In the first quarter of its fiscal year 2009, Apple reported selling an astonishing 22,727,000 iPods. That was a new Apple record. Long before quarterly sales were approaching 23 million, it seemed like every company with a toe in the consumer electronics pool was producing some gadget to charge, protect, link, sense or sync iPods. On Amazon.com, alone, there are more 10,000 iPod Accessories and Supplies for sale. I can't think of another product with such second-hand “support.”
But most of all people want to play iPods, and there are similarly hundreds of options for getting sound out of the 'Pod. Portable digital music systems such as Bose's SoundDock were soon the rage, letting users dock iPods directly into an integrated speaker system for playback with sound quality ranging from fair to pretty good. Still, the best way to get the best sound from an iPod is through a pair of dedicated speakers, like an old-fashioned two-channel stereo setup. As well, consumers have a dizzying array of options to stream music from an iPod into a receiver or amplifier, but in most cases the iPod must be docked on or near the source of amplification. It's an OK solution, but not very convenient. Audioengine has taken the logical step of producing a wireless iPod adapter that not only streams music wirelessly but turns the iPod into the remote itself.
Features & Setup
At $169, the AW2 is not cheap, but it's an all-in-one wireless adapter that makes it easy to connect an iPod to any stereo system. You don't need to have a wireless computer network in place, batteries, special remote, software or other fixin's to unwire your iPod with the AW2.
The AW2 is composed of a wireless music receiver, a music sender and AC power adapter. The AW2 package also includes a mini-jack to RCA adapter cable and mini-jack (3.5 mm) audio cable. Depending on your choice of amplication – amplifier, A/V receiver, powered speakers or even a boombox – you'll be covered. It operates on a 2.4-2.4835Ghz Wi-Fi frequency band and has a range of around 30 feet. The AW2 sends uncompressed digital transmission, so if your iPod is loaded with Apple Lossless files the music stream will be CD-quality. Compressed codec such as AAC will suffer no further sound degradation. The AW2 is made for iPod touch (8GB, 16GB, 32GB), iPod classic (80GB, 120GB, 160GB), iPod nano 2nd generation (2GB, 4GB, 8GB), iPod nano 3rd generation (4GB, 8GB) and iPod nano 4th generation (8GB, 16 GB). It's also compatible with iPhone applications and music downloaded from Apple's Web site.
Setup consists of two main steps: connecting the AW2 receiver to a music system, then connecting the AW2 music sender to an iPod. The whole process can be done in 60 seconds. Simply insert the music receiver into the power adapter, plug the power adapter into a power outlet near the system, connect the cable from the AW2 receiver to the inputs on your music system. Turn on the iPod, insert the music sender into the iPod's dock connector, choose music and press play. Blue indicator lights on both the sender and receiver turn solid when music is being played. It's that easy.
I would offer Audioengine this suggestion: Make the included cable adapters longer. Because the AC power adapter has no cord, it connects flush to an electrical outlet. The receiver is only about 3 inches long, so you need to have everything very close to your intended music system. Unfortunately, the cable adapters are 1 foot or less in length, so if your power source is more than a foot or so away from the music system's audio inputs, you'll have to plug the adapter into an extension cord to make it reach. Although the AW2 will work with another USB power supply – such as from an iPod or phone charger – it would be easier to have more cable out of the box.
If you listen to music on more than one system, the sender can be paired to work with up to eight receivers allowing users to “hop” between any of the eight pairings. The process is little more complicated than setup itself, requiring three seconds of button-pushing on the sender and receiver.
Just Push Play
I alternated using the AW2 with my reference stereo system and Audioengine's A5 powered bookshelf speakers (a review of those is forthcoming). In both cases, I loved being able to sit in my favorite respective chair/couch and control the music. If I wanted to pop into the kitchen for a snack or change the artist/playlist while I was doing so, it was easy. If I got a phone call and wanted to stop the music or turn the down the volume, I could do with a touch of the iPod's flywheel. Best of all, I was able to carry hundreds of my favorite recordings with me and listen at will. The sound quality was excellent, and I never experienced the equivalent of a dropped call during my time with the AW2. Audioengine has made strides to ensure this won't happen to you, either. The AW2 has incorporated six technologies to ensure that streaming signals are sent in real time and don't become lost or mangled in the ether. And though electrical engineers might get dewy-eyed discussing them, the main gist behind these half-dozen QC measures is compensating for and correcting signal errors before they ruin the listening experience.
The AW2 is an elegant and simple solution for wireless iPod enjoyment. I really like how it turns the iPod into a mobile remote and keeps it in the user's hand – where it belongs. That makes navigating a breeze and keeps you in charge of the music and volume, just as the iPod was designed. Audioengine's goal is to “get you to your music as simply as possible without all the 'gadget tinkering' that other products generally require.” That sounds good to me.