Despite their immense popularity, Android smartphones still get short shift when it comes to wireless speakers. Sure, you can connect any Android phone over Bluetooth or with a 3.5mm cable, but the new Wren VP5F Play-Fi ($399.99 direct) does something different: It employs DTS’s Play-Fi protocol, which allows for higher-quality Wi-Fi transmissions on a home network with a 150-foot range. The VP5F sounds huge, with commanding bass response and a smooth overall tone, and the Play-Fi protocol is ideal for setting up multi-room systems with no audible latency. But the V5PF itself distorts at higher volumes, and there are some significant issues with Play-Fi that you should also be aware of if you’re expecting the Android equivalent to AirPlay. It’s not for everyone, but the V5PF is a very good speaker nonetheless.
Design, Interface, and Setup
First, let’s go over the V5PF’s design. It certainly looks like no other speaker, thanks to the 6 by 17 by 4.2-inch (HWD), 6.1-pound enclosure’s curved sides, which give it the shape of a curved parallelogram. You can get one in either Bamboo with a brown speaker grille, or in Rosewood with a silver grille. Our test unit was in the latter configuration, and it simultaneously looks both modern and vaguely 70s-retro. The silver plastic edging is delicate, though; after moving the unit around a few times on our test benches and for photography, we noticed several unsightly nicks in the plastic.
On the right side is a panel with a Power button, volume controls, and a Source select button along with three status LEDs. The back panel includes a small Setup button, a 3.5mm auxiliary input, a DC power input, and a USB port. The base uses a 4mm-thick silicone pad to stabilize and lift the speaker and minimize vibrations.
The Wren V5PF works with smartphones and tablets running Android 2.2 (Froyo) or higher, so unless you’re clinging to an original Motorola Cliq, you’re probably okay. To set up the V5PF, you’ll need to use the free Wren Play-Fi Android app. I eventually had to have the speaker shipped home, because after several hours of back-and-forth and a call to Wren’s tech support, we confirmed none of our test networks in PC Labs worked with Play-Fi; apparently our business-class routers block some of the streaming protocols necessary for it to work. This shouldn’t be a problem for most users, but if you’re thinking of buying a speaker for your office, you may want to stick with a Bluetooth model to avoid dealing with conflicting security measures.
Once set up in my house, the Play-Fi worked on the first try. I tested it with a Samsung Galaxy Note, which had no problem loading up, sending my network’s SSID and password over to the V5PF for configuration, and connecting. The V5PF only works on 2.4GHz networks, so if your phone is normally connected to a speedy 5GHz network you’ll have to use it on 2.4GHz from now on, which is a problem in crowded apartment buildings thanks to all of the interference.
Performance and Conclusions
With all of the network quirks out of the way, let’s talk music and sound quality. The Play-Fi app works with locally stored media, as well as Pandora and a proprietary Internet radio service that hook into 20,000 stations worldwide. It doesn’t work with a lot of other popular services here in the states like Google Music, Amazon MP3, Spotify, and Slacker, which is unfortunate. Fire any of those up instead of the Play-Fi app, and you’re back to listening through your phone’s built-in speaker unless you plug the phone into the V5PF with a 3.5mm auxiliary cable. For locally stored media, I had no problem playing MP3 and M4A files, but FLAC was too much; I heard constant dropouts and gave up pretty quickly.
The driver configuration consists of a pair of 3-inch long throw woofers with four-layer voice coils, and a pair of wide-dispersion 19mm soft-dome tweeters. Powering the proceedings is an Intersil D2 50-watt class D amplifier with DSP circuitry that curbs distortion at higher volumes.
Unfortunately, it was pretty easy to get the Play-Fi to distort with our standard test track for bass, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” especially once the 808-style kick drum came in. Backing off the volume a bit and trying some other material, though, the V5PF sounded excellent. Radiohead’s In Rainbows album sounded crisp, smooth, and full, with suitably quick bass response and solid punch. Ani DiFranco’s “Knuckle Down” showed off the V5PF’s upper midrange and treble, with plenty of detail in the acoustic guitar pick work and a smooth vocal sound.
Wren clearly voiced the system nicely; it has a full, generous bass response, and never sounded harsh throughout the frequency range with a variety of other material. If I could level any complaint at the sound, aside from the unfortunate tendency to distort at higher volumes, it’s that it’s a bit on the unexciting side without a bump in midrange or high-end detail you might expect. Still, it’s pretty transparent, and sounds worth its $400 price.
Anyone who orders the Wren V5PF direct gets free shipping and a 30-day money back guarantee, and the speaker comes with a three-year warranty. So even if you haven’t heard of the company or saw this product in a store, you can try it confidently. But the lack of Bluetooth support gives me pause. While it’s great that Wren made a version specifically for Android phones, Play-Fi’s setup process is a bit cumbersome, and it’s pretty limiting in terms of what you can listen to wirelessly. Nothing beats Play-Fi for a multi-room speaker setup on the cheap, since you don’t need to buy extra hardware like you do with a Sonos system.
The Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II costs $100 less, weighs much less, and delivers almost-as-powerful sound quality. It lacks the Wren V5PF’s warm styling and sonic signature and isn’t multi-room compatible, but it works with more devices and more song formats. The Cambridge Audio Minx Air 200 costs $200 more, but offers both Bluetooth and AirPlay wireless compatibility and sounds even more powerful still; a smaller version, the Minx Air 100, costs just $50 more than the Wren V5PF, but doesn’t sound quite as good. The Wren V5PF Play-Fi is a nice speaker, and we like the fact that there are both Android and iOS versions; it’s just that it’s a tough market to crack given the hundreds of models available, and this Android version in particular has a few too many limitations for me to recommend it enthusiastically.
|Wireless Remote Control||No|
|Power Rating (Left and Right, Each)||25 watts RMS per channel|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc