Review: Wren V5AP – Wireless Speaker with AirPlay
As an insomniac, I’ve seen pretty much EVERY infomercial over the years, and I’ve managed to resist almost all of them (save a Bowflex which I use primarily as a drying rack for wet clothes). One of the few to ever really cause me to give pause however (aside from the Hawaii Chair) is the Bose radio commercial, with its promise of “Room-Filling sound”. It seemed improbable that a stand-alone unit about the size of a toaster oven could produce rich sound capable of filling every corner of a room, despite all those blue audio waves they showed pouring out of the device. But its $400 price tag (spread over 6 easy payments) had me thinking maybe there really WAS something there.
Smash cut to 8 years later, and I am indeed listening to room-filling sound coming from a similar-sized (and priced) unit – the main difference being this thing actually looks beautiful, and isn’t tethered to CDs. The Wren V5AP Wireless Airplay Speaker is, as you may have surmised, a wireless speaker utilizing Apple’s AirPlay technology to stream music from your various iOS devices.
First, let’s examine my “beautiful” comment from before. While that Bose radio, which looked like the way people in the 1960′s imagined space crafts in the 1980′s might have looked, the Wren is a study in elegance and minimalist design. Measuring approximately 17 in (W) x 6 in (H)x 4 in (D), The entire front of the unit is dominated by a silver mesh screen, which nicely compliments the somewhat basic set of silver controls located on the right of the unit.
The curved base of the speaker cabinet is available in a choice of bamboo and rosewood finishes which both look and feel great. There is a satisfying weight to the unit as you first unpack it (which is another very Apple-like experience) and the overall first impression is that thought went into all design aspects of the V5AP, which is not surprising given Wren’s origins. While a relatively new name to home audio, Wren Audio was founded by the former division president of Harman Kardon International’s consumer audio division, who decided to bring his expertise to his new company.
While the wireless connectivity is one of the main selling points of the V5AP, there are also both a USB-in as well as a standard audio jack located on the rear of the unit, meaning you can still use the speaker with your iGadgets should you be away from a Wi-Fi network.
[As a quick aside: I must say that Wren is smart in jumping on the wireless bandwagon, and AirPlay in particular, as I have become a HUGE fan of wireless audio. Recently a friend of ours was having a house party at Georgetown and was using their iPhone to stream the music for the event. Well, obviously someone walked up and stole the phone at some point, which was hard-wired to their stereo and left unattended. AirPlay allows you to walk around your house with your phone in your pocket, controlling the music from any room, which means you do not have to worry about your iPhone walking away. Plus AirPlay has a much larger range than BlueTooth, so you don't have to worry about the music cutting out if you have to go upstairs to use the bathroom or something. And for the record, the V5AP is MORE than capable of providing the music for a college house party.]
Included with the Airplay version of the speaker is a simple remote control, which is basically useless, aside from being able to power up the unit from across the room. Despite having “play/pause”, “skip/back” and “shuffle” buttons, none of them appeared to do anything when playing music from my iPhone, both from Apple’s Music app or Spotify. the Volume buttons functioned, but you can control that from the iPhone (as well as the skip and pause, for that matter). Plus the remote needs a direct line of site to function, so you can’t turn the speaker on from another room and begin streaming to it.
Wren was nice enough to bundle in a standard 30-Pin iPod cable with the V5AP, although I would suggest Wren switch this out to a Lightning cable as more and more of us have these new devices. I suppose the thinking here is perhaps all new Apple devices support AirPlay, and perhaps the older ones may wish to utilize the USB audio jack. Either way, whether you are using AirPlay, USB, or the Stereo jack as your connection of choice, you can use the USB port to charge your device if you’d like, although there is not any type of built-in cradle or dock for your device. I actually prefer this method, as all too often my iPod/iPhone specific speakers have outlived the device they were designed for, and the next gen iDevices do not fit the legacy cradles/ports built into the speakers anyway. The lack of a cradle means all ports all located on the rear of the V5AP, allowing it to maintain its clean look. I may eventually get a SETA stand or something just the same.
Well, ALMOST as important as how a speaker looks is how it sounds, and the V5AP sounds wonderful across a broad range of music types. Acoustic songs in particular sounded incredibly crisp, but the Wren also packs a surprising amount of bass, and not simply “for a unit of its size” – for a unit of ANY size in general. In fact there was a time or two when I wished I could perhaps dial it down a little (see “Issues”). But for a good 95% of the songs I threw at it, the V5AP spit them back at me beautifully with truly wonderful clarity. I was really just so impressed with how clear the sound was, I decided to do the ultimate test, and screw with my dog by playing dog sound effects from Spotify through the Wren. While he ignores dogs on TV and on my JBL speaker, he began barking and growling at the Wren immediately to the point that I feared for its safety and had to stop. High praise indeed. However for $400 hopefully you’ll do more than simply annoy your dog. I actually found myself listening to a huge amount of classical music on the V5AP, just really enjoying being able to pick out individual instruments and reveling in the big swells during intense compositions. I had to remind myself that this was wireless streaming of an already compressed streaming track, and it sounded gorgeous.
There is not much to complain about with the Wren, other than you may wish it was cheaper. Initially I thought there was a problem when playing music via AirPlay and then receiving a phone call on an iPhone as I could not seem to reconnect to the Wren once I ended the call, but what was actually happening was the iPhone for some reason would just turn the volume to zero and not set it back, so once I realized that, problem solved. My only true complaint about the V5AP might be that it could perhaps be too simple, allowing for very little user control in adjusting sound levels. I would have killed for a simple bass adjustment knob to be tucked in back by the inputs, as while the Wren sounded great on most types of music, only music played through the iPod/music app pays attention to the EQ setting on the iPhone. Since these days I stream most of my music from Spotify, Pandora, or one of a half dozen internet radio apps (most of which do not have an EQ), there WERE the occasional songs that sounded almost too bass-heavy at times (which I realize is perhaps a back-handed compliment for a speaker of this size, which traditionally lack in the bass department).
The only other thing worth mentioning is that if you decide to use the Wren to stream the audio from a video app, such as Netflix, you will likely run into the dreaded “AirPlay delay” in lip sync. For these times, you will want to use the USB or stereo jack in the back to keep sync.
The V5AP also shuts itself off after an hour or so of non-use, which was occasionally annoying to someone as lazy as myself who would have to get off the couch to power it back on, but I suppose saving the planet by not wasting energy is ultimately worth it. And again, you CAN use the included remote to power on the unit, if little else.
Hey, remember Apple’s iPod Hi-Fi? Well, THIS is what the iPod Hi-Fi SHOULD have been. A beautifully designed compact speaker capable of producing beautiful, rich, room-filling sound across a wide range of musical genres. While primarily a geared towards streaming your music form an iOS device with AirPlay, with multiple connection methods the V5AP ensure the speaker will not be made obsolete by Apple’s future random decisions to discontinue AirPlay in favor of the latest flavor of the month technology. While the price tag or $399 puts it right on the edge of a “no brainer” buying recommendation, I can’t imagine anyone not being happy with the V5AP, and with free shipping and a 30-day money back guarantee, the Wren V5AP Wireless Airplay Speaker comes highly recommended.
Pros: Top-notch audio with impressive sound and clarity, deep bass, Airplay, USB and stereo inputs, small, attractive form factor
Cons: A little pricey, no audio level tweaking options, almost useless remote.