Review: Audioengine W2 (AW2) Premium Wireless Adapter for iPod
I’ve been a fan of Audioengine‘s high end speakers ever since I checked out their A5’s a couple years back, followed by their equally impressive little brother the A2s, so when they put out a new audio accessory, I always take notice. I’ve also been a fan of their AW1 wireless adapters that let you stream your audio from your computer to your home stereo, and have found it to be more reliable than my home AirPort Express, which often craps out even with a full signal for some reason. Well, Audioengine has taken that robust audio streaming goodness from the AW1 and ported it to an iPod/iPhone specific model that is as idiot proof as wireless audio can be, while still maintaining the respect they have for high-quality sound. Behold the creatively named, AW2.
The AW2 is a two-part streaming system, just like the AW1. In fact, the AW2 receiver is identical to the AW1 receiver, which means they’re interchangeable, allowing you to mix and match receiv ers between both products and hop between devices. The broadcasting half of the AW2 is a a dock-connecting dongle that adds about an inch and half to the height of your iPhone or iPod touch, but doesn’t make it unwieldy or too large to fit in your pocket (at least my baggy pockets – Surprisingly, I’m not all that into form-fitting clothing).
The AW2 is ready to go out-of-the-box. There is no “pairing” step necessary to link the sender and receiver units. just plug the sender into your iPhone, the receiver into your speakers, and start playing your music. Ideally, Auioengine would like you to buy their A5 speakers, which boast a powered USB port you can use to plug in the AW2 receiver, but they realize there are some people out there already happy with their current home stereo system, so the AW2 comes with an AC adapter with a built-in USB port that you can use to power the receiver. there is an audio-out jack on the receiver which you can plug into any stereo with an audio-in jack (both min-stereo and RCA audio are supported).
The sound of the AW2 is broadcast on a proprietary Wi-Fi technology that uses the same frequency bands and technology as 802.11, but is a closed network with a protocol specifically designed for audio, and it sounds great. When my Airport express works, I have found the sound to be indistinguishable from hard-wired audio, and the AW2 sounds identical to me. Audioengine claims the AW2 uses “Uncompressed CD-quality digital transmission”, and “uncompressed” is a word we all love to see when you are dealing with already compressed audio (although I usually encode my tracks pretty fat at 256 kbps or better).
I have not noticed any interference of any kind from sources like cordless phones, baby monitors, or microwaves, so it has been my experience that the AW2 has a rock-solid connection. The range of AW2 likely depends on environmental facotrs, but I was able to maintain a connection throughout my entire mansion (ok, it’s a regular suburban split).
The coolest thing about the AW2 is that it in effect turns your iPhone or iPod touch into a touch screen remote with coverflow. In addition to music, you can also use the AW2 to send the audio from any movies or TV shows you have on your iPhone to your speakers of choice. It’s always amazing to see how “big sound” can help minimize the effect of a small screen when watching videos. The AW@ also works with older iPods, as well as the new nano and iPod Classic models.
If you have a huge house with multiple audio systems, you can purchase additional receivers for the AW2, and “hop” between them (meaning one at a time) as you go through your house. Up to 8 receivers are supported.
The AW2 only has two flaws in my opinion – one minor and one major. The minor one is that it cannot currently broadcast the audio from iPhone games or internet radio apps like Pandora and Slacker. It’s strictly an iPod-only affair. So if you already own an AirPort express, there’s not much you can do with the AW2 that you can’t accomplish with the Airport Express and Apple’s free “remote” app on the iTunes store. However, that’s assuming you own an iPhone or iPod touch. The AW2 will also work with the iPod nano, and iPod classic, as well as other iPods where Apple’s AirTunes will not. And of course, setting up an Airport Express (as simple as Apple tried to make it) can still be daunting for some, and if you don’t already have an Apple AirPort base station, it can be a bit trickier, so the ease of use the AW2 provides might be a selling point for the AW2 over an Express.
The only other knock against the AW2, and it is a is the price. At $169, it is nearly twice the price of the somewhat more multi-purpose $99 Airport Express, so when one sees they could buy two Airport Expresses for the same cost, and perhaps use one to extend their network, or sync to a second audio system, the AW2’s value comes into question.
The AW2 is an idiot-prrof way to stream wireless audio from your iPod touch, iPod, or iPhone to your home stereo. There is zero configuration needed, and all cables and adapters are included out of the box. The AW2’s sound quality is great, and the only major drawback at this time is the price, which is nearly twice that of Apple’s AirPort Express.
Pros: Great sound, very easy to set up, great range and quality of wireless connection
Cons: Expensive for what it does, only plays back audio from the iPod app, not games or internet radio apps.