Updated to reflect new Android and Windows Phone compatibility and AQ Direct mode.
At first glance the AQ Audio SmartSpeaker may seem like a smart but somewhat unremarkable portable wireless/AirPlay speaker in the vein of the JawBone Jambox or Audyssey Lower East Coast. But it has one very neat trick up its sleeve that makes it a very tempting proposition; pair two of them together and you can create a pair of completely wireless stereo speakers. Does this make it the ultimate wireless speaker? Yes and no…
As we've come to expect from the recent slew of wireless/AirPlay speakers, the SmartSpeaker is a device designed to impress visually as well as sonically. The flattened tube shape combined with a simple tri-tone black-silver-grey colour combo looks great from almost any angle – even the thick red rubber foot has charm to it. It's all smooth, unctuous curves in near perfect combination.
It's not just the shape and colour choices that make it, though. What really sets it off is the subtly high-quality fit and finish. The black speaker fabric is perfectly fitted, the controls are neatly integrated into the silver trim and that grey plastic back feels strong but soft to the touch.
It’s actually a little bit lighter than we might expect given its aspirations of high-quality audio, and that it has a sizeable battery in it. But this does of course make it even more portable. With dimensions of 245 x 135 x 109mm (H x W x D) it's not exactly pocketable or day-baggable but it'll fit in a suitcase ready for deployment in a hotel or such, and it's easy to carry round the house or out into the garden.
The SmartSpeaker offers two ways to connect to it. The primary way is via Apple’s proprietary AirPlay Wi-Fi audio standard but there is a 3.5mm jack on the back too for connecting any other sound source.
More often than not AirPlay can be a bit awkward to setup but AQ Audio has made things astonishingly easy here. Simply plug your iPhone/iPad/iPod touch into the USB port on the back, using your normal iDevice docking cable, then press the two volume buttons on the SmartSpeaker. A prompt will appear asking if you're happy for the SmartSpeaker to look up the Wi-Fi settings from your iDevice. Click 'yes' and job done.
You can also download the AQ Audio app from the app store, which lets you rename each speaker and manually input the Wi-Fi settings.
Once connected you can simply select the SmartSpeaker from your AirPlay devices and start playing. The only downside is that there's no way to connect over Wi-Fi networks that require web browser authentication, such as found in hotels, public hotspots or indeed our office – a common, and fundamental, AirPlay issue.
You can also connect the SmartSpeaker to a computer using iTunes. Once the speaker is connected to your Wi-Fi it will appear as an AirPlay option in iTunes and it's just a simple case of selecting it.
But it's here that the really clever trick of this speaker comes in. Connect two SmartSpeakers to your Wi-Fi and using the little switch on the back of each speaker you can tell them to be either a right or a left channel, creating a completely wireless stereo speaker arrangement.
Sadly, though, you can only set this up through iTunes at the moment, not using an iOS device, which is a real shame being as this is the device's big party trick.
On the flipside, you can use the SmartSpeaker to playback the audio from all manner of apps on your iPhone or iPad – apps such as iPlayer or Spotify – whereas you have to install a special extra app on your PC to do this. It's called Airfoil and you can find the instructions on how to set it up on the AQ Audio website.
A few months ago that was your lot, and as such we were left wanting in our original review but, as promised, AQ Audio has now released new firmware and apps that significantly boost the SmartSpeaker's capabilities. For a start you can now download Android and Windows Phone apps for wirelessly streaming from those devices. Plus, you can now setup wireless connection from an iDevice to the SmartSpeaker without an existing Wi-Fi network using AQ Direct. In other words, you can now truly take the SmartSpeaker anywhere and have wireless sound.
These updates have transformed The AQ Audio SmartSpeaker from a slightly niche product to a real all-rounder, though the lack of Bluetooth still makes it a little less versatile than some.