Hands On: B&W A7 AirPlay Wireless Music System

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bowers wilkins, b&w, A7, wireless, ipod, apple, airplay

Bowers & Wilkins breaks down barriers to deliver good sound


Mar. 21, 2013 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

No company in the world of consumer audio has done a better job at embracing today’s new era of home music reproduction than the British manufacturer Bowers & Wilkins (B&W).

With a line of products that includes benchmark floorstanding speakers, in-wall loudspeakers, multimedia computer speakers and headphones, it would be easy to for B&W to rest on its laurels. Thankfully for music listeners, the company hasn’t grown complacent and recently it introduced the A5 and A7 all-in-one speaker systems that include Apple’s wireless AirPlay technology.

Wrapped in a contemporary industrial design, the A7 employs built-in Class-D amplification that drives two 1-inch B&W Nautilus tweeters, two 3-inch midrange drivers and a single, 6-inch woofer. The A7 also includes DSP processing to handle signal management, 24-bit/96kHz digital-to-analog converters (DACs) that augments the quality of wireless music streams and the aforementioned AirPlay technology.

The retrofit-friendly A7 unpacks and lifts out of its packaging easily, and after downloading the companion B&W AirPlay setup app I connected the power cable and started the actual setup. Setup was a little slower than I anticipated. It took a several minutes to “discover” the A7 and link to it. Following the app’s directions however made setup simple.

During the setup process one option I liked was the ability to name the system. Naming the A7 enabled me to help my wife identify the A7 on her phone without asking, “how do I play my music through the B&W?”

I should also point out that B&W has issued two updates for the setup app to correct the setup issues I encountered. After updating the app I did find the setup process faster.

Before I started any critical listening I used the holiday period and family gatherings such as Thanksgiving and Christmas to set the background environment via the A7. Family members—and in particular younger family members with iPhones—loved the B&W product and thought it was cool to wirelessly control and stream music from their Apple devices once I put their phones on my network. Between its looks and user experience, the A7 scored high with my non-techie family.

Getting into the actual sound quality of the A7, our guests loved how smooth and powerful the A7 sounded with content like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin streaming from Pandora, and pop music and classic rock that we listened to from iTunes. Listening to music from Trans-Siberian Orchestra, AC/DC, Kings of Leon and Lynyrd Skynyrd I found the A7 to reproduce mid-bass tones with nice definition and midrange that was neutral and highly detailed.

What may be most surprising about the A7 is how open and airy the top end is without sounding shrill and tinny. Bass fans shouldn’t expect deep bass from the A7. With that said listeners that enjoy rock, pop, country and most jazz shouldn’t notice the A7 doesn’t give you that last octave of extension. Its low-end extension should suffice.

In my house I found the A7 to sound big too. I believe it is more than capable of filling a small or medium size room with good, clean sound without strain.

My only area of trepidation with the A7 is the reliability of AirPlay and wireless connectivity. I found the wireless option to work, but in my home it didn’t have the range or consistent quality as wired connections. The best way to solve this possible situation I believe is to simply use powerline or MoCA devices to create a wired connection. When I used Ethernet I did not experience any dropouts or range related issues.

The best thing I can say about the A7 is the fact that my wife gives it her full endorsement. She loves its ease of use, looks and sound quality. Too often when I have review products she’ll say to me, “I can’t wait to you get that thing out of the house.” That isn’t the case with the A7. She loves it and to top it off, I love the product too. It’s not very often the two of us can agree on the value of home technology.

Specs
All-in-one speaker features dual 1-inch Nautilus tweeters, dual 3-inch midrange drivers and a 6-inch woofer.
Class-D amplification drives A7’s stereo driver array.
Internal 24-bit/96kHz DACs ensure audio fidelity; rated frequency response is 40Hz to 36kHz.
A7 utilizes Apple’s wireless AirPlay technology to stream music. Works with iPhone, iPad and iPod Touches running iOS 4.3.3 or greater.
B&W says the A7 is compatible with Macs (OS 10.8) & PCs running iTunes 10.2.2 or greater.
MSRP $799

Pros
The A7 features B&Ws stunning industrial design and produces sound quality that lives up to the brand’s legacy.
AirPlay technology and auxiliary port enables the speaker to install into any home without much physical labor.
Easy to use interface invites everyone from audiophiles to non-techies to enjoy the quality of the product.

Cons
Wireless connections not as reliable as Ethernet (Cat 5).
To ensure reliability powerline or MoCA devices should be considered and this adds on to the cost of the solution.
Occasional latency during the start up of the system.

See also:
What Is AirPlay and Why Do I Want It?
Hands On: Sonos PLAYBAR Soundbar
Hands On: NuVo Technologies Wireless Audio System




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