Dali Kubik Free review
Buying good speakers has never been cheap, if you want quality then you have to stump up a bit of cash. That said, we've never considered paying nearly £1,000 for a pair of Bluetooth speakers before. On the surface, that sounds ridiculous because you can get some decent speakers for a lot less than that. Indeed, £900 would buy some really nice Sonos gear for your home, which is very worthy an investment.
Dali Kubik Free speakers are sold as two parts. The first is £650 and has a built-in amplifier. You can have this as a standalone speaker if you like, or you can add the £300 optional second speaker to it, which will give you stereo sound and a generally more hi-fi-like experience.
The question is, what makes this speaker better than one that costs a fraction of the price? Well, the answer is predictable: it's all about the quality.
True hi-fi sound
You could get sniffy about Bluetooth, but that's somewhat unjustified here as Dali uses AptX to provide the best possible quality over the wireless audio system. And we have to say it has worked brilliantly. The quality surprised us - and that's impressive because we've heard a lot of Bluetooth speakers in our time.
We played content from Google Play Music, from our own downloads, files ripped from CD, as well as some high-quality studio master tracks that we have on our PC. It all sounded absolutely fantastic.
There is a clarity to these speakers that's a true testament to the engineers at Dali. The company told us that it was looking into various amplification options, but in the end had to design its own to get the quality it expected.
As you would expect there are other connection options for those who can't bear the idea of Bluetooth. There's an optical jack for hooking up high-quality sources, such as a CD player. Then you've got RCA analogue jacks, handy for iPod docks and other sources, or perhaps an older TV would make good use of these inputs.
There's also USB, so the speakers can be connected directly to a computer. This is a handy idea, although we wonder who would use this option as these would make for enormously expensive PC speakers. Still, perhaps people building a home studio might find this option helpful, the big advantage being that you can access the highest possible bitrates.
A subwoofer output is supplied too, although we honestly don't think you should use this. Dali has spent so much time tuning the speakers to sound amazing, that adding a sub will just render much of that pointless. If you want massive bass, there are other systems on the market you should consider first.
Remote control, accessories and extras
A cable is provided if you need to connect one speaker to the other secondary "Xtra". This is long enough to have the two speakers a sensible distance apart from each other, but not so long that you'll have to work out clever ways of hiding it.
The included remote control is our least favourite thing about the system though. It doesn't suit such an amazing-sounding speaker and it's a pain to use. The button presses often don't work and it seems cheap and nasty. Our advice would be to use your device's volume and set the Kubik up to somewhere in the middle of its range of volume. Of course, this won't work so well with non-Bluetooth sources.
Grumbles about the controller aside, there are no other cables provided, which is a minor shame. To be honest though, you'll have everything you need to hook up other sources, and if you don't then buying them will cost pennies compared to the main purchase price.
You can wall-mount the Dali Kubik if you want via a simple mount on the back too. You also get a gain control, which allows you to tweak the input levels to suit your equipment and there is a mode switch that allows you to use the speakers as a stereo pair, or just use a combined stereo sound on one, or even both speakers. We used the stereo version, but you might mount your speakers in different areas - subject to cable length - and that might sound better if you downmix the stereo tracks to a single soundtrack.
We've pretty much given the game away already, but we don't think we can state this too often. These speakers sound amazing. Not amazing in the context of Bluetooth speakers, but actually properly amazing in the context of speakers in general. We've used a range of Dali speakers before, and they know how to make these things right. The Kubiks are no different, they're perfectly suited to the job they were designed for: delivering great sound.
The way the company told us it has designed these speakers is important too. The decision to design an amp that was bespoke for these speakers, and not one off the shelf, is probably the main thing that makes them sound so good.
Bass is tight; it sounds powerful but isn't overwhelming. The reason we argue against adding a subwoofer is that it's just not needed. There is more than enough low-end grunt here to make your music throb like a hammer-bashed-thumb.
But of course, the skill with audio is not bass, because bass is easy. The skill is mid- and high-end sound. The greatest news of all is that the Kubik manages these frequencies with the same skill as the bass. The sound is so clear and so perfectly balanced that we could hardly believe it was coming from something at this price point.
We know the Dali Kubik Free is an expensive speaker setup, but that doesn't alter the fact that these speakers are just about the best thing since sliced bread in the audio world.
Don't settle for just the one either, because you need to get the secondary speaker for this setup to really sing. What you end up with is a Bluetooth system that you won't believe is producing the sound you're hearing. Dali has managed to balance everything perfectly, and the result is the most exciting thing we've heard for a long time.
The key, we think, is the way the firm has built its own amp and used high-quality materials to construct the speakers to absolute perfection. The cost melts away when you listen. Sure, it takes a little bravery to spend this kind of money, but we really can't see how you'd ever regret it.
So from us wondering what Bluetooth speaker could possibly be worth so much money, we ended up wondering how Dali managed to achieve so much for under £1,000. How's that for a turnaround? And that's why these speakers gained our respect and a decent score.