(Pocket-lint) - It’s no exaggeration to say that Apple’s AirPlay technology has revolutionised wireless audio streaming, at least for anyone who uses an iOS device or iTunes on their computer. Where you would once have had to mess about with networking settings or rely on notoriously unreliable Bluetooth for cable-free music, AirPlay has standardised and simplified things - and the range of compatible devices is quickly increasing.
The latest AirPlay-equipped hi-fi to land on our doorstep is the Loewe AirSpeaker. The German manufacturer is a byword for high-end design and wallet-emptying price tags, and the AirSpeaker ticks both these boxes: it costs an eye-watering £649 (£150 more than the B&W Zeppelin Air), but its clean minimalist styling is undeniably alluring.
Have it your way
The AirSpeaker is available in black or silver finishes, but in typical Loewe fashion you can order the top panel in almost any conceivable colour: for a fee of €70, the company will match it to any shade in the RAL Classic spectrum.
At the back are only three connections: Ethernet, USB and a 3.5mm stereo jack. The USB is for physically connecting iPods, iPads and iPhones, and charges their batteries while playing music, while the 3.5mm jack is an auxiliary input for any other stereo device.
The Ethernet lets you hook up the AirSpeaker directly to your router. This is Loewe’s recommended method for AirPlay, and the simplest way to set everything up - you literally need only to connect it and it’ll show up as a speaker when you hit the AirPlay button in iTunes or on your iOS device. You don’t even need to switch it on, as it’ll jump out of standby automatically when selected.
Look, no wires
The AirSpeaker also has its own Wi-Fi connection for fully wireless setup, but this is more complicated. Because there’s no remote control or display for the device, you have to connect it to your home Wi-Fi network by physically hooking it up to a computer with an Ethernet cable - supplied in the box, happily - opening your web browser, entering an address and then fiddling with the AirSpeaker’s wireless networking settings. Okay, so it’s hardly hacking into GCHQ, and it probably needs to be done only once, but it’s a bit of a faff.
Despite Loewe’s recommendation to opt for wired networking, we didn’t experience any issues with the full Wi-Fi option - no drops in quality and no drops in the signal.
The aluminium speaker measures up at a surprisingly compact 129 x 240 x 240mm but feels heavy and sturdy. That’s partly because of the classy build quality, and partly because it’s stuffed with a formidable array of speakers (two subwoofers, two tweeters and two midrange drivers).
These give the AirSpeaker a beefy sonic output that belies its small size. With 80 watts of power at its disposal, it blasts out bass-heavy material with room-filling gusto but rarely overextends itself into woolly distortion. Everything feels tight and controlled. But its talents aren’t limited to brasher material. Stick on something quiet and understated and the AirSpeaker conveys it with great clarity and insight - don’t be surprised if you can pick out details in the music that you don’t normally notice.
There are only buttons for power, volume and status (ie, switching between sources), and while this control system is beautifully idiot-proof it does mean there’s no way to adjust bass and treble levels. We didn’t find that a problem, but some users may want to tweak things a bit, as sound varies with placement - we found it best when the AirSpeaker was placed near a wall.
There’s no getting around the Loewe AirSpeaker’s high price tag: this is a really expensive sound system. However, it ticks pretty much every box on the "what makes a good AirPlay speaker" list: it’s compact, well made and looks fantastic; it’s simple to use once set up; and on the sound front it performs very capably indeed.
Is it perfect? Well, it’s certainly focused almost completely on AirPlay, and therefore an almost completely pointless purchase for people who don’t use iTunes or iOS devices. It can be a bit fiddly to set up if you’re going totally wireless. And it’s pricey. But really that’s it.
We’re not convinced that the AirSpeaker is £150 "better" than the B&W Zeppelin Air, but it’s certainly among the best AirPlay speakers we’ve come across. If you’re a well-heeled iTunes user, it’s well worth seeking out.