The Airstream S200 is a compact wireless speaker that streams music via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and boasts support for Apple AirPlay, DLNA and Airstream Direct. It’s from the same family of products as the excellent Airstream A100 amplifier, but this more affordable model comes with integrated speakers to form a space-saving all-in-one solution.
Monitor Audio has a knack for elegant, luxurious design and the S200 continues that trend. It’s a 274mm-high block that curves back at the top, with black cloth on the front and a charcoal grey back end, or white with grey cloth, depending on which colour option you've chosen. The sparkly toughened-glass top panel serves no purpose, but looks nice. It’s an unusual-looking speaker, but we like it.
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The S200’s build quality is fantastic. The polymer bodywork is robust and weighty, providing a stable base for the speaker drivers to work their magic. But the S200’s main appeal lies in its compact size, which enables it to slot discreetly into narrow spaces, while the wireless connectivity keeps cable clutter at bay.
Its footprint is tiny, but you can reduce it to zero by mounting it on the wall with Monitor Audio’s optional MASM universal bracket, which fixes to the 1/4-inch threaded insert on the back.
The power button takes pride of place on the front, sitting above a light that indicates the S200’s status. A small panel of buttons is found on the right, offering volume, Wi-Fi and input controls. There’s no remote control, so you have to use these buttons or the controls on the wireless device you've connected to it.
On the back you’ll find a 3.5mm minijack input to hook up non-wireless portable devices or a TV if you’re so inclined. The USB port allows you to charge and play music directly from an Apple device, and share Wi-Fi settings with an iPod Touch or iPhone.
The S200 leaves few wireless stones unturned. Heading the bill is AirPlay support, which lets you stream music from Apple devices or a PC/Mac running iTunes on the same network as the S200. You can also stream music from DLNA servers (such as Windows Media Player), all thanks to the built-in Wi-Fi connection.
No Wi-Fi coverage? No problem. You can stream directly to the S200 without a router using Monitor Audio’s Airstream Direct technology.
Alternatively the S200’s Bluetooth 4.0 connection offers aptX for uncompressed ‘CD-quality’ music playback. This is a step up from the Airstream A100, which fell foul of Apple’s policy of not allowing AirPlay and Bluetooth on the same product. But Apple has since relaxed its stance and consequently both are found on the S200.
The S200 also employs the same C-CAM driver technology used by Monitor Audio’s full-sized speakers. A 20mm gold C-CAM dome tweeter sits between two 3in C-CAM bass drivers, which sit on angled baffles to create a larger listening area. On the back is a rear-firing ‘race track’ Auxiliary Bass Radiator to reinforce low frequencies.
The drivers are powered by three separate Class D amplifiers, which send 25W to each woofer and 15W to the tweeter (65W total). The S200 also uses a high-resolution DAC (digital-to-analogue converter) and proprietary digital signal processing designed to squeeze the best possible quality out of your music, especially from lossless formats such as ALAC and FLAC.
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With no front display and no remote, the setup process initially feels like you’re sailing blind. The manual explains what all the flashing lights mean, but annoyingly you can only access it on Monitor Audio’s website as there isn’t one in the box. Stupidly we tried setting it up without reading the manual and ended up staring at a blinking light.
For owners of an iPod Touch or iPhone, setup is a doddle. Just connect it to the USB port and press the Wi-Fi sharing button on the back. A dialogue box appears on the device’s screen asking if you want to share Wi-Fi settings – just hit ‘Allow’, unplug the USB cable and you’re good to go.
For other devices like PCs and Android mobiles the process is more complicated. You have to hold down the Wi-Fi sharing button, temporarily connect your device to the S200 (which should appear in its list of Wi-Fi connections) and access the Wi-Fi setup menu by entering 220.127.116.11 into your browser. In this menu you can enter your Wi-Fi password, after which setup is complete.
It’s a long-winded process – rendered even more frustrating by the setup menu’s reluctance to appear – but once connected it remembers the settings for subsequent visits.
Airstream Direct setup is a little simpler – switch to the correct mode using the Wi-Fi input button on the side, then select the S200 in your device’s list of Wi-Fi connections. You can start streaming straight away. For Bluetooth, use the input button to select the right mode and pair your device.
Once setup is complete, it’s plain sailing – the light on the front glows different colours to denote each input (dark blue for AirPlay/DLNA, cyan for Bluetooth, purple for Airstream Direct, white for USB and green for aux input). AirPlay takes priority over DLNA and kicks in when you start playing something from iTunes. You can switch between AirPlay/DLNA and Airstream Direct using the Wi-Fi input button on the side.
The lack of a remote is disappointing, as you have to get up every time you want to switch inputs or adjust the volume for USB/aux playback – although you can control volume on your device when streaming wirelessly.
Don’t let the S200’s diminutive size fool you – this compact speaker belts out a big sound. But it’s not just the power that impresses. There’s a sense of refinement, openness and subtlety that you don’t always get from a £200 speaker.
It doesn’t matter what source you’re streaming music from, the S200 tackles it with spine-tingling clarity. It digs out subtle sonic details like the gentle husk on voices and the pluck of guitar strings. Even low-resolution MP3s and online music come up smelling of roses.
Streaming Lauren Desberg’s rendition of Spring Is Here via AirPlay, the S200 really nails the mellow, languid mood of the music, lending warmth to Desberg’s voice and the Rhodes chords while teasing out the shuffling hi-hats and subtle percussion.
And when called for the S200 gets punchy and vivacious, tackling fast rhythms with expert timing and keeping funky basslines in the pocket. The uptempo funk of Mass Transit by Blue Six is impeccably delivered – foot tapping is mandatory.
The deep, fulsome bass output contributes to the room-filling sound, but what really impresses is the way it integrates tightly and never lags behind when things get energetic.
This also pays dividends when watching movies and TV shows through the 3.5mm input. You get a sense of scale and authority that rivals larger soundbars and soundbases.
Its smooth, easy sound means you can listen to it for hours without fatigue – indeed it provided the soundtrack to this review – and it goes loud without straining, which is no mean feat given its size and limited cabinet volume.
What’s more, the angled drivers deliver a more spacious sound than we expected given its narrow shape. We really can’t speak highly enough of this terrific little speaker.
With a hugely generous range of features, gorgeous build quality and stunning sound, the super-stylish S200 feels like an absolute bargain for the money.
Support for AirPlay, DLNA, Bluetooth and Airstream Direct – plus USB playback and a 3.5mm input – give you plenty of connectivity options, and owners of Apple devices will find it very easy to set up and use.
Our only complaints are the lack of a remote and the long-winded setup process for non-Apple devices, but that aside, the S200 is a superb wireless speaker that demands investigation.
Monitor Audio’s compact wireless speaker boasts generous wireless connectivity, sumptuous styling and sound quality to die for. At £200, it’s an absolute no-brainer.
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