Only a handful of years ago audiogeeks like me could only dream of magically beaming my music across the room at true CD quality sound. Oh, sure some company's had digital transmission to their loudspeakers, yet would you want to be locked into Meridian speakers at (used) Ferrari pricing? Neither would i and so the waiting game began. Fast forward to today and there are many ways to send your source signal to a device and not be locked into a single manufacturer's idea of what they feel is best. Of course what is best today, like anything computer related, will probably be outdated rubbish only three years from now. So what is an audiophile to do if they want to use their computer as a digital audio source yet send the signal wirelessly to a source component?
Ok you Squeezebox lovers, sit down as here is another way to skin the proverbial cat. Audioengine, makers of my fave super-cool inexpensive A2 (reviewed here) and A5 (reviewed here) self powered minimonitors, now offer their W1 Premium Wireless Audio Adapter system. What you basically get is a unit that hooks to your computer's USB port (or analog output of your source component) and sends the signal at better than CD bit rate to a matching receiver than can feed a USB port or analog input. So you can use virtually any audio components as you see fit. This entire system will set you back a paltry $149.
Before i forget, you can use one sending unit to feed up to eight receiving units. This would enable me to feed multiple amplifiers wirelessly, as my Dell laptop controls the volume level or i could have wired in a volume control to each amplifier if desired. You could also use multiple 'paired' units so that one pair is for your office, another for the dining room, etc. So yes, you can have multiple Audioengine W1 systems within your home being totally independent of each other.
What we have here is basically the latest chipset that handles digital audio and transmits via the Wi-Fi 802.11 protocol between 2.4Ghz to 2.4835GHz at a data rate of 340Mbps. Data rate is 16-bit/48kHz as best i can remember before i lost the sheet of paper that had my notes. Unlike previous wireless system like this where if there was a relatively large delay from the source to the receiving unit, the Audioengine W1 has a low latency of <20mSec. The sending range is 100 feet, and the package of chotchkies includes AC power adapter for either the Sender or Receiver, two sets of 1/8-inch to 1/8-inch male stereo headphone cables and a 1/8-inch male to right/left female RCA. Generally speaking, this should be more than enough for 99 percent of the setups, with any additional accessories being so basic that your local hi-fi hut will have them in stock. Of course you could substitute the stock cables for those of the pure silver ultra-esoteric audiophile-grade variety. Me? i just went with what came in the box.
Hookup was from my Dell laptop to the Naim Classik integrated CD receiver that feeds my circa 2003 Reference 3 MM DeCapo-i monitors (see review here). Audio was via lossless either via my Windows Media Player or Zune software. Yeah, not only do i not use a Squeezebox, i am anti-iPod after hearing their newest 160GB unit and having my ears seared off from the bright harshness and lack of sound quality (note: yes the older iPods that employ the Woflson DACs are better, yet i need massive storage in the TB range, and so a portable unit with less than 200Gb still pains me). Heck, even my Kenwood car radio/DVD/GPS/Bluetooth/XM/Sirus head unit has USB input and can handle a good-sized hard drive.
The sound quality is actually quite good, surprisingly so! Frankly, was not expecting too much for a $149 system, yet perhaps by them packing everything together makes for a super short signal path. Another benefit is that Audioengine is using the latest chipset for this system. i had some notes about it, yet i think the dog ate them. Ok, i have no dog, my office is a disaster area and the notes simply got lost. Am sure there is some audiogeek who can give in excruciating detail about this wireless system and the technology. For me what matter is the darn thing works and plays the music.
Stereo separation is excellent as is soundscape. Dynamics were very good as were harmonics. For a low $149 there was little to fault here. The main thing i noticed is that PRAT (pace, rhythm and timing) were actually enhanced! It seems this system wants to add boogie to your oogie almost but not quite to the point of being a bit too much. This could pay dividends for those who throw dance parties and this little extra schwing brings that much more to the table. Everything from small scale music to large scale orchestra was presented quite well. Techno music was equally handled with excellent explosive dynamics and very quite spacing between the notes. Audiongine claims a single-to-noise (SNR) ration of 91dB and this seems a touch conservative. Perhaps because i live in the middle of nowhere, there is nearly zero interference for Wi-Fi and EMI/RFI is vanishing low.
Is it perfect? Of course not as microdynamics was a bit curtailed and during extremely complex music there was some loss of ultimate resolution. Still, for $149 what i am hearing is surprisingly good. Stunning even! The cost of a decent set of interconnects would be at least equal to the $149 Audioengine W1 entry fee. Add to that, i can feed multiple systems throughout my home with the central control being right here at my fingertips. Slick!
Technology is not the end-all be-all driving force per se; it is here to be our servants without intruding into our lives. Here is where the Audioengine shines as it does virtually nothing to intrude on the music while making my daily musical pleasures easier to command. With nearly 1000 albums digitally ripped to my hard drive i can take any one of the number of playlists and let them feed my office system, or my entire home. The sound quality is more than good enough for non-audiophiles and very close to the hard-core music lovers who will dissect every little thing the Audioengine W1 does (alters) to the 'pure' source signal. It may not be SACD or DVD-Audio, yet for this low a price is does a remarkable job at handling the audio signal. If you desire an easy to use, impressive sounding wireless signal transfer system then the Audioengine W1 should be on your short list. At $149 it is nearly a freebie when you consider the cost of a good interconnect cable. Of course in the end what really matters is that you...
Type: wireless audio signal transmission
Range: 100ft (30 meters)
Wireless Protocol: 802.11
Frequency band: 2.4GHz to 2.4835GHz
Data Rate: 340Mbps
Dimensions: 100 x 30 x 10 (LxWxH in mm)