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Desktop Speaker Test - Rockin’ 9 to 5 (Part 3) : Monitor Audio AirStream WS100

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Monitor Audio AirStream WS100

Price: $375

Rating: 5/5

Monitor Audio was one of the first traditional speaker companies to embrace the age of digital music with the excellent i-deck iPod speaker docks. So it was no surprise that the AirStream WS100 speakers hit the mark so successfully when it came to the desktop market. They received a five-star review at First Test, but how do they fare against some new rivals?

Monitor Audio AirStream WS100

Monitor Audio AirStream WS100

This is a compact pair of desktop speakers with the bonus of wireless music streaming. There are two ways to connect your music source. A 3.5mm mini-jack input allows you to play music from a laptop or other audio device. The wireless option, meanwhile, comes via a supplied USB dongle. Connect this to your computer and it will sniff out the WS100 speakers using SKAA wireless technology. A same-room system, SKAA uses the 2.4 GHz radio frequency to form its own network – no internet required and promises a robust connection thanks to proprietary technology that avoids conflicts with other devices.

One thing’s for sure: the wireless system is truly plug and play. We connect the USB transmitter, wait a moment for the drivers to install and then see our iTunes software switching to output audio via the transmitter. Switch to the appropriate input on the WS100 speakers using the curvaceous remote control and you’re done.

Useful design, fine components

The WS100 speakers are every bit as smart as we remember. They also have a neat design feature: Tilt the speakers back and the hinge design of the stand allows them to sit in a laid-back position, aimed more at the listener’s ears.

Inside the diminutive cabinets are Gold Dome C-CAM tweeters and C-CAM drivers, as seen on Monitor Audio’s fine Bronze BX Series – these WS-100s are no half measures for sound quality.

And they sound great. Listening to a WAV file of the xx’s Islands via the 3.5mm input there’s impressive scale for speakers so small. The atmospheric sound of the track fills the room, doing a fine job of belying the diminutive dimensions. Timing is good, while there’s impressive punch and detail.

The WS100s tilt on their stands, so the sound can be directed towards your ears

The WS100s tilt on their stands, so the sound can be directed towards your ears

Bass notes go deep and remain clear and controlled. Turn the WS100s up and not only will you be impressed by the volume and clarity, you’ll really notice the punch and dynamics. Only a slightly closed trebles; noticeable in more intimate vocals, lets the side down a touch. Tilting the speakers back lessens reflection from your desktop and improves clarity.

Wireless music delivery gives you added flexibility, and audio performance remains impressive. There’s little drop-off in sound quality, and the connection proves solid, suffering no drop-outs or instability even in our listening rooms, which are surrounded by more wireless networks and devices than the average home or office.

These Monitor Audio WS100 speakers remain a great set of stylish, compact and excellent-sounding desktop speakers, with the added flexibility of wireless connectivity. They come highly recommended.

Rating: 5/5

For: Compact, stylish; solid build, clever tilt function; wireless connectivity; sound quality

Against: Could be more open in the treble

Verdict: Small, stylish dimensions, big, brilliant sound: these speakers hit the bulls eye for form and function

Monitor Audio AirStream WS100 specs

·         Power: 60W

·         3.5mm input: Yes

·         Charging: No

·         Radio: No

·         Subwoofer out: No

·         Headphone out: No

·         Remote control: Yes

·         Detachable speakers: Yes

·         Battery: No

·         Finishes: One

·         Dimensions (H x W x D): 13 x 12 x 12cm

The winner

Monitor Audio AirStream WS100 – Rating: 5/5

There’s a nice mix of products on test here, something for everyone. But the Monitor Audios take it for their all-round excellence

The rise of digital music and increasing use of laptops, phones and tablets as music sources has made desktop speakers an ever-more popular proposition.

Inevitably, many of the products on the market now offer more than just two speakers to sit either side of a screen and this is reflected in the four products we have here: iPod docks, wireless connectivity, smartphone streaming and more are all on offer. But inevitably, simple sound quality still weighs most heavily on our minds when drawing our conclusions.

Sadly, that’s why the SmartSpeakers fall a little short, though. They’re far from no hopers. That flexibility – working individually, wireless streaming, and rechargeable batteries gives them plenty of appeal, but even so they don’t sound quite good enough.

The winner is Monitor Audio AirStream WS100

The winner is Monitor Audio AirStream WS100

The Bose Companion 20 speakers sit almost at polar opposites. No frills in terms of features, a simple 3.5mm input are the sole method of connectivity but for $300 the little units deliver solid, enjoyable sound – and they are, therefore, easy to recommend.

The Epoz Aktimate Micro speakers, conversely, won’t be for everyone due to their size. But they’re the best sounding speakers here in almost every respect. Throw in the added bonus of an iPod dock and it’s no surprise they were an Award winner.

But it’s the Monitor Audio AirStream WS100 speakers that take the spoils. The perfect size for such a product, nicely styled with a neat design feature, and offering wireless streaming, they’re the complete desktop speaker on paper. And they seal the deal with superb sound that defies their dimensions.

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