Super Mini Cube: World’s Cheapest, Tiniest Audio System Page 2

PERFORMANCE

Obviously, I didn't expect a $9.99 iPod speaker to be a Foxl killer, but I was extremely curious about how well something so small and so cheap would perform. So I strapped the Super Mini Cube to the handlebars of my bike, dropped my Samsung MP3 player in my handlebar bag, and connected the two with a headphone extension cable. I then took off on a before-dawn ride to Los Angeles's Petersen Automotive Museum for an appearance on Sound & Vision Radio.

In this uncritical listening environment, with few cars on the road to disturb my music, the Super Mini Cube worked. It didn't sound beautiful by any measure, but I was able to make out radio host Scott Simon's voice clearly when I set the Samsung's FM tuner to NPR's Weekend Edition. Jazz music also proved fairly entertaining through the Super Mini Cube; I could easily identify the sounds of Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, even if their subtleties were masked. Blues harpist/singer James Cotton sounded surprisingly clear through the nickel-sized driver.

However, the Super Music Cube roughed up some of the rock music I played. In particular, it gave vocalists a bright, harsh sound. Any mix with a broad stereo soundstage and lots of out-of-phase information ended up badly mangled by the fold down to mono. On Led Zeppelin's "Ramble On," the acoustic guitar almost vanished, and the barely audible percussion at the beginning became the dominant element in the tune.

To my surprise, the subterranean vocals of Barry White did not disappear entirely when I played "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe"-but still, the Super Mini Cube doesn't produce any bass. However, this only proved annoying when Cotton's bassist took a solo, which through the Super Mini Cube was practically inaudible.

The Super Mini Cube wasn't loud, but it was loud enough for me to hear it when I wasn't near traffic. As I approached L.A.'s notorious 405 freeway, though, the automotive noise overwhelmed the Super Music Cube. Turning up the volume elevated the distortion to levels even Ted Nugent wouldn't tolerate.

Surprisingly, I got almost four hours of use out of the tiny battery before it needed a recharge.

WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?

Basically, this is a background music device-you're not going to use it for anything even approaching serious listening. But as I write this, playing jazz guitarist Pat Martino's Live at Yoshi's album at about 60 dB, it's OK.

I've used the Super Mini Cube several times since my bike trip, mainly in situations where I just wanted some music and was out of range of my multiroom audio system. It also worked reasonably well as a background music source while I sat and flipped through a magazine at a nearby park.

The application at which the Super Mini Cube excels, though, is as a tool for audio enthusiasts and technicians. When you're working with audio gear, it's nice to have something that tells you right away if an audio signal is present. The Super Mini Cube handles this chore well, as long as the material isn't just bass. To make the Cube work as a portable monitor, I soldered a 3.5mm jack onto a cheap RCA-tipped cable, and plugged the Mini Cube into the jack. Now, for the price of an Old Navy polo shirt, I have a pocket-sized speaker/amp system that I can plug into any line output to see if I have signal.

I don't know if I'd go so far as to call the Super Mini Cube an icon of excellence for these tough times, but it's definitely a fun way to blow 10 bucks.

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