There was a time when table radios didn't get any respect.
That's no longer true now that some radios come jazzed up with iPod/iPhone docks, CD players, Internet radios, and all sorts of features. But they still sound like table radios--even the ones featured in full-page ads in magazines and newspapers that sell for $349 or more. The sound isn't bad, just inoffensive, and they make do with fake stereo. True, they may sport two speakers, but since the radios are just 15 or so inches wide, stereo imaging isn't part of the plan.
Enter the Cue Radio Model r1 Outlaw Audio Signature Edition; it's a table radio that aims higher, and mostly hits the target. It's the best-sounding table radio I've tried at home.
Styling is iPod-inspired and elegant, with a black high-gloss body and large backlit display. The Cue radio sports a built-in iPod/iPhone dock, dual alarms, remote, etc. Stereo? It's an unabashedly mono affair, with a single two-way, tweeter/woofer driver hunkered down on the right side of the cabinet, but you can add Cue's matching Model s1 speaker and get bona-fide stereo. That feature alone elevates it over most of the competition, and automatically ups the Cue radio's hi-fi quotient by a few notches.
Cue's 3/4-inch silk dome tweeter is mounted on a waveguide, strategically centered over a 3.5-inch woofer. The combined driver is a proprietary design, and it's a honey. The Cue Radio is "bi-amplified," meaning one 25-watt amplifier drives the tweeter, another 25-watt amp drives the woofer. The radio has two more 25-watt amps standing by for when you run stereo speakers. There's a 3.5 mm stereo Aux input jack on the rear panel for connecting CD players, MP3 players, computers etc. It's too bad a headphone jack didn't make the cut. The radio is 10.5 inches wide by 4.25 high by 6.5 deep and weighs six pounds.
I'm reviewing the Cue Radio Model r1 Outlaw Audio Signature Edition, which sports a couple of features missing from the standard Cue Radio Model r1, but both models retail for the same price, $399 for the radio, or $479 when bundled with the stereo speaker. In either case, the radio is assembled by hand and tested by Cue in the U.S..
I found the Outlaw version's two features, "Localization Equalization" and "Talk" EQ, useful (you can turn them on and off individually). The first one eliminates the boomy bass you get when you place a radio in the middle of a table or up against a wall. "Talk" is similar, but it's a different EQ that reduces the overly "chesty" sound of male talk radio hosts. Both features work as advertised.
The Cue Radio is shipped without an external FM antenna, because the manufacturer claims the radio's AC power cord is also the FM antenna, but the radio failed to pull in my favorite NPR and low-power college FM stations. Plugging in a FM antenna I found in my hi-fi junk drawer dramatically improved reception. Cue is now promising to supply a FM antenna to customers who request one (an AM antenna is already included).
At this point I compared the Cue Radio with my Boston Acoustics Recepter and Tivoli PAL radios. The Recepter had a lot more and better bass, but the Cue Radio's treble and midrange were far more detailed and easy to listen to. The Cue Radio's bass wasn't punchy, but it was decent enough and preferable to the bloated bass I've heard from some name-brand radios. The Recepter and PAL sounded like, well, small table radios; the Cue Radio was more hi-fi.
The Cue Radio was mono for those comparisons, adding the stereo speaker radically widened the performance gap. With the s1 speaker about four feet away from the Cue Radio the imaging was really nice, with a deep and wide soundstage. The tweeter's "air" and resolution are well ahead of what you get from other $300 table radios, that's for sure.
Thing is, the Cue Radio is still a table radio, and not an actual replacement for a hi-fi system. Rocking out was restricted by the Cue Radio's limited bass and dynamic impact, compared with a hi-fi. Judged as a table radio, it's the new benchmark.