Setting up the DS-A5 is simple. The biggest potential pitfall with Airplay is network setup, but Onkyo has made this as simple as possible. There are two ways of doing it – by sharing the Wi-Fi settings of your Apple device, or using an Access Point mode that allows you to set it up on your PC’s web browser.
The former method involves docking the device on the DS-A5 and pressing enter on the remote for five seconds. A dialogue box appears on the device – press ‘Accept’ and bingo, it’s done. This makes it so much easier to start streaming music than the Onkyo ABX-N300, which lacks this feature.
The other method involves holding down the remote's enter button to create a connection between the DS-A5 and computer and entering its IP address into your browser. The utilitarian setup menu allows you to change the device name, select the correct Wi-Fi router and enter your password. It takes a little longer to do, but didn’t pose any problems.
Operation is fairly simple, although like the ABX-N300 it comes with a clunky blister button remote, which isn’t particularly comfortable to hold. You’re better off hooking up the RI connection and using your Onkyo amp remote if possible. On the plus side it features all the buttons you need for full sofa control – playback, volume, menu, mute and standby.
On the front is a status LED that lights up or blinks in blue and green to denote its status, while on the bottom is an RI mode switch with two settings – Tape and Dock – which has to match the receiver’s input display.
To test its sonic pedigree, we hooked the DS-A5 up to the Onkyo A-9050 stereo amplifier with a pair of Dali Mentor Menuets on speaker duties. When transferring the signal digitally from dock to amp using the optical output, sound quality is at the mercy of the amp’s DAC and audio circuitry – thankfully this amp’s electronics are of the highest quality and music sounds fabulous through it. We tried a variety of tracks from Adele and Lianne La Havas to Nirvana and Miles Davis, and each song was laden with detail, warmth and punch.
A truer test of the dock’s capabilities is to use the analogue outputs, and again the sound quality is terrific. When playing tunes from a docked iPhone, vocals have a clean, realistic character, bass is tight and high-frequency sounds like hi-hats are clean and crisp.
Switching to AirPlay from iTunes on a laptop, there isn’t a noticeable drop in quality – songs sound every bit as enjoyable over Wi-Fi as they do from the dock. As for streaming reliability, we didn’t experience any drop outs during our test, but from experience that can change when there’s interference or extra strain on the network, and if so, it’s no fault of the DS-A5.
The Onkyo DS-A5 is an excellent way of bringing AirPlay and docking functionality to existing sound systems without having to invest in a whole new speaker dock. It’s extremely easy to set up with iPods, iPads and iPhones thanks to the Wi-Fi login sharing, but even with a laptop it’s child’s play.
Build quality is good if not great, and the black styling and compact size make it discreet and easy to place. The remote needs a rethink but owners of Onkyo amps can bypass it using the handy RI functionality. What’s most important is that its sound quality is superb whether you’re playing music through the dock or via AirPlay.