Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:
Consider companies with an affinity for cubes that offer digital audio players and you'll probably think of Apple -- progenitor of the G4 Cube and the large glass one crowning its Fifth Avenue store -- or perhaps the developers of the MobiBlu player, once the "world's smallest" that was sold exclusively at Wal-Mart for a time. But specialty retailer Brookstone also has an MP3 device that embraces the six-sided solid. Hanging it around one's neck, though, would be a feat even for Flavor Flav.
While many products exist that enable you to stream music from your PC to a stereo in another room, or to act as docking speakers for the iPod, the SongCube is one of the few shelf systems on the market that includes its own hard disk for storing music -- no tenuous streaming or PC required. Other products in this exclusive club include the aging JVC NXHD10 executive microsystem, which includes only a 10 GB drive, and Sony's NetJuke line, available only in Japan.
The SongCube's main unit is about as tall as an iPod Hi-Fi (sans iPod) and about the third of the width of one, although it's about 25 percent deeper than Apple's iPod speaker accessory -- quite compact at first glance but not, geometrically strictly, a cube. Its speakers are also unobtrusive and Brookstone even bundles speaker stands with the system. However, there's a catch. The SongCube requires the use of its floor-standing 50-watt powered subwoofer where the main power switch is located. Normally, this wouldn't be much of a drawback. However, it comes into play when loading music onto the device, as I'll discuss shortly.