Focal iCub £450

26th Jun 2005 | 23:00

Is it a subwoofer? Yes. Is it a hi-fi? Yes, sort of

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Beefy bass and a stunner in the looks department, the only groans you'll hear are from the bank manager

Like:

<p>Tidy, flab-free bass reproduction</p><p>Ideal music jukebox partner</p><p>Versatile</p>

Dislike:

<p>A wee bit on the expensive side</p><p>Extra outlay required for good speakers</p>

Focal's latest launch isn't your average subwoofer. According to its French creators, it's nothing less than "true hi-fi for the iPod generation." This explains the product's almost lawsuit-inviting name, but what it's referring to is the iCub's prime selling point: it can be used as the basis for a hi-fi system.

While most subwoofers are designed for nothing more than to add low frequency audio to a music or home cinema set-up's sound output, the iCub is more versatile. It does what any other subwoofer can do, but also sports a pair of speaker outputs and three different sockets for inputting stereo audio signals.

These unusual accoutrements mean that you can connect a couple of speakers, feed the device a stereo signal via digital (optical) or analogue (3.5mm and phono), and before you know it, you've got yourself a 2.1-channel hi-fi system up and running.

The iPod connection lies in the ease with which an audio device can be hooked up. You plug your MP3 player/ games console/whatever into the back of the iCub, flick the power switch and you're up and away. You could even connect a Wi-Fi device, only with lower bit rates and higher volumes that you notice digital noise beginning to creep in.

You can provide even higher quality sources (the likes of Apple Lossless or twochannel DVD-Audio) if your musical requirements happen to fall into the category marked 'audiophile.' We're going to slap a five-star score on the iCub. The only thing that gives us pause about doing so is its price: £450 is a tidy sum of money to spend on something like this, no matter how good its performance.

Do bear in mind that you'll need some good speakers and a good audio source to get the most out of it. If this isn't an issue for you, then spend away and enjoy the results. SK such as the SliMP3 Squeezebox, and use it to wirelessly stream audio tracks to the iCub.

Any speakers can be used in conjunction with the sub. However, with a hefty 75W per channel of output, we'd recommend anyone planning on buying an iCub to set aside a generous portion of your budget for some decent speakers (unless you already own suitable ones). When testing it out, we used a pair of Focal's own Sib XL speakers, which the iCub has been designed to work with.

Vitally, the iCub does little to disappoint when it comes to meat and potatoes performance. Bass reproduction is excellent: tight, controlled and free from the flabby feel that often affects cheaper subwoofers. The bass here is comparable to a greyhound: powerful yet lean.

The sound as a whole is also first-rate. We tried out a couple of devices - an iPod mini and a PlayStation 2 - with the analogue and digital inputs respectively, and found the performance with both to be surprisingly clean and crisp.

On the iPod front, AAC files encoded at 128KBit/s sound sparkling, and it's only with lower bit rates and higher volumes that you notice digital noise beginning to creep in. You can provide even higher quality sources (the likes of Apple Lossless or two-channel DVD-Audio) if your musical requirements happen to fall into the category marked 'audiophile.'

We were going to slap a five-star score on the iCub. The only thing that gives us pause about doing so is its price: £450 is a tidy sum of money to spend on something like this, no matter how good its performance. Do bear in mind that you'll need some good speakers and a good audio source to get the most out of it. If this isn't an issue for you, then spend away and enjoy the results.

Focal Speakers Hi-Fi/audio iPod
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