Ambiance Acoustics Super Cubes Review 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems
Written by Todd Whitesel   
Wednesday, 09 February 2011

Every speaker design represents a mix of advantages and compromises. Achieving good reproduction across the frequency range from low to high often involves employing drivers of different sizes linked with a crossover network. The large majority of loudspeakers feature such designs. Yet, it's possible for a speaker to approach full-range response without a dedicated woofer and tweeter (or other arrangement) connected by a crossover network. Instead, several drivers of the same size can be employed by using an equalizer to shape response and boost the bottom end. The most famous such design is the Bose 901. This speaker, first introduced in 1968, relied on nine 4.5-inch cone drivers for an “omnidirectional” sound to simulate the sound of a live performance.

The 901 cabinet featured an angled back containing eight of the nine drivers, while the front panel housed a single driver. With its primarily back-output design, the 901 was meant to use the listening room as a reflection and reverberation hall, along with the direct reflected sound from the front driver, to create a sense of space and ambience one hears in a concert setting. Supporters lauded the 901's deeply spacious presentation; others cautioned that the sound waves reflected from the rear drivers didn't meet the ear until after the sound from the front driver had passed and detail in the sound necessarily suffered. Never hearing the 901s I don't have an opinion, yet the omnidirectional design intrigued me.

When I came across the website of Ambiance Acoustics and saw the company's lineup of matched-driver speakers called Cubes, I sent a note explaining my interest and soon was chatting with Ambiance owner and designer Robert Salvi. One look will tell you these aren't conventional speakers. The Cubes are, well, “cubes.” They're also rear-ported and available in three guises: the four-driver California Cube, the nine-driver Super Cube and the 16-driver Hyper Cube. Each Cube sports a quartet of drivers, spaced equally from center on the front panel. Moving into the Super and Hyper, additional drivers are placed on the sides and tops for additional sound dispersion. After discussing my listening room dimensions, Salvi recommended the Super Cubes.

supercube shot

Design & Setup

The Super Cube consists of nine identical 4.5-inch, impedance-matched drivers. Along with the four front panel drivers, two more are placed on the top of the cabinet, two on one side (outer) and one on the other (inner). The Cubes are designed to be positioned with the lone driver facing inward. The speaker's dimensions are 13 & 5/8 inches on each face and each Super Cube weighs 32 pounds. A variety of finishes are available, including laminated, painted or veneered. Rated impedance is 8 ohms and recommended for amps with output from 10 to 500 watts per channel. Gold-plated binding posts accept one pair of speaker cables. The Super Cube's frequency response runs from 45Hz to 16.5kHz with a sensitivity rating of 90dB at 1 watt/1 meter.

Salvi told me, when designing audio components there are errors of commission and errors of omission. In the case of  the Super Cubes, the “error” is one of omission: Without a dedicated tweeter in the mix, you won't have the crystalline highs and detailed upper frequencies that other speakers might deliver. But the advantages of Salvi's design are many, including no crossover phase or time distortions, consistent audio balance and amplifier current between the matched drivers and improved sound dispersion. To compensate for the matched-driver design, the Super Cubes come with an active equalizer called the EQC-1. This 3-pound black box is wired before the amp or receiver to ensure continuous current flow to the Super Cubes. The EQC-1 features four pairs of gold-plated RCA jacks that can be connected either to a preamp, an amp or receiver's pre-out or through a tape monitor. The equalizer is designed to be plugged in and powered on all the time for best performance, but it never got warmer than room temperature during my appraisal. The front of the EQC-1 has three button “switches” for monitoring a tape source, activating a subsonic filter and/or to bypass the EQ itself. The  circuitry was designed by John Murphy of True Audio and Salvi emphasized that Murphy did an excellent job of designing the electronics “that are the heart and soul of the Cubes.” As a system, Ambiance sells the Super Cubes and EQC-1 direct-to-consumer for $1,695.

Passive listening and the Super Cube do not go together. This is a speaker that demands the listener's attention – and that's a good thing. As Salvi related, “This is not a background speaker.”  As such, setup and proper placement are critical to achieve good playback results. My instructions were to place the Super Cubes on stands in the 28-inch height range and toe them in so the four forward-facing drivers would be directly on-axis, and from my listening position I would be looking dead center in the middle of the four drivers. Because the Super Cubes are rear-ported, they should be positioned off the walls by a couple feet, to minimize bass loading, and set approximately 10 to 12 feet away from the listening spot.

Listening

My first impressions of the Super Cubes were that these drivers delivered a lot more musical weight and strength than I expected. The rear-ported design of the speakers make the Super Cubes behave as if they employed a pair of 8-inch drivers, and the bass and midrange react accordingly. The bottom end and middle frequencies are presented in bold and persuasive colors.  With some recordings, though, I found the bass actually too heavy in the mix. This was typically due to overly compressed mixes rather than arrangements with bass emphasis. I listened happily- sans EQ- to low-end thumpers such as Burning Spear's Hail H.I.M.,and Funkadelic's delirious rump-shaker One Nation Under A Groove, and never was compelled to smooth out the bottom end. Fortunately, if/when you need to, the EQC-1 can compensate with its Subsonic Filter, which rolls off the low end 24dB/octave at 60Hz. I found the nine-driver array endlessly fascinating, and often put my ear to the various sides of the Super Cubes to “hear” what each speaker was doing. Moving around the room as such hammered home how important it was to be in the sweet spot with the Cubes. Off-axis, the sound quickly thinned and lost dimensionality – much in the way the Cubes sound without the equalizer. But put your butt down in the zone and your ears reap the benefits with a surprisingly focused sound image. Even with the sound emerging from four different planes, there wasn't smearing or unpleasant delay in what I heard.

Supercube front

Good recordings really shine with the Super Cubes. Yes' 2004 release, Magnification, is notable for the orchestration provided by soundtrack composer Larry Groupe, largely replacing the keyboard textures of prior lineups. The album is a melange of musical textures and melodies, highlighted by Groupe's arrangements and the artistry of the band members. I was taken by the suave and brooding strings announcing the beginning of  “Give Love Each Day.” The sound is close and detailed yet I felt like I could reach into the air and grab the notes with my hands. That studio hall ambiance and sense of intimacy made for a great experience. The Super Cubes, however, do not suffer poor recordings. Listening to the Allman Brothers Band Live At American University was an almost painful exercise. The music and band are fine, but the recording is so tinny that it's almost like listening through a two-cans-and-a-string play telephone. Dynamics are smeared, smashed and crushed; sonorities are tempered and tamed.

By contrast, on another Allman recording, Seven Turns, the results were completely opposite. I caught myself doing an about-face as it became difficult to distinguish the tracks from a live, in-studio session. Open, rich and radiant acoustics flowed forth as the band members coalesced into a single musical entity. This is the sense of exhilaration one gets from “being there” - like a rush of wind carrying guitar notes and harmonies through the air and dancing around the ears. You not only hear the music but “feel” it. Re-creating that experience of a live performance is what the Super Cubes do very well. In the late 1970s, guitar-slinger Ronnie Montrose's self-named band broke up, after which he formed Gamma. The group's second album, Gamma 2, is a forgotten hard-rock release. If you like Bad Company and your songs served up with a heady dose of expertly crafted riffs, check out Gamma. Vocalist Davey Pattison sounds like a cross between Paul Rodgers and James Dewar. The spacey blues crawl of “Voyager” is worth the price of admission. Background winds swirl around Pattison's voice and Montrose's otherworldly lines, while the Super Cubes deliver all the punch and fire.

Finer top-end details are not the Super Cube's forte. Listening to tunes from The Beach Boys Sunflower album, I noticed some of the knottiest arrangements lacked impact and the clarity of detail from subtle dynamics that can bloom only with a speaker whose design accommodates such demands, but again that's an error of omission – Salvi's compromise.

Final Thoughts

Lively and life-like - from the get-go the Super Cubes go a long way to putting you concert, stage-center for a private performance of your favorite recordings. The Super Cubes are not for the music generalist or casual listener, but if your tastes run toward rock and/or you want the experience of a live performance, these are worthy of serious consideration. Placement is paramount – for the Super Cubes and listener – but find the sweet spot and you'll be rewarded with engaging sound from this unusual and fun speaker system.

System Setup


Ambiance Acoustics Super Cubes
Yamaha R-S700 Receiver
Emotiva Audio ERC-1 CD Player
Pro-Ject RPM 5.1 turntable
Sumiko Blue Point No. 2 moving coil phono cartridge
Parasound Zphono Preamplifier
RS Audio Cables Kevlar Starchord Power Cable
RS Audio Cables Illume Silver Interconnects
RS Audio Cables Illume Silver Loudspeaker Cables





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