Review: Bowers & Wilkins A7 AirPlay Wireless Speaker
December 5, 2012 by Bill Palmer
by Bill Palmer
Beatweek Best AirPlay Speaker for 2013
The Bowers & Wilkins line of consumer audio products has delivered product which not only tend to sound improbably good for their size, but also rival Apple itself in terms of design prowess. That creates high expectations for any new product which B&W launches, particularly when that product is an eight hundred dollar wireless speaker like the A7.
If the A7 looks familiar, that because its design is based closely on that of the company’s MM-1 two piece stereo system, a set of computer speakers which have managed to remain on my desk for the past year-plus thanks to the fact that the two small speaker units manage to outclass the audio which comes from most larger three piece systems. But this new A7 is not exactly small; imagine setting the MM-1 units about a foot apart, fill in the gap in between so that it’s all one big unit. And take away the cables, because the A7 is an AirPlay system to which you can stream your music wirelessly from your iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, or Mac. Other devices can be connected via line-in or ethernet. It also comes with a remote control.
In my tests, the wall of stereo coming from the A7 left me once again wondering how such pristine, expansive audio could come from a single speaker housing, even if it is in in this instance fourteen inches wide. The low, mid, and upper ranges sound exactly the way I would have hoped, with the kind of intimate detail which most often requires either a multi unit high end system or headphones. And in terms of volume, you can crank the A7 so loud you’d get arrested before you’d notice any loss of fidelity. Just to make sure B&W wasn’t cheating here, I tested the unit further and found that it sounds equally pristine from two feet away and twenty feet away, and sounds equally attuned to every kind of music genre I tested it with.
It worth noting that the initial setup of the A7 took me a good fifteen minutes. That’s at least partially not B&W’s fault, as Apple’s AirPlay setup hasn’t evolved in a manner which one might have hoped. Most AirPlay products require plugging in a cable and holding down a button to pair up the speaker with your device, which can take a couple minutes. But the A7 requires the downloading of a free setup app, and at one point typing in the name of a de facto wifi network. In the end, a one-time setup hassle won’t affect your ability to enjoy the product, so it doesn’t effect the A7′s final star rating. But I’d like to see it simplified.
In the end, an overachieving product like the A7 begs the question: is this a fantastic product which deserves four and a half stars, or is it something truly special which necessitates a five star rating? I’m left to compare the A7 to the only other product of its type and caliber, the Zeppelin Air, which also happens to come from Bowers & Wilkins. The blimp-shaped $599 Zeppelin Air earns every bit of its price tag. In comparison, the A7 is the superior audio product of the two, but I’m not sure it’s quite worth $200 more. If this were a $699 product it might be five stars. The A7 does have the advantage of coming in a more normal-looking rounded rectangular shape which will fit in stylistically with far more tastes than the unusual looking Zeppelin.
But the bottom line is that with the A7, Bowers & Wilkins yet again has me questioning the laws of physics when it comes to just how impressive of an audio experience can come out of a product of this size.
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5 • Price: $799 • bowers-wilkins.com