Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The DIY Magnetic GTS (and a tutorial)

On Thursday, September the 22nd, thecubicle.us just announced the Cubicle Labs Weilong GTS M, Pretty damn cool looking cube, it had integrated magnets and promised snappier motion and better stability.

I do understand why they did this. They claim to have spent hundreds of dollars on research and labor is expensive, so obviously they wouldn't sell it for the same price as a typical Premium cube. Even so, the $50 asking price is just too far above the budgets of many, many cubers, mine included.

I remembered that night that out of sheer luck, I had a pack of 50 4x2mm magnets I bought for a 3D printer related project earlier that I never started. (Sorry if you've been waiting for that, by the way. I might still get around to it at some point.) They seemed to fit the GTS corner pieces fine, and since I had a few extra throwaway Weilong GTS's I made one the next day.

Thoughts on it? Well, it's certainly a good cube, and exactly what I expected out of it. When you get close to completing a turn it wants to snap the turn into place, and when you're starting a turn there's more resistance. That certainly makes it more stable than a typical GTS, which made it very good for OH - I mained it for OH during Slow N' Steady, when the day before I was dead set on the valk.

Besides that, though, it's still just kinda like a GTS. Same speed, same crunchiness, slightly reduced flexiness. The snap is really only apparent when you're turning slowly, and during high speed while you can notice a difference in stability you generally won't feel the snap. Same way the snap of the magnetic pyraminx is also kind of drowned out in high speed.

I do have to bring up: I used N35 rated magnets, which are the cheapest, because that's what I had lying around. Chris Tran said he looked for the magnets that were the strongest for the weight, meaning he probably used N50s which should be stronger. In fact, I felt Waffo's magnetic GTS during SNS, which he requested specifically to have weaker magnets put in it, and it felt almost identical to mine. Because of that, I'll say this is in absolutely no way representative of what a real GTS M might feel like. I'd also recommend that if you want to do this project yourself and want to match the GTS M, you should opt for N50 or N52 magnets instead.

Without further ado, the tutorial.


(I'll update this tutorial after I get another set of magnets in, and can make another magnetic GTS. Until then, you'll just have to live with pictures cobbled from pictures of a normal GTS and pictures of my finished magnetic GTS.)

DISCLAIMER: This is a DIY project involving superglue and high performance Rubik's cubes, which generally do not mix. If you're not careful there's a very real chance of you getting superglue on the friction surfaces, resulting in you altering your cube's feel or worst case even gluing two cubies together. As such, I cannot take responsibility for any damage you may do in an attempt to follow this tutorial.

Materials needed:
  • 1x Weilong GTS, or any other cube you'd like to modify
  • 48x neodymium disk magnets at 3-5mm diameter and 1-3mm thick
    • We suspect thecubicle used 4mm diameter and 2mm thick magnets rated at N50, but this is not confirmed. Obviously a larger magnet will be stronger, as will a higher N number. Pick your own if you don't want to use thecubicle's.
    • I used 4x2mm N35s since that's what I had lying around, but it's a tad too weak.
  • Liquid superglue (do not use gel)
  • Basic disassembly tools
  1. Disassemble the cube and remove all of the caps.
  2. Note that in the corner pieces, on each of the three sides, there's a flat surface divided by a ridge (highlighted in blue), and the surface drops off into the slope at the back (highlighted in green). You want the first magnet to rest against both the ridge and the slope. Put a dot of superglue just between the two features (highlighted in red).
  3. Place a magnet against both the slope and the ridge. An easy way to do this is to tilt the corner piece and drop the magnet in carefully, letting it slide down to rest between the two features. Wait until the superglue bonds.
    • Do not do the other two magnets of that corner just yet. It will be difficult to begin with since the magnet you just placed would be attracting it, and you may reverse the polarity on the other magnets. We'll ensure the polarity is correct later.
  4. Place an edge piece against the side of the corner piece with a magnet, align it properly, and drop a magnet into the edge. The magnet should snap to the inside surface of the edge in its correct position. Note this position.
  5. Remove the magnet and put a dot of superglue roughly where the magnet was, highlighted in red (this does not need to be exact). Drop the magnet back into the edge and if all goes well, the magnet will snap right onto the dot of superglue. Let it dry.
  6. Flip the edge over so the side without the magnet is touching the corner. Repeat (making sure the new magnet doesn't snap to the other magnet already in the edge instead of the corner). You now have a finished edge piece with which you can make corners with!
  7. Twist the unfinished corner so a side without a magnet is touching the edge. Do the same thing: place a spot of superglue where the magnet should go, and drop in the new magnet, and wait for it to dry. Using the magnetism of the edge to attach the second corner magnet ensures its polarity is correct. Twist it again, and repeat for the third and final time. You now have a finished corner with which you can make edges!
  8. Repeat for every remaining edge and corner, using finished edges and corners as guides. To speed up the process and keep the magnets in place as they dry, start reassembling the pieces without a core. The attraction between the magnets will keep them in place as they dry, and you end up with a cool looking centerless cube.
  9. Reassemble, lube, and tension to your liking.
  10. Use that $200 vinyl cutter I'm sure you have to make a cool logo for it. Or, ya know, don't.
You now have a magnetic GTS!

If you found this tutorial helpful or enjoyed reading it, please consider using my Speedcubeshop affiliate link to get a GTS to magnetize or any other cube - it helps me out a lot in writing more reviews or getting other content like this tutorial out.

I hope you enjoyed reading! Good luck on your journey to getting a magnetic GTS!

Pre-publishing "update": 

Phil Yu posted a writeup on Cyoubx's Friends defending the GTS M a few days ago. In it, he mentioned several people were reverse engineering the GTS M and that people had already replicated it, which was likely addressed at me. In it, he basically says he believes it is inappropriate for us to use a BOM to suggest his version is overpriced.

To make myself clear, at one point, during the excitement of having successfully completed a magnetic cube, I did in fact think Thecubicle's version was overpriced. However, since then I've thought it about it a bit more. Thecubicle's version is more than just magnets and a cube: the product itself has the same tensioning, lubing, and pretty flawless stickering any premium cube has, but it also has magnets that are likely placed and attached far more precisely than my hastily superglued version, and on top of that it has the the original experimentation and development that Chris Tran did to create and perfect their cubes. I did suggest that it shouldn't have taken hundreds of dollars of resources to create one, since cubes are cheap and magnets are cheaper, but company time is money. As such, I think $50 is perfectly justified and it's a matter of consumer choice whether or not you want to spend that money for a cube.

Sorry if this isn't up to my usual standard of work, I just wanted to be the first to get a writeup about an aftermarket magnetic GTS out so I threw this together very hastily. :P

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Valk 3 review

Hi everyone! As promised, the Valk 3 review came very soon after the Fangyuan review.

I've been looking forward to this one for ages, both before and after I got the cube. Unfortunately, I'm writing this after being awake for 35 hours, so due to my tiredness this review might not be as lively as usual, and I apologize if it isn't. :P Let's jump right in.

Background Info

The Valk 3 is the newest cube from Qiyi, developed in cooperation with Mats Valk, the cube's namesake. Mats didn't actually design the cube; as far as I can tell he simply tested it and approved it to have his name put on it. It's squarely aimed at the top dogs of the market, with an MSRP of a rather Gans-like $25 and an actual selling price of $20, which is by no means low.

Qiyi kind of failed to deliver on the Thunderclap 2 - while some people liked it, it was nothing like the original Thunderclap and disappointed many who were hoping for something similar, myself included. This is a chance for them to earn some favor back in the eyes of the cubing community.

One thing I'm curious about is whether Valk is just a model of a cube or a subbrand of Qiyi, like X-man. If it's a sub-brand, I'm highly interested in what cubes may be coming next out of Valk.


Yeah, not very important, but I just want you all to appreciate the beauty of the Valk 3 retail box. Reviewers received their Valks in a Tclap 2 plastic box, so the retail box was not shown.

Folks, this is how a $25 cube is packaged. As it should be.

(These two photos specifically are not mine. They were taken by /u/keponii and used with his permission, because I couldn't take any that could come close. :P You can check out his Youtube channel here. He's a talented pianist and photographer, as well as a fast cuber, and I highly recommend you go take a listen.)

Look and Feel

Many people have noted that the Valk 3, at least visually, shares many similarities with the Yuexiao and the Meiying. It goes beyond the general trait of squared corners: all of the pieces are very similarly shaped to Yuexiao and Meiying pieces. The stickers are a bit smaller than Yuexiao stickers, though, which are practically full-fit out of the box.

Speaking of stickers, the stickered version's color scheme is Mats Valk's color scheme, which happens to be the same as the Gans half brights. You can see it here. About the stickers themselves - Qiyi made a pretty big deal about how the new stickers are only "0.13mm thick" and super durable, but as far as I can tell they're just typical Oracal stickers that I could cut myself for a few cents per sheet.

The stickerless version comes with the bright, vibrant Thunderclap v2 stickerless shades. Very attractive and excellent contrast.

The cube measures 55.5mm, which some have speculated to be a reference to Mats' 5.55 world record. It's just a tiny bit smaller than most cubes, which should make it very good for OH. It weighs a moderate 82 grams and feels very solid in the hand, and it makes a moderate volume clacky sound.



I didn't set this cube up at all. I'm reviewing it entirely out of the box, just after 500 solves. I didn't feel the need to improve it any further than it was out of the box.

That isn't to say every Valk will be this way - some people I know who got Valks had to loosen them a bit to achieve its full corner cutting potential. Most already agree that it's very good out of the box, though.


The Valk is a very fast cube out of the box, near or possibly even above Thunderclap level (it's been forever since I've unboxed one). Somehow it remains more controllable than every other cube at its speed I've encountered, leading to a truly enjoyable solving experience.

It has a very smooth turning feel, and has just a hint of momentum behind its turns. It's just slightly clacky, enough to provide some tactile feedback when you complete a turn, but it's not clicky.

I've heard a lot of people compare it to a Meiying. I can see the similarities - namely, the speed and momentum behind each turn, as well as the clackiness - but to me the Meiying has always been a bumpy cube and the Valk is much smoother.

It's a superbly enjoyable turning feel and has instantly become my favorite. 

Corner cutting

Max corner cutting: ~52 degrees
Effective corner cutting: ~48 degrees
Max reverse cutting: ~38 degrees
Effective reverse cutting: ~36 degrees

Corner cutting results are very impressive. As expected, the cube full cuts, but that's not the impressive part. The impressive part is that effective cutting is a whopping 48 degrees - farther than some cubes can max cut. Effective reverse cutting is similarly impressive, at 36 degrees.

There does seem to be some variation between individual Valks, though, probably due to tensions. As I've mentioned, someone I know had to loosen their Valk a bit to improve corner cutting, and my stickerless Valk's effective cutting is far less impressive at less than 45 degrees.

Anti-pop and anti-corner twist

Anti-pop seems kind of pointless at this point: it's a given that any modern top-of-the-line cube will never pop. The Valk is no exception.

Anti-corner twist is the one that some cubes are still iffy on, but luckily for the Valk that's not an issue. Surprisingly the corners are actually somewhat easily twisted by hand, at least relative to other high-end cubes, but I cannot for the life of me get them to twist during a solve. I've tried every alg I know (including the nasty G perm) as sloppily as I can, but I can't even come close to actually twisting a corner. This is Gans Air and GTS level anti-corner twist.

No points off here.


As I'm sure many of you have seen, Moyu posted several pictures on their Facebook showing the similarities between the Yuexiao and the Valk. I'm not going to be doing the same thing, since you've already seen them. :P Instead, let's just take a look at a few honest-to-goodness internal shots.
Stickerless for contrast
Here we see the trademark Qiyi green core, as well as what looks like a very very simple internal design. We've seen a lot of those lately; it looks like the crazy curves and bumps and ridges of Thunderclap-esque cubes are starting to go out of fashion.

The center caps on this, for once, aren't Qiyi's weird full center-piece covering caps. They're just typical flat caps this time. Note that the flange on these caps is very deep, so instead of prying a corner up you should probably try to get your fingernails under two corners of the cap and pulling it straight up.

One last thing about the center: it's stalkless. What does this mean? Well, when you take apart the cube, it looks like this.

The caps pop off by themselves. Don't lose them!

Here we can see another feature exclusive to the Valk: rather than using the standard cylindrical springs that go inside the shaft for the screw, the Valk uses conical springs. I'm not entirely sure what the advantage to this is, but it's not hurting so I won't complain. Apparently it does make the cube difficult to tension, though.

You know what else is difficult? Reassembling the cube, on account of the stalkless centers. It's not quite as difficult as the Gans cubes, but it's still more difficult than it would be if it had center stalks.

A good method I learned from CrazyBadCuber is to instead of assembling it LBL, build a 2x2x2 block first, expand it to 2x2x3, and finally expand it to F2L-1 (if you don't mind the cubing terminology). The 2x2x2 block stabilizes all three of the centers involved, which you can then utilize to start building into the other blocks.

This is an edge piece. Another rather simple design, except that Qiyi went rather groove-crazy with it: there are 3 individual grooves on each side Also to note is that as far as I'm aware this is the first edge to implement Qiyi's idea of unified feet, which in theory perform better since there's no seam on the feet, but can still support stickerless as opposed to a capped design.

The corner piece. Immediately we can see a feature that was indeed carried over from older Moyu cubes and more recent Moyu subbrand cubes - that hole under each corner "squared corner". To my understanding that hole creates extra clearance between the corner and the center, leading to better reverse cutting. 

Again, we see the unified corner foot we've been seeing in a lot of Qiyi cubes lately. It's white on the stickerless, but of course on solid colored cubes it's the cube's color.

Funnily enough, Yuexiao corners work in the Valk. Just goes to highlight how similar they are. Unfortunately, apparently they don't work very well and somewhat damage the cube even after you've swapped them back out (I didn't try it but I heard the account of someone who did), so I would not suggest trying it yourself.

And that's it for internals. It's just another very simple mechanism design with unified feet and some striking similarities to other cubes.


Objective score: 10/10
Again, if a cube is flawless I can only give it a 10/10. This one objectively is. It turns well and doesn't catch, full cuts with some of the most impressive effective cutting I've ever seen, doesn't pop, and somehow doesn't corner twist at all. It's quite possibly the most technically advanced cube I've ever seen, going head to head with the Gans Air. A 10/10 is well deserved here.

Subjective score: 10/10
I am in love with this cube. It does everything right for me. As I've said before, there are very few cubes that I actually like - most of the highest-end cubes, and a lot of my previous mains, are cubes I can get fast times with so I tolerate. This cube I fell in love with straight out of the box. There is literally nothing wrong with it for me.

I've been getting my best times and my fastest alg executions on this cube, and on the 19th solve I broke my PB single. I see this cube being my 2H, OH, and BLD main for a long, long time.

You should buy this cube if:
  • You want to try what is possibly the best cube ever made to date
  • You like fast, smooth cubes
  • You appreciate high end design - that box is a work of art
You should not buy this cube if:
  • You can't or don't want to spend $20 on a cube
  • You don't like fast, smooth cubes

If you decide to get the Valk (and you probably should :P), you can get it from Speedcubeshop for $19.95. If my review helped you make that decision or you enjoyed reading it, please consider using my Speedcubeshop affiliate link to purchase it. It helps me out a lot in making other reviews just like this one.

Honestly, for what is in my eyes the best cube ever made I thought this review would have been more difficult to write. Ah well, it was still a lot of fun and you guys get to read it sooner. 

I hope this was helpful in deciding whether or not you want a Valk, even though the whole thing was basically just me telling you to get one :P As for what comes next, I don't actually know. There might be a brief lull with no cubes being released, so maybe I'll dive into the past and bring up a few Alphas or older Dayans.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed my work!

Shengshou Fangyuan review

Welcome back! The Gans Air review came just a week ago, and I plan on posting the Valk 3 review very soon - as in, sometime later today soon. While it's fun reviewing uber-high end cubes, I do want to give more segments of the market some coverage - so today, what I have for you is the new Shengshou Fangyuan.

There hasn't been much coverage of this cube, and I've only seen one or two full reviews. Hopefully that changes soon, since I believe this cube deserves a lot more attention.

Didn't mean to advertise. Whoops. This review was not paid for or in any other way influenced by SCS.

Background Info

The Fangyuan seems to be Shengshou's attempt to catch up to Moyu and Qiyi in terms of 3x3s. It draws a lot of design cues from recent cubes like the GTS and the Gans's, such as the squared corners and grooves on the corners.

Despite the sophisticated design, it's priced at only $9 from US stores, placing it right into the mid-ranged cube category, head to head with the Thunderclap. I'm very interested in seeing how it stacks up.

Now, to me Shengshou 3x3s have always been a few years behind the highest end cube available at their release, seemingly because Shengshou decided to shift their focus to other segments of the market. Because of that, the Fangyuan really came out of nowhere, which wasn't made any less surprising by the fact that there was no announcement or post on social media, it just kinda appeared on zcube.

Oh well. Even if Shengshou hasn't been known for making the best cubes, if the Fangyuan is good I'm not complaining.

Look and Feel

Moyu, is that you?

The cube looks and feels very much like a Moyu cube. It's shaped very similarly to recent Moyu cubes such as the Yuexiao, a trait it shares with the Valk, and even has completely identical stock shades. A welcome departure from the older Shengshou style: I adore squared corners and large stickers.

No logo, as per usual with Shengshou. I added the SCS logo myself.

It measures 56mm and weighs 88 grams, a bit on the heavy side, and feels very nice and solid in your hand. Not like a budget cube at all. Judging by the feel, if I didn't know the price, I would have guessed it's a high-end cube, which I suppose it is for Shengshou.

You can take a listen to the sound from this short clip I've uploaded. That video did highlight something interesting: there was quite a bit of squeaking from the cube out of the box, especially during fast algorithms like E-perms. It did go away after setup, though.


Factory tensions were a tad on the tight side. I evened them out to a good average then loosened each face a quarter turn - a half turn and the cube started losing corner cutting ability drastically.

After a few solves, I disassembled the cube and lubed the core with weight 5, of course being careful to remember my tensions. I then lubed the pieces with a moderate amount of weight 1, and have done approximately 450 solves of break in since.

I have seen several mention that the Fangyuan gets better with GTS springs. I may try it at some point, since I do have several spare GTS's, but at this point a spring swap would take too long and doesn't make for a valid review anyways.


Out of the box, the Fangyuan is a bit on the fast side. With setup, it did get quite a lot faster, almost as fast as my set up GTS's. It has a bit of a heavy turning feel - there's a lot of momentum in each turn, similar to the Xman Tornado or Thunderclap v2, probably due to its weight. I don't mind it nearly as much as I do with the Xman or the Thunderclap v2 and in fact rather like it, since despite its momentum it's still fast and not nearly as bumpy.

As for the turning feel, it's smooth and has a bit of a hard plastic feel, even after lube. I thought it was pretty similar to the feel of Shengshou Legend, just a bit softer and slower. It's a very stable cube and isn't very flexy, which leads to very few instability-related lockups.

Catching isn't a problem like it is with the Gans Air. Very few catches or lockups in general.

Corner cutting

Max corner cutting: ~51 degrees
Effective corner cutting: ~42 degrees
Max reverse cutting: ~37 degrees
Effective reverse cutting: ~35 degrees

Easily into high-end cube territory. It doesn't quite full cut like modern top-of-the-line speedcubes do, but it does come very close, being only 2 degrees off. Disappointingly, effective forward cutting, or my metric for how far a cube can cut without having to force through it with a lot of effort, is a bit low compared to the max cutting, but it's far more than enough for most people.

The Thunderclap, which is what I consider this cube's closest competitor, performs about the same, with a little bit more in effective forward and a little less in effective reverse. They're about level with each other overall here.

Anti-pop and anti-corner twist

As we'd expect popping is not an issue for this cube. I'd say it resists pops even better than the Thunderclap, which surprisingly did pop once on me throughout my months of using it.

Anti-corner twist comes out as a good this time, just missing excellent. The corners are squared and they do take a fair bit of force to twist by hand, unlike the pyraminx tips that are Thunderclap corners. (For the uninitiated that just means they're very easy to twist). Unfortunately, I do get twists during that one pesky G perm, so I can't give it full marks on anti-corner twist.


Not too hard to disassemble, as far as modern cubes go. Turn 45 degrees and twist an edge as usual.

So it does take after Moyu after all. I can already see some of the design choices are quite similar to Moyu's style.

In any case, it has a pretty simple internal design - wait, what are those centers?

Do you know what this reminds me of? The Mojue M3, which will apparently have similar center corner-flange-thingies.

I have to wonder what they do. I can see how the flange on the GTS helps with its reverse cutting, but by my logic these corner flanges could only hurt reverse cutting.

Oh well. I guess this is just another case where I'll have to assume Shengshou (and Mojue) knows what they're doing and I don't.

This edge piece is interesting. On the surface, it's just your standard speedcube edge, simple design, no ridges. What's interesting is that instead of going with your typical 2-piece construction of either two halves to facilitate stickerless or an internal piece and a cap as has been the case with recent Moyu (not sub-brand) cubes, Shengshou made a 3-piece edge. The two internal pieces are friction fit together, and a cap is snapped over them. (Yes, snapped, not friction fit. It's a snap-on cap.) I can't see the advantage in this. Maybe it's simply easier to produce for some reason.

Shengshou does appear to be gearing up to release a cube called the Pearl, which seems almost identical to this cube except that the edges are 2-piece and the corners are typical 3-piece, allowing for stickerless.

Another interesting design choice. It's not shown in this picture, but the corner stalk and foot is actually a separate piece from the corner's friction surfaces. They're also snapped in, and if you take off the cap you can release the stalk and foot from the rest of the corner piece.

Speaking of the cap, it's just a tad too loose for my liking. I doubt it will come off during solves, but I've had a few solves where a noticeable gap started forming between the cap and the corner.

That about wraps up the internals part of the review - simple mechanism, interesting implementation. Time for the conclusions.


Objective score: 8/10
It's an excellent cube, especially for the price. It doesn't catch or pop, doesn't corner twist often, and corner cuts very well for a cube of its class. I took off two points for what may seem like petty reasons: it's 2 degrees off from being able to full cut, and it did corner twist on that G perm. 

The reason I'm taking off points for seemingly such inconsequential things is somewhat outlined in my last blog post - since cubes do not have much I can score them on, I need to be pretty harsh on what I can score on. This is to make sure the best of the best don't get the same score as a second tier cube that happens to be very good. Even so, I consider 8/10 to be a very good score.

Subjective score: 9/10
I like it a lot. It joins the small rank of cubes whose feel I actually like rather than tolerate (Thunderclap v1 and Valk besides this cube), and I get good times on it. My only minor issue with it is that it's just a tad too slow for my liking, but while I would have liked for it to be faster I don't find myself noticing the speed often.

You should buy this cube if:
  • You like smooth, heavier turning cubes
  • You're looking for a first speedcube - it's cheap and has a nice and neutral feel, so chances are you'd like it
You should not buy this cube if:
  • You do not like anything I said in this review
  • You like stickerless - wait until the Pearl is released
The Fangyuan is a truly excellent cube for its price and could be the Thunderclap killer. It's more technically advanced than the Thunderclap and costs the same, so it could easily be the cube to take over the $8-$10 segment of the market, widely considered a sweet spot for price/performance. If only it could get a bit more exposure!

If you decide to get the Fangyuan, you can buy it from Speedcubeshop for $8.95. If you found my review helpful at all, please consider using my Speedcubeshop affiliate link to purchase it. It costs nothing extra to you and helps me out a lot in writing more reviews like this.

As always, thanks for reading! The Valk review will probably be later today, so check back soon! 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A little bit on scoring

So I had one of my readers ask me an excellent question the other day, how come come it seems every cube I review, both on this blog and on the old one, receives a very positive score? Most of the cubes score in between 7/10 and 9/10 on both objective and subjective, and there have even been quite a few 10/10s which should not be easy to earn at all.

Well, I actually read an article about this issue a while back which I think dealt mostly in gaming. It seemed that the average score for gaming reviews tended to be a 7/10 rather than a 5/10 as you'd expect, which skewed things because a 6/10 should be a positive review on a proper scale but ends up being negative judging by the average review.

I told myself I would try to buck this trend and make 5/10 a proper average. There are reasons you don't see 5/10s and see 10/10s, however:

  1. A flawless cube should get a flawless score. Now, some would argue that flawless cubes don't exist, but if a cube has perfect corner cutting, doesn't pop or corner twist, doesn't catch, and suits a lot of people's preferred feels, objectively a cube can't get more flawless than that. If I give a cube like that an objective 8/10, what could I define as my requirements for the last 2 points? Do I have to like it myself? No, that has to go in the subjective score, so objectively I have to give a 10/10.
  2. Cubes aren't video games. There isn't all that much to judge on. While a game reviewer can nitpick all the nuances of game play and the story and the environment, I'm basically given corner cutting, anti-pop, anti corner twist, catching, and whether I like the feel or not (as mentioned before) to work with. There isn't much I can take off points for. 
  3. Quite simply, not many people are interested in average cubes or below average cubes: most are just interested in the cream of the crop. Yes, I could spend my entire day writing about the Qiyi Warriors and the Cyclone Boys of the world, but reviews do take some effort to write (especially when they're thousands of words like mine are) and I think that time would be better spent writing about the newest and best cubes on the market or the cubes that blow me away. Hence, most cubes I write about are going to be in the very positive range.
That being said, I do want to write a harsh criticism for fun at some point. I might break out an awful cube to review, maybe a Guanlong or the Mf8 squan or something. 

Anyways, I do have exciting (and positive reviews) coming up: the Shengshou Fangyuan, which is a budget cube that's shaping up to be quite a strong contender, and the Valk 3, which is currently blowing my mind with how amazing a cube can be. Stay tuned! 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Gans 356 Air Grandmaster edition review

UPDATE: This is not the Air Ultimate as I originally wrote. When this review was published we had no idea the Air Ultimate was going to be a different thing from the Grandmaster, and since Taobao called it the Ultimate I did as well. Turns out, the Ultimate is an entirely different cube with modified internals and an even lighter weight. I'll have that review out soon on the SCS blog I hope.

Hey everyone! Turns out I never did get around to publishing that second review last week. Luckily, I have something very exciting and anticipated here for you all today - the Gans 356 Air. This time, though, I took it up a notch - I'm not reviewing the standard black Gans Master edition with the S springs. I'm reviewing the no holds barred, top of the line, Grandmaster edition with G series springs, 3 sticker sets, and generally just every thing Gans could throw in a box short of a bus.

And another thing, my cube is blue. Isn't that great?

Background Info

Over the past few years, Gans has built quite a reputation for making the puzzles that set the gold standard in build quality and customizability, as well as pushing the forefront of cube design. The octopus core was Gan's design, as well as squared corners, and more recently, screwed, "tensionable" feet (though they haven't been adopted by any other companies yet). All of this came at a price - their flagship cube, the 356 and its brothers, sold from between $22 to $25 depending on the edition, though luckily they've now released a $16 no-frills version of the 356S V2.

However, despite the cost, the 356 series weren't flawless. Many people complained of instability - the cubes were very springy and flexy and loved to deform in your hand. They're not fast cubes out of the box, and setting them up to be fast to suit people such as myself made the instability worse. Personally I also wasn't a fan of the heavy turning feeling, and I suspect there are plenty of others who are the same.

Gan's response to that is the Gans 356 Air. This cube is noticeably lighter than its predecessor, hence the name Air. Arguably more important, however, is Gan's claim that the Air is both faster and more stable than the 356S V2, something that, if true, could prove to make the Air a very strong cube indeed. Of course, this still comes at a price - currently the only edition available to most stores is the Master edition, which retails for generally around $26-27. Not a low number.

Box contents

Most cubes have rather simple packaging - a box, the cube, and an instruction pamplet. A few exceptions to this rule exist but outside of Gans, they mostly consist of a cube box or bag (Qiyi) or a glorified stand (Weilong GTS).

The 356 Air Grandmaster couldn't be more different, hence why this section was needed at all. Included with the cube were: 
  • The typical Gans box (if you collect 8 and sacrifice a Gans 356, you can make a giant 2x2)
  • A ginormous pamphlet showing some of the improvements and a maintenance guide of the Air, as well as a full CFOP algsheet
  • 7 of each type of spring, except the preinstalled clear springs (7 sets total)
  • Both a plastic and a metal tensioning tool?
  • 3 sticker sets, all of which are the same half-bright color scheme
  • No less than 8 logos, including the 3 gold ones in the sticker sets (that were probably designed for the 356S V2)
  • A blue cube bag
  • A serialized card bragging about the limited blue edition
It didn't come with any lube, though. I thought it might :(

You may be thinking, "how does this fit in a box?" The answer to that is it doesn't, at least not when the cube is in it. Gans shipped this to me in a larger cardboard box that had both the plastic cube box, which contained the Master edition components (a pamphlet, a sticker set, and the S series springs + metal tensioning tool) as well as the blue bag that held everything else.

The Master edition, which is the one being sold everywhere outside of China, comes with a little less stuff. I believe it includes just the S springs, a metal tensioning tool, a cube bag, and a pamphlet, but I'm not entirely sure.

Look and feel

Stickers worn from use. :P
Note: This is not the factory sticker scheme. I cut my own full bright stickers.

I was very worried when I first heard about the Air - the first prerelease picture of it showed it weighing just 59 grams on a scale, less than even the Guanlong. I hated the low weight of the Guanlong; the cube felt like it could just fold up in my hand, and I was worried that the Gans Air would be the same.

My first thought as I picked up the Air was, "did they send me a 356S V2?"

Yes, it did weigh noticeably less (though 14g more than the initial 59g), but this cube is solid. Nothing like the papery feel of the Guanlong. It in fact feels more solid than most heavier cubes like the Weilong GTS, Yuexiao, and especially the Thunderclap.

Thank god.

On the outside, it looks pretty much identical to the 356S V2, with the same shape of squared corners, rounded edge bottoms, and round center. It uses the exact same sticker template as well, and includes the same sticker scheme in the box. It also makes the same somewhat high pitched sound as the 356S V2.

Basically, in terms of look and feel it's just a lighter 356S V2.


There are a lot of options here. Gans cubes have always been known for their customizability, but the Air Grandmaster included 7 spring sets - nearly double the amount that came with the 356S V2 Master. I've now played around with every spring, which was easy since they're so fast to swap, and I've settled on the yellow one, the lightest one in the S series.

I'm the only person I know or have heard of who's tried the G series springs, which are all lighter than the S series. Let me tell you, and this is coming from someone who considers an out of the box Hualong to be moderate speed: the G series springs are fast. The fastest one, the purple one, was far faster than I've ever felt in a cube before. It was doing 450 degrees, or 5 quarter turns, with a single flick. I couldn't even come close to controlling it well enough to speedcube with. They also seem to reduce corner cutting a bit, as do the heavier springs in the S series.

Lube wise, I opted to use a moderate amount of weight 2 on both the surfaces and the feet. Lubing the core is no longer necessary, due to the plastic on plastic contact of the nuts rather than metal on plastic of springs. My lube setup made it nice and fast but still very stable and controllable.

I've since done about 400 solves in it in the 4 days I've had it. The feeling hasn't actually changed at all, so maybe this cube doesn't need break in.


I'll be honest: out of the box, this was not a great cube. It was fast and very smooth, as we'd expect, but inexplicably there was a lot of catching. I was catching often 3 or 4 times on simple algorithms such as a Jb perm. It was so bad that if it was any other cube, I would have shelved it there and then, but I had heard that the catching gets better with setup and I really wanted to main a blue cube, so I went ahead and set it up.

After setup, the catching did improve drastically. There was still more than my GTS, but it wasn't a significant difference anymore and the raw speed of the Air made up for it mostly. I think over the course of 400 solves my turning style also adjusted a bit to it so it catches even less than it did right after setup.

Turning wise, it's an inherently fast, very smooth cube. Depending on springs and lube, the speed can be anywhere from out of the box GTS level to "there's no way anyone could control this" level. 
It's just as smooth as a 356S v2, which I guess is to be expected but still kind of felt weird when I first tried it. I guess I'm used to light cubes being crunchy or clicky.

In terms of stability, boy have Gans improved so much. The cube is far less flexy and less inclined to move on its own than the S v2, and for me it's almost as stable as a Yuexiao. I don't think I know anyone who actually prefers unstable cubes, so this is a big improvement for most.

Corner Cutting

Max corner cutting: 40-52 degrees
Effective corner cutting: 36-46 degrees
Max reverse cutting: 30-38 degrees
Effective reverse cutting: 25-33 degrees degrees

Corner cutting varies a ton depending on the choice of spring. Both heavier and lighter springs tend to decrease corner cutting rather drastically, and I found that sticking with the neutral springs (stock-yellow) achieves the best results. My air full cuts with yellow springs.

Anti-pop and Anti-corner twist

Excellent on both accounts. I think the nuts are inherently tighter than springs, so anti-corner twisting is actually better than even the Weilong GTS.

Not much to say here honestly. Just a clean excellent on both accounts.


Remember how I said it has excellent anti-pop? Well, apparently it goes beyond that: the anti-pop is so good it even prevents disassembly. Just like the Weilong GTS, but even more if you can believe. We'll see why in a moment.

In the meantime, to disassemble it I had to undo a center. This would be a good time to show the GES system.

 The GES nut is a 2-part nut, the bottom colored part fitting around the top clear hexagonal part. The internal spring in between them pushes them apart, creating the springiness.

It's not meant to be tensioned per se. Generally we adjust the height of the screw to create tighter or looser tensions. Gans seems to recommend that instead we should simply always keep the top of the nut flush with the core arm, and instead just swap nuts for different levels of springiness.

There are both upsides and downsides to this, honestly. The upside is that springiness, or how much force a cube needs to flex, can easily be changed. The downside is that overall tightness, or how much a cube can be flexed at all, is completely locked in, and the setting that the nuts lock the tightness at is a bit too tight for me.

However, another upside is that they're just so easy to swap. I can perform a full spring change in 2 minutes or so, whereas the older 356s often took me 2 minutes per side because of the finicky nut and spring.

Unfortunately, GES springs do not work on the 356S v2. I tried. The shaft on the centers of the 356S v2 that wrap around the core arm is too wide and too tall, and the GES springs don't fit.
Air on left, 356S V2 on right.

 Very similar looking internal designs. The centers now have 8 notches to facilitate removal of the caps, and for some reason the octopus core is now made of clear plastic.

I did find that the caps aren't quite as secure as they were on the 356S V2 - they're not about to fall out like the CX3, but I sometimes feel myself accidentally pushing a cap back in during a solve. It must jar loose pretty easily.

Note: The Air also uses separate locking feet, which is also primary on every other version. It's only blue on the blue cube.

The obvious big difference is the extra torpedo, which IMO wasn't actually needed since the 356 did very very well in anti-pop without it. This is what made disassembling it so hard.

There's a small difference that might not be visible on camera: the Air uses more typical caps rather than the curved half-edge pieces that the 356S v2 uses. This should make for prettier illusion cubes.

Oddly enough I haven't seen a single detailed picture of the "Lube-Storing-Notch" anywhere online (Gan's own picture is covered by red). Here it is. It's a small hole maybe 2-3mm deep.

Does it work? Well, the thing is, I don't see and can't imagine it accumulating much lube if you lube the friction surfaces like most people do. Maybe if you injected lube directly into it, it would be better, but the way I lube my cubes I don't see it having much of an effect.

The main difference here is that instead of the 9 concentric grooves of the 356S v2, the Air only has one groove. I heard that reducing the depth of the grooves between the 356S and the 356S v2 improved the stability, so maybe removing the grooves altogether contributed more.

So overall? It's still a very similar design to the earlier 356's. Several small modifications here and there, some good, some not quite useful.


Objective score: 9/10
Great cube overall. Fast and very customizable speed, corner cutting is great (if set up right), and anti-pop and anti-corner twist are top notch.

The problem, and the reason I took off a point, is that it's too catchy out of the box and even after being set up is still a pretty catchy cube. For beginners who may not know how to set up a cube or people who just don't like setting up cubes in general, this isn't a great choice.

Subjective score: 7.5/10
It's one of the only cubes I've felt that's fast enough for me out of the box. Solving on it is easy and comfortable because of how effortlessly it turns, and my algs flow faster than ever.

Unfortunately, it's still not quite my favorite because of the catchiness, as well as its excessive smoothness. Once again, the feel is something I tolerate rather than enjoy.

You should buy this cube if:
  • You like fast, smooth, and/or Airy cubes
  • You like setting up and customizing cubes
  • You can afford the rather hefty price tag
You should not buy this cube if:
  • You don't like setting up cubes, since out of the box this cube is one of the catchiest modern cubes I've used
  • $26 is a bit too much for you

Thanks for reading! I have two new cubes coming soon, the Valk 3 and (surprisingly) the Fangyuan, and I'm excited to review both. Might also review the Qiyi SQ1 at some point. Stay tuned for them!