Published on May 24th, 2013 | by Greg0
We Can’t Believe It’s Wireless: Monitor Airstream WS100 Speakers
Computer speaker innovation can appear to have hit a sort of barrier, or so it may seem sometimes. It’s tough to improve drastically on your basic 2.0 system, especially since there are physical limits that make reducing their size difficult if you still want decent sound quality. But every now and then, a system comes along that breaks through and explores new ground. It could in aesthetics… or it could be in a new technology that actually makes life easier.
That’s the case with today’s minimal desktop audio system, the Airstream WS100 from Monitor Audio. As you might surmise from the name, this is a wireless system- though it still needs to be plugged in to power and isn’t portable in the strictest sense. Wireless audio comes in many form- from Airplay to Sonos systems, and of course the many Bluetooth products that we’ve seen over the years. These are different though, using a custom protocol called SKAA that allows for some definite advantages, though you might miss the ability to stream audio directly from your iPhone or other smartphone. The difference is in use case- these are intended primarily as desktop or laptop speakers. You can use them for bookshelf use or on a nightstand, but they’re a bit small for living room use. There are multi-source capabilities and the ability to add other transmitters or speakers, but we didn’t test them out, and wholeheartedly recommend them as replacements for your basic 2.0 computer speakers even without taking those other features into consideration.
Fewer unsightly cables is a good thing, especially if you’re in an office or home where you’re trying to accent the design and not the wiring. But stereo sound requires separation, which is why having two speakers rather than a single unit is pretty much always a good idea. In addition, in most cases, you want the sound aimed towards the listener, and we really liked the built-in magnetic adjustable stands on each speaker that can tilt these up at an appropriate angle for most situations. Build quality was good, and the volume controls on the side of the primary speaker were a nice touch. Installation is easier than any other desktop speaker system you’ve ever used- plug the speakers into power, plug the dongle into your computer (Mac or PC), and you’re ready to go. No software required, and no trying to figure out which port is the right one, or play with the cabling. We didn’t face any dropouts or interference or delays, like we would with just about any other system. On the flip side, the range is limited to about 30 feet from the transmitter- but your speakers are probably only 10 feet or so from your computer at the most. Also, there is still a cable between the right and left speaker.
But these are a great pair even without the wireless. These are the best 2.0 speakers this size that we’ve heard, with lush and vibrant mids and surprisingly present highs. Sound is slightly bright, and bass lovers might miss a separate subwoofer. But we played through around a hundred hours of music and movies, and found few instances where we were anything less than impressed. 60W is plenty of power to fill up most rooms, and even at higher volumes, we didn’t notice any distortion. On albums like the recent Kids in LA from Kisses, the production felt far more airy than with most other systems we’ve tried. Nothing was ever harsh, and acoustic tracks (think B.B. King) had appropriate punch. On the new Daft Punk album, Random Access Memories, the electronics can feel grating on other hardware, but were engaging and dynamic with the WS100s.
Bonus: there’s a cute included remote, similar to (if a little more oblong than) those that Bowers and Wilkins uses. Altogether, Monitor offers an easy, sleek, and winning package, though the WS100 is a fairly spendy set, and difficult to find and purchase online in the USA. Available now for around $350.