We’re big fans of portable speakers — sometimes when you’re on the go, you just don’t want to listen to headphones — but most of the good ones, such as Altec Lansing’s inMotion models, cost $150 or more. If you’re looking for a travel system on a budget, Pacific Rim Technologies’ Cube Travel Speakers are a bargain at only $35.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Cube system is the fold-up design. When closed for travel, the slightly-misnamed Cube is only 4″ x 2.4″ x 2.4″ — a little chunky, but still small enough to fit in most backpacks and carry-on bags. When open for business — two “wings” fold out to expose 1.75″ left and right speakers — the Cube is approximately 7.5″ x 2.4″ x 2.25″, with a slot in the middle for your iPod.
The Cube connects to the headphone jack of any iPod via an attached cable; you use your iPod’s volume level to control the system’s volume. When not in use, the cable fits neatly into a recessed groove on the Cube; even the minijack plug fits flush with the Cube’s body.
We were quite impressed with the sound quality of the Cube given its low cost and small size. The sound is a bit tinny — hard to avoid in small speakers — but much less so than we expected, and the Cube even provides a bit of bass. You won’t get the big sound of a larger system, but you will get enough volume to fill a hotel room or small office. Overall, the Cube’s output — quality and volume — is significantly better than that of the $40 MacAlly PodWave, another quality ultra-portable option, and good enough to keep us tapping along to our tunes. (If you’ve heard some of the horrible portable speaker systems we have, you’ll understand that this is a high complement.)
One odd aspect of the Cube system is its stand. When open, there is a recessed area between the speakers that can accomodate an iPod; however, since there’s nothing to hold the iPod in place, you have to either balance the iPod on its end or lay it flat in front of or behind the Cube. To compensate for this, Pacific Rim includes a 3.5″ x 1.5″ plastic stand that attaches to the front of the unit. Actually, it’s more like a guardrail — it keeps your iPod from falling forward. It’s a useful accessory, but it doesn’t integrate into the Cube for travel — you must carry it as a separate piece.
The Cube is powered by 4 AAA batteries or an optional 6V AC adapter (available from Pacific Rim Technologies for $5 when you purchase a Cube). Although the company doesn’t provide battery life estimates, we got over 12 hours at moderate volume levels.
In a perfect world, the Cube would be a bit thinner when folded for travel and wouldn’t require a separate stand piece. But even with those minor quirks, you won’t find better travel speakers for $35.–Dan Frakes