WHAT’S OLD IS NEW AGAIN
Larger, multi-driver, nearfield speaker systems have become the norm in most studios, and the old Auratones have long since faded from production as well as widespread use. But today, limited bandwidth playback systems are once again common — think MP3 players, desktop computer speakers, and boomboxes. And so, enter the Avantone MixCubes.
The MixCubes bear a strong visual likeness to the old Auratones, excepting color — the polyurethane paint is a buttery shade of yellow, kind of like the finish on a white guitar that has endured too many nights in smoky bars. You’ll love or hate the color, but at this price point, the quality of the high gloss finish is impressive. The 5.25" drivers mount in a 6.5" cube made from 5/8" MDF (medium-density fiberboard, made of wood fiber and glue).
The driver’s frame’s outer rim is polished; around back, the three-way binding posts accept spade lugs, banana plugs, or bare wire up to 12 gauge. Another welcome addition is a 7mm thick neoprene pad on the bottom of each MixCube to provide mechanical decoupling from where they sit. There’s also an insert in the bottom of each cube that allows mounting on a standard 5/8" mic stand. That’s it: no ports, crossovers, or tweeters.
FIRE UP THE FLASHBACK
Avantone recommends the MixCubes be powered with a 10–200W amp, so I tried an Alesis RA-100, Crest FA901, and (just to get really ugly) a little 10W Radio Shack stereo power amp. I listened to a variety of old and new songs, starting with McCartney’s Band on the Run and Nick Lowe’s Cruel to Be Kind; it was an instant flashback to the ’70s, when I used to spend endless hours listening to music on small “full-range” speakers. Very fun. And very revealing: While switching back and forth between the MixCubes and my other monitors, I was surprised by how well some mixes held up when played on the ’Cubes, and how much the bass and kick dropped out on others.
The sonic similarity to Auratones was instantly recognizable, although the MixCubes seem to have a little more extension in the very top and bottom of the frequency range, and a bit smoother midrange frequency response. Avantone specs the frequency response as 90Hz–17kHz (with no deviation listed), which seems about right — there’s not much below 100Hz. That’s intentional; again, the goal is to let you hear what your mix will sound like on a small playback system, and that’s indeed what the ’Cubes do. With bass and kick drums, you don’t get distracted by the deep, fundamental thump of larger speakers, and instead have to concentrate on getting the first harmonic and overtones to punch through if they’re to be heard in the mix.
The midrange detail is surprisingly good for such inexpensive speakers; the extreme highs are not as well represented, but that’s expected from a single-driver system. While they’re reasonably efficient (93dB @ 1W/1M), they seem best suited for moderate playback levels — when I cranked them up past 95dB they started to sound fairly compressed, as is typical of small, sealed enclosures.
I had a lot of fun with the MixCubes, and I’ll be purchasing the review units. They’re cooler than a boombox, have a five-year warranty, and are very reasonably priced. Are they going to replace my ADAM S3-As? Not hardly — nor are they intended to. But if you’re concerned about how your mixes will translate on smaller speakers, check out a set of MixCubes and “get back.”
Product Type: Nearfield reference monitors.
Target Market: People who want a secondary speaker system to hear how their mixes will sound on limited-bandwidth playback systems.
Strengths: Good midrange clarity. Honest “small system” real-world reference. Very affordable.
Limitations: Not intended for use as your only monitor speakers, nor for ultra-high SPLs.