Published on July 14th, 2015 | by Greg0
Wireless Audio: Hitachi’s AllPlay W50 & W200 Speakers
Chances are, you might not have heard of Qualcomm, but their products are incredibly widespread. In fact, it’s entirely possible that you’re utilizing some of them right now, as they’ve created everything from processors to wireless charging systems. But they generally rely on outside partners to manufacture, distribute, and market products that utilize their components and technologies. Today, we’re looking at their intriguing new attempt to push into the wireless audio market, called AllPlay.
Hitachi (among a couple of other vendors, including Monster and Lenco) has released a wireless speaker line featuring Qualcomm AllPlay. The Hitachi family includes three models of differing sizes and price points, which should handle basically any size room, from your bathroom, office, or kitchen, to your living room or bedroom. Today, we’re checking out two of them, the smaller W50 wireless speaker and larger Hitachi W200, as well as looking into the technology in general. After all, there are no shortage of wireless audio solutions out there, so a new entrant has a significant barrier to entry- Apple’s AirPlay and the Sonos ecosystem each offer lots of capabilities, though have various limitations. Bluetooth is incredibly widespread- and thankfully works fine with the Hitachi speakers and AllPlay in general which support Bluetooth 4.0- but isn’t the focus of the system or this review. If you just need a Bluetooth speaker, there are other options out there; AllPlay boasts multi-room features that set it far apart and includes 192kHz and 24-bit high-definition audio.
AllPlay attempts to get around some of the issues facing other systems by being device-agnostic (it will work with iOS, Android, and other devices too). In fact, it’s built to work with cloud services alongside streaming from your phone, tablet, or computer. On either Hitachi model, you’ll connect over an wireless network, so it’s meant to be an indoors system- which helps explain why there is no battery-powered model, though we’d like one. There’s NFC pairing and an auxiliary 3.5mm minijack input, like many Bluetooth speakers, and the industrial design at first makes it look like it’s little more than that. But download the app, connect it to your network, and you’ll quickly find extras you’ll learn to rely on. Multi-room audio is a great experience for parties or larger spaces as you’re walking around between rooms, and while AirPlay is OK, Sonos really has proven the best thanks to their multi-zone support. This new AllPlay system does a capable job of competing- you can quickly tap a button and switch from a single speaker to having multiple synched up with very little delay.
Let’s talk about services for a moment- while some popular apps make use of the AllPlay SDK and “play nicely” with the system, some do not. Pandora and iHeartRadio, for instance, won’t work natively, and nor will Beats or Apple Music or Google Play. You can still play them in Bluetooth mode though. Spotify works pretty well, and Rhapsody as well. With 10 watts of power, the W50 is a cute little guy for your nightstand or counter, and the larger W200 more than doubles up the volume with 22 watts. The basic black of Hitachi’s wireless speakers goes with everything, and the controls are simple- the heart of the AllPlay world is the app, though, and the news is a bit mixed here. Early impressions we positive, but we did face an occasional crash or freeze, and the user interface for browsing isn’t stellar. With room to improve, we hope to see the AllPlay brand catch on, since it’s nice to see more competition and a better feature set than Bluetooth. Thus, the W50 and W200 are solid speakers that not only support Bluetooth, but can handle multi-room and multi-zone setups, and with solid stereo sound imaging, slightly bright acoustics, and pretty good bass. Pricing is excellent too- the w50 runs $130 and the W200 costs about $200, in stores and online.