This is the Arcam rCube, a high end speaker dock for iPhone and iPod touch. It’s a large-ish, solid cube weighing 11lbs, beautifully styled to match all your Apple stuff. It looks great, sounds fantastic, and offers some useful non-wifi wireless playback functions; but it costs a fortune.
Starting with aesthetics, the rCube is a beautifully designed and expertly finished. It looks like it costs a lot of money (which it does: about $450).
The speakers are mounted on the sides, concealed by a fine fabric mesh wrapper. At the rear of the device are the ports and primary power switch. On top you’ll find a small touch-sensitive control panel and a flip-up lid that covers the dual-purpose docking port and carrying handle. Yes, carrying handle: the rCube has its own rechargeable batteries and you can take it anywhere. Anywhere you’re prepared to carry 11lbs worth of kit, that is.
The rCube is one of a range of devices supporting the Kleer wireless networking system. This allows you to stream directly to the rCube from one of the associated dongles – rWave, a USS connector for your Mac ($99 more), or rWand, for plugging into your iPhone or iPod (another $99). The network also supports connecting multiple rCubes together, should the mood take you (and if you can afford to spend that kind of money).
The unit comes with its own small IR remote control – sleeker than most, and with a sensible selection of controls.
Here are the official specs:
- Continuous power output (20Hz—20kHz at 0.5% THD), per channel
- Woofer channels, 4Ω, 100Hz—3.7kHz – 35W/Ch
- Tweeter channels, 6Ω, at 1kHz – 10W/Ch
- Harmonic distortion, 80% power, 1kHz – 0.1%
- Line inputs: Nominal sensitivity – 250mV–1.5V
- Line inputs: Input impedance – 22kΩ
- Signal/noise ratio (CCIR, 45W) – 90dB
- Nominal output level – 90W
- Output impedance – <50 Ohms
- Speakers: Output Level – ~94dB SPL/Vrms, output impedance – 100 Ohms
- Mains voltage – 110–120V or 220–240V
- Power consumption (maximum) – 90W
- Dimensions W x D x H (including feet) – 200 x 200 x 200mm
- Weight (net) – 5 kg
- Weight (packed) – 6.2 kg
What these specs get you is superb sound (note the 90 watts RMS output). It’s clear, free of distortion, crisp and honest. It sounds amazing, no matter what you’re playing, and belies the rCube’s proportions. It packs more punch than you expect.
This unexpected clarity unmasks your lower bitrate MP3 files. They sound like the compressed approximations they are, and made me think about re-importing some dusty old CDs at a higher bitrate.
The sound quality is undeniably good, but I question how useful it is to make a machine like this portable. It’s not hard to carry it from room to room, but it is large enough to make that something you’ll want to think about before you do. And it’s far too expensive to risk taking to the park or the beach. In the two weeks I had it for testing, it moved just a few times between home office, kitchen, and living room.
Furthermore, Arcam recommends you place the unit in a corner for optimum sound. That’s fine, but means that you think twice before picking it up to carry it somewhere. Your first thought is always: “Will there be a corner for me to put it in?”
If not, you can switch on the device’s bass boost system (there’s a button at the back for this), which does a very good job of overcoming less-than-ideal placement. But again, resulted in me thinking twice before moving the unit.
The Kleer wireless system is both a blessing and a curse. It works pretty well – setting up the rWand dongle on my iPhone 4, and the rWave on my MacBook Pro took longer than expected, but worked just fine afterwards – but all the messing about with dongles and widgets and connections feels somewhat clunky compared to the instant simplicity of Apple’s own AirPlay. But AirPlay requires a wifi network, and Kleer doesn’t – it operates directly from device to device, so you can use it in places where there’s no wifi to be found.
Even so, if a future rCube supported AirPlay, it would be a much more enticing purchase.
Pro: Amazing sound quality, useful portability
Con: Expensive. Proprietary wireless tech is going to get old fast..