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Wi-Fi hi-fi Chronicles

On 24, Jan 2008 | 4 Comments | In Apple, Hi-fi, iPod | By Ryan Feeley

I have been obsessing about the the latest and greatest digital music hardware and software possibilities for a while. Here’s a condensed version of my findings.

What’s the best sound system for playing MP3s?

a5n.jpgI have heard these in person, and can confidently claim that for both iPods, computer playback or any audio really, you won’t find a bigger bang for your buck than the AudioEngine A5 speakers. Designed by a team of former Apple, Gibson and Alesis audio experts, the A5 speakers have all the qualities of a great bookshelf speaker, but have an amplifier built right into them. Maybe Steve with throw out his iPod Hi-fi and get a pair of these.

Though the team originally set out to create speakers for sound mixing professionals, they quickly realized that with tuning, and extras like a USB port to keep MP3 players charged, their speakers would be the best system available. It’s an interesting story and the reviews are piling up.

If you’re in Toronto, Audio Oasis on Queen East has them for $389 (which is $60 less than Computer Systems Centre).

Should I be using the iPod headphone jack to send audio to the speakers?

pdlousb-demo.jpgNot really. Technically, the headphone jack is intended for headphones, not sending sound to a stereo. To get the best sound you would need a line-level signal, which is less powerful than a headphone signal. Apple sells [docks](http://store.apple.com/1-800-MY-APPLE/WebObjects/AppleStore?productLearnMore=MB125G/A ) for the iPod that provide a line-level signal, but even though they claim to be universal, they don’t work out-of-the-box with every iPod out there.

A more compact, compatible and economical solution is the SendStation Line Out USB. With one of these, you can keep your A5’s happy with a line-level signal, and your iPod charged via USB.

Can I play my iTunes on a sound system in another room?

a5_b_6_275w.jpgYes, and using the Multiple Speaker option in iTunes, you can even play the same music in multiple rooms. Probably the most affordable option is Apple’s AirPort Express. It’s been around a few years now and is for sale second-hand often for as low as $40. It works natively with iTunes and there’s software available called Airfoil that lets you send sound from any running application on your Mac. A nice design feature of the A5 speaker is that the AirPort express cradles right onto the back of one of the speakers, and also plug in for power.

Does the AirPort Express provide hi-fi grade sound?

Good question. Yes, and no. The device has it’s own built in digital-to-analog converter (DAC) which is rumored to be okay, but not great. Luckily you can even get a digital signal out of it which Stereophile magazine says allows it to assume a respectable role in a true high-end audio system. All you need is a TOSLINK cable and mini-adapter. Pretty smart.

d1-01.jpgOnce you do, and only if you really want to get fancy, take a look at Hong Kong exceptionally well thought-out iBasso D1.

This incredible little device which can optionally be powered by battery can serve a variety of functions.

Inputs:

  1. Digital optical (TOSLINK from AirPort Express, DVD player or maybe even your computer)
  2. USB (from your computer)
  3. Digital coax (from an older DVD or CD player)
  4. Analog minijack (like from the iPod)

Outputs:

  1. Headphone (big ones that an iPod is too weak to handle)
  2. Analog minijack (a stereo, or powered speakers)

So you can take a digital signal from basically any source and and play it through headphones too big for the iPod, or go right into speakers like the A5s. You can even use it along with the iPods line out to drive stubborn headphones too.

Can I use my iPhone/iPod Touch to play music from my Mac upstairs on the A5 speakers downstairs?

remotebuddy_splash1000_en.jpgYes, thanks to one of the coolest pieces of shareware for sale today, Remote Buddy. It runs on your Mac and makes it browseable on the web, specifically designed for Safari on the iPhone/iPod Touch.

I have been a Remote Buddy user for some time, while I don’t yet have an iPhone (oligopoly anyone?) I have been using it to power the normally useless white remote that comes bundled with Macs. It actually makes the little clicker quite handy. The iPhone functionality was just thrown into it, although I think they should have created a separate product line.

Do MP3s sound good enough?

Definitely not for a system like this. :)

Comments

  1. Ryan,

    I’ve got a pair of the A5Ns on the way, that I will connect only to my new iMac when they arrive. AE has me routing the audio signal out through the phone jack on the computer. If you think the quality through the phone isn’t up to snuff, would it be better if I sent it out via a USB port and their Wireless AW1?

    Or is their a better solution?

    Thanks, RL

  2. The headphone jack likely provides the lowest quality sound, what with all the internal noise of the computer. I have used an iMic from griffintechnology.com which is a USB audio in and out device. You will have lots of options with the iMac as it has USB, digital optical and even Firewire. Aside from the iBasso, there are cheaper options for a good DAC on musical.ca

  3. I’m not as versed in computerese as you, so just trying to make sense of things. Does the audio NOT come out digital from the phone jack? I guess what it boils down to is, it didn’t SOUND optimal to use the phone jack to connect to these good speakers (but maybe it is). If sound quality could be improved by routing through the USB, I wondered whether AE’s AW1 would be a better choice? If so, and it was because it came through the USB, then a device like the Imic might be a hard wire option to the wifi of the AW1.

    Any of this make sense?

    Thanks again Ryan, Rob

  4. Does the audio NOT come out digital from the phone jack?

    You can get either analog or digital to come out of the headphone jacks of most, if not all, Macs from the last few years.

    If sound quality could be improved by routing through the USB, I wondered whether AE’s AW1 would be a better choice?

    I’m still not 100% sure what Audioengine’s wireless solution AW1 does. I think it digitizes an analog signal and then converts it back to analog on the receiving end. If that’s the case, there will be some impact on sound quality.

    If you want to keep things uncluttered go from USB or the headphone digital optical out, into a DAC device, and THEN into the A5 speakers.

    But to be honest, since the speakers are on their way, see if you’re happy with the sound as it. You might not need to do anything.

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