It’s a rare product indeed that manages to replace one of my carefully chosen go-tos, but such is the case with Wren’s V5AP AirPlay speaker. It arrived quietly enough, but after a few short days of listening, a curious thing happened; I moved it over to the primary speaker shelf above my computer, and demoted my trusted (but nearly obsolete) Bose SoundDock to the secondary speaker shelf (where I normally put speakers I’m reviewing). The combination of arresting good looks and exceptional sound make the Wren V5 a standout in the crowded field of bookshelf speakers; the combination of great sound and price tag that’s well below its competition makes the V5 truly compelling.
It was the Wren’s combination of great sound with my transition to an all Lightning-equipped device lineup that caused me to promote the V5 to it’s new position as my primary bookshelf/desk speaker.
Not Just Sound
The first thing that struck me about the Wren wasn’t the design, and it wasn’t the sound. It was the included return shipping label that instructed me to ship it back, free of charge, if I wasn’t completely satisfied. You’ve got to be pretty confident in your product to make an offer like that, but I highly doubt if Wren sees many of their V5 speakers getting returned. The reason for that is obvious: it’s gorgeous (and happens to sound amazing).
My review V5 came in the bamboo variety (the light wood option), while a dark rosewood option is also available. With a shape that’s at once organic yet progressively modern, the Wren stands out by looks alone. It has a solid look and high quality finish that clearly means business, but it’s also beautiful enough that you’d want to have it clearly visible in your room. The sheen of the silver grill and the warmth of the wooden cabinet play nicely off each other with a minimalist flair, while all the technical jargon and port messiness is neatly hidden around back in a recessed panel.
Apart from good looks, Wren offers a great user experience in the V5. It’s offered in a total of three models: an Apple AirPlay-only model (V5AP), an Android-only model (V5PF), and a multilingual model that uses Bluetooth to communicate with virtually any device (V5BT). All the models use the same speaker and cabinet design, but differ in their wireless connection options. The company offers a $99 trade-in program if you switch phone platforms (e.g. you buy the AirPlay model but later move to an Android phone), but if you’re a multi platform household the Bluetooth model makes the most sense.
My AirPlay-only unit was perfect for my all-Apple setup, and the Wren was more than happy to pump sound via AirPlay from my iPad, iPhone, or MacBook Pro. Using the included 1/8″ aux-in cable, I could also play music from my iPod Shuffle, Nano, or virtually any other device; even if you have the occasional non-AirPlay equipped device floating about, buying the V5AP doesn’t really confine you.
Using the included USB port, I was able to charge and play music from a variety of iDevices. In a well-engineered bit of user interface design, Wren also utilizes that USB port for AirPlay setup; you simply connect an iDevice that’s configured to use your WiFi network, tap an onscreen authorization, and the V5 pulls the information needed to join your network. From there, AirPlay makes it automatically discoverable. It was the USB port paired with a Lignting cable that let me replace my old SoundDock; with the move to a Lightning-equipped iPhone 5s, the Bose no longer provided me the convenience of charging and playing music from the same device.
More important than design is, of course, how a speaker sounds, and there Wren has pulled out all the punches. The V5 provides outstanding stereo separation in a small package, packs four speaker drivers to provide that expansive soundstage, and offers 50W of power with DSP to provide distortion-free bass. The rear-facing bass reflex port really enhances the low-end sound coming from the V5, and actually prompted me to scoot the speaker away from the wall as I found the bass a little overpowering—it was always well-articulated and clear, but just a little too loud for my taste. Mids are clean and bright, while the separate tweeters offer crystal-clear reproduction and enhance the stereo effect with their widely-spaced design.
I threw a handful of genres at the V5 during my testing, and it handled each of them with ease. Improvisational jazz blended with African folk song in Regina Carter’s Hiwumbe Awumba, played by a simple quartet, sounded like I was actually in a theater listening to the musicians on stage by providing clear spatial cues for each instrument. Ben Charest’s Jazzy Bach showed the effectiveness of the included DSP by rendering without distortion even at high volumes, and the strike and fade of individual piano note hits was clearly audible. I even used the Wren V5 as a speaker for playing Aspyr’s awesome Borderlands 2; once connected via AirPlay there was absolutely no lag between the onscreen action and the sound that accompanied it, and the wide soundstage created a truly immersive playing environment that greatly enhanced the game.
At $400, the Wren V5AP is clearly an investment, but when compared with its competitors like the B&W Zeppelin Air ($600), it’s an exceptionally good value. The sound easily equals more expensive speakers, and the Wren’s good looks really give it an edge. You can pick it up at either Amazon or directly from the Wren Store (after first picking the right model, of course) for $399.99. Whether you’re shopping for a gift or something for yourself, the Wren V5Ap is an awesome speaker with a killer design and excellent price.
Buy the Wren V5AP
Provides: AirPlay wireless audio streaming, 1/8″ aux-in and USB playback from iOS devices
Minimum Requirements: AirPlay-compatibal iOS device, 30-pin Dock or Lightning iOS Device, or any audio device with a 1/8″ headphone jack