Creative ZiiSound D5 Bluetooth speakers

The ZiiSound D5 is Creative's flagship product from their line-up of wireless speakers. It is pitched directly at owners of Apple iPhone or iPod owners, but using Bluetooth for the wireless connection, is equally proficient with other Bluetooth devices.

It terms of design it makes something of a statement, but doesn't quite stand out as much as the B&W Zeppelin, or the Zeppelin Mini, does. The ZiiSound D5 measures 42.5 x 11 x 9cm, and is basically a rectangular design set at an angle, to project the music into the room. The body is covered in mesh fabric, whilst the end plates are metal. A central band houses the minimal touch controls - volume and "connect".

Around the back is the port for the subwoofer and the connection points, which consist of a "dock" for your iPod, a 3.5mm aux-in jack and the power button and DC in for the power supply.

Creative detailed to Pocket-lint how the ZiiSound was designed and constructed with sound quality in mind. The usual approach of constructing a set of speakers is to mount the speakers in a panel, then mount that panel in a box. In this case, Creative manufactured that box and mounting panel as a single piece, into which the speakers can be set. This makes the construction much more solid and means there is less to detract from the audio quality.

Priced at £279, this is the sort of thing you might expect, as this falls into the higher realms of iPod speakers and there is another consideration: it isn't really an iPod dock. The majority of speaker docks come with the Apple's dock connector built into the speaker set, so you simply drop your iPod or iPhone on to it and away you go.

In the case of the ZiiSound D5, Creative supply you with a Bluetooth transmitter which connects to your Apple device (anything with a dock connector, including the iPad). This then fires the music to the speakers, so you don't have to have your iPod physically "docked". You can detach it, walk around the room, put it in your pocket or pass it round your house party.

This brings with it a host of advantages, which we feel outweigh the disadvantages. The downside is that the control has to be done through the iPod, so you are left to change tracks and so on using the device itself. The only control that the D5 features is volume via the touch control on the top. Most other iPod systems come with some sort of remote control, although 99% of them are such poor quality they detract from the overall experience.

However, the big plus side of the D5's transmitter approach is that you don't need a remote - you just pick up your iPod. The transmitter slips into the housing at the back of the ZiiSound to hold the iPod in place, but as it slips in and out with only touch contacts, there is no break in music when you attach or remove your iPod from the speakers themselves.

So the lack of controls, or the lack of a remote, is neatly countered by being able to use the iPod itself for control very simply and easily. When the iPod and transmitter is placed in the ZiiSound your iPod will be charged, as is normal with iPod docks. You also get a little backrest that you can change to accommodate the model of iPod that you have. This gives support for your music player so you don't put too much strain on the physical connection between the transmitter and the player.

Using the transmitter comes with another advantage - easy pairing. You simply turn on the speakers, plug the transmitter into your iPod and away you go, the connection is made. For those who want to use the ZiiSound with a PC, there is also a USB transmitter (Creative Bluetooth Audio BT-D1, £39.99) available. This is the same transmitter used with the Inspire S2 Wireless speakers, again, giving you a quick and easy connection for your PC or Mac.

There is another added bonus that comes with using Creative's transmitters - they use the apt-X codec. The apt-X codec allows the transmission of CD quality audio over Bluetooth and an enhancement on the usual quality that Bluetooth supplies. The technology is also incorporated into the S2 speakers and is starting to appear in other devices (headphones, speakers) too.

It isn't only about the transmitter though. As mentioned, the D5 can be paired with other Bluetooth devices, making it a versatile set of speakers. There is a noticeable difference in quality between standard Bluetooth and using the transmitter. The 3.5mm jack means that a wired connection is also available for any other device.

Handling different inputs is relatively simple. Whatever you play through the 3.5mm jack will play, even if you have something else playing wirelessly, so it won't cut from one input to the other. You can switch between Bluetooth connections, however, with a short press of the "connect" touch area on the front of the D5. If there is another paired device available, it will switch to that. Repeat the action and it switches back to the transmitter.

The sound quality is very impressive given the size of the ZiiSound D5. Using the transmitter, there is bags of detail and the speakers maintain audio integrity at those higher volumes you want for your party. Sure, push the speakers up to the highest levels and you'll find some distortion and the balance between high and low gets lost, but this is true of any small speaker system. The point here is that the D5 copes very well with room filling audio, ideal for parties or annoying the neighbours, where other small docking solutions can let you down.

The D5 does a good job of projecting your music into the room, giving a wider sound stage than you might expect and with punchy bass giving depth to tracks where lesser iPod docks can be found lacking.

Bluetooth as a platform for music has been criticised in the past, with some systems failing to provide a dependable connection or the audio quality that people are looking for. This seems to have been erased with recent devices. We found the connection to the D5 to be entirely solid in testing. You also get a range of about 10m, so you can be carrying your iPod around the room with no fear of degradation in sound quality.

So can these wireless speakers do any wrong? If we are being picky, then yes. One thing we found was that the LED lit touch-sensitive volume panel can be a little temperamental. It works, yes, but the gap between different volume levels can seem quite a jump: you can easily go from comfortable to roaring. But, you can always use on-screen volume adjustment or side-mounted volume rocker (for your iPhone or iPod touch) or the click wheel for your iPod, which we found to be slightly more accurate.

We also found that we accidentally swiped the volume up when reaching in to press the home button on the iPod touch, which is a minor design point. If you've done it once though, you'll just grab your iPod and take advantage of the wireless freedoms it offers, so it isn't a major problem.

But outside of that, some might feel that the asking price of £279 is a little steep for a device that only offers music playback: there is no radio offering or anything else. If you use an iPhone or iPod touch this might not be a problem as you can use an app to expand the possibilities beyond local music, but for others, this still looks a touch expensive.

Verdict

As an all-round package, we're impressed with the Creative ZiiSound D5. Many traditional iPod speakers lack quality or are dependant on a cheap remote for control. The D5 side-steps this problem neatly, making the connected iPod entirely wireless.

The use of the transmitter system could be fraught with problems, but it works nicely. The sound quality is great too, making this an iPod solution ideally suited to those small apartments, or by the swimming pool or in a dorm room.

It may lack the more distinctive design of the B&W Zeppelin Mini, but it also comes in at around £20 cheaper and brings with it the benefits of a versatile wireless system, making it a serious consideration if you are in the market for a compact iPod speaker system.



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