Hands-on: Pioneer XW-SMA3 wireless sound system with AirPlay review

Speaker systems aren't what they used to be. They're better. With the likes of Apple shifting between dock connector types, the iPod dock is likely to go the way of the casette tape. Pioneer's SMA3 wireless speaker system uses AirPlay for Wi-Fi transmission of your favourite tunes from mobile devices - it's not Apple-specific, Android fans - while network devices, such as your PC or Mac, can also fire audio over to the system.

Straight out of the box and you'll need to invest a little time in the Pioneer SMA3's setup manual. We know, we don't like reading manuals either, and this one's like an old skool broadsheet newspaper, but it's an essential. While set-up isn't complex, as such, it is long-winded.

The lack of a visual display on the SMA3 system itself means various press-and-hold button presses, flashing lights and light colour-changes to confirm different parts of the network process are all necessary. Frankly it could be far simpler, but once it's done and dusted it's out of the way and the integration with a mobile device - we're using an iPhone 4S - is a far more visual, easy to use and rewarding part of the experience. 

It's possible to sync a mobile device directly with the SMA3 rather than through a home network - though both are possible, as the certified DLNA badge on the box suggests - for pushing those tunes directly from your mobile without any wires. Doing so does mean syncing with the system's Wi-Fi device network, however, so other Wi-Fi functionality from your device will have to be sacrificed for the period of use.

The inclusion of vTuner - though you'll need to download a free firmware upgrade - also means internet radio is accessible.

There is a DC mains input and a cable comes included in the box to ensure power is always available, but the SMA3 also comes equipped with a built-in rechargeable li-ion battery too, so this can be disconnected and you're free to carry the speaker - boombox-style, if you so wish - anywhere you fancy.

If you're feeling adventurous then it could even be the host to a party in the local park, for example, helped along by its 3.5mm jack input and splashproof design. It's not designed to take a total pint-of-water kind of soaking, but an accidential splah or a spot of vertical rain isn't going to be a big issue. Good to know.

In our few days using the SMA3 desk side, we found its main issue to be that once it's switched off it takes an age to fire up again. The press-and-hold wireless button on the rear is none too quick to offer up the device's wireless network again. We just avoided turning the system off, but even then it has an auto-off function when it's out of use, to be eco friendly.

Sound-wise the Pioneer SMA3 delivers a decent range to the lobes. The device is slightly tilted upwards to project audio, though we found seating it yet higher - it's a desktop system, so there aren't mounts to be found here - produced preferable results where high frequencies could travel better around a room.

Bass-wise there's definite strike from the two 77mm woofers, but it's tuned better for those cutting kicks than sustained basslines. If the ultra low-freq stuff is what you're all about then it's not got the truly chest-tickling deep sub bass covered, but we pumped out C2C's latest album Tetra and it sounded like stereo lushness to our ears.

The £249 price tag isn't exactly minor cash, but the more we listened to the SMA3 the more we liked it. We just wish that some of the power-up tardiness could be rectified, as it'd make for a far more immediate and therefore more integrated experience. Still, ditch that dock, because wireless systems such as the SMA3 are the way forward in 2013.



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