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Pioneer has leapt into the wireless multiroom arena recently, introducing a platform called FireConnect by Blackfire to a raft of products including AV receivers, soundbar systems and network music players.
But here we have a full system clearly aimed at modern lounges, with wireless this, wireless that, and again the FireConnect platform onboard to bring in the wireless music. And it all adds up to another reason not to buy a soundbar.
Fayola comes in two versions — with or without its wireless subwoofer. We’re reviewing the 2.1-channel FS-W50 stereo system at $2198, while the same system without subwoofer sells as the FS-W40 at $1599. We reckon the subwoofer is well worth the extra money for the performance level it adds (and given it sells separately for $799, you save a couple of hundred bucks).
Either stereo system can also be easily expanded into a true surround system by adding a pair of wireless FS-S40 satellite speakers. The ‘Controller’ at the heart of the Fayola system identifies what configuration you’re using and automatically adjusts multichannel soundtracks accordingly.
Yes, soundtracks — Fayola is clearly designed to be used with your TV. It has four HDMI inputs, then one HDMI output feed onto your TV, with all HDMI sockets being UHD-compatible, so things are well futureproofed. There’s not much else on offer in terms of physical connectivity — one optical input and one analogue RCA pair, which might be useful for additional sources but we’d guess are more likely included to cater for those running sound back from their TV should the built-in ARC of the HDMI output fail to talk nice with a particular TV, as can often happen (though in our case, using a TCL 4K television, ARC worked fine).
But of course that FireConnect technology inside offers more paths to music, especially since it also includes Chromecast. To access this there are a few terms and condition sign-ups required for both FireConnect and Google during the initial set-up. (Our Fayola had clearly been used before, so we returned it to default settings.)
And you’ll need Pioneer’s Remote App. Day to day, playing TV and movies you will probably use the nice medium-sized physical remote, but the app makes streaming music and browsing USB or network music collections far easier.
That ‘Controller’ box is about the size of a normal hi-fi amplifier, though it looks very modern with its matte white surrounds and silver top. It arrived usefully stickered with a warning to “connect the power cords of all speakers before turning the Controller on”, presumably so it can do the wireless connections and make those decisions about the scope of the system to which it’s been connected.
Having everything wireless does not, of course, mean there are no cables. There are four separate power cords for starters — the price to be paid for removing the signal cables between the units, thereby requiring separate amplification in each, and therefore a separate power connection. So the Fayola hogs three sockets for the Controller and wireless speakers, and a fourth for the subwoofer, which also in matte white, a sealed-box design 33cm high with a footprint of 27cm square. Its 20cm driver fires down through legs raised high enough to overcome a light shagpile; it’s quoted as having 150W internal power.
We have been excited about the possibilities of FireConnect for some time (see our tech brief at avhub.com.au/fireconnect), having first encountered it in Harman Kardon’s Omni system, and noting its inclusion in first Pioneer then Onkyo AV receivers. Pioneer recently rolled out the technology as firmware updates across many of its stereo and AV components, in addition to new products including the smart streaming SX-S30 amplifier (our review at avhub.com.au/s30), and the MRX-3 wireless speaker which we used to test how the ‘Fayola’ system could share its music around the home. Because in addition to being both high-res and multichannel-capable, FireConnect allows multiroom input forwarding, grouping and control. Even video is part of the future FireConnect roadmap, and there’s a new version about which little is yet known, called Blackfire RED (see avhub.com.au/red for what we know so far; it doesn’t look likely that current FireConnect products will be updated to RED).
Pioneer doesn’t let the technology get in the way of the experience, such is the versatility and ease of use here. The Pioneer app first gives you straight control access to your Fayola, which it found immediately, as it had the other Pioneer FireConnect devices. With the app you can change inputs, use an onscreen remote control and, once networked by either Wi-Fi or Ethernet, select the ‘NET’ input to enjoy network music streaming up to 24-bit/192kHz and DSD up to 5.6MHz (half that via Wi-Fi), in-built streaming services such as Spotify, Tidal and Deezer, plus Chromecast, which caters to a great many other apps, allowing you to ‘cast’ the audio to the Fayola. There’s also Bluetooth, and the spec sheet says also AirPlay, though this last didn’t seem available on our unit. So while the physical inputs may be few, there’s nevertheless a lot of music available via the app, the network and the internet.
And you can share it. As noted we had the MRX-3 wireless speaker also linked on the same Pioneer app, and from the home screen we could group it with the Fayola — this is how you can put together multiroom zones, sharing a selected source with other Pioneer products. (And with other BlackFire products from different brands? Nobody’s yet sure.)
We ‘pushed’ tracks from our smart device, and they emerged from the MRX-3 in apparently perfect synchrony with the Fayola. Internet radio was shared, so was Spotify using Spotify Connect. Not shareable (though this could be just our early firmware) were the HDMI inputs, or high-res music files above CD quality coming from either network shares or connected USB.
But ungrouped, the Fayola accepted our high-res music greedily, and we streamed up to 24-bit/192kHz PCM, and also up to double-rate DSD. (We were using an Ethernet network connection; by Wi-Fi only single-rate DSD is possible.) The Fayola inherits a ‘Pure Direct’ mode from other Pioneer products, which keeps things in as pure a stereo path as possible.
The sound from the 21cm-high tubular white speakers and sub proved a pleasant performance, better and smoother than you’ll get from all but the highest of soundbars, and particularly effective at spreading a mix wide. Paul McCartney’s Every Night (24/96 FLAC, unlimited) was deftly handled, snare snaps in the right, guitar jangle to the left, and a solidly imaged McCartney in the middle. It doesn’t tick all the fine hi-fi boxes, lacking openness and sparkle up top and its mids notably boxy on some spoken word sent via Bluetooth. The bass from the subwoofer integrates nicely and goes quite low for such a discreet box, resonantly rattling our window blinds at 60Hz when delivering the bottom B of the acoustic bass on Blue Chamber Quartet’s Children’s Song No. 6 (Stockfisch 24/44.1). We’d usually take speed over depth, but this low-end does support what is clearly the Fayola’s strength — movie and TV soundtracks. From the freakish buzzings of Twin Peaks and the wide open spaces of Spielberg’s BFG in 5.1, to Star Trek Beyond in Dolby TrueHD 7.1, it was all folded down neatly to the Fayola’s 2.1 channels, the speaker combo proving immersive and powerful, with clear dialogue and the ability to go big on action scenes — during space attacks we notched the sub down, so scary was it getting.
Only towards the end of our reviewing did we discover that this pre-release unit did not yet have the full Australian firmware, so some small things may change. For example the app identified the Fayola as the ‘AC-400’ and ‘Free Style Sound System’, rather than Fayola FS-W50. In any case you can rename your device using the app, so we made it simply ‘Fayola’. It would be useful if you could rename the individual inputs too, since you’re stuck with BD/DVD, Game, Cble/Sat and Strmbox for your HDMI inputs, which may or may not suit your connected equipment.
Neat and clever, the Fayola’s HDMI inputs and prowess on soundtracks make this a great TV audio solution compared with most soundbars and bases. The cool tubular speakers do present a friendly ‘wireless speaker’ sound rather than hi-fi clarity, yet the system brings a huge music bonus through its ability to network and stream music under app control, plus multiroom through FireConnect. The Fayola proves a thoroughly modern system for today’s TV and streaming needs.
+ Neat, expandable TV audio system
+ Streaming sources & music services
+ FireConnect multiroom streaming onboard
+ Takes care of your HDMI inputs
- A little softness of sound
Includes: 2 x wireless front speakers; wireless subwoofer; main Controller unit
Inputs: 4 x HDMI (UHD compatible), FM radio, 1 x optical digital, 1 x analogue stereo, USB-A, Bluetooth, AirPlay, Chromecast, Ethernet/Wi-Fi
Output: 1 x HDMI (UHD compatible)
Dimensions (whd): 445 x 65 x 290mm (Controller); 126 x 200 x 144.5mm (wireless front speakers); 270 x 330 x 270mm (wireless subwoofer)