When it comes to getting music from your iOS device to a good speaker, there are a lot of different methods. There's the tried and true dock method, which can fall to pieces when Apple comes out with a new connector design as they did last year with Lightning. Some manufacturers have the mistaken hope that people will just use an adapter and a pair of wires to run to a speaker or two, while the vast majority have gone the route of Bluetooth. Wren Sound Systems has changed all that with a Wi-Fi connected AirPlay speaker called the V5AP (US$399) that is provides excellent sound reproduction in a beautiful design.
The unique design of the Wren Sound Systems V5AP speaker is an eye-catcher. Whether you're using the V5AP in a crowded, dirty dorm room or a mansion, the gently curving lines and wood surfaces immediately draw your eyes to the speaker. The case is finished in either a light finished bamboo or in deep, rich rosewood. Along the front of the speaker is a silvery grille that is backed with a diamond (shaped) matrix so that music is pumped through without distortion.
On one end of the speaker is a vertical array of controls. Unlike the confusing mess that many speakers clutter up the control panel with, this simply has four buttons: a power button, a set of volume buttons, and a button for selecting input (Wi-Fi, USB, or AUX). LEDs glow unobtrusively on the speaker case and don't tend to glare or attract undue attention.
There are a pair of 19 mm edge-driven soft dome tweeters, one at each end of the speaker, to produce a nice, open sound. On the bass end are two long-throw drivers with 4-layer voice coils. The bottom of the case is covered with a 4 mm silicone pad to absorb transmitted vibration when you really have the volume cranked up.
Inside that enclosure you'll also find an Intersil D2 50 Watt DSP-controlled digital amplifier to drive all of the speakers, along with the other fun electronics. There's a tuned acoustic port on the back to help the bass along, and the back is also where you'll find a setup button, USB port and AC adapter connection. By the way, if there's one thing I have to say is a failing of the V5AP is that it comes with a rather generic AC adapter and power brick. Fortunately, it has a nice long cable so you can increase the distance between power outlet and speaker.
Last but not least, the box includes a remote control that I frankly never touched, preferring to use the controls on my iOS devices. Note that the V5 speaker also comes in a Google Play-Fi version (V5PF), and a Bluetooth version is in the works.
Setup of the Wren Sound Systems V5AP is very simple. The company actually provides two methods; I chose to use my iPhone to set it up. Basically, you plug in the speaker, turn it on, make sure that USB is selected for connectivity, and then plug your iPhone or other iOS device into the speaker. Almost immediately, a dialog appears on the iOS screen asking if you wish to share your Wi-Fi settings with the speaker. Tap OK, and a few moments later your V5AP is joined to your Wi-Fi network. You can unplug the iPhone at this point, although I kept mine plugged in for a while to give it a charge!
Next, it's just a matter of selecting the speaker from the AirPlay controls on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. You'll want to make sure that the speaker has good Wi-Fi connectivity, but once you're connected you can begin playing music...
...and that's where the joy of this product comes in. The sound is full, crisp, and just plain amazing. The V5AP sounds better than any other AirPlay speaker, Bluetooth speaker, or dock that I've reviewed. I was able to crank this speaker up to the point that the floor was shaking and the sound was still undistorted.
Regarding my comment about needing good Wi-Fi connectivity: I moved the speaker to several locations, one that's a known "dead spot" on my Wi-Fi network. While I still had connectivity, traffic from the MyFi card in the camera I was using for photographs actually caused the connection to drop momentarily. Bringing the speaker back into an area with better Wi-Fi coverage resolved this issue.
Many AirPlay or Bluetooth speakers on the market are plagued with either boring design, bad sound, or complicated setup. Wren's V5AP is simple to set up, pleasant to look at, and boasts audiophile sound quality.
Beautiful case design
Easy to use controls
Simple and fast setup
Best-in-class sound quality
Uninspired use of a generic AC adapter that Steve Jobs would hate
Who is it for?
The connoisseur of good design and excellent sound quality -- in other words, the V5AP is perfect for any Apple customer