Desktop Speaker Test - Rockin’ 9 to 5 (Part 1) : AQ Audio SmartSpeaker A1

7/18/2013 5:57:42 PM

Who says listening to quality hi-fi while you’re working isn’t a realistic option? We don’t, but then we’ve tested four pairs of top desktop speakers

As our beloved music continues to reach beyond our living room hi-fi systems out into the wider world, quality music reproduction is now available almost everywhere. And that includes the office. While we wouldn’t necessarily recommend choosing Slipknot to provide a soundtrack to your company board meeting, most of us have plenty of opportunities for whistling while we work.

What’s more, as well as helping you balance those budgets or write that report, your computer is also a great source of music from streaming via Spotify to playing high-res files.

That’s where desktop speakers come in, and our quartet here proves you don’t need to skimp on sound quality just because you’re sitting at a desk. So, can the Monitor Audio AirStream better the Award-winning, iPod dock equipped Epoz Aktimate, or will Bose or AQ Audio steal the crown? Read on.

AQ Audio SmartSpeaker A1

Price: $442

Rating: 3/5

The AQ Audios provide a curveball entry in this test. They look like a standard, albeit distinctive, pair of desktop speakers, but the SmartSpeakers offer more than you might at first think.

For starters, each of the identical A1 speakers is just as happy working on its own as it is as part of a stereo pair.

AQ Audio SmartSpeaker A1

AQ Audio SmartSpeaker A1

Opt for just one unit and you get a speaker that offers a 3.5mm input, plus wireless connectivity via Apple AirPlay or Wi-Fi Direct. So you can stream music wirelessly over your internet network from iTunes or Windows Media Player on a laptop, from iOS devices, from Android devices and from compatible Windows Phone devices.

You can also put two A1s together to form a stereo pair. A switch on the back of each unit allows you to set it as a left, right or mono speaker. Add more for a multi-room system, all playing the same track (only from iTunes, however).

To use two as a stereo pair you need to stream from iTunes on a laptop – you can’t select the ‘Multiple Speakers’ option from a smartphone or tablet.

The speakers also have integrated rechargeable batteries, good for around 10 hours of wireless playback.

So far, so good. The first signs of trouble appear in the set-up procedure. The simplest way to get up and running wirelessly is by connecting an iOS device via USB to the speaker. Hold down buttons on the A1 and your phone or tablet will send over your internet settings. Hey presto, you’re connected.

Otherwise, you’ll have to set up the speakers using a computer. This proved more complex – we needed multiple attempts to get it working.

Features over sound

The wireless connection from a laptop to the speakers in stereo mode proved none too robust. We experienced sporadic interference and drop-outs – admittedly in a busy Wi-Fi environment. Sound quality proves underwhelming once we get up and running, too. There are so many features that we half expected audio performance to lag behind rivals and so it proved. The SmartSpeakers sound lightweight in comparison with others.

The A1s are extremely versatile – but sound suffers a touch as a consequence

The A1s are extremely versatile – but sound suffers a touch as a consequence

Disclosure’s Latch lacks dynamic punch and bass weight, bass notes struggling in terms of depth and power. Vocals, too, lack clarity and the overall level of detail is a step below rivals here. The A1s do avoid harshness in the treble and offer a fairly open sound. There’s decent scale for a small speaker, but really they’re a step below the rest.

Connect via the 3.5mm input and you will enjoy a sound that’s clearer, a little more solid and a little more detailed.

The A1s are undoubtedly smart. The speakers make most sense used individually – two wireless speakers for this money represent better value. Bought as a pair, they’re highly versatile, thanks to the wireless connectivity and pairing option – even if set up and the limits of the features are frustrating.

If flexibility at a relatively affordable price means more to you than sound quality, they’re worthy of consideration. But, for most, we’d suggest better sonic options should take precedence.

Rating: 3/5

For: Versatile speakers; AirPlay and Wi-Fi Direct connectivity for streaming

Against: Sound can be bettered; set-up can be fiddly; inconsistent wireless connection

Verdict: Fine levels of functionality, but the level of performance lets the side down

AQ Audio Smartspeakers A1 specs

·         Power: 25W

·         3.5mm input: Yes

·         Charging: Yes

·         Radio: No

·         Subwoofer out: No

·         Headphone out: No

·         Remote control: No

·         Detachable speakers: Yes

·         Battery: Yes

·         Finishes: One

·         Dimensions (H x W x D): 24 x 14 x 11cm


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