Arcam rCube

Sick of those £50 iPod docks that spew out meek music? Then try Arcam’s rCube for size; Wi-Fi meets Hi-Fi on this ‘pod-friendly speaker that’s about as high-end as it gets at this size. Ready for more good news? It’s portable. Yup - unplug the 5kg rCube from the mains and its internal Lithium-ion battery will keep going for between 4 and 8 hours. There’s even a grip-hole hidden just behind the iPod dock for carrying the thing around.

The ability to play music from an Apple gadget isn’t exactly new - we’ve seen hundreds before - but the rCube could be about to offer something genuinely new: lossless wireless streaming.

Soon, the flap across the dock can be closed - for good. Arcam is about to start selling an rWand (around £69) and an rWave (£79), which make it possible to stream uncompressed digital wireless audio from an Apple device and PC, respectively. Those gadgets use KLEER technology; the rCube already has module built-in so can be used with any headphones using the same technology - such as Sennheiser’s RS 160. Up to eight rCubes can be daisy-chained together for an instant multi-room music system - which, after the arrival of the rWave for an iPhone (it clips onto the bottom, so no App is required), puts the rCube in competition with the likes of Sonos.

For now we can only rate its sound quality from an iPhone in-situ, and there’s more good news here, too. Capable of 90W of power, the four speakers inside the rCube work best at loud volumes, which are mercifully distortion-free and heaped with low frequency and mid-range sounds. Our only issue is with low-volume playback; acoustic music in particular seems distant despite the treble highs being picked-out, whilst a single strummed guitar is mostly buried by the all-conquering bass response. A runthrough of Ryan Adams’ largely acoustic Heartbreaker at low volume was disappointingly lifeless, but the rockier tracks on The Beatles’ Abbey Road were sublime when turned up a notch or three; you have to crank-up the rCube to hear what you’ve paid for. If you can live with that, the rCube is hard to beat, especially at this price.

Operation of the rCube is by a cute remote that’s a touch too small. The design is otherwise excellent, though the touch-pads that allow full control of an iPod/iPhone’s internal menus aren’t quite sensitive enough.

Cunningly hidden along the bottom of the rear of the rCube are various ins and outs. A USB port for software upgrades, a power switch and a 3.5mm auxiliary jack to attach almost any audio device are expected. More welcome is a video port that’s capable of taking 720p video from an iPhone 4 (only) to a TV. There’s also a bass button that should be depressed if you use the rCube in the corner of a room.

Verdict

With millions of us having ditched our CD collections this kind of product ought to do well with people searching for a modern Hi-Fi system. Small, perfectly formed and portable, the rCube’s promise of lossless music streaming dimension is exciting and makes the £500 price tag appear good value - this is a pretty serious Hi-Fi component, after all. Audio-wise it compares reasonably well with the more expensive competition, though it’s not the all-rounder it could be.