Portable speakers can be lumped into two categories: those designed for “large” audio producing devices, and those designed for mobile devices which regard “small” as a valued accessory. The NuForce Cube Portable Speaker falls into this latter category, and you’ll be glad it does. If you’ve an MP3 player, smartphone, laptop or tablet, that is.
Now if you’ve ever taken a small apple out of the refrigerator, then you know the Cube’s’ size (though you’d have to shave the sides even to get a 2-inch cube). In fact, you’ll think it’s even smaller than it is — because you first have to remove it from inside a plastic cube protecting it (and holding inside a mini-jack to mini-jack cable and mini-USB cable at the bottom).
When you’ve a speaker this tiny, you’d expect any tech inside to be tiny too — and that’s OK because, unlike the 1950’s, we’re way past vacuum tubes being cutting-edge. It’s what is inside this speaker that makes it stand out from others of this type — and how you can apply that to the “outside” world.
The first thing is that there’s a USB DAC (digital-to-analog) built in — this bypasses the sound card mechanism of a device that is sending both data and power through the USB (i.e., a laptop). How good is that DAC? We’ll see in a bit.
There’s also a headphone output — something not expected. Nor expected is the fact that there’s an amplified circuit being employed so as to increase the quality of the reproduction of the sound being outputted to the headphones. Power for the speaker comes from the USB cable, if connected, but otherwise through an internal rechargeable battery. Guess that’s part of the reason the Cube feels as heavy as it does.
I guess this is as good a time as any to note that it’s at the back of the Cube where the micro-USB socket can be found, along with the headphone mini-jack out. This is very much conventional for a speaker.
By the way, the front of the Cube’s grill is cloth — not some injected molded plastic. It give the Cube a “solid” look that removes any kind of cheapness. You should also keep in mind that the plastic cube it comes in makes for a good transport — while the speaker feels pretty durable, I’m sure exposure to sharp or cutting-edge objects in a knapsack or other conveyance could cause damage — or at lease mar the surface if not tear into the grill. An insert in the plastic case holds the included mini-jack to mini-jack cable as well as the micro-USB cable needed. Considering how many different plug shapes there are for these micro-USB cable, it can’t hurt to carry one around with you. Additionally, the base of the case makes for a good stand for the speaker in some instances. The Cube has four rubber feet for stability, which also aids in absorbing vibrations, but as it’s not waterproof some care must be taken into account. And no doubt it would break if dropped on concrete from a few feet up — don’t use a short mini-jack cable for connecting it so you’re less likely to give it a shove if you move the mobile device while forgetting the Cube is attached.
Part of the reason for the quality of the sound that the Cube can put out — heck, make that the majority — is due to that digital-to-analog. When a USB cable connected to an audio producing device, like a laptop, is connected — the Cube’s DAC takes over for the one in the device. To hear the difference, you just need to play the same audio file: once from the laptop and once with the audio being plugged into the Cube from a headphone jack. You should be able to discern subtleties in the layering of music that otherwise might get smushed together, thanks to the Cube’s DAC. Also, the level of bass is much more than just reasonable — nothing special or surprising to be sure, but well within the boundaries of what it needs to be in order to provide depth. Voice, be that vocals or speech, come through cleanly in all cases. And in general you can drive the volume up a bit higher when the audio is coming through the DAC without distortion than when the input socket is used.
Plugging headphones into the Cube, you’ll be pleasantly surprised as the circuitry being used promotes a clean response. Of course the quality of the headphones will play a part here, but it’s fair to say that the audio emitted from the headphones output is well modulated. No afterthought on the part of NuForce here.
As to the Elephant in the room — the design –I’m down with mimicking that of a conventional bookshelf-type speaker. Three’s a reason why the speaker shape is “classic,” and part of that is the quality of sound you can get out of it due to its physical characteristics. Not every portable needs to reinvent the wheel, and frankly the last thing I want is a speaker that I’m carrying around having a unique shape consisting of odd and sharp angles that can get caught on things.
Of course the Cube is to be used with mobile devices — pumping up the volume well past the tiny speakers they contain. The NuForce Cube Portable Speaker manages to pull it off. Since it’s battery driven and USB rechargeable, it pretty much can go wherever you go — its design takes mobile devices into account, after all. Just remember to unplug the mini-jack connection, if used, when done so as to preserve battery life. But considering that that can be up to 8 hours, you shouldn’t have to be recharging it after each use.
Bottom line: The NuForce Cube Portable Speaker combines portability and technology that makes it well suited as the external audio source for a laptop or mobile device. And it comes in multiple colors too. NuForce packs a lot into the 2-inch cube (you’ll be surprised what 3 watts of power can do), so the $119 retail price isn’t such a shocker — especially when you compare what it has and how it functions, compared to others in its size and weight class. Those wanting stereo just need to get two.
- Audiophile-grade DAC
- Optional nano adapter
- Multiple colors available
- No volume control
- Some may feel the cost is high
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.