Who says Bluetooth is lousy for audio?
Creative’s ZiiSound D5 promises to deliver the convenience of wireless audio without committing the sin of sonic compromise, and it comes pretty darned close. If that surprises you, you’ll be doubly amazed to learn that it accomplishes this feat using Bluetooth.
The ZiiSound D5 is a sound-bar type stereo speaker with an iPod docking port, a Bluetooth receiver, and a Bluetooth dongle that can be plugged into most any model iPhone, iPad, or iPod (except the Shuffle). If you’d prefer to stream from a computer, Creative sells a $39 Bluetooth USB dongle separately. And if you have another brand of media player—one built by Creative, perhaps—there’s a 1/8-inch auxiliary input in the back of the cabinet.
The ZiiSound D5 is elegantly designed--you could almost call it a cubed Zeppelin.
We’ve reviewed Bluetooth sound systems before and haven’t been impressed. The ZiiSound D5 is different. One of the key ingredients in Creative’s secret sauce is the third-party audio codec known as Apt-X Bluetooth. Apt-X encodes audio with 16-bit resolution at a 44.1kHz sampling rate (the same as an audio CD), and then compresses it at a 4:1 ratio for wireless streaming over a Bluetooth connection.
We auditioned the ZiiSound D5 by playing tracks encoded in Apple Lossless from an iPod docked directly to the ZiiSound D5, and then streamed the same tracks via Creative’s Bluetooth dongle. Remarkably, we were unable to detect any compression artifacts or other unpleasantness in the stream; in fact, the audio sounded great. Wireless iPod speaker docks are so much more convenient than the alternative. Who wouldn’t rather pick up their iPod to change tracks, adjust the volume, or navigate playlists instead of walking over the speaker and manipulating the iPod’s controls while it’s docked.
Having said all that, however, knowing the amount of manipulation the audio is subjected to bothers us at an intellectual level: The iPod converts the tracks from digital to analog and outputs them to the dongle, the dongle converts them from analog to digital; compresses them, and streams them to the speaker; and the speaker converts them from digital to analog for final playback. How could that not have an audible impact?
Listening to Mocean Worker’s funky “Chick A Boom Boom Boom” (from the Inside Deep Throat soundtrack), we were surprised at the ZiiSound D5’s expansive sound stage: This speaker systems sounds much larger than its 11.7 x 4.3 x 3.5-inch dimensions would lead you to believe. We soon discovered, however, that this speaker system doesn’t like to be pushed. While rocking out to David Bowie’s “Sweet Thing,” from his Diamond Dogs album, we maxed out the volume control by too aggressively stroking the touch-sensitive metal band around the ZiiSound D5’s middle: Bowie suddenly sounded as though he was singing around a mouthful of pork cracklins.
When all is said and done, the ZiiSound D5 is a very solid effort even if it does fall a good distance short of our current favorite iPod speaker dock, the full-sized B&W Zeppelin. After all, that device costs twice as much and doesn’t have a wireless option.