Audio Pro WF100 wireless streamer
Dongle up your hi-fi
Geek Treat of the Week Anyone who’s tried wireless tech over the years knows how tricky and expensive it can be to get superior sounding audio around the home without wires. Step forth Swedish hi-fi brand Audio Pro, that has come up with a user friendly package that gives you a wireless transmitter/receiver duo.
Plug 'n' Play: Audio Pro's WF100
In this era of compressed MP3, these devices aim pleasingly high with delivering lossless CD quality sound. The transmitter can be attached to any audio device with a line out – not just the obvious computer to hi-fi option. Accordingly, the wireless receiver unit picks up the audio and attaches to any suitable hi-fi or active speakers.
It’s a quick and flexible way to share computer-based audio on a music system without complex UPnP/DLNA set-ups or buying new audio products with built-in wireless reception. There are numerous other uses, such as linking it to the line output of a DAB radio to effectively upgrade a non-DAB hi-fi elsewhere.
Both transmitter and receiver are USB-powered. If the transmitter is connected to a computer it gets its required 5V from the USB port. For Windows or Mac it’s a plug-and-play set-up. There’s no software required and the transmitter appears as a USB headset, selected in the audio control panel. Be aware that it picks up any computer sounds at the time, including e-mail notifications and Skype, if you haven’t quit those applications.
The pack includes one USB mains plug. You’ll probably need this at the receiving end, although some AV amplifiers run power to a built-in USB port regardless of the input being heard. If you need a power plug for the sender, practically any USB adapter will do, which you can pick up for less than a fiver.
The system uses a proprietary 2.4GHz network. In contrast to many wireless audio streamers, it doesn’t share bandwidth with your Wi-Fi network. If it encounters interference it automatically switches RF channels. You can add as many receivers as you like (at £85 a time) or add up to two more transmitters (again for £85 each) and allocate every one its own ‘House Code’ so that a building can support up to three separate networks.
Even allowing for obstructions like walls and ceilings, its range is ample for typical homes. I used it all around my house without signal dropouts, though a repeater is available if it needs boosting.
Looks can be deceiving: the diminutive WF100 packs high grade audio components
The system syncs almost immediately (a blue LED on both dongles tells you when they’re ready). Unlike Apple AirPlay and its lag of about two seconds, the WF100 is virtually instant, with just a few milliseconds of latency, making it suitable for TV and movie soundtracks too. It can also work with AirPlay by attaching to Airport Express routers but one of the Audio Pro’s advantages is that it works with anything else.
Its only main drawback is that it doesn’t give you control over the source at the receiver end. Products with built-in wireless networking (and lots now include the likes of Last.fm, Spotify and internet radio) let you skip tracks and change playlists or radio stations. You can’t do this with the WF100 unless your source player has an RF remote or you can find mobile phone apps to remotely control things such as iTunes or Spotify. These have limitations but if you are a Spotify Premium subscriber or an iDevice owner then you’ll find this process easier.
The audio performance is exemplary – benefitting from high grade electronics – its integrated sample rate converter allows for more accurate clocking and reduced jitter; a high performance A-D converter sits on a separate chip, while the receiver employs a specialised Burr-Brown DAC.
There may be cheaper gadgets from suppliers such as Maplin and Sitecom that do something similar but they lack the audiophile quality, flexibility and scalable multiroom features offered by the WF100. If you want a single sender/receiver package (without expandability), the Audioengine W1 looks like a reasonable alternative.
Being able to conveniently retrofit existing music systems with impressive wireless tech means that you don’t have to replace your favourite and perhaps quite expensive legacy kit by splashing out even more on – for example – Squeezebox, Sonos or Naim hardware. While its price does affect the overall rating, it does the job and all things considered, is a worthy purchase. ®
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