube compare with the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air ($599)? I can't say for sure since it's been months since I heard the B&W, but I'd guess there's no decisive winner in that contest; as far as sound quality goes, both are competent performers.

Regarding the price, I have good news and bad news. The rCube is expensive, it was $799, so the good news is that the MSRP has been lowered to $499 as of September (with one dongle included). That's great, but $499 is still a lot of money for a small powered speaker system. Yes, it's well-made and feature-packed, but you can get substantially better sound from Audioengine's newly revised A5+ speakers for $399 a pair. Granted, the A5+ speakers will take up more space, but you'll get bona fide stereo, more and better-quality bass, they play louder, and they're better-sounding in every way.

Still, the rCube trumps the A5+ by packing very respectable sound into a smaller, portable package, and if that's what you're after, go for it. As compact iPod speakers go, it's an overachiever.

 

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