Wilson Audio CUB II Loudspeakers 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Bookshelf/Monitor Loudspeakers
Written by Bryan Southard   
Friday, 01 September 2000

Wilson Audio is a name that needs little formal introduction. In business for over 20 years, creator of the WATT/Puppy - AudioRevolution.com’s 1999 Speaker and Product of the Year - Wilson Audio is the company behind the new entry-level CUB II loudspeaker. Few companies over the decades have sustained Wilson Audio’s high measure of success and respect within the audio industry.

At first glance, the Wilson CUB’s look is pretty darn basic. They resemble fairly typical mini-monitors. That is, of course, if you are looking at them from across a room. The finish on the CUBs, as with all Wilson loudspeakers, is second to none. Wilson calls this their WilsonGloss finish. For those who haven’t seen WilsonGloss at close range, we’re talking pure art. This article and the photos here couldn’t begin to do justice to the finish on the CUBs. I recently had the opportunity to visit the Wilson factory in Provo, Utah, and saw firsthand how this finish is achieved. Perhaps I was a tad skeptical - okay, very skeptical - about what goes into these mega-dollar speakers to warrant the enormous price tags. I left most enlightened.

I learned that Wilson machines the front baffle out of the same proprietary phenolic resin that is used in the making of the Grand SLAMMs. The side, back and inside baffles are made from a high-density MDF. The cabinets are assembled, prepped, sanded, then find their way into a state-of-the-art paint facility for a fit and finish second to none, essentially as good as and clearly inspired by the finest European automobiles. Frankly, these speakers look expensive to build.

The industry has long known that the speaker cabinets themselves are a strong contributor to reproductive coloration. The best cabinets are made with very dense materials and constructed in a manner intended to eliminate cabinet resonance. The best cabinets are designed so that if there is any resonance, it exists in frequencies outside the audible range. I did find that when the CUBs were driven to their highest limit, the cabinets were almost dead to the touch, with minimal outside vibration. Of course, there was little ultra-low frequency output in this test, but it was nevertheless impressive. As for the knuckle test, not a chance I would rap my hand against this finish. A friend or two made a move towards the CUBs with knuckles at the ready, but I quickly put a stop to that.

Vital Stats
The CUB is 22 inches tall, nine-and-a-half inches wide, 19.5 inches deep and weighs a dense 75 pounds per speaker. The speaker configuration consists of two matching six-and-a-half-inch drivers, and a center-mounted one-inch inverted dome titanium tweeter. The CUB has a listed frequency response of 45Hz to 22kHz. The rear of the CUBs have single speaker inputs - meaning they are not bi-wireable - and two rear enclosures that contain the speakers’ crossovers potted in resin, which inherently makes the network more stable. The CUBs have an asking price of $7,500 per pair.

The primary differences between the original CUBs and the CUB IIs from an audio standpoint are in the tweeters. The all-new tweeters are more transparent and musical than those of the original CUBs. The speakers have a new look that is much improved over the originals and have much better serviceability if they should ever need repair. On the original CUBs, the WilsonGloss finish was an option; now it is a standard feature.

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.

The Music
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.

The Downside
The CUBs are very expensive for a less than full-range speaker. Although very good within their given range, let’s be honest: can we live with a big-dollar speaker that falls short of the lower frequency excitement that many of us yearn for in our music? I would love to own the CUBs myself, but could I live with them as my only speakers? Probably not, but I would sure love them for most of my music. Personally, I have a taste for high energy in my music - bass that can get into my soul. I would consider WATT Puppys as my entry-level buy in the Wilson line, but I can’t yet meet the $20,000 price tag and I imagine I never will. However, I don’t want to imply that the CUBs are not exciting - they just aren’t full-range. At $10,000, with stands that are essential, they must be compared to other speakers in their price class and a few below. The first models that come to mind are my current reference speakers, the Revel Studios, which cost between $10,000 and $11,000 per pair depending on the finish. The Martin Logan Prodigies would also be a strong contender at $10,000 per pair, as well as several speakers in a lower price class such as B&W Nautilus at $5,000 per pair and Revel Performa F30s priced at $3,500 per pair.

Many choose to use a sub with Wilson CUBs. There are several subs available that I would consider as a good match. Of course, the Wilson XS would be amazing but, at $18,000 and over four feet tall, the XS would be overwhelming with the CUBs. Jerry Del Colliano uses two Sunfire Signature Subs with his WATT Puppy 6.0s at a cost of $1,895 per sub. One or two Sunfires would match well with the CUB IIs well.

My instinct is to not match a sub with CUB IIs, as the advantage of the CUBs is that they are very fast loudspeakers. When set up correctly, they can produce satisfying, but not physically jarring bass. In a 5.1 audio or home theater system, a sub is a must. Rumors have been flying about smaller, powered Wilson subs, but none have hit the market yet. Considering the quality of sound from Wilson subs over the years, as well as their excellent finishes, a future Wilson sub might make the best match for a CUB II, but you will not be missing out too much between now and then.

Whenever I read about a mini-monitor, it almost always generates a mental picture of a specialty product for a group of listeners that are primarily interested in pinpoint imaging of simple vocals, and perhaps some small venue instrumental music. There are inherent advantages to the smaller enclosures. Among these are less potential enclosure interaction, as well as a typically more efficient speaker. If you share in any of these misconceptions, let them go, because the Wilson CUBs are so much more. The CUBs are dynamic and exciting. They are capable of absolutely startling imaging. They lack the low-end punch of the big boys but, to their credit, the bass they do provide is good, real good. In fact, if you compare them to many full-range speakers in their price bracket, you might find the other speakers’ bass to be slow and fat when contrasted with the ultra-quick bass response of the CUBs. However, I will say that the CUBs are not for everyone. Their less than rock-bottom bass response and sometimes less than polite top end makes this the speaker for the connoisseur, rather than the person looking for the ultimate full-range do-any-music speaker system. Whether you are in the market for a speaker system in this range or not, find somewhere to hear these speakers. They are simply wonderful.
Manufacturer Wilson Audio
Model CUB II Loudspeakers
Reviewer Bryan Southard

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