Wren Sound Systems V5 Wireless Speaker
Wren V5 Wireless Speaker ($399)
I confess I had never heard of Wren Sound before. They are a newish company which appears to have been formed in 2011 and offers just a single product, albeit having two variations of that model. While Wren may be a startup company, CEO Mike Giffin is definitely not new to the industry, having spent a few decades calling shots at Harman International. So there's some definite industry experience at play here.
The single product offered is the V5 "wireless speaker". Two variations are currently available, first is the the V5AP which works with iOS devices through AirPlay or direct USB connection. The alternate is the V5PF, which is essentially the same device with different connectivity. Instead of the iOS focus, V5PF caters to Android users by dropping AirPlay and instead using Play-Fi which is a protocol created by DTS (you know, the surround sound folks) for lossless wireless audio. A third option dubbed the V5BT is coming soon, which supports Bluetooth in standard (lossy) and aptX (high-quality lossless) varieties.
I chose the V5AP to review because while I do enjoy Android and think Play-Fi has potential, AirPlay is more integrated across the iOS ecosystem. It works with apps like Equalizer Pro and Golden Ear which I use on a regular basis. The Android counterpart uses a specific app called Phorus which admittedly does look pretty full featured, with integrated Pandora streaming among other features. But I still like having my choice of different apps, and at the moment iOS has a leg up on Android in that area. Wren does allow customers to swap their device for a $99 fee (which also covers shipping). So a user switching from iPhone to Samsung Galaxy (or vice versa) could send their V5 back and get the type they need. That's a good strategy for Wren. An alternative for Android users would be something like the AirAudio app which allows Android devices to stream to AirPlay devices. Assuming it works pretty well, the V5AP might end up being more universal than the V5PF.
No doubt about it, the V5AP is a looker. The angled enclosure is chiefly constructed from medium density fiberboard, which is common for good speakers but not so much among these types of wireless all-in-one devices. Perhaps taking a cue from Audeze, Wren offers the unit in either bamboo or rosewood finishes. They take care to mention the metallic grill and how much effort went into its design, using fun terms like "diamond matrix" and "radius ribs" to show how they pay attention to even the seemingly little things. Wren even got a patent on the "ornamental design" of the device. Fancy.
The guts inside that pretty box? A pair of 3-inch long throw drivers and dual 19mm soft dome tweeters, "optimally positioned" for the best possible imaging, and driven by an Intersil D2Audio chip. These integrated solutions feature onboard DSP, asynchronous sample rate conversion, and class D amplification to the tune of 25 watts per channel in this particular example. Feeding the Wren a signal either via AirPlay or direct USB connection to an iDevice, the Intersil system processes everything in the digital domain all the way through the PWM output stage. The 1/8" AUX input (obviously) demands analog to digital conversion before taking the same path.
Setup and Use
Using the V5AP is a piece of cake. Initial setup calls for USB connection to an iDevice and a simple press of the setup button located on the rear panel. A window pops up in iOS asking for permission to share WiFi settings. Once allowed, the device takes about a minute to find the network using its built in WiFi, and presto, you're all set.
From that point on, all your favorite music apps will show an AirPlay logo next to the volume slider. Just tap it to select the Wren as an output device, and within a few seconds you'll be enjoying wireless tunes. AirPlay is a lossless transmission system, so the results are bitperfect and should be transparent to the source. I didn't notice any difference in quality between AirPlay streaming or direct iPad USB playback. It even works with hi-res tracks when using apps like FLAC Player or Golden Ear, though AirPlay automatically downsamples to 16-bit/44.1kHz. But it's nice to have the option to play anything in my library without having to think which albums are off-limits.
A compact remote control is included but I personally didn't have much use for iteverything from skipping tracks to volume control can be accomplished straight from my iPad. The device can be paired with a PC or Mac running iTunes, which requires a somewhat more complex setup process, so for that type of use I suppose the remote might come in handy.
Despite it's simplicity, I did have some issues. The first review unit I got would not connect via WiFi no matter what I tried. No problem, swap that out for another review loaner and things worked better. But even the replacement had some dropouts with AirPlay, when I used it in certain spots of the house. Admittedly these are areas that I consider "dead spots", where my WiFi doesn't seem to reach so well. But I can at least get a decent signal with my iPad or various other devices, good enough to stream MOG or Spotify or Netflix with minimal interruptions. So I can only speculate the Wren isn't the best at grabbing a WiFi signal. This may not apply to most users but it's worth a mention since this is the exactly type of device you might use in far-off corners of the house.