|Wilson Audio CUB II Loudspeakers|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Bookshelf/Monitor Loudspeakers|
|Written by Bryan Southard|
|Friday, 01 September 2000|
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The CUBs are mini-monitors, not bookshelf speakers, although some people may refer to them as such. Bookshelf speakers are similar in size to the CUBs, but bookshelf models are generally up to $6,500 less expensive. CUB IIs are studio monitors. If you want these monitors to sound like they’re worth the money you pay for them, mount them on stands. Prepare to part with long green for good stands, because they matter. No bookshelves!
Matching stands are being offered with the CUB IIs, an accessory that was not available with the original CUBs. Wilson stands have the look and the finish to match the speakers themselves. What a concept. However, before I let you get too excited about that revelation, I must mention that Wilson CUB II stands cost $2,700 per pair. They are constructed with SLAMM phenolic resin and finished to match the speakers. Importantly, Wilson's new stands overcome one of AudioRevolution.com Publisher Jerry Del Colliano's Downsides from his CUB I review in that the new Wilson stand allows you to actually bolt your CUB IIs to the stand as you would do with a Revel Gem. The advantage to the stand is not just sonic but also, more importantly, safety. One of Jerry's CUBs actually fell off its stand and was damaged. Luckily, no one was hurt. Now this type of accident is much less likely to happen.
Another option is an after-market stand, such as Sound Anchor’s CUB II stand. The Sound Anchor stand is constructed from thick gage steel, welded and filled with epoxy, sand and structural foam. One difference between the Wilson and Sound Anchor stands is the price, as the Sound Anchor costs a mere $750 per pair. You have to decide for yourself, but if it were my choice, I would buy the Wilson stands. Although each company claims that its stands sound significantly better, the Wilson stands look like a million dollars and are likely worth the $2,700. Just consider CUB IIs to be $10,000 studio monitors, not $7,000 bookshelf speakers, unless you are forced to go without stands due to budgetary constraints.
It took me some time to get a good handle on what these speakers were really all about. All speakers sound different – in many cases, not just a little, but vastly different. Yet every speaker manufacturer will say that their speaker sounds the most natural and accurate. The fact is that 90 percent of them couldn’t be more wrong. My point is that the issue of which speaker sounds most natural is as subjective as the best ice cream flavor at Baskin Robbins. I guess that’s why they have 31 flavors. Nevertheless, the only real way to assess ultimate accuracy is to be part of the live recording session, and even that can’t factor in many variables. Perhaps the biggest variable is your room. After Wilson was kind enough to send a crew out to set up the CUBs at my home, the speakers were positioned in a location that they had found to be correct for my room. Admittedly, anyone in a strange room is at a considerable disadvantage. I have fussed with many speakers in this room and have since found a position that has consistently provided the most flat response with the least room interaction. After a few days, I moved the CUBs into the position that my Revel Studios would otherwise occupy, and the CUBs took on a whole new identity. I tell this story to illustrate the point that mere position in a room can have as much to do with the sound of the speaker as any other factor. Initially, the CUBs sounded a tad lean and forward, with sub-par bass performance. I later realized that there was a room resonance that was eliminating and canceling bass performance in the initial position. The new position was altogether different. The CUBs actually had a very cohesive sound from top to bottom.
How do the CUB IIs sound?
The CUBs are extremely quick and agile-sounding. The higher frequencies are without question the very best that I have heard. The bass does not reach to the lower depths, but I wouldn’t expect that of a smaller monitor speaker. There is a theory in design that suggests that a product that doesn’t do anything wrong, even though there are some things it doesn’t do at all, is better than a product that does many things right and some wrong. That is certainly true of high-end audio components. The CUB's bass is tight and very involving. Overall, I found the images to be better defined than that of my Revel Studios. Instruments lacked some of the sweetness of my Revels, yet there was more information. The upper octaves are in the ear’s most audible range and are also easier to control in a room. Therefore, when the upper range is good, images are good or, in this case, great. Nothing develops the fabric of the images themselves more than upper frequency information.
In many equipment reviews, songs are cited as though they have unique properties, i.e., "In this song, the bass was particularly deep . . ." When I review a product, I listen to every darn thing I own, perhaps many times, over the two to four months that I have the product. It is a treat to find recordings that sound better when played with a specific piece of audio equipment. However, a speaker with exceptional bass performance on one recording is tremendously likely to improve the bass sound on virtually all recordings.
In the interest of continuing this age-old tradition, while listening to Van Morrison from his 1999 release, Back on Top (Virgin Records), I found the sound to be very open and incredibly involving, providing a showcase for the speakers’ ability to engage you. This recording, although adequate, can be a tad compressed. I found the CUBs to be a notable improvement over many other speakers that I have heard. When listening to Alison Krause from her album Forget About It (Rounder Records), on the track "Maybe," I noticed a vocal timbre that was unusually pure and detailed. The vocal image was very close to real, with a quite realistic texture. Her voice, although less sweet than with my Revel Studios ($10,000 per pair), possessed a quickness that was free of grain or any other unnatural artifacts.
Some speakers sing at you, some sing to you and, occasionally, some actually sing with you. The CUBs sing at you sometimes and to you at others. Translated, they are like a 500-mile trek in Ferrari F355 Spyder. It’s an exhilarating adventure but not for the person who gets tired of feeling the road.
At CES 2000, I took the time to sit in on a theater demonstration in the Wilson booth. They were running the WATT Puppy version 6.0s ($20,000 per pair) with the $5,500 WATCH Center, and the WATCH rears at a price of $5,500 per pair or apiece. I was astounded. I considered it the best demonstration of hundreds I heard at CES 2000. I would highly consider the CUBs and the WATCH center and rears for my future theater and/or 5.1 music system. I would call it cohesive resolution. It is another way in which Wilson has improved the value of the CUB and their other loudspeakers systems. A CUB on its side was never really a center channel speaker. The WATCH is.