Onkyo DS-A5 Review
- Easy to setup
- Excellent sound quality
- Smooth AirPlay streaming
- Bodywork slightly plasticky in places
- Fiddly remote
- Review Price: £150.00
- AirPlay support
- Dock for iPhone, iPod and iPad
- Optical digital and analogue stereo outputs
- Onkyo’s Remote Interactive (RI) connection
- Built-in Wi-Fi with login sharing
The Onkyo DS-A5 is a Wi-Fi-equipped iPod, iPhone and iPad dock that brings AirPlay wireless music streaming to any sound system. It’s primarily designed for use with Onkyo AV receivers and stereo amps, but thanks to the digital and analogue outputs it’ll work with any audio setup. It’s ideal for those with older audio kit lacking modern-day trappings like USB ports and built-in network connectivity.
The DS-A5 measures 121mm wide by 136mm deep, making it small, discreet and easy to place on top of your AV amp or hi-fi system. It’s styled in black, with rounded corners making it a little bit more elegant than a straight black box.
On top of the unit, you’ll find the iPod/iPhone/iPad 30-pin connector at the front (you’ll need a Lightning adapter if you want to dock an iPhone 5), with a curved support directly behind it that props up the device. We tried an iPad and iPhone 4S and both feel suitably secure while docked. A Wi-Fi antenna is found on the right-hand side. Build quality is good – the dock has a decent heft when held in the hand, although the gloss-black plastic around the edges is a little on the plasticky side.
On the back of the DS-A5 is a row of sockets. These include an Ethernet port, a wired alternative to the built in Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) adapter, alongside analogue stereo and optical digital outputs, which you can connect to any sound system. There’s also a composite video output, which allows you to view videos and photos from docked devices, albeit in grotty standard definition.
Last but not least is Onkyo’s Remote Interactive (RI) connection, which allows you to hook up the DS-A5 to a compatible Onkyo amp or receiver and control it using your main Onkyo remote. When connected, it opens up other functions like the ‘auto power on’ mode, which wakes up your amp from standby when you turn on the DS-A5. When you turn your amp on or off, the dock can be set to do the same, and when you start playing music through the dock, the Direct Change function switches your amp to the relevant input. RI also allows you to use the sleep timer too.
Features-wise, built-in Wi-Fi and AirPlay are the clear highlights. Their inclusion allows you to link the DS-A5 to your home network (we’ll explain how on the next page) and beam tunes directly from any Apple device to your sound system wirelessly, or play songs from a PC or Mac running iTunes. Alternatively you can dock your iPhone, iPad or iPod on the unit and play music, with the added bonus that it’ll charge your device at the same time.
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.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 9