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Kevin Hunt: Review: Wren Audio V5AP AirPlay Speaker

Kevin Hunt - The Electronic Jungle

The Electronic Jungle

5:30 PM EDT, August 30, 2013

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So maybe the AirPlay wireless speaker's reputation as an extravagant, elegant and too-expensive statement product keeps fueling a movement toward less-expensive Bluetooth speakers.

Wren Sound System's V5AP, a $399 pretty-boy AirPlay speaker, won't help. It was the first product from Wren, an online retailer founded by Mike Giffin, a former consumer audio division president at Harman International.

The V5 is actually a wireless trilogy: The AP (as in AirPlay) arrived first, followed by the PF (Android-compatible Play-Fi), and the BT (Bluetooth) is expected soon. Each model, even the V5BT Bluetooth version, costs $399 and is sold only at Wren's online outpost (wrensound.com). If a buyer later converts from Apple to Android or would prefer all-purpose Bluetooth, Wren will also convert the V5 for $99.

With the V5, Wren is making a play for the same demographic attracted to Bowers & Wilkins' distinctive Air speaker docks and its more subtly curved AirPlay speakers like the Z2 ($399.99, http://www.bowers-wilkins.com). Wren's speaker certainly has the curves, a contoured parallelogram finished with rosewood or bamboo veneer, gray-cloth speaker grille and gray plastic trim.

Its sound is in the same ballpark, too — rich, finely shaped by digital processing and much bigger than its size — backed by a 50-watt Class D amplifier. Yet it's not even 17 inches long, barely 6 high and 4.25 deep. It weighs only 6.6 pounds.

Some of that weight is a cabinet made with half-inch medium-density-fiberboard, a wood product used in high-end bookshelf and floor-standing speakers. It's the old-fashioned way to build a speaker cabinet, still regarded as superior to synthetic materials in reducing resonance and distortion.

Wren designed what amounts to two speakers inside that cabinet, each with a 0.75-inch tweeter for highs and a 3-inch driver for the lows. Typically, a 3-inch driver won't get too low, but Wren coaxes substantial — sometimes too much for these ears — low-frequency energy by using a bass-reflex design with a port that vents out the V5's back panel.

Placing the V5 next to a rear wall or in a corner, with the port near, accentuates the bass. Depending on the material, the V5's bass overwhelmed — even with the speaker moved away from any walls — during my audition.

For modern tastes that prefer sound tilted toward accentuated bass, the V5 will not disappoint.

The V5 could use another traditional touch: bass and treble controls. Like other wireless speaker-makers, Wren prefers streamlined features and simple setup. The V5's controls are stacked on the speaker's right side panel, with power button, two volume buttons and a source selector for Wi-Fi, an auxiliary input and a USB connection for a portable device.

To join a home network, the V5AP in Wi-Fi mode must be connected by USB to an iDevice (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad or iPad Mini). Pressing a setup button on the V5's back panel opens a window on the iDevice, asking if you want to share your Wi-Fi settings. It took three or four tries, but the V5 connected to my network and was ready for streaming music from any iDevice also on the network.

The V5 also connects to a computer, Mac or Windows, that's running iTunes.

When using an iPhone or iPad to stream music to the V5, the remote control provided by Wren becomes redundant. The next/shuffle/play/pause controls, indeed, work with an iDevice, but the only time I used the remote was to power the V5 on or off.

In a premium wireless speaker, AirPlay's superior fidelity and greater ranger make it a better choice over Bluetooth. Under no circumstances would I pay $399 for a Bluetooth speaker — Wren will have a hard time finding a market at that price. For an AirPlay speaker debut, however, the V5 marks Wren as a company to watch.

khunt@tribune.com

What: V5AP AirPlay

speaker

Price: $399

Good: Attractive, well-made, good sound at moderate volumes

Not so good: Expensive, boomy at louder volumes