We are living in an age where convenience trumps quality almost every time; commercially speaking MP3 makes all other music formats look insignificant and lossy streaming is so much bigger than its pricey lossless cousin that most people don’t know there’s an alternative. And more and more folk will pay extra for a product without wires. In a world where everything needs little more than a power connection that’s understandable.Why tether your headphones to anything if you don’t have to? Personally I’ve never been very lucky with Bluetooth, which is the ubiquitous wireless connection for audio devices: the place I review in seems to have a force field that stops it working smoothly and for a long time I was baffled that anyone would put up with such a glitchy format. Then I took the same devices to another place and found they worked seamlessly! But Bluetooth, originally compressed the signal it transmits and was limited to the lossy audio formats like MP3 and AAC, however aptX HD changed that as it offers full 24/48 resolution. This last, like AirPlay and Wi-Fi DLNA, are more likely to get a signal to its destination with the minimum of degradation.
Aurender has entered the wireless speaker market with the S5W, which is supplied with a Wi-Fi transmitter dongle that is specified to be good for lossless audio up to the red book CD standard of 16-bit/44.1kHz. There are wireless audio systems on the market that claim to transmit up to 24-bit/96kHz so the Aurender’s is not a game changer. What makes this speaker really interesting is the other side of the equation: power.
Although the S5W is supplied with inline power supplies and cables for each speaker there is also a large aperture in the back of each speaker that will accept a rechargeable battery. I have to admit I was a bit baffled when I opened one of the boxes and found two batteries for a cordless drill and a charger to match, but then I opened the speaker box and made the connection. The 18V Bosch power tool Li-Ion batteries come supplied with this loudspeaker, but additional batteries and charges can be purchased separately, albeit not from many sources in the UK (they are more common in the US); you can get two additional Bosch batteries and a charger for £163 plus carriage. This unusual approach makes the S5W a truly wireless speaker which is a major bonus for installation and portability: the only drawback is that you need to remember to charge the batteries every so often. Aurender claims up to 50 hours of battery operation but that will depend entirely on how loud you play them; more output means more power usage. There’s a small light on each speaker that turns red if charging is required, it blinks green when disconnected or remains solid green in operation.
The speaker itself has an aluminium cabinet that comes in a variety of anodised finishes. It’s a small but chunky bass reflex design with a rear firing port and a Wi-Fi antenna on the back. The main driver is described as being a four and a half inch (114mm) model but I’m guessing that’s the chassis because the cone is no more than 75mm (three inches) in diameter. It’s a SEAS driver and combines with a ScanSpeak soft dome tweeter. Each driver has its own 50 Watt amplifier onboard and the two are paired by a digital crossover with a 2kHz crossover point. One can presume that the power amps are Class D types for the sake of battery life if nothing else. Users of this speaker will see that the two channels are marked L and R, which is worth noting during set up as channels cannot be reassigned.
The USB dongle supplied with the speakers can be used with mobile phones or tablets so long as an adapter is used, a micro USB example is supplied in the box for Android devices but Apple users will need to shell out for a USB camera kit to hook up their iOS devices. Pairing from both platforms was automatic once the speakers were switched on, where a laptop was marginally even less idiot proof. Here I had to select Aurender in the list of output devices within the system preferences box on a Mac. Things were less smooth when using Audirvana for music replay; the first track played came out at ear bursting level despite the volume being set at a medium position. Luckily you can press pause with your elbow when your fingers are in your ears! Starting with volume at minimum was far less painful but it’s odd that you can turn it up well past 11 without the level getting excessive once everything has settled down. A remote handset is supplied with which you can adjust volume, but given the importance of the task under the circumstances, it’s somewhat vestigial.
Because the S5W is a small speaker, I initially set it up quite close to the wall and after having plugged the appropriate dongle into my Moto G5 Android phone I gave the Aurenders a spin. It didn’t take long for me to realise the rear ports needed a bit more space; 40cm seemed to give a good balance of openness and bass extension in my room. I say bass extension but with a box that’s less than 22cm high and with what must be a 75mm bass cone this is a relative state of affairs; you can buy sound bars with built in ‘subwoofers’ that are smaller but they don’t produce bass as such. The S5W will produce a thump but it’s not doing much below 50Hz, I doubt any speaker of this size would. That doesn’t stop it delivering quite compelling imaging, partly because small boxes have less cabinet area to vibrate and thus they don’t seem to muddy the sound so much. This set up made relaxed but not exactly revealing sounds and got a bit ragged when the level was pushed. This smoothed off with warm up but the speaker is clearly superior to that particular source.
On the Macbook Air things got more interesting, as the transparency level jumped up significantly and the dynamics went with it, I even tried Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ [Led Zeppelin III, Swansong] and enjoyed the propulsion if not the full power of the piece. The Aurender is pretty good for such a small box; the active operation and the advantages of clean battery power means that it is inherently very capable and the wireless aspect doesn’t seem to undermine that at all. Muddy Waters’ powerful voice on ‘My Home is in the Delta’ [Folk Singer, Chess] loses some of its dynamics but remains strong, the spaciousness of the studio being obvious at the same time. I tested the bass by putting on James Blake’s ‘Limit To Your Love’ [JamesBlake, R&S] with its loud drum machine, and here the higher notes came through albeit without their room shaking power, though the lower ones were very quiet. The Aurender has not been tweaked to give excessive bass for its size, which is a good thing, but you can adjust tone with two buttons on the back should that appeal.
I also tried some orchestral material using Beethoven’s 7th Symphony [Barenboim, Beethoven For All, Decca]. This worked surprisingly well, the speakers throwing up good image scale and delivering enough of the dynamic impact to make the piece compelling. You need to be a little bit sensible with the volume (the tympani made this clear), but this is in a larger than average, well-damped room. I suspect that smaller spaces would be easier to energise. Simpler material such as Doug MacLeod’s ‘Too Many Misses’ Exactly Like This[Reference Recordings] worked a treat. Yhe quality of the recording was obvious and that seemed to enhance the sense of dynamics that this speaker can produce.
Given that you already have a suitable source for these speakers in your pocket they make a good case for their admittedly high price. Using a supplied off-the-shelf high power Bosch power tool battery is a neat touch too, but regardless, Aurender has come up with an impressively wire free speaker system that’s capable of top notch light entertainment wherever you want it.
- Type: two-way, two-driver, bookshelf speaker with active drive, reflex enclosure and wireless operation
- Driver complement: One 25mm ScanSpeak soft dome tweeter; one 114mm mid/bass driver
- Optional power supply: 18V, 6 Ah batteries
- Crossover frequency: 2kHz
- Frequency response: 50Hz–22kHz (-6dB)
- Amplifier output: 50W LF, 50W HF
- Input sensitivity: N/A
- Dimensions without spikes (H×W×D): 220 ×156 ×185mm
- Weight: 5.2kg/each
- Finishes: Dark blue, black, wine red
- Price: £3,200/pair
Tel: +44 (0)1223 653199