We mentioned the AQ Audio SmartSpeaker seemed a bit lightweight for a truly high-end piece of audio equipment and sure enough its sound quality is a little weaker than we remember when we first listened to it demoed many months ago. That said, there's still an impressive amount of power on show here.
With a 25W peak output, one of these speakers will out pace the likes of the Jawbone Jambox and Jabra Solemate and fill with undistorted sound a small to medium sized room or tent, plus it should easily be sufficient to keep you entertained while in the garden. Pair them together and you've quite clearly got double the power too.
Back to the bass, though, and it's about on par with battery powered units of its size but we have heard better. The Pasce minirig, for instance, delivers deeper tones and generally has more clout despite being markedly smaller, though this in turn leads to it having a slightly muffled sound when kicking out bassy tunes.
More surprising than the slightly weaker than expected bass is the mediocre fidelity. There's a lack of sparkle to the top-end giving a slightly flat feel to music. In fairness, it's a sound signature typical of most smaller battery powered audio devices but we had expected a little more for the size and price.
Not helping our overall impression, however, was the intermittent connection we were getting over our Wi-Fi. With a router setup in a downstairs living room and the testing mainly done in a first floor office, the speakers constantly struggled to maintain a steady connection, and when they did you could hear that the bit-rate (reduced by AirPlay because of the poor bandwidth) was very low leading to poor sound quality. This is less an issue with this particular product as with AirPlay in general, though, and using AQ Direct mode eliminated this.
As for the signature stereo speaker setup, we were impressed that they created a convincing stereo effect, and due to their completely wireless nature it's easy to place them wherever you need to get that audio sweet spot. The ultimate sound quality isn't exactly Hi-Fi but it’s pretty good and a great option to have.
As for longevity, AQ Audio’s claimed 10hrs on a full charge seemed to tie-in with our experience, and the unit charges up pretty quickly in between uses too. You can also charge your USB devices from the USB port, saving you having to carry around a separate USB charger.
Priced at £159.99 the SmartSpeaker's audio performance is in line with what we'd expect, and indeed it's better than most portable, wireless competitors. The Jawbone Jambox, the Jabra Solemate and the Braven 650 all offer similar features based on Bluetooth connectivity, have 10-15hour battery life and cost around £150 but the SmartSpeaker out performs them all on the audio front - though it is markedly bigger.
Other alternatives include the irrepressible Pasce minirig if you don’t need wireless and just want the biggest portable audio performance from the smallest space. Or, there's the £329 Libratone Zipp which offers the same AirPlay (with direct mode) technology but a much beefier sound, though at twice the price it's not without fault either.
The AQ Audio SmartSpeaker is a clever and stylish portable AirPlay speaker that’s beautifully built, sounds decent and whose party trick of being able to pair up and create a stereo speaker arrangement is unique and innovative (even if you do need to buy two to do it). And priced at ~£150, it's bang on in terms of price.
Thanks to its recent updates it's also now a very versatile system that can be used to offer wireless sound wherever you are. We still think it straddles a slightly odd line whereby it's large enough to be a bit limiting in its portability yet not powerful enough for regular home listening but considering the features on offer for the price this is a great buy.