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It’s great being able to listen to music wherever you go, but it’s even better when you can ditch your headphones and play your music loud and proud using a portable AirPlay speaker.
The AQ SmartSpeaker Portable is roughly cylindrical, with a tapering top that houses the power, Wi-Fi, and volume controls. At the back is an auxiliary input, plus a USB port to set up the speaker to use your Wi-Fi network. Not that you have to: Thanks to SmartSpeaker’s useful AQ Direct feature, you can connect your AirPlay device directly to the speaker on an ad-hoc basis, with no network needed. Unlike most AirPlay speakers, which have to be on the same network as your Mac or iOS device, you can stream music through AirPlay directly to the SmartSpeaker. So if you want to listen to music on the beach or in your backyard, way out of range of your router, you can.
You can also combine multiple SmartSpeakers to create a multi-room audio system, or pair two so they act as the left and right speaker in a stereo setup. Sadly, iOS can only stream to one AirPlay speaker at a time, so you need to use iTunes to take advantage of these features.
AirPlay setup was troublesome when using an iPhone 5. It should be as simple as connecting your iOS device to the speaker using its USB cable and pressing a button, but try as we might, we couldn’t get it to work using an iPhone 5 and Apple’s stock USB-to-Lightning cable. It worked perfectly using an iPhone 4 with the old 30-pin cable, and you can also set up using the AQ Connect app or a web browser.
When it comes to sound quality, the AQ Audio SmartSpeaker is a little uneven. It delivers enough sound to fill a medium-sized room, and most kinds of music sound decent. The lack of deep bass oomph and a rather watery treble keep it from reaching the heights a proper hi-fi speaker would, but it doesn’t deliver any nasty surprises, either. “Pleasant” is probably the best description.
The bottom line. It’s clever, but perhaps not clever enough. Its sound is solid but somewhat uninspiring, and we wish iOS didn’t limit us to one AirPlay speaker at a time.
iTunes 10.1 or later; works with iPhone 3GS and later, iPod touch second-gen and later, and iPad running iOS 4.2 or later. (Android devices and Windows supported, too.)
AirPlay without a network. Multi-room capabilities. Battery- or AC-powered.
Lacks bass. Problems connecting with iPhone 5.