An Audio Shelf System – You Just Can’t Leave on the Shelf!

Article Guest Written by Jim Wilson – a review of the Mini Cube² Speakers (an audio shelf system?)
Being a bit of a purist I was looking for a speaker that utilized full range drivers, the kind that employ no crossover whatsoever. I already had something of that nature — which are housed in small aluminum spheres the size of a tennis ball — and they sounded pretty good, but not quite good enough.I spent untold hours searching for alternatives before I came upon the EbenLee Mini Cube Speakers (MC). It already had most of the attributes I was looking for, except for one fairly critical thing; it was a single 3″ driver, but my requirements necessitated something a little more substantial.

I liked the look of the MC, and it’s robust construction, so I sent an email to EbenLee Audio asking if they had any intentions of producing a speaker with dual drivers. Much to my surprise the owner of the company, Peter Selby, responded the very same day asking what I had in mind.

An exchange of messages ensued, and within a short period of time we had agreed on a design for a custom speaker cabinet design. It was at that moment the MC² (MC squared, or Mini Cube² if you prefer) was born.

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(Mini Cube² pictured at right withELA-3 Subwoofer)

During the ensuing weeks Peter and I exchanged a number of messages, discussing various aspects of the design and it’s specifications. I found him to be quite pleasant and professional, and never did he ignore an email or suggestion. That’s one of the primary reason I enjoy working with Internet Direct (ID) companies; you often deal with someone who is actually involved in the process, so they tend to be far more concerned about how things are handled.

What I essentially have now is S/N 001, 002, 003, the very first Mini Cube²’s ever produced. After close to a month using them I’ve been able to draw several conclusions. The first is perhaps the most obvious (once you have them in your hands); they’re built like a bank vault! I can say, without reservation, that you’d be hard pressed to find anything with the structural integrity of these speakers.

They feel more like they’ve been hewn from granite then wood. That probably comes across as some type of cliché — or at least an excerpt from a brochure — but it’s really neither. It’s actually difficult to quantify how strong these cabinets truly are. The knuckle rap test? Spare me. That’s a joke for these things. Measurements for the MC2 speakers and ELA-3 subwoofer here.

Cabinet rigidity can’t really be overstated either. No matter how well you engineer the crossover, how much time you spend on phase alignment or how much money you put into drivers if the cabinet is flimsy the sound will be poor. That’s incontrovertible.

These cabinets are so stout EbenLee actually has a picture on the website of a pickup truck parked on top of one! And the damage from such an extreme test? Other then indents from the stones there’s absolutely none.

Try that with another speaker, from any manufacturer, and I strongly doubt they would be able to survive, let alone come out of it unscathed. And that’s using MDF too; the new cabinets are being constructed from baltic birch, which is even more solid. I wonder if that means you can park a tank on them now?

Another thing that strikes you is how small they are, which is precisely what I was looking for. Diminutive would perhaps be the most accurate way to describe them, good for an audio shelf system, but you won’t want to use them on a shelf, believe me.

For people who want to hear their speakers, but not necessarily see them, these are definitely worth checking out. However, they don’t completely disappear; having deep black cabinets and polished silver drivers doesn’t permit them to go completely unnoticed. It’s not an unpleasant look, mind you, just a bit unique. I know grills could potentially compromise the sound, especially with such tiny drivers, but perhaps they’ll be available as an option in the future.

And speaking of “checking out”, what other company has a 90 day full money back guarantee? You can check out these speakers, in your own home, for 3 entire months. 30 days is common, but providing 3 times that is highly unusual. Guess EbenLee is pretty confident in them, otherwise why offer a trial period that long?

The binding posts are top notch, and can easily accept 14 gauge wire. It appears they would be suitable for pins too, but I don’t use them so I can’t say for sure.

The FounTek drivers utilized might just be the best ones made for this size and type (full range). It seems that EbenLee Audio has opted for all high quality parts, and literally spared no expense when choosing the components and construction techniques.

The sound these speakers produce is very precise, rich in both detail and clarity, which were extremely important attributes for me. The background sounds of a movie have a newfound distinction, making them more evident and clear, which has made me intimately aware of just how much I had been missing previously.

The crunching of boots as they walk over gravel, the splashing sound of rain gently hitting the ground, leaves rustling from a breeze, etc. were somewhat muted and off in the distance with my previous speakers. Now all the subtle content of a soundtrack is plainly evident, and tends to be less like “one big sound” and more like a “bunch of little sounds”.

In essence, it’s no longer a cacophony of unintelligible noise, but more like individual sounds blending to form a total. It’s a rather nice change, and makes watching TV far more enjoyable.

The center channel is even more impressive. Voices are clear and natural, with no signs of muddiness. The MC2’s play surprisingly loud as well, without a hint of straining. I don’t generally listen in that manner but I have on occasion to see what they can do, and every time I find myself astonished with their composure at high volume levels.

All-in-all, it’s hard to find fault with how the MC2 speakers sound. The lower midrange could perhaps be a little more prominent, but that’s really about it. I have what could technically be classified as a unique, one-off custom speaker, were it not for the fact that EbenLee has now opted to sell this custom speaker box as part of their normal product line. That’s fine by me though, because I imagine there are a number of people who would enjoy these as much as I do.

But what if the MC2’s aren’t exactly what you want?

Simple; have EbenLee make something just for you. I know they do custom work — remember, that’s how this whole thing started for me — so I’m certain they can accommodate your needs.

If nothing else, send Peter Selby an email with your design/questions/suggestions. I’ve found him more than helpful, and you might be pleasantly surprised by what his response is. Either way, you should consider giving the MC2 speakers a listen for yourself. You have 90 days to decide if you like them, so there’s really nothing to lose. Read more about them at the home theatre surround sound systems page.

 

Jim Wilson – New Jersey (USA)

This page published with permission from Jim Wilson of New Jersey. No commissions or payment of any kind was offered or given for this review.
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