On the inside, the speakers are well-specced. Each one contains a wireless receiver and Texas Instruments digital signal processing, plus they’re bi-amped with 2 x 25W Class D amplifiers. They use a rear-firing reflex port design with two drivers – a 1in soft dome ferrofluid cooled tweeter and a 4.5in mid/bass paper cone. Frequency response is quoted as 45Hz to 22kHz.
The wireless transmitter, which uses STS technology courtesy of US wireless audio specialist SMSC, operates on the 2.4GHz RF band with a sampling rate of 48.1kHz, and has a signal range of up to 25 metres. Blue Aura says audio delays aren’t a problem, with a maximum audio latency of 18ms.
Installing the system takes a little time given how many bits are in the box. There are two-part power leads for both speakers, plus the transmitter, remote, transmitter plug, minijack cable and speakers themselves – we thought it would never end. But it’s all fairly self explanatory, and the manual spells everything out in well-written English.
The first hurdle to overcome is locating both speakers next to a mains plug socket, which may limit your placement options. It’s a necessary evil, but the need to connect a power cable to each speaker could also get fairly messy if the speakers are placed up high – thankfully the £85 optional stands feature a cable management system, which might make them worth the investment.
If you’re using the WS80i with a PC or Mac, installation is a cinch, in theory. Plug the transmitter’s USB lead into a free port, and wait for the OS to install the relevant drivers. Sadly this took longer than usual on our Windows 7 laptop, and we had to delve into Control Panel and give it a nudge. You also have to select the speakers manually in Windows Media Player but none of this takes an unreasonable amount of brain power or time to resolve.
Once that’s done, you have to hit the ‘Station’ button on the remote, which cycles through the three zones (Blue, Red and Green) and locks on when it finds a signal – the colour of the LEDs on the speaker and transmitter have to match. This happened quickly and reliably every time we swapped channels.
If you’re using a different device, such as an MP3 player, TV, hi-fi system or Blu-ray deck, you need to plug the transmitter into the mains using the supplied USB plug because it’s not being powered from a PC. Then connect a cable between the device’s output and the transmitter’s input (in the case of a Blu-ray deck or TV, you may need a stereo phono to minijack lead, which isn’t supplied).
Blue Aura sells these WSt transmitters separately for £39 a pop, so you can connect them to various devices and beam them to the speakers using the three coloured ‘zones’. You can also add extra pairs of the WS80 speakers to create a proper multi-room system.
The excellent build quality of the speakers is matched by that of the remote. It’s the size of a credit card but chunky, plus it looks attractive in its sparkly silver finish. The layout is uncluttered and its few buttons are well-labelled. Press the volume buttons and it affects both speakers, but you can point the remote at an individual speaker for certain functions (toggling through the zones, for example).