The UFi UCube USB Powered Computer Speakers

Relative to the Harbeth HL-P3ES-2 speakers on my main computer rig, these things just don't compare. Well, duh! The Harbeths are powered by 150Watt class-D amps run from a serious pre-amp and DAC. The UCubes get both signal and power from the USB output of my laptop. The question is: what can you compare them to?

Not much, they're pretty unique.

The UFi UCube Portable USB Powered Speaker ($149)
Recently Jonathan Scull (a PR agent) shot me an email about a few things including the UFi UCube. I sent him back an email expressing my interest. He replied, "I’m not sure UCubes are for InnerFidelity… they’re mass-market items that focus like little bandits and throw a wide soundfield, but they’re only 3 and change square inches."

What Jonathan doesn't know (yet) is that InnerFidelity is about personal audio, not audiophilia. I'm into stuff that sounds good, sure, but I'm also interested in stuff that packs around easily, looks good, and delivers a lot for the money. The UCubes do that very nicely, thank you.

Technologies
The UFi UCube is a pair of speakers that gets both their power and their audio signal over the USB interface from your laptop. All that's required is that the USB interface is able to supply 500mA --- most computers will do this, but some USB hubs will not.

The heart of the system is a complex integrated circuit originally designed by Audium Semiconductor, which shut down when it sold all its intellectual property to NXT. NXT changed it's name to HiWave late last year, and brought together its balanced mode radiator (BMR) speaker technologies and the new Audium chip in a system they have dubbed "DyadUSB."

The integrated circuit combines a USB receiver, DSP, DAC, switching power supplies, and class-D power amplifiers in order to deliver 15 Watts of "burst power" from the 2.5 Watts of available energy on the computers USB port. It does so by storing extra energy during the soft passages.

Balanced Mode Radiator (BMR) speakers are similar to regular cone speakers in that they have a voice coil suspended in a magnetic field provided by a permanent magnet. Unlike a cone speaker, the BMR uses a stiff planar surface as its radiator. The mechanical attachment of the voice coil to the driver surface is done such that it is attached at the point of the first primary modal oscillation, and small weights are added to the rear surface of the stiff diaphragm to balance its moments (hence, "balanced" mode radiator) and control the dynamic performance of the diaphragm. At low frequencies, the surface simply pistons in and out; at higher frequencies the surface bends, and sound begins to appear to radiate from closer to the center of the diaphragm.

The result is a single speaker that doesn't suffer from "beaming" as the frequency increases. BMR speakers look more like a point source over their operating range than traditional cone speakers, and, as a result, a single driver can deliver what previously would have needed a cone and tweeter drivers and crossover. BMR drivers, therefore, deliver both wide frequency range and wide dispersion.

Lets have a look at the product itself.

COMPANY INFO
Ultralink Products
231 Bentley St.
Markham, Ontario, Canada L3R 3L1
info@ufiproducts.com
905-479-2831
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Limp's picture

I had all but given up on speakers in this size and price range, then came this. Looks very promising.

To you, Tyll, and anyone else using multiple sound devices on a Mac, I recommend this neat little application called SoundSource, found on rogueamoeba.com/freebies.
It makes it possible to choose sound in/outs without going through System Preferences.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Nice! Thanks for the tip, Limp!

dalethorn's picture

I got my first Nxt's in 2001 I think - don't remember the brand, but were for desktop computer and about $100. They sounded fairly dull. A couple of years ago I got the Nxt travel speaker from Brookstone for about $40, which sounded better, but not a stereo speaker. A Google search did not turn up any high quality speakers like these cubes, just a bunch of cheap toy things, and references to Nxt technology drivers being included in some "high quality" theater systems. Now if they can make some other form factor speakers that sound as good as the cubes, that would be interesting. Like the iHome variety, which might look like a small book or a CD case, and fold out to twin stereo speakers, having good sound for circa $150. I'm not holding by breath on that, since that would be far too useful, and it wouldn't appeal to the average consumer.

Negakinu's picture

I want the sock! :)

How do these compare to say, something like the JBL On Tour or even the Audioenginge A2? Thanks!

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Don't know about the JBL ... I'll try to get some Audioengine stuff in for review sometime soon.
Armaegis's picture

If you're looking at the Audioengine stuff, folks might appreciate a short head-to-head with the M-Audio AV40 are those are commonly squared off against each other.

Armaegis's picture

Hah, it's funny to see someone else using socks to carry miscellaneous gear. I use abandoned socks (the ones that have lost their soulmates to the great washing machine in the sky) to hold my mouse and hard drives.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Great minds think alike!
JIGF's picture

Looks interesting.

I have a Lacie firewire speaker and it is deplorable.

Another company you should check out aside from Audioengine is HiVi, they have many computer speakers.

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