Music without wires – streamers reviewed

Streamers are speaker systems that play digital music wirelessly, no matter where your tunes are stored. We round up streamers to suit all pockets.

 
 
 
 
  • Enjoy your music, free from wires
    Danny Phillips
    By   | Technology journalist
    Last updated: 04 November 2013, 09:43 GMT

    Nowadays most people store their music as digital files, having either ripped tracks from CDs or downloaded them from stores like iTunes.

    But with tons of faceless files stored on mobile devices and hard drives all around the house, you need an easy way of playing them. And that’s where music streaming systems come in.

    These systems come equipped with wireless technology, like Bluetooth or wi-fi, which transfers tunes to them over the airwaves without a cable in sight. So whether your songs are sitting on a smartphone, laptop, iPod or network server, the five systems we’ve checked out provide a hassle-free way of playing them.

    Most of these are equipped with Bluetooth, the simplest way of streaming music – just pair up you devices and away you go – but a couple of our systems use Apple’s AirPlay, which lets you stream music from iTunes over your home wi-fi network. 

    If you are looking for a streaming system, there are plenty to choose from across a range of budgets. Our five range from £180 up to £600 and cater for a variety of needs. Obviously, features, build- and sound-quality get better the more you spend, but there are some real bargains to be had on the lower rungs of the price ladder too.

     
     
     

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  • Smaller than a Coke can
    Danny Phillips
    By   | Technology journalist
    Last updated: 04 November 2013, 09:43 GMT
    BT rating
     

    Price: £150

    Website: www.damsonaudio.com

    These battery-powered Bluetooth speakers are ideal for enjoying music on your travels. They’re smaller than a Coke can and use clever Incisor Diffusion Technology to turn any flat surface into a speaker. They also work with vertical surfaces using an optional mount. 

    They’re the first speaker of this type to offer true stereo sound – the two units pair up to handle left and right channels separately - or you can use them as individual mono speakers.

    Build quality is pure luxury. They’re weighty and robust, while the rubbery finish around the edge is pleasant to the touch and comes in four jazzy colours.

    On top of each speaker you’ll find power and ‘call’ buttons, the latter letting you use Jet as a hands-free speakerphone. And on the back is a 3.5mm input to connect audio devices and an output should you wish to daisy-chain several Jets together.

    Near Field Communication support lets you connect a compatible Bluetooth device simply by tapping it on the speaker, while battery life is quoted at nine hours.

    Playing tunes from an iPod via Bluetooth, Jet is a mixed bag. Using a desk as our surface, the speakers are incredibly loud and bassy – by far the most authoritative diffusion speakers we’ve heard – and the stereo setup works perfectly, but mid-range and high-frequencies have a sharp, overpowering character that gets worse the louder they go. That’s a shame, as in every other respect Jet is an impressive product.

     
     
     

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  • You can dock your iPhone as well as stream
    Danny Phillips
    By   | Technology journalist
    Last updated: 04 November 2013, 09:43 GMT
    BT rating
     

    Price: £180

    Website: www.pure.com

    Pure’s latest Apple-friendly streaming system features both an iPod/iPhone dock and AirPlay support, which means you can stream music wirelessly or dock your device and charge it while you listen.

    Contour is styled with Pure’s usual sense of panache – it’s a compact black unit shaped into an alluring arc, with classy black cloth, snazzy flashes of silver and a large, clear LED display. Build quality is decent, but not up to the standards of the NAD or Audio Pro.

    Here’s the best part – the revolving dock can be hidden away when not in use and it comes with two interchangeable adapters, one bearing the old-school 30-pin adapter and another with the newer Lightning connector (as found on the iPhone 5, 5S and 5C). Disappointingly, it wouldn’t play music from a docked iPod Nano, and it’s a shame there’s no Bluetooth.

    On the back you’ll find a 3.5mm input and an Ethernet port, backed up by built-in wi-fi. Network setup is a cinch – just dock your iOS device and the i1 Air shares its wi-fi settings at the touch of a button. It comes with a magnetic remote that can be stowed away on the back. Brilliant.

    The i1 Air backs up this terrific spec with impressive sound quality. Streamed from iTunes via AirPlay, music sounds crisp and poised, bolstered by generous helpings of robust bass – all of which makes Contour a highly impressive unit that Apple fans should investigate at once. Bluetooth would have been the icing on the cake.

     
     
     

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  • Its design will divide opinion
    Danny Phillips
    By   | Technology journalist
    Last updated: 04 November 2013, 09:43 GMT
    BT rating
     

    Price: £299

    Website: www.audiopro.com

    The Addon T10 from Swedish speaker specialist Audio Pro makes music streaming easy with built-in Bluetooth 4.0. It’s far from the cheapest speaker in our test and there’s no AirPlay, but it promises classy sound quality with its high-quality drive units, 80W of power and apt-X CSR technology.

    Its design will divide opinion – the bulky black box shape is esoteric and minimal, but not exactly elegant. We like it, but it’s an acquired taste.

    No-one can argue with its stunning build quality though – its heavy, robust cabinet is finished in black or white matt lacquer with smoothed edges.

    On the back are 3.5mm and red/white RCA inputs, plus a subwoofer output for those who want to bulk up the bass. A USB port charges your devices, but sadly you can’t play music through it.

    Operation is simple with the gorgeous, avant garde remote, which has been milled from a solid billet of aluminium. You can flick through the three inputs easily, with an LED on the front glowing red, green or blue accordingly.

    The T10’s sound quality is phenomenal. It combines smooth, luscious high-frequencies with outstanding bass output that underpins but never overpowers the rest of the sound. This truly exquisite performance is the sort you’d expect from bigger, pricier speakers, and for that reason the T10 is a worthy purchase if Bluetooth is your technology of choice.

     
     
     

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  • The mosty sophisticated system on test
    Danny Phillips
    By   | Technology journalist
    Last updated: 04 November 2013, 09:43 GMT
    BT rating
     

    Price: £600

    Website: www.cambridgeaudio.com

    Minx Xi is the most sophisticated system in our test, playing music from Bluetooth, networked PCs, USB drives, internet radio, and web services like BBC iPlayer Radio. This festival of functionality is reflected in the high price, as are the high-quality components it’s made from.

    The sublime bodywork sports a glossy white finish and feels hefty when you lift it up. The busy front panel sports a USB port, 3.5mm input, and lots of buttons and knobs to twiddle.

    Generous rear socketry includes two sets of analogue stereo inputs, optical and coaxial digital inputs, a subwoofer output and Ethernet. Three more USB ports house the supplied Bluetooth and wi-fi dongles, plus an external hard disk for media playback.

    It plays hi-res music formats like FLAC and WAV as well as MP3. On the downside, it doesn’t come with speakers, so you’ll have to buy them separately, adding to your expenditure. And there’s no AirPlay or iPod dock.

    Wi-fi setup is time-consuming but otherwise operation is easy thanks to the clear four-line LED display and well laid-out remote control.

    We’re big fans of the Minx’s sound. It’s a smooth, effortless listen, with meticulously detailed reproduction giving an overall sense of refinement. There’s plenty of bass, and vocals have heart-warming purity.

    It may be expensive, but Minx Xi’s performance and design live up to the price tag – although you’ll need to budget for speakers, and AirPlay fans need not apply.

     

     
     
     

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  • The best in test
    Danny Phillips
    By   | Technology journalist
    Last updated: 04 November 2013, 09:43 GMT
    BT rating
     

    Price: £499

    Website: www.nadelectronics.com

    The latest evolution of NAD’s popular VISO 1 docking system adds wi-fi and Apple AirPlay support, making it easy to stream tunes from iOS devices and PCs running iTunes. It ditches the iPod dock found on the original Viso 1 but you can still connect Apple devices via the newly-added USB port. It even boasts Bluetooth for even simpler music streaming.

    It’s a beautifully designed speaker, brought to life by a brushed silver arch fitted with a soft-touch control panel. And the combination of grey speaker cloth and white gloss is delectable. On the back you’ll find an Ethernet web connection, USB port, and optical digital input. Oddly there’s no 3.5mm input.

    Viso 1AP shares wi-fi settings with an Apple device connected via USB, making it easy to set up AirPlay. It comes with a slender, gloss-white remote with minimal buttons that looks great on the coffee table.

    Streamed via AirPlay or Bluetooth, music sounds big, bassy and smooth as silk, although it’s still not as commanding as the Audio Pro.

    It teases out high-frequency detail like hi-hats with all the clarity you’d expect for the money, while voices are life-like and rhythms are tight. But it’s the bass output that impresses the most, lending effortless warmth to every tune. So if it’s within your budget, Viso 1AP is a stunning buy.

     
     
     

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