Audio docks are ugly. Yes they provide a receptacle for holding a mobile device and play music with bigger speakers. But compared to the sleek lines of the device being used with them, these guys are never going to win any design awards. Except maybe for the Wren V5PF Wireless Audio System which bears no resemblance to these black plastic “bricks.”
The Wren V5PF Wireless Audio System is not made from plastic impersonating wood, it IS made out of a wood composite (1/2” thick) covered with natural bamboo or rosewood veneers (depending on which of the two models is being used). There is a euro-style scooped side that keeps it from looking oversized, and I can see its use on a night table or end table not calling attention to itself in the way that other docks do, but instead calling attention to itself because of its looks.
The V5PF has a warm and comfortable “feel” to it, which is accented by the soft colored grill covering the front (that there is a rubberized bottom to protect against scratching whatever it is placed on hasn’t been lost on me either). It runs on AC power only and uses a two-part power supply. Touch-sensitive controls line the side for turning it on and raising/lowering the volume. Other than a small LED glowing when there’s power and others that indicate WiFi or Aux, that’s it — any control over the audio’s characteristics will have to come from the source player.
But how the V5PF delivers sound will prove its worth: being attractive as “furniture” isn’t enough if it’s going to replace the traditional clock-radio or portable speaker placed in the bedroom, den or living room. X-ray vision would show that there’s internal bracing inside the cabinet to minimize/eliminate audio resonation and colorization, aided by an acoustically transparent grill. A pair of long-throw 3-inch drivers with 4-layer voice coils augmented by stereo bass-reflex design and soft-dome tweeters (19mm) are driven by a 50 watt DSP-controlled Class D amplifier. But whether all this is justified by the $399.00 price tag is yet to be discovered.
There’s two ways to listen to music; the simplest involves plugging any 3.5mm audio plug into the AUX socket on the back. This has the advantage of working with any source device. There’s also a USB socket on the back for charging. So a phone/tablet can be plugged in for playing and also charged at the same time. The major disadvantage of this method is that the device must lie next to the V5PF as there’s little room on top and no dock to keep a device secure.
The other method for playing music through the V5PF is by configuring its WiFI capabilities so that it joins your home network and then can receive its cues from an Android device using the free Play-Fi mobile app. This allows for decisive control over the audio being streamed and is not dependent on the 30 foot range inherent with Bluetooth.
It took less than a minute to configure the Wren to my network using the setup button located on the back and the app on an Android phone lent by a friend (selection of music we had discussed being pre-loaded). An alternative way to have the Wren configured to the network would be to use the router in WPS mode (switching the Wren from WiFi to WPS mode first)
The first piece of music I played was the theme from Super Mario Galaxy 2, which sounds amazingly derivative of Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal to me. The combination of electronic and traditional instrumentations gave me a chance to focus on whether the upper ranges and the bass were overlapping (which would result in a muddied sound). There wasn’t any of that, although I did have to turn the V5PF’s volume up pretty much all the way so that I could vary it from the app. I also found that in most cases refraining from altering the treble/bass was the best approach for getting the most realistic rendering of sound (especially when playing “lossless” as opposed to highly compressed MP3). I then shifted to Kraftwerk’s Pocket Calculator, which is more electronic in nature, but again there was no brittleness in the midrange or bottoming out of the bass as it impacted the vocals.
My last test consisted of playing Brian Setzer’s If You Can’t Rock Me. The interplay of electric guitars and the drum sets resulted in a high-energy and distinctive sound, with the vocals at no time being drowned out or impinged upon. The rest of the afternoon and over a few weeks had me taking the Wren through a number of playlists. One thing that I noticed was that there was a complete lack of “buzz”, indicating that the cabinet was nullifying distortions efficiently.
Bottom line: The Wren V5PF Wireless Audio System does the one thing any audio dock must do: play music with a level of quality and clarity that makes it worth listening to. That the Wren is also gorgeous to look at when compared to other docks that end up on night tables or in the living room is just so much frosting on what is a very tasty portable speaker cake.
Play-Fi technology lets the Wren play “lossless” audio, Up to 8 Wren speakers can be connected to a single device
No treble/bass control
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.