Apple's Airplay technology has reset the expectation bar for ubiquitous, wireless multimedia streaming. However, finding accessories that embrace and enhance the Airplay experience is a challenge. One company, AQ Audio, has entered the market with a wireless speaker that promises easy setup and great audio. Did they deliver on this promise? Read on to find out.
The AQ SmartSpeaker is an Airplay-compliant speaker with a built-in rechargeable battery that allows truly wireless operation of streaming audio broadcasts. While the SmartSpeaker was ideally designed for Airplay, AQ has also made the speaker compatible with Mac, PC and even Android devices. It also can be plugged into a traditional wired setup should wireless be unavailable.
Configuring the SmartSpeaker to connect to your wireless network is simple and can even be done entirely from your iPhone or iPad, thanks to the AQ Connect
iOS application. Just plug your iOS device's USB sync cable into the USB port on the back of the speaker, launch AQ Connect and set the wireless network name and access key (you can also give the speaker a name as well) and you're ready to Airplay to the speaker. When AQ states that the setup process takes about 30 seconds, they weren't kidding. Just launch an Airplay-enabled iOS app like iTunes Music, Spotify or Tune-In Radio and you'll be wirelessly listening to music from the speakers (as long as you're within the working radius of your wireless network). While the speaker's fully charged battery didn't quite last the advertised ten hour battery life, my iPad broadcasting the music didn't last much longer than the SmartSpeaker did. Even so, it was pretty cool to walk around the room, testing out the perfect location to set the SmartSpeaker while the music was playing all the while.
There were two aspects where the AQ SmartSpeaker didn't quite make a it a big hit for me. The first is a minor issue and the second is more noticeable. Firmware updates for the product still require to be downloaded and installed via a PC or Mac computer. It's up to you to manually and periodically check for these updates and apply them accordingly. Given the awareness of hacks made on Internet-connected digital picture frames over the years, it's unfortunate that AQ didn't include the ability for its products to automatically apply these updates on their own. Sure, it would have increased the price to include additional RAM for the download storage of the firmware, but given that customers are already paying a premium for the privilege of wireless speakers, adding another ten dollars for such on-board storage would have been reasonable. Perhaps I'm hypercritical on this point, but anything I put on my network needs to not only play nice with other devices but should also take care of itself when improving hardware compatibility, fixing bugs and addressing security vulnerabilities.
More notable than the firmware issue is the fact that the sound coming from speakers themselves is not especially noteworthy. Granted, a good amount of the money paid for these speakers is going toward the engineering of the wireless technology combined with the beefy Lithium Ion batteries, but at nearly $350 for a wireless stereo setup, I can pay quite a bit less for a wired Bose speaker setup that sounds fantastic. I know there is a big difference between wired and wireless audio information, but even when I plugged the AQ SmartSpeaker via its wired interface, the audio quality was still only so-so. Combine this with the fact that using two or more SmartSpeakers with iOS does not produce the intended stereo effect, though this is more a limitation of Apple's current Airplay implementation rather than the speakers themselves. Should Apple update Airplay to support multi-channel broadcasting from Airplay on iOS, AQ will hopefully update the SmartSpeaker's firmware accordingly.
In summary, the AQ SmartSpeaker is an ideal solution for those seeking the simplicity of Airplay connectivity with truly wireless operational ability throughout your home or workplace. Setting up multiple speakers on your wireless network is simple and then watching these 'just work' in the Apple way of simplicity is a thrill. Unfortunately, sound quality is 'just average' which is a letdown considering the cost of a dual-speaker setup. But if your freedom from wires is more important than sound quality, AQ Audio has just the speaker you may be looking for.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars