The Ambiance Acoustics California Cube loudspeakers from a company with 'attitude' are somewhat of an oddity, no tweeters and no woofers with an outboard active equaliser? Can they possibly be worth listening to? discovers that they certainly are!
Many thanks go to Mr. Robert J. Salvi for all his help and for providing the review samples.
Ambiance Acoustics California Cube loudspeakers
California Cube: 13.7" cube cabinet.
Ambiance Acoustics EQC-1 Equalizer
Enclosure: Black brushed aluminum.
Price: $1,995 factory direct from Ambiance Acoustics Loudspeaker Design
Warranty: 5 years limited warranty. 30 day unconditional money back guarantee.
(All specifications as per manufacturer)
Associated components used in this review: Adcom GFA-5800 power amplifier. Yamaha RX-V590 receiver. Sony CDP-X303ES CD player and NAD 512/Denon DA-500 CD/DAC combination. Carver CT-23 tuner/preamplifier and Adcom SLC-505 line level controller. Thorens TD-318 II turntable/Garrott P77 cartridge. Sony MDS-JE500 minidisk deck. AudioQuest Ruby interconnects. Monster Original speaker cable. Standesign BB-75 adjustable stands.
It often seems that we live in a "plug and play" world. Mass market turntables that utilize no-adjust plug-in cartridges, tuners that "lock" into preset stepped stations, "home-theater-in-a-box" systems that are "matched" by the manufacturer - whats a serious audiophile to do?!?!
Naturally audiophile components are a different matter - we all know that proper setup is crucial in obtaining the best out of our audio investment and the reward in time taken is returned many times over when we lower that stylus into the record groove or cue up our favorite CD.
Speaker placement and setup is one of the most important aspects in any audio or video system, yet I must admit that I have become used to easy to set up bipolar speakers, very wide dispersion monopole speakers and even dipole planar-magnetic systems which seemed so easy to "plug and play".
Enter the room&. For decades audiophiles have waged war between speaker placement and room induced ill effects caused by early reflections degrading what we hear at our listening location. While dipole speakers have an advantage in that they create a null at the sides and thus a reduction of side-wall early reflections - Ambiance Acoustics have taken a unique step in seriously reducing the adverse effects of early reflections with their California Cube loudspeaker system.
Unlike most loudspeaker systems intended for home use that propagate as wide a dispersion pattern as possible, the California Cubes take the opposite approach by tightly focusing the sound pattern directly toward the listener. The advantage is a clear one - by aiming sound at the listener and avoiding room surface reflections, the result is a tighter image. But that is but only the tip of the audio iceberg! To achieve a tight radiation pattern, other common speaker design problems have been avoided. The California Cubes use 4 identical high quality 4½" drivers - mounted on a special polyethylene baffle and using a smooth bezel to minimize the occurrence of diffraction problems - are all driven full range and employ no crossover whatsoever. The result is a very time coherent signal with a minimum phase shift. In the real-world the result is a speaker that is utterly seamless and as quick in the bass as it is up though the midrange and beyond.
Enter the other half of the system& the EQC-1 active equalizer. Its job is a very important one and here that task is not taken lightly. This component takes the natural frequency response limitations of full range drivers and corrects to a very flat response. With all the benefits gained by eliminating a crossover, serious care has been taken in the design of the EQC-1 to minimize any sonic abnormalities often associated with equalizers. Low noise, minimum phase distortion and high slew rate are the goals over and beyond frequency response contouring.
Well here they are! I hold in my hands a California Cube - finished in a beautiful gloss laminate that no photo can do justice to. Fit and finish is finely crafted& my review pair is in a cabinet style called "rust" - similar to polished marble and very attractive. The black grill cloth is easily removable - which is the recommended usage. I used a pair of adjustable height stands to allow me to raise the speakers to ear level - a requirement for best results. I do recommend the use of sturdy fixed stands for stability and safety.
At the suggestion of Robert J. Salvi of Ambiance Acoustics I took time to open up the EQC-1 for a peek "under the hood". Construction and component quality is outstanding, in a entirely different league from even high quality mass-market products. I am impressed!
I first installed the EQC-1 active equalizer into the tape monitor loop of my preamplifier. A tape monitor feature is provided to provide for the loop used by the EQC-1 for this installation. The required action of the EQ is fairly subtle in the bass - a plus for lower powered systems. Most response correction is at the high end of the audio spectrum, and the result is a very smooth treble. In a later test I did place the EQC-1 between a passive line controller and power amplifier with excellent results as well - no noise was heard even when placed after the system volume control - a testimonial of the excellent low noise characteristics of the system equalizer.
I placed the speaker cabinets near in a 15 x 11 room along the 11 wall and within 1 of the wall behind. At first I found that in my usual listening location, which is in the middle of the room - I had to adjust the toe-in to exactly the right position to hear the treble as it should be. Hmmm I thought - my bipolar speakers work in this location and my reference system speakers work just fine as well&. Its time to play my favorite game& "fun with speakers".
Well I didnt have to play around much - the solution came quickly as I moved to the rear of the room. At that location the drivers blended together and worked in harmony - beautiful harmony. Just a little experimenting with toe-in, a tweak here and a scoot there and&
WOW! Remember my comments about "plug and play"? I have never had that become more true in my many years of experience with audio components as I have with these fine loudspeakers. The time spent in adjusting and moving is more than rewarded in sound that will take you by pleasant surprise. Midrange is fast and dynamic - which was very evident on selections from Flim and the BBs "Big Notes" (DMP CD-454) and a earlier release "Tricycle" (DMP CD-443). Just when I thought the coast as clear to crank up the volume& *WHAM* went the percussive attacks that turn lesser systems into ashes! The California Cubes handled such heavy demands not only with ease - they seemed to beg for more&. So I went searching for my copy of the Sheffield Drum/Track Recording CD (Sheffield Lab 11420-2) and heard demanding dynamics handled so well and convincing that I found myself pulling CD after CD and LP after LP listening and enjoying these speakers. As a twist of genre I popped in my MD of Jazz at Lincoln Center "They came to swing" (Columbia CM66379) and set back to enjoy a wonderful performance - this lead me to pull out other pre-recorded Mini Discs and listen more clearly to them. The California Cubes are kind to well recorded MDs, Miles Davis "Kind Of Blue"(Columbia CM-40579) and Carly Simon "The Best of Carly Simon" (Elektra 9109-8) in particular turned in a enjoyable performance that also demonstrated what MD can do.
There is a down side to a revealing speaker such as the California Cubes. The majority of popular recordings I played were so harsh and poorly mixed that I found myself stopping the CD player and going on to something else. If more recording engineers used these speakers in production - we would all benefit from better and cleaner software to feed our hardware. That of course lead me to feed my hardware with gourmet software& I dove into my many Chesky label recordings and found how pleasing the treble can be from a speaker system that uses no tweeter. It was here that the qualities of the EQC-1 become appreciated - thanks to the EQ bypass feature I could bypass the action of the contour circuitry. At no time could I find even the slightest negative sonic signature from the processing. When defeated the otherwise well balanced bass lost a bit of weight and the treble was muted - leaving a full and open midrange. Putting the EQC-1 back into the path restored the lowest bass, brought forth the treble and did make a slight yet pleasing attenuation to the upper midrange level. Speaking of bass - at no time did I have the urge to add a powered subwoofer to the system. Bass level is very well balanced with the midrange - lacking any artificial boost or "boom". Should very extended deep bass be desired and a subwoofer be added, the subsonic filter function of the EQC-1 provides a top-rate high-pass filter in addition to the function of limiting overload when driving the system at extreme levels. Speaking of extreme levels, these are a robust speaker that thrive on a high power amplifier - but do not require brute force to play loudly and cleanly. I obtained ample volume and authority with a 60w/ch power amplifier I had on loan as well as a 75w/ch Yamaha receiver I used in casual listening.
The time I have spent with the California Cubes has been enjoyable. The time and effort needed to set them up has more than been rewarded by their accurate reproduction of music. In particular the midrange clarity and effortless dynamic impact does justice to a fine audio system. These are a "personal" speaker - the listener must set his or herself into a position just as the speakers themselves need to be placed. That lucky person has a lot to look (and listen) forward to.
More information about the Ambiance Acoustics California Cube loudspeakers can be found at the
Official Ambiance Acoustics Web Site.
P.O. Box 27115 San Diego, CA 92198
888-225-2823(CalCube) 619-485-7514 (voice and fax)
Text © Alan L. Maier; HTML © SMR Home Theatre and Images © SMR Home Theatre, Alan L. Maier & Ambiance Acoustics cannot be reproduced without permission.
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