The affordable all-in-one AirPlay speaker is becoming a bit of a trend. The likes of Pure with its Jongo and Logitech’s UE speaker have both been bringing wireless audio to the Pocket-lint labs. Next up is the AQ Audio Smartspeaker, which promises superior sound quality coupled with a simple set-up, but does it deliver?
Priced at £160 a pop, the AQ Audio SmartSpeaker feels like a much more expensive product. The only give away is the tiny channel select switch on the back - the rest is as plush as can be.
The matte grey plastic on the back is offset nicely with a simple black front, with an AQ Audio logo at the bottom. The whole speaker tapers to a point and is surprisingly compact. On the top is a pair of volume buttons with a power switch in between, and on the rear a single USB, headphone jack and power input.
Simplicity is key here and the AQ Audio pulls off the look very well. It might not be something you notice as much as, say, the B&W Zeppelin, but these speakers are designed to be inconspicuous.
AirPlay is designed to be as seamless as possible, but isn’t without its hiccups. We were using the AQ Audio speakers with an iPad mini across a home network and did find issues at times.
When you first set up the speakers, you need to connect your device to them via the rear-mounted USB. Do this, then hit the two volume keys at once and your iOS device should ask if you want to share Wi-Fi settings.
Share them and then you're away - or at least in theory. In practice, we had to reboot the AQ Audios a few times and in the end found it quicker just to set them up via the app. Admittedly this appears to be a very isolated issue and, given the erratic nature of our home Wi-Fi, it could just be us.
Once the speakers were on our home network, it was as simple as anything. Just turn them on and they pop up in your device’s AirPlay menu.
The speakers can also be used via a 3.5mm headphone jack mounted on the rear. With all the simplicity of Airplay, it's easy to forget that first, not all devices support it and, second, that a cable can sometimes be less problem-prone.
If you have a pair of the speakers then you can enjoy the AQ Audio’s real party trick. Switch one to left and the other to right, select them via AirPlay and there you have it: proper split stereo sound done wirelessly. Unfortunately this is an iTunes-only function at the moment, so you will need a computer to do it.
For Android users, it is worth holding on for an update that will bring DLNA functionality to the speakers as well as an audio direct mode, doing away with the need for a Wi-Fi network.
The AQ Audio’s sound quality is one of its biggest plus points. Given the size of the speaker, there's a nice balanced sound, albeit one that lacks a bit of punch in the bass area. This is forgivable really, when you realise how small and portable the speakers are.
In mono mode, with a single speaker, things are definitely good enough, but really you want a pair of the AQ Audios playing along to get the most out of them.
As these speakers are designed to be moved about, don’t forget that sound quality is going to vary a lot depending on which room you're in. Our kitchen, for example - the largest room in which we tested the speakers - was easily filled by the surprisingly powerful AQ Audios, but the smaller living room sounded a lot better because we didn’t have to pump the volume up so high.
The AQ Audio speakers come with a built-in battery that promises 10 hours of playback from a single charge. Certainly impressive, and even more so when you see how quickly the unit can be charged.
Irritatingly though, it isn’t quite small enough to carry around with you in a bag or rucksack, so we tended to use the speakers while they were connected to a power cable. Still, handy to know the battery is there should you need it.
The AQ Audio Smartspeaker looks good and sounds great; it can handle high volumes and for the most part, the simple AirPlay set-up is great.
For those after an AirPlay speaker, this outdoes the likes of the Jawbone and Pure just for sheer audio quality. Its price and design aren’t bad either.
At roughly £300 for a pair, however, it is coming close to the £350 asking price of the Arcam rCube - which we would argue is a much more balanced and bass-capable device, although not quite as portable. If you can save the cash, the Arcam might be worth looking at. If not, we highly recommend the AQ Audio.