Creative ZiiSound D5 wireless speakers
iOS-friendly Bluetooth music box
Review The performance of Bluetooth stereo headphones has improved noticeably over the last couple of years and can now give ordinary wired headphones a good run for their money. However, Bluetooth hasn’t achieved the same rate of progress when used in standalone speaker systems.
Wireless world: Creative's ZiiSound D5
That could change, though, with the launch of Creative Labs’ new selection of Bluetooth speakers. There are several models in the range, starting at about £60 for the portable D100 model, but we’ve taken a look at the top-of-the-range ZiiSound D5, which is priced at £280.
That’s a fairly high price for what, in many ways, is essentially just a wireless iPod speaker-dock. The D5 does work hard to justify its price though. The attractive minimalist design consists of a single rectangular unit that measures 425 x 90 x 110mm. It’s solidly built, with a ‘full-frame monocoque exoskeleton’ and weighs almost 4kg. There’s not a single button visible on the front panel, as the D5 opts, instead, for touch-sensitive controls that allow you to adjust the volume and pair it with other Bluetooth devices.
There’s no remote control included with the D5, as Creative assumes you’ll be using your Bluetooth phone or other device to control the speakers. However, Creative does include a separate Bluetooth transmitter called the BT-D5.
Charges IOS devices with the dongle attached
Any Bluetooth device, such as a laptop computer, iPod Touch or mobile phone can pair with the D5 using a standard Bluetooth connection, but the BT-D5 transmitter allows you to use the more advanced apt-X codec that delivers better audio quality.
The BT-D5 is specifically designed to plug into the dock connector on an iPod, iPad or iPhone, so it won’t work with mobile phones or portable devices from companies other than Apple. There is a USB version of the transmitter, called the BT-D1. This will allow you to use the apt-X codec with any computer that has a USB port, but it costs an extra £40, which pushes the total price well over the £300 mark.
BT-D5 Apple-friendly dongle, a USB alternative is an optional extra
Pairing the D5 with a Bluetooth device is very simple, as you simply touch the ‘Connect’ control on the front of the speaker for about three seconds to make it enter pairing mode and then activate the Bluetooth feature on your phone or other device.
The audio quality using standard Bluetooth is very good. The main weakness is the lack of a sub-woofer – the bass output at lower levels is quite weak, although there’s a port on the back of the speaker unit that does help to add a bit of resonance to the sound once you push the volume up a bit.
The touch-sensitive volume control is rather slick, displaying a trail of lights as you slide your finger over the control panel. The sound quality does start to become distorted once you push the volume control past about 80 per cent – but that was also the point at which I started to worry about annoying the neighbours, so I probably wouldn’t go much higher than that anyway.
That said, the D5 isn’t powerful enough for a full-on party, but it’ll do very nicely if you want to invite some friends around for dinner or a BBQ in the garden. The Bluetooth reception is also very good. Creative claims that the Bluetooth range is up to 10m ‘in open space’, but I was able to wander from room to room at home with my iPod Touch without the slightest interruption to the streaming audio.
Having used the iPod’s standard Bluetooth option, the next step was to see if the BT-D5 transmitter and apt-X codec made any difference to the audio quality. I fired up some old Queen songs to check out the multi-layered harmonies and the audio quality definitely improved when using the transmitter, producing a fuller sound with greater detail noticeable on both the higher and lower frequencies.
Apt-X codec makes an audible difference if you want to get serious about Bluetooth streaming
Furthermore, as Apple’s implementation of Bluetooth doesn’t support the AVRCP protocol, using the separate transmitter also allows you to control the speaker volume too – something that you can’t do using the native Bluetooth support in the iPod/iPad/iPhone. One last little touch is the fact that the BT-D5 transmitter can slot into a panel on the back of the speakers, allowing it to act like a conventional dock for the iPhone or iPod (but not the much larger and heavier iPad).
With a price tag erring towards £300, it’s clear that you’re paying a premium for the convenience of Bluetooth wireless technology. However, there’s no doubt that the ZiiSound D5 is one of the best Bluetooth speaker systems I’ve ever heard – especially when used with the additional apt-X transmitter. So if you specifically want a wireless music system for use at home or outdoors then the D5 is about as good as you’ll get at the moment. ®
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