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The Compact Disc recently celebrated its 30th birthday, but for most people, digital files stored on a Mac (or streaming from a cloud) have completely replaced plastic discs shoved inside a stereo. But despite recent improvements to the speakers inside many late-model Macs, they're still lacking when it comes to listening to your favorite tunes.
Palo Alto Audio’s Cubik is a pair of desktop speakers built to wring as much sound as possible out of your files, without hogging much space on your desk. Screw-in metal stands position the speakers at an upward angle, creating a sweet spot that hits you right about ear-level, for the best sound reproduction. A bit of vertical adjustment might be nice, but in most cases, the speakers are angled just about right.
Cubik draws audio from your Mac’s USB port, bypassing your computer’s audio conversion. Palo Alto Audio touts their onboard electronics as offering “crystal-clear unadulterated sound.” Plug the speakers in, and “PAAD cubik” appears in your Mac's Sound preferences as an output device, without the need to download or install any drivers.
The small footprint makes Cubik an appealing desktop solution. Unfortunately, they also clutter your desk with cables. There's a USB cable running from your Mac to one speaker, an AC power adapter, and the cable that connects the right speaker to the left. Unfortunately, this last connection is hard-wired on one end; we’d prefer a replaceable cable, just in case it ever develops a problem.
Because the 2.5-inch drivers inside the Cubik are powered on their own, they're capable of pumping out quite a bit of volume. Surprisingly, pushing these speakers to their top end resulted in only slight distortion. Overall, the sound quality is good. Atop one speaker, Palo Alto Audio includes volume buttons, which control your Mac's master volume. There's also a mute button, which also mutes your Mac, and a button to activate a bass mode. With the bass mode active, you get deeper lows, at the slight expense of some clarity in the higher frequencies. Depending on the kind of music you're listening to, the extra punch can sound great.
Unfortunately, Cubik keeps things a bit too simple. An additional input for connecting an iPhone or iPod would be nice, and a headphone jack would eliminate the need to head to Sound preferences every time you want to listen privately for a while.
The bottom line. Cubik is small, good looking, and capable of more bass than you might think. We just wish the feature-set wasn't so bare-bones.
USB 2.0 port, AC power outlet
Surprisingly good sound from compact speakers. USB audio. Bass mode boosts the low end.
No additional inputs. Adds lots of wires to your desk. No headphone jack.