I'll be completely honest: When I heard that I was getting the chance to test and review a "wireless loudspeaker system", I wasn't that excited. While wireless technology is constantly sprouting up in new forms, my personal experience with wireless in the audio arena had been a constant tale of disappointment, that is, until now. I was extremely impressed with both the transmission/reception quality and the drivers in these units. They produce enough sound to fill a large living room with ease, and they don't suffer from any lapse in frequency range for their size. Sadly, Blue Aura will undoubtedly be fighting against the stigma associated with cheap, seat-of-the-pants attempts at wireless audio. People buy a wireless audio product, are disappointed, and assume "it sucks." Luckily for all of us, technology is advancing at a ridiculous pace, and high-bandwidth Bluetooth is paving the way for systems like the WS80i.
The WS80i produces excellent mid and low frequencies, from low to high volume (advertised frequency range of 45Hz-22kHz, though it seemed better than that on the low end). I was especially impressed with how clear these units were at what I would consider "above average" listening volume, showing no signs of signal integrity loss during wireless transmission. I did note a few instances over the course of perhaps an hour of test time that the audio signal dropped out for a fraction of a second, and then immediately returned. I find it hard to blame the WS80i for the very temporary loss in signal when considering that I live right smack in the middle of a 20 story high-rise, which is undeniably cluttered with potential interference from every type of source one can imagine, and the speakers were located in a different room from the transmitter. That fact also speaks volumes to the integrity of the transmitter/receivers, proving that the wireless system is robust enough to work nearly flawless in a "rough" environment. I unfortunately cannot say the same about the wireless headphones that I purchased last year. Ignoring that temporary loss in signal, which we'll chalk up to "urban interference" for the purposes of this article, I don't think that I could have been any more impressed with the sound quality of the WS80i, coming from an audiophile with a studio monitor setup.
Another neat feature of the WS80i is that the transmitter included with this package is advertised to be capable of transmitting to an infinite number of speakers! You could put a set in your bedroom, your bathroom, your basement, and your garage, and have a single transmitter feeding them all. OR, you could have multiple transmitters each powering multiple sets of speakers on up to three different frequencies to create sound "zones" in your home. OR, you could have multiple transmitters each broadcasting a different source on a different frequency, powering a single set of speakers, and essentially allowing you to switch through your own "stations" with the remote. Some of these options might get very expensive, but nonetheless, the WS80i will allow you to do it, and I think that's cool.
The things that I didn't like about these units were much less significant than the sound quality, but still the package was not without a few flaws. Firstly, when plugged in, these monitors exist in a "standby" like state. While in the "standby" state, the front of the units will intermittently flash a colored ring, but will not respond to a signal from the transmitter. The only way to wake the units from their "standby" state to an active, "ready to play" state is via the included remote. I personally felt that one should be able to do this without the remote, just as easily as one can change the channel setting by pressing a button on the back of the unit. However, at the same time I can see that the wireless design philosophy may have lead them to avoid having the user walk between wherever the units are located to power them up, opting instead for the assumed preference of a remote. While that may be justified, there is just one tiny problem that I have with it: I lose remotes. If said remote were indeed misplaced, then both power and speaker-side volume control are seemingly lost as well. UPDATE: Blue Aura has updated their models so that the speakers will automatically detect signal transmission and come out of "sleep." Blue Aura President Alex Chiou, who we spoke to at CES 2013, noticed this being a prevalent peeve about the WS80i system, and they made haste to fix it. This is a sign of a dedicated company, and we expect them to keep up the good work.
The WS80i Wireless Loudspeaker System is an excellent offering from Blue Aura. As a wireless audio skeptic, I was very impressed with both the signal quality and the capability of the speakers. I was surprised by the clarity at higher volumes, showing no significant loss in audio quality. The WS80i was able to fill a large living room with quality sound, and will compete nicely with more expensive options as both near-field and medium venue workhorses. The units look great, and come with absolutely everything you need (and even some things you may not need). They are a bit high in price for someone who is just looking to break into the wireless realm, but I feel like spending the money ($599) on a quality product such as this will prevent wireless newcomers from getting burned by the sparkly glow of cheaper options. The price tag is hefty, and if you don't care for the wireless functionality, a monitor or other Hi-Fi setup would certainly be a better buy, as it will have a greater bang-for-your-buck without the convenience of wireless. The WS80i has largely unique potential to expand and cover your entire house, office, or business, as one transmitter can feed multiple sets of speakers from a single source. I did not care for the design dependency on the remote, which is required to power on the speakers, and adjust the speaker-side volume. However, this is a very minor fault and more of a preference. I did notice that the speakers could randomly and temporarily drop the signal, albeit for a split second and a less than significant rate, likely attributed to the wireless challenges of living in a sky-rise apartment complex.
Overall, the WS80i Wireless Loudspeaker System from Blue Aura is both an excellent and unique product in an emerging market. These speakers will not disappoint anyone who feels that they can benefit from the wireless technology. Of course, a true audiophile would likely note small losses in the sound quality due to wireless transmission, but I doubt you would see a true audiophile wheeling his cart down the Wireless Audio aisle anyway, at least not yet. The vast majority of listeners will be extremely satisfied with the WS80i. Anyone looking for a wireless or multi-room speaker solution that doesn't mind the $599 price tag will surely not be disappointed with the WS80i. Those looking to spend less on wireless should consider expanding their budget for this product, as I can honestly say that it is one of the only wireless systems that I've been pleasantly surprised by.
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