Review: Ultralink UCube Compact USB Digital Speakers Page 2

Of course, sound quality (and quantity) is what counts, and here there is both good and bad news. The good: the Ultralinks deliver a very honest midrange, with open, natural tonal balance and a wide, deep “soundstage” that makes instruments such as higher strings, acoustic guitar, winds, and especially singing voices sound far more convincing and “hi-fi” than most similarly diminutive desktop solutions manage. The bad is two-fold. First, ultimate loudness is strictly limited to a solid background level (there’s no way the UCubes come even close to matching the output of a “real” 15W-per-channel amplifier driving even micro-monitor speakers), and asking much more begets an edgy crunch to bass transients that clearly suggests it’s time to turn down a bit. Second, bass is severely limited below about 200 Hz. True, there is enough activity in the 120-240 Hz octave to follow the harmonic pattern of most music, and plenty to make, say, a string quartet quite listenable. But listeners who demand any real foundation from rock, jazz, or full-orchestra material are likely to be disappointed.

I also found top-octave sparkle to be a bit restrained, even as compared to a $100 three-piece (2-inch mid/tweeters) desktop solution of some years back, which also (of course) featured quite obviously more extended and punchier bass thanks to its separate, lunchbox-size “subwoofer.” Back on the “good” side, Ultralink claims exceptional dispersion (sound-spread) from their “balanced-mode radiator” driver, a square-diaphragm transducer a bit less than 2 inches on a side; and indeed, I heard a pleasingly spacious, unusually big-sweet-spot soundstage from the UCubes on whatever material I auditioned. Pointing the cubes a bit more upwards than their lovely aluminum stands naturally delivered maximized treble “air” for me, but the stereo effect and depth was impressive in any case.

Of course, the beauty of the Ultralink design is in its freedom from either a bulky woofer-box or an irksome power-supply. This is a product clearly intended for portable use, and here a pair of UCubes is a vast improvement over the typical passive micro-speakers – glorified earphones, really – meant to plug into a laptop’s headphone or line-out jack. And to be fair, at $140 per pair, the UCubes need to be, since the list of less ambitious desktop speakers priced well below that figure is a long one.