Wireless vary rarely actually means wireless — wireless speakers need mains cables, except for the very smallest of designs. For any level of hi-fi reproduction, of course you’ll need cables.
Or will you? Aurender — a digital specialist which splits its operations between California and Korea — offers these S5W compact active speakers. They can run on battery packs — not internal batteries but more like the packs which slot into power tools. Slot those in and you enjoy true wireless listening, and since the packs charge elsewhere, you could choose never to plug your S5Ws into power at all. Décor demons rejoice!
Truly wireless, then, and also not Bluetooth but a CD-quality wireless connection, a dedicated link between your source and the speakers. If using a smartphone or tablet, this requires a dongle which itself requires an adapter cable... an Android OTG cable is included, Apple users will need a ‘camera kit’, as they call it, or a USB-C version if, like us, you have the new iPad Pro. Things are neater still from a computer; you just plug in the dongle, which was recognised immediately by our PC and Mac, and our Chromebook too. Select it as your audio output, and you’re ready to play.
One other option would be to add one of Aurender’s impressive audiophile music servers (see our previous reviews), such as the N100H pictured below (also $4499). With the dongle in the back of that, you can control everything from Aurender’s Conductor app (see panel). How’s that for audiophile minimalism!
Feel the quality
As soon as we unboxed the S5W, their quality was evident. They’re available in wine red (top image), black, and the deep blue (right) of our review pair, with a matte finish and completely solid construction. They’re a tad lower than KEF’s equally compact LSX at 21cm high, but are just slightly larger in overall volume, and heavier at 5.2kg each, with solid heatsinking ribs down either side and 2 × 50W amplification inside each. An orange LED on each speaker indicates its status.
The drivers are from top-notch suppliers, the tweeter being from ScanSpeak and the 11cm mid-woofer from SEAS, and they port to the rear, which is kept otherwise clear by the lack of direct inputs either analogue or digital, no subwoofer output, so the rear panel has just the power button and two others which deliver a treble or bass boost; this momentarily mutes the speaker and may also drop the level, as the S5Ws seem to always drop their volume when turned on, a sensible precaution against a full-level blast from your connected device. You can readjust from either your controlling device or the little remote control, which owes much to the excellent AppleTV remote.
If using mains power, you remove the batteries, and the power socket is tucked inside the opening thereby created. You can’t have the batteries in while on mains, and vice versa. And those batteries — they aren’t merely similar to power tool batteries, they actually are Bosch 18V power-tool batteries! Aurender dealers should be able to supply these as an option, but with a set of two packs and a charger going at something like $200 from hardware stores, it might be worth having a second set, so you’ve always got a charged pair ready to play. They come in 4A, 5A or 6A varieties, which will give different battery life up to the quoted maximum of around 50 hours.
We began with computer playback, the dongle sending Spotify from our Chromebook, but we soon switched to CD-quality files streamed from the USB-C output of an iPad Pro. The Aurenders’ dedicated wireless connection proved solid and effective even when we moved our sending device several rooms or a floor away, which opens up the possibility of having it streaming from, say, a remote Mac computer controlled via iPad using the Remote app or Roon.
And they sound like high-quality mini studio monitors. Once you start turning them up there’s some impressive punch on offer, and a solid powerful bass; Alan Parsons’ The Raven popped up on shuffle during run-in with its opening bass beats not only full but tight; acoustic bass strong as well on Holly Cole’s The Heart of Saturday Night. Better still, there’s no sense of EQ being used to force the low-end response, which here was audible from the mid-30s (just catching a sense of the low bass on Neil Young’s Walk With Me) and in full strength from the 50s. The tightness of touch makes for excellent rhythm and timing. The Jet’s Are You Gonna Be My Girl added the band’s powerful driving guitars and punchy vocal to that full bass for highly enjoyable hi-fi listening; the Aurenders also delivered the pace and lack of hangover to allow Gary Moore’s Moving On to power along unrestrained. It’s a sign of high-quality drive units with solid power behind them.
The treble is equally deft, and detailed too, whether at room-energising levels or more quietly, so both Diana Krall and Michael Buble’s vocals on Alone Again Naturally had a crisp live edge to them which was missing from, say, the KEF LSX (we had both pairs running at the same time, and were carefully to address the KEFs wirelessly, not by Bluetooth, when comparing). They focus well; they create a soundstage and good stereo imaging. They’re perhaps not as friendly for low-level use as the KEFs; they don’t have the ‘tilt’ of bass which fills out quieter music, rather coming to life as you raise the level, as do most speakers. But the tightness of bass and the clarity of the treble mean the result is more pure, more hi-fi. And battery operation changed all this not a jot.
Aurender’s Conductor app
You won’t need Aurender’s Conductor app if you’re using the S5W speakers alone — you can use whatever app you already prefer on the device you’re using for streaming. But if you do pair them with an Aurender network streamer, the Conductor app can control it all — well-organised, versatile and attractive, though do note that it is for iPad only, with no iPhone version and only a ‘lite’ Android version.
If you’re likely often to plug the S5Ws in to mains power, you’ll then have two sizeable mains blocks to deal with, plus batteries on charge elsewhere, plus the dongle hanging out of your source of choice.
But the neatness claim is entirely valid when using them on batteries — it feels wonderfully liberating to be able to move them (while playing) with no power cables, no connecting cable, no input cables, no home network required. There are trade-offs for that neatness — no high-res transmission, no easy multiroom option, the need for the dongle. But what you don’t sacrifice is sound quality. The S5W pair make a simply beautiful sound, in true wide two-speaker stereo, whether on the mains or powered by Bosch — and in that regard there’s nothing like them, a powerful portable performance from their pint-size dimensions, a mobile music system with true hi-fi performance! We enjoyed them immensely. They do, admittedly, top our wireless speaker test in terms of price as well as performance, but in answering so many of today’s minimalist décor and hi-fi desires all at once, we reckon they’re worth it.