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Arcam rCube - More Than a Speaker Dock

Gordon Kelly

By Gordon Kelly
Reviewed:

Awards

  • Editors choice
Arcam rCube

Summary

Our Score

10/10

User Score

Review Price £499.00

Cast your mind back and we mentioned WiFi. The rCube comes with lossless streaming built in. This can’t be achieved by ordinary Bluetooth so Arcam has teamed up with maestros Kleer, the company behind such revolutionary products as the Sennheiser MX W1 earphones. The result is signal that transmits at up to 2.37MB per second yet has power consumption 10x as efficient as Bluetooth. You'll need a Kleer USB wireless dongle or dock connector dongle to pair with (whisper it: £79.95 and £69.95 respectively from Arcam), but then true wireless freedom is yours. The rCube pairs with the dongles too, not the devices they are connected to so pass a dongle around a house party and let everyone have a go at playing something from their devices.

That's cool aspect one and there are three, count them, three more.

One. Every rCube can pair with up to eight more rCubes using its Kleer technology. This meshed network can be centrally controlled from any rCube creating a true Sonos rival for house wide audio. Two. Earlier I also mentioned a composite port. This enables the rCube to output video of up to 720p HD to any High Def TV with the cinematic audio provided by the dock itself. With handsets increasingly supporting this level of resolution it makes the rCube part sound dock, part home cinema video player and sound bar.

Three. Battery. Yes we finally have a high end sound dock with its own power supply to give the Bose SoundDock Portable a run for its money (and when I say "run" I mean drag it along the floor chariot style in the manner of Ben-Hur). Battery life is outstanding as well lasting up to eight hours on moderate levels and four to six hours on maximum volume. The flip lid on the rCube cleverly reveals a handle when open. It may cost twice the price of the dock you had your eye on, but when you can take the rCube all over the house with you then you don't need to buy multiple docks for different rooms… at least until that bonus comes in and you buy another one and mesh them together!

So the rCube is flawless? No. The power brick is as big as that on a desktop replacement laptop and HDMI would've been cooler than composite for video. Meanwhile it would've been nice to have one Kleer dongle bundled. If we're being really picky, for all its power, the rCube could also be fractionally louder though you will need to live in a mansion to notice it. This is all nitpicking though because for once the marketing hyperbole holds up, Arcam has indeed made "the world's best iPod/iPhone Speak Dock".

Verdict

The Arcam rCube may have come too late to be entered into our 2010 Awards, but for me it would have been my product of the year. As it stands it is day one of 2011 and it will take something truly special over the next 364 days to displace it in my heart. The B&W Zeppelin ruled the speaker dock roost for nearly three years, but its reign is over. At £500 the rCube isn't cheap, but its acoustic performance is unmatched, its form factor minimal and its functionality way beyond that of its rivals.

Scores In Detail

Design
9/10
Features
10/10
Sound Quality
10/10
Value
8/10

Our Score

10/10

User Score

Previous page

TimD

January 1, 2011, 2:48 pm

So, did you like it? ;)

Premfab

January 1, 2011, 3:57 pm

Well done to Arcam for making such a high quality product. More proof that British companies excel in high end audio.





It is quite a different market from Sonos and so it not directly comparable.





The thing I cannot understand about the high-end speaker docks for ipods is why?





If you want high quality music, the Apple products aren't there with the best - average at best.





If you want high quality music, you would not buy an mp3 player - Apple or otherwise.





Personally, if I wanted high quality music, I would buy a CD player, an amp and a pair of speaker - these would cost less than an ipad and this dock and the sound would be better.





I have no doubt that there are people who would disagree with this and I can respect that as everyone has different requirements / opinions. I just wanted to say that the high-end ipod dock concept doesn't do it for me.

Christian

January 1, 2011, 5:25 pm

Out of interest - what does the "upgrade" USB port do? Surely somehting like this doesn't need firmware upgrades?

jingyeow

January 1, 2011, 9:08 pm

@Prem - I think this product is aimed directly at me :D. I like good quality sound, but I'm the sort that has realised life is too short to be a stickler for detail and reaching indifferent audio perfection at the expense of ease of use and accessibility. Thus I am happy with my mainstream options, iPod, creative desktop speakers, ipod dock.





I find that the search for high end audio often becomes an obsession and thus you never happily settle. For instance I was happy with my ipod headphones till I used some sennheisers and I could never go back. They I used some better sennheisers and I couldn't use my previous ones anymore.





At a certain point, you I just stopped and said "This is good enough" and till I need some new buds (wear and tear) I'll stick with my current equipment.

Pendejo Sin Nombre

January 1, 2011, 9:18 pm

"If you want high quality music, the Apple products aren't there with the best - average at best."


_______








!?





The connection is digital not analogue and an iPod will happily play lossless audio files - comparative sound quality doesn't come into it. Ubiquity does.

Gordon394

January 1, 2011, 9:46 pm

@Christian - yes it is for firmware updates. The Kleer wireless profiles can be kept up to date that way.





@Pendejo - spot on. The rCube does all the processing, the iPhone/iPod is taken out of the equation. The dock connector is just used to digitally transfer the music to the dock. Remarkable product.

Gordon394

January 1, 2011, 9:48 pm

For the record this is my first 10/10 and Editor's Choice in 6 years of writing for TR. Which should say it all.

Al

January 2, 2011, 5:41 pm

I was chatting to an Arcam rep at a hi-fi show recently and specifically asked "does the rCube have a built-in DAC?" and was told "no", so the iPod does do the digital-analogue conversion rather than just acting as a digital music file server. Surely this is precisely why you need the bespoke dongles to use the system wirelessly? Fantastic bit of kit notwithstanding though.

Pendejo Sin Nombre

January 2, 2011, 10:04 pm

I'm genuinely surprised. Especially for £500.





What it does mean of course is that if you subscribe to Linn's 30-40 year old mantra of garbage in garbage out / can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, then it paints the DAC in the iPod in a good light.

9inchbut wont brag

January 2, 2011, 10:14 pm

Have had an rCube for six weeks, early XMAS present :-), and it is an amazing piece of engineering. Wanted a dock for my iPod touch and considered all options. My father in-law has a Bose SoundDock 10 and this Arcam rCube is even better in terms of sound quality, clarity and power but no distortion. Have never heard such clarity and depth from a device like this, just a truely amazing piece of design and engineering.


The wireless Kleer system built in is far superior to the Bose (which has bluetooth). Have connected the rCube to my Sennheiser RS170 Kleer Wireless Cans and the sound is so pure. Can take the cans anywhere in the house (large four bed detached)and no loss of quality, even in the outside conservatory!, the rCube Kleer transmitter is stunning.


The design is understated and classic. Not sure how they have been able to get 90W rms from a device of this size, just staggering but qudos to Arcam. It's not cheap but you are paying for quality and I wanted a small device approaching the sound quality of separates and this deliveres. It is not a replacement for separates if you want the very best acoustic performance but this is very close.


I can only support what Gordon has written in his review and congratulations to Arcam for producing a ground breaking product.


Just for your information What Hi-Fi Sound and Vision made it their dock product of 2010 which is where I first noticed it.

Marko

January 3, 2011, 2:02 am

Would be great to have the DAC point confirmed. I took a quick look at the specs and indeed it doesn't mention onboard audio processing. If that's the case then I struggle a bit with why one would pay this kind of money.





As to What Hi-Fi, after their raving recommendation of extremely expensive HDMI cables I'll be taking anything they say with a distinct pinch of salt.

Premfab

January 3, 2011, 5:28 am

To Pendejo Sin Nombre, I disagree with your comment about this being digital so sound is not affected. The marketing hype has obviously succeeded with people like you.





The file that is on the internal memory / disc is not directly given to the speaker dock - it is manipulated by some electronics within before being presented to the speaker dock.





The software that does this manipulation is written by the same company that has the nerve to bring us itunes - enough said.

Alistair B

January 3, 2011, 6:01 am

A reghardware.com review of the product, as do a few other reviews, confirmed the lack of a DAC.





"In line with its speaker design ethic, the rCube does without a built-in DAC – it simply utilises the analogue feed from the iPod. Arcam takes the view that it's better for a dock to do its primary jobs of amplification and projection properly, rather than try to complicate matters by treating your iPod as a file server and having to house all the electronics that such entails."





Still worth a 10/10 and £500 of your hard-earned now it seems the iPod is doing a lot of the legwork?

Gordon394

January 3, 2011, 8:12 am

@Alistair B - apologies, yes that's my error. Having clicked on the link what the Reghardware review (95%) will also tell you though is it is worth. every. penny. ;)

Pendejo Sin Nombre

January 3, 2011, 1:56 pm

"The marketing hype has obviously succeeded with people like you."


________








I'm not sure what you're trying to say. The analogue audio processing/output can be bypassed using the 30pin connector - hence we have things things like the Wadia or Onkyo docks, at which point the iPod simply becomes a repository for digital audio files - optionally lossless whether compressed or not. What you then have is something akin to a CD transport. though far more versatile and with a better interface.








"The software that does this manipulation is written by the same company that has the nerve to bring us itunes - enough said."


________








More accurate to say it's done by Cirrus Logic, or Wolfson or whichever company makes the DSP/IC for the DAC and analogue stages I would have thought.

Marko

January 3, 2011, 3:01 pm

So there's no point in ever buying a DAC for an iPod?

Gordon394

January 3, 2011, 11:11 pm

@Marko - depends on the quality of what it is hooked up to and the quality (bitrate) of the music you're playing. In the case of the rCube it isn't necessary. When plugged into a speaker set-up costing thousands, yes.

Tom C

January 9, 2011, 10:07 pm

Surely the sound could be even better if there was a built in DAC, this is after all one of the things that ARCAM made their name in (and continue to do so e.g. the rDac which has got very good reviews also) B&W and Philips etc clearly seem to think the DAC in the iPod is not that good to use their own digital processing. There must be some form of sound manipulation within the rCube to compensate?

Guest

January 17, 2011, 8:03 am

Ok for all the audiophools here lets go over this. This is a $500 dock system for an ipod or a mp3 player. A dac is not going to help at all for this. Maybe if it was a $10,000 system you might get a bit of help. The dac in the ipod is ok for this use especially if it's run through the dock connector and not the head phone jack. I can't believe that you can't get this. This does not replace a good home system and isn't designed to do that. Sounds like a very good dock system so go play somewhere else and expound on your dac knowledge.

Gordon394

February 12, 2011, 6:56 am

@sluice - you are entitled to your opinion, but I can't say I recognise or even remotely understand where you're coming from.

Benny Har-Even

February 16, 2011, 8:01 pm

@sluice Did you check the bass reduction button at the back? If it's not in a confined space it needs to make sure it's not pressed in otherwise it will sound thin. As long as that's not pressed in to my ears there's bass enough to fill your boots - and everything else to be honest.

frenchmonkeys

May 17, 2011, 10:59 pm

Misleading dimensions...

A typical Size 5 match football is between 68.50 and 69.50 cm circumference (UEFA Regs). A circumference of 69.00 cm gives a total volume of 5547 cubic cm.

The dimensions you give for the rCube make it 8000 cubic cm.

Clearly, the rCube actually takes up 1.442 x as much space as a regulation Size 5 football. ;)

Re: DACs

I use a Cambridge Audio DACMagic in between my iPod and amp, with some nice speakers. The amp and speakers cost £1000 on the used market, and I made the pure silver interconnects and silver plated speaker cables myself for under £100. Granted, this second owner kit still costs more than double the price of the rCube, but trust me, a modest but well performing DAC like the Cambridge Audio makes a very noticeable difference in sound quality - and it would on a system costing significantly less. It isn't necessary to spend a mint for a DAC to be a worthwhile addition.

I think the Zeppelin & Zeppelin Air sound horrible, and can't understand the hype surrounding them. Both managed to make classical, club and rock sound like it was being played inside a small shoebox, hidden somewhere underneath a big cushion.

I had a Vita R4 that was MUCH nicer than the Zeppelin - and gives you a CD player, FM and DAB to boot. Not sure why this doesn't feature on more people's shopping lists. It doesn't compare to even a fairly basic amp, speakers and dock that you can buy for around £200 used.

I'll check out this dock as I want something compact for my bedroom, but for £500, it really does need to sound a LOT better than a Zeppelin.

Ed

May 18, 2011, 12:44 am

Vita R4 better than Zeppelin? Not from what I recall. The R4 lacks any sort of life - it's accurate but has no oomph.

Zonko666

May 24, 2011, 12:03 pm

Has anyone tried using the FiiO E7 USB DAC (thereby bypassing the sound card in the PC) in conjunction with the line in on the Arcam rCube?

If so, are the results better than using the rWave or using the dock directly?

labrum

December 3, 2011, 10:13 pm

Gordon, where have you seen the Cuba and dongle bundled at 𧸖 - can't find it anywhere..!

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