AQ SmartSpeaker review
Apple's AirPlay wireless technology hasn't exactly set the new standard for audio playback, although its gaining acceptance amongst manufacturers with new compatible systems and speakers being introduced more regularly. Manchester-based AQ Audio are a relatively recent addition to the AirPlay bandwagon, with the portable AQ SmartSpeaker audio system. Offering an impressive 24 watt power output and compatible with Apple's free Remote App, Rogue Amoeba's Airfoil app and the company’s own AQ Connect app, the speaker looks and feels well built and finished to a good standard, with a look that is unassuming yet attractive around the home.
We tested a pair of speakers with both iTunes and iPhone and the sound proved impressive, especially considering their small size. Nicely focused and rich in detail, we took full advantage of being able to listen in stereo, one switched to the left, one to the right, an option that isn't available on one box AirPlay systems, which can combine several speakers into one design. This two speaker option doubles your budget but makes sense sonically at least, and AQ offers better deals on the more speakers you buy at any one time. Our one quibble sound wise is bass heavy music, dance music and dub reggae especially, suffers slightly in comparison to using our more traditional and significantly bigger floor standing speakers. Thankfully, the diminutive speakers didn't distort on the highest volume setting we dare try without the neighbours banging on the walls.
Apple's AirPlay technology has both fans and foes, with sound quality dependent on your Wi-fi network settings and performance. Sound quality can dip when the signal is weak or put under pressure and the promised speaker range can be affected by furniture and the distance between rooms. We managed good reception around a small flat and even outside on the communal stairs but it’s a factor that is hard to determine without trying it out for yourself. Set-up wasn't as smooth as we might have hoped, but AQ offers several ways to get the speakers working, including a recent AQ Direct Mode option, were the speaker creates its own Wi-fi network, which you connect to from your iPhone or compatible device. It’s worth reading up on the options here and set-up, as it could save you any headaches later, and once set up the system requires little tinkering.
Good portability means these speakers can sit almost anywhere, including outside when the weather is good, and don't appear to need a sweet spot to produce decent audio playback. Battery life is decent, with the promise of ten hours playback in AirPlay mode about right. You can double that figure by using line input mode, which actually makes sense in a small room where the speakers are close to hand. AQ Audio offered a couple of significant software updates in 2012, which widens the speakers compatibility to embrace more mobile platforms, Android and Windows, and functionality with the addition of AQ Direct Mode. Clearly, future updates from both AQ Audio and Apple will make the AQ SmartSpeaker and AirPlay compatible speakers more appealing and simpler to use.
The AQ SmartSpeaker is a decent sounding speaker that despite some shortcomings with Apple's AirPlay wireless technology produces an attractive and impressive sound from what are essentially portable speakers. If you can stretch to a pair of AQ Audio speakers then the ability to enjoy true stereo wirelessly is a major plus.