Published on February 28th, 2013 | by Kira0
Bowers and Wilkins A5: Quality You Can Hear
We are always interested in great ways to experience my music, whether it’s in the form of new headphones or the latest speaker system. And we have covered a lot of wireless speaker systems lately, including the outdoors-friendly SoundCast Outcast and the VEHO Mimi X3, both of which use custom protocols to transfer your music from source to speaker. And while each has positives and negatives, none are quite as elegant as the Bowers and Wilkins A5 Airplay Wireless Speaker.
Bowers and Wilkins is known for both stunning industrial design and audiophile-quality sound, and the A5 has a long history to live up to. We continue to use the Zeppelin Air on a daily basis, and their headphones stand out amongst a crowded field for both luxury materials and a focus on sound rather than hype. We even use their computer speakers, the MM-1s, which are sleek in the black/brushed metal combination that B&W is fond of. In fact, they are the closest in appearance to the new A5, which kinda looks like the two speakers bundled together.
This no-knobs speaker system is controlled completely with Apple’s AirPlay, meaning you can wirelessly control your music via your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Mac or PC. Android households might feel left out, but that’s about the only downside to AirPlay. There is an ethernet port, as well, for those who find wireless a tad unpredictable (only 802.11g is supported, not 802.11n). The Airplay setup process was much better than the one we face with the fairly complicated multi-step Zeppelin Air, thanks to a quick free app download to your device. Unlike the Zeppelin Mini, but like most newer Airplay speakers, there is no dock for your device. But, as long as a device is equipped with the Bowers and Wilkins app it can control the A5, meaning you can jump between devices if you like. As with other Airplay systems, you can’t quite achieve the same whole-home, multi-room, multi-source audio as with Sonos, but you can stream from one source to multiple AirPlay receivers simultaneously.
As far as sound goes, the A5 performed superbly, once we had adjusted our setup and placement. We found that the speaker works best with some walls around to bounce sound. For more bass you will want to place it in a corner, and for a bit less, against one wall. My bass preference had me leaving it against a wall, and it could capably fill a mid-sized room. At near-maximum volumes, when trying to play over folks talking loudly at a party, we did notice some distortion. But other than needing to take some care with placement, there was very little clipping in the highs, and just a bit of unevenness in mid tones. We threw on tracks ranging from “Thrift Shop”- which can easily sound flat and lacking separation on a low-end system- to The Rapture’s “In The Grace Of Your Love” to check out the lower end. Overall, we found the sound to be clean, typical of Bowers and Wilkins, balanced for acoustic clarity and lacking a boosted or clinical feeling you’ll find in some other systems.
The one thing we can not deny is that the A5 comes with a steep price, $500. This is one of the more expensive AirPlay speakers on the market, but also one of the best. Choosing it over the Zeppelin Air is the hardest part- we’d opt for the Zep if you have space and would like a dock option, and hope for the A5 to drop a bit in price.