When does it make sense to pay $750 for a 2.1-channel audio system that doesn’t include satellite speakers? When you crave room-filling sound, when you don’t need a full-blown receiver, and when the system is as unique, well-designed, and flat-out cool as the iCub integrated subwoofer.
The iCub is the perfect companion for a streaming-audio box sans amplifier, or an MP3 player. Add a pair of loudspeakers—not the type of near-field monitors that come with PC-oriented speaker systems—and you’re set. Three BASH amps send 150 watts RMS to the integrated subwoofer and 75 watts RMS to each satellite.
BASH amps strike a good balance between the characteristics of audiophile-type Class AB amps, which typically sound more like “live” music, but are expensive and inefficient, and those of more mainstream Class D amps, which are moderately priced, and highly efficient, but don’t produce the same hyper-realistic sound.
A sub that’s designed to power satellite speakers is unusual, but iCub goes even farther off the beaten path by connecting a Toslink optical digital-audio input to a 20-bit DAC. Analog sources can be plugged into either the RCA or 1/8-inch stereo jacks. Whatever source you plug into the iCub, you’ll want to play high-quality material (uncompressed WAV, lossless compressed audio, or MP3s ripped at the highest possible bit rate). Anything less would be a waste of this system’s capabilities.
When you’re talking about high-end audio, $750 isn’t a lot to spend on an excellent powered subwoofer. We could do without the bling-bling motorized volume control—even if it is backlit by a ring of cool-blue LEDs—but we definitely appreciate the separate bass control, two-position crossover (85- or 110Hz, so you can blend the bass with either large or small satellites), and the auto-sensing power switch (the amp turns itself on as soon as it receives a signal). That said, we really dig the sound. This sub produces tight, clean bass—and plenty of it.
We paired the iCub with a pair of the manufacturer’s diminutive Sib satellite speakers ($375), and the trio gave our $3,000 home stereo system a run for its money, filling our 800 square-foot living room with sound. The iCub isn’t for everyone. If you’re looking for a near-field solution for your PC, it’s clearly overkill. But if you’re in the market for a ground-pounding sub to pair with a streaming audio system or even a simple MP3 player, give this box a listen.
— Michael Brown
TIGER CUBS: Almost exactly the right collection of components; comes with a remote.
BILLY-CLUBS: We could have done without the glowing, motorized volume control; expensive.
URL: www.Focal JMlab.com