We see a lot of Bluetooth speakers. TONS of Bluetooth speakers. To be honest with you, I'm less than impressed with most of them due to the inherent limitations of Bluetooth when it comes to streaming music. There just isn't a lot of bandwidth available, and Bluetooth has limited range. Today I'm looking at the Sugr Cube (US$199), a new and decidedly different wireless speaker that looks good and connects to your devices via Wi-Fi.
Unlike a lot of the Bluetooth speakers on the market, Sugr Cube actually looks good and works well with any decor. It's a cube with rounded edges, surrounded in Cherry or Maple wood, with a 3-inch driver speaker dominating the front of the device. The Sugr Cube website shows that the speaker will also be available in black or white finishes at some point.
On the back is the sole control on the Sugr Cube: a rotating on/off/volume switch with an LED built into it. That LED shows the state of charging, pulsating red while the built-in 6,000 mAh battery is charging and going to steady green when the speaker is charged and ready to go. There's also a bass port on the back of the speaker, as well as a micro-USB port for charging. The Sugr Cube website says that a full charge will last for about 24 hours of use.
The base of Sugr Cube has a rubber pad on it to prevent vibration and movement when you have your tunes cranked up.
After charging the Sugr Cube for 4 hours to get it up to full capacity, I downloaded the free Sugr Cube app to both my iPhone and iPad. The app is used to set up Sugr Cube to get on your office or home network, as well as act as a "remote controller" for the speaker.
Setup is incredibly simple. As outlined in the app, you turn on the speaker and set the indicator at about the 10 o'clock position, and then your iPhone or iPad makes a "chirping" sound. That's picked up by a microphone on the back of the speaker, and used to pass along the Wi-Fi settings for your network. Once that's done, there's a verbal confirmation that things are connected and ready to go.
The Sugr Cube app comes with a number of different "stations" pre-installed. There's Cube Music, which lets you import music from your iTunes library or computer. There's a Pandora station, a Radio station "channel" providing access to a huge collection of online radio stations, something called Relax Radio that delivers relaxing sounds, and you can send music via AirPlay or use the Spotify Connect feature that's built in.
For me, AirPlay was the best choice. It took no time at all to pull up Control Center, tap the AirPlay button, and select the Sugr Cube. AirPlay with the Sugr Cube's Wi-Fi connection has some benefits over using a Bluetooth speaker. First, the range of Wi-Fi is much better than that of Bluetooth, so you can be more than 30 or so feet away and still control the music. But the best benefit is that Wi-Fi provides much more bandwidth for music so you don't get the occasional drops and/or stuttering that happen with Bluetooth connections. Not once in hours of testing did the Sugr Cube speaker drop my connection.
Sound-wise, you'll need to understand that the Sugr Cube is like most Bluetooth speakers in that it is a single speaker, not a pair. That speaker, though, provides very good undistorted sound with excellent range. I'm usually underwhelmed with how Bluetooth speakers are able to reproduce classical or jazz music; that's not the case with the Sugr Cube.
One very cool feature of Sugr Cube is its very unique set of touch-based controls. Let's say I'm listening to music when somebody comes to the door of my house and I'd like to pause it. All I have to do is tap the top of the speaker and the music pauses; tap again when I'm back, and it starts up again where I left off. Likewise, if I'm listening to a playlist and want to go to the next tune, all I have to do is tilt the speaker 45° to the right. Want to go back to the beginning of the track or to a previous track? Tilt the Sugr Cube 45° to the left. This is a surprisingly useful feature and it does away with the need for unsightly external buttons and controls.
Earlier I mentioned "Cube Music". That's actually a way to take advantage of 4GB of storage that's built into the Sugr Cube so you don't need to actually drain your iOS device to listen to music. I asked it to import music from the iTunes Library on my iPhone; it will only transfer music that is actually stored on your device, so if you use something like iTunes in the Cloud to save space, you'll need to download the tunes first to your iPhone, then to the speaker. Still, the process is quite easy and fast, and once music is imported into Cube Music it's possible to select and play it from the app.
Sugr Cube is a refreshing new entry into the wireless speaker market, and it definitely shows that the manufacturers put some thought into what would make a product that's not only different, but better than most of the speakers on the market. Sugr Cube isn't for everybody; no speaker is. If you need a rugged speaker, there are plenty of Bluetooth models available. Sugr Cube is stylish, sounds great and the Wi-Fi connectivity provides capabilities you won't find elsewhere.
Apple World Today Rating (out of 5 stars): ★★★★★