Audioengine A5+ Speakers and Wireless Audio Adapter

Audio|Video|Misc
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AUDIOENGINE WIRELESS AUDIO ADAPTER W1

A pair of small, high quality speakers with a built-in amplifier has many uses, since it isn't hampered by the need for an external amplifier with a cable running to each speaker. With the USB power port and the stereo mini-jack input built into the back of the A5+, you don't even need a dock for your portable MP3 player to share the music with everyone else in the room.

You still need some kind of cable to run the signal from the source and the A5+ speakers, and if the source is less portable than a personal MP3 player, then that cable can be a nuisance. A common challenge with home theater sound systems, for example, is running the cables from the central receiver to five, six or seven speakers in the room. If you're building the room from scratch or seriously remodeling, then those unsightly cables can be run right into the walls, with discreetly placed jacks on the walls as needed. But in the typical setup, the AV system is not built in, it's an add-on, and those unsightly cables have very low WAF. Even with the A5+, a pair of long RCA cables or a single long mini-plug cable (not recommended for sound quality) is needed to get the signal to it.

Enter Audioengine's Wireless Audio Adapter. The samples I have are of the first model, W1 (or AW1). They come as a sender/receiver pair with some accessories, as shown in the photo below. What this innocuous pair of gadgets do is to eliminate the need for any cables between the Audioengine A5+ speakers and any audio electronic signal source up to 100 feet away.


Audioengine W1 (AW1) Premium Wireless Audio Adapter set is composed of USB powered radio sender and receiver, two stereo mini-plug cords, a mini-plug to RCA female Y-adapter, and a USB power supply.

Extensive technical details are provided on the W1 product information pages, but here's a summary of the most salient points:

1. AW1 provides CD-quality HD stereo sound with no reduction in audio quality.

2. It's plug-n-play, connects in seconds, with no software to download or install. It works with any audio gear, with or without a computer, and plays all music formats from any media player, without batteries.

3. Interference-free audio quality is preserved while sharing the RF spectrum with other common wireless transmission technologies such as WLAN, Bluetooth, microwave ovens, cordless telephones, and others. Latency is <20ms and signal-to-noise ratio is 91 dB.

4. The AW1 consists of 2 parts: 1) The "Sender" transmits audio from your computer through USB audio or from any product with 3.5mm mini-jack or RCA audio outputs. 2) the "Receiver" connects audio to any product with mini-jack or RCA analog audio inputs. Hop feature works with up to 8 receivers or daisy-chain up to 8 Sender/Receiver pairs

5. Power for the Sender and Receiver is provided from either a USB computer port, the included AC power adapter, or from any other USB AC charger (such as an iPod charger, for example). Another USB power source is the Audioengine A5 (or A5+) powered speakers, equipped with a ComboPort(r) USB charger on top of the left speaker.

6. Uncompressed PCM audio is transmitted in the very-crowded 2.4GHz range, but with a closed protocol specifically designed for audio. The key features that make AW1 better than most wireless systems currently on the market are the ease of setup, fixed low latency, audio quality, lack of dropouts, and high interference tolerance.

For many folks stumbling though the myriad of confusing audio products in this new digital age, the Audioengine Wireless Audio Adapter could be a godsend.

FIRST TEST: PC to A5+ Speakers

The W1 transmitter was plugged into a USB port in the HTPC computer. As promised, there was no setup, the device simply got recognized by Windows 7 as a USB Composite Device in about 10 seconds.

The W1 receiver was plugged into the USB power port on the back of the A5+ speaker. A mini-plug cable was run from the jack on the W1 to the input in the A5+. All other inputs to the speaker was disconnected. The distance between the sender and receiver was only a meter, but this was just a first test.


Audioengine W1 sender plugged into USB port on computer.

W1 receiver powered by USB port on A5+ speaker, with mini-plug lead from it into the mini-input on A5+. The RCA phono jacks were unplugged before testing.

A song was selected on the computer... and without any drama, it began playing via the A5+ speakers. The sound quality was very good; I could not detect any obvious change from the sound via the RCA phono leads that I'd been using for weeks.

Several varied tunes later, I switched back to the wired connection and listened to the same music. Differences were subtle, a slight softening and coarsening of the sound, but I would not consider it serious, not in this hour-long first take. I can confidently say the fidelity is good enough for most people who choose to use the W1 (for convenience or because hard wire is not an option). Other factors, such as speaker positioning or the quality of the original recording, are likely to impact the sound far more than the W1 adapters.

The A5+ speakers were then moved into the living room, and set up atop the big NHT 2.9 speakers. Now, there was a wall and about 15' between sender and receiver. Again, there was excellent sound. I tried using my mobile phone and a cordless phone, walking all around the two parts of the W1 while the music was playing... and heard no interruptions or degradation. Obviously, the WI would work fine for sending signals to a subwoofer, or self powered rear or side speakers in my media room. A <20ms delay would hardly be noticed in this application. This began to feel like a revelation.

SECOND TEST: Squeezebox Touch to A5+ Speakers

The Squeezebox Touch in the main audio system is hard-wired to the gigabit network. A USB port on the Touch is meant to be used as an input source for external USB storage devices. There is a DIY method to modify this port to make it a digital output for a USB DAC, but I haven't made such a modification. This means the Audioengine W1 sender can be powered by the Touch USB port, but it then needs to be wired via its mini-plug input to the analog output of the Touch. I tried the headphone output first, and did not get any signal; there may have been an impedance or level mismatch. I then tried a mini-plug to phono Y-adapter into the Touch phono output jacks, and this worked.

The A5+ speakers were in the TV room still, and the Touch was on the opposite side of the house, about 35' away, with an interior wall between them. There was no degradation or interference in the signal.

I then tried switching the Squeezebox Touch to its 802.11g adapter, to access the wifi network via the router (and repeater) working downstairs. This did not work well. With the W1 sender plugged right into the Touch, there was too much RF interference. The music stuttered too often to be usable. There's some question about whether it was the Squeezebox losing connection with the router or the W1 sender losing connection with the receiver; the former seemed to be the bigger issue.

Later, with the Squeezebox back on the wired gigabit network, the A5+ speakers were moved to the sun deck at the back of the house, plugged into an outdoor wall AC outlet and placed on a picnic table. The W1 receiver was still plugged in the A5+ speaker.

The distance was now around 60' — it's a Vancouver Special, a relatively narrow, long house — and there was also a wall and a set of french doors between the sender and the receiver. I was surprised that the signal played without any degradation. I spent part of the sunny afternoon experimenting with positioning the A5+ on the deck for best sound. Projecting the music outdoors, they need a solid wall fairly close behind them for bass reinforcement. At one point, I placed the left A5+ speaker about 10' from the french doors, which put another exterior wall between sender and receiver. This exceeded the range of the W1 adapters, and the sound did get a bit intermittent again. So the limit here was about 70' + interior wall + exterior wall. Not bad at all! My impression was that as long as the range was not exceeded, the sound quality remained the same, regardless of distance.



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