Product: Wren Sound Systems V5AP AirPlay Speaker
Rating: V5AP (AirPlay): Recommend*; V5PF (Play-Fi): Strong Recommend*
Until now, there have been two main choices for people who want to stream wireless audio from a computer or device in one room to speakers located in another: a smattering of black AirPlay devices that look a lot alike, and the pricey Sonos system that creates its own mesh network over Wi-Fi.
Wren’s first offering—the V5AP AirPlay wireless speaker for Apple iOS devices and Macs or PCs running iTunes—is the first I’ve seen that beats existing AirPlay speaker docks on design and sound, and is positioned to take a bite out of Sonos’ high-end market with a price of $399. Even more promising: Wren will also make an Android-friendly version of the speaker that streams wirelessly over Play-Fi—one of the very first speakers on the market to do so.
Design: Wren’s design is arresting for two reasons: the curvy shape and the beautiful wood veneer. I received the rosewood version to review, but it also available in a lighter bamboo. The wood is polished and smooth, and speaker grill is gray fabric with a subtle shimmer. At only 16.5 inches wide, it’ll fit anywhere you’d put a speaker dock, but carries quite a bit more oomph.
Its designers—Wren’s founder is Mike Giffin, who spent 22 years at Harman Kardon—knew the speaker’s punch-packing class D amplifier, 3-inch long throw drivers, and 19mm soft dome tweeters would make its 6.6 pound body move—that’s why 4mm thick silicone pads were added to the base to absorb vibrations. Along the right-hand side is a series of buttons: power, volume up/down, and source (switches between streaming devices and ports).
Set-Up: Though it has an aux port and a USB port on the back (which means it can be used with pretty much any audio device with a wired connection), the Wren’s main use case is for wireless streaming using AirPlay—Apple’s proprietary, licensed streaming standard. There are several ways to connect compatible devices to the Wren. Evaluating my arsenal of compatible devices (an iPhone 5, an iPad 3, an original iPad, a Mac with iTunes’ latest version and a PC with iTunes latest version), I decided to begin with the PC—its what I thought would be trickiest. But it was dead simple: all I had to do was find Wren under my computer’s located wireless networks, connect to it, control it via an IP address, and tell it to approve my home network with password. Once it did that, the computer went right back to the usual home wireless network, and iTunes instantly spotted Wren in the AirPlay drop-down.
Any iDevice with a 30-pin connector (that’s everything except the very newest iPhones and iPads released in 2012 and 2013) initially syncs up with the Wren via the included dock connector cable and USB port. Once the Wren slurps network details from the devices via this method, it sees them wirelessly via iTunes or any other audio app (Pandora, Spotify, etc.). Lightning connector devices like my iPhone 5 can by synced the same way but you must provide your own cable (iDevices will charge via the Wren, as well). However, I didn’t need to do this because my iPhone 5 is on the same wireless network as my PC: from the music player on my iPhone, I saw the Wren listed among the AirPlay options and got streaming right away.
I only encountered one glitch in operations, and it's one that Wren engineers say they’re going to fix ASAP. When using a PC or Mac to operate the Wren, the Wren’s built-in volume controls and the volume controls on the included remote control do not work. Volume can only be controlled from iTunes itself on the computer. The hardware volume buttons and remote control work just fine with all other device modes.
Wren is supposed to work in “multi” mode via iTunes, which means the same audio stream can go to multiple Wren devices around a home. Since I only received one speaker cabinet review unit, I couldn’t test the multi-room features for latency.
Listening: You know how I said that the volume control doesn’t work when the Wren is paired with a computer running iTunes? Well, because my iTunes software happened to have the volume turned up all the way when I first began streaming, I learned immediately just how loud the Wren can get. It filled my entire house with robust, clear sound.
The Wren doesn’t get nearly as loud when streaming from a phone or iPad, though it remains loud enough to fill a generously-sized living room. In either configuration, at maximum volume I found the Wren to produce undistorted sounds. I tested the Wren with J.S. Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suites (nothing can hide between the ultra-spare bow and string) and a few Fleetwood Mac tracks, and compared it to other speaker systems in the same room, including the Audyssey Lower East Side media speakers (priced $150 below the Wren). Oddly enough, I was able to hear two distinct stereo channels more clearly coming out of the Wren than the two-speaker setup of the Audyssey. I also compared the Wren to a Yamaha iPhone dock (TSX-140, priced identically), which I had previously believed to be uncommonly loud. Now I know better.
Pros: Most organic sounding and looking AirPlay-based wireless streaming speaker on the market. The forthcoming Android version may well be the only one of its kind.
Cons: For those on the hunt for a single-room AirPlay streaming solution, there are now many AirPlay speakers on the market—and some of them are quite a bit cheaper.
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. This specific product was provided by the manufacturer for testing and review purposes.
(Images: Wren, Rachel Rosmarin)