Delivering big, room-filling sound with detail and precision, this excellent Bluetooth and Wi-Fi speaker’s only real downside is a hefty price tag
- Big, room-filling sound
- Precise and detailed delivery
- Effective smart app
- Review Price: £599
- Tuned by AKG
- Distortion cancelling technology
- Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
- Works with Amazon Alexa
- Dimensions: 52.2cm x 21.2cm x 7cm
- Weight: 4.6kg
What is the Samsung AKG VL5?
The Samsung AKG VL5 two-channel wireless smart speaker is the latest product to benefit from the Korean giant’s purchase of the Harman Kardon group.
This new speaker not only uses the distortion cancelling technology developed in Samsung’s Audio Lab, but it’s also been specially tuned by AKG. There’s a host of useful features included, with UHQ 32-bit upscaling, support for Samsung’s SmartThings app, and built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Samsung AKG VL5 – Design, control and connections
The Samsung AKG VL5 takes minimalism to the extreme, with a design that’s essentially a rectangular black box. However, adding some texture is a mesh grille at the front, the wood-effect sides, and the metallic matte finish at the top.
It’s on the top that you’ll find a simple control for play/pause, surrounded by a touch-sensitive dial around which you run your finger to turn the volume up or down. On the right hand side, near the bottom, are three LEDs that indicate whether the VL5 is connected via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or the aux-in.
In terms of remote controls, there are two options: the dial controller and the SmartThings app. The former is an interesting little round controller that pairs with the main unit via Bluetooth. It’s magnetic, so you can leave it attached to the speaker when not in use, and then attach it to something else when controlling the VL5 remotely.
You turn the entire dial to move the volume up or down, and it has a multi-function button on the top, a small LED indicator light, and built-in microphones for voice control. It’s a bit of a gimmick, but I like the dial controller. My only complaint would be that Samsung doesn’t include a micro-USB cable to recharge the battery.
The SmartThings app, which is freely available for iOS and Android, scans your network, automatically recognising your compatible devices and pairing them with your phone and each other. You can then control them using the app, and the Group Play feature also allows you to listen to music on other Samsung audio device in your home.
Since the VL5 is primarily a wireless speaker, it has minimal physical inputs – although there is a 3.5mm audio jack and a LAN port. Otherwise, your options are all wireless, with a choice of Bluetooth or Wi-Fi (2.4/5GHz). There’s also a USB port, but this is purely for firmware updates, and the speaker uses an AC/DC power adapter.
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Samsung AKG VL5 – Features
The Samsung AKG VL5 is a two-channel speaker, but the manufacturer fails to provide any information on driver size, frequency response, or amplification power. The speaker does use a wide-range tweeter, though, and it includes the same distortion cancelling technology that’s proved very effective on other Samsung products.
The VL5 supports UHQ 32-bit upscaling, which is designed to enhance lower resolution recordings. In addition, the speaker supports numerous file types including AAC, MP3, WAV, OGG, FLAC, AIFF, and ALAC. The SmartThings app provides access to TuneIn internet radio, and the Deezer music streaming service.
The other big feature is the inclusion of Amazon Alexa voice control, which you can set up via Skills in the Alexa app. All you need to do is enable Samsung Wireless Audio and then, under Smart Home, select devices and discover the VL5. This will enable the 3PDA skills and allow you to interact with your speaker using Alexa voice control.
If you don’t own an Alexa-enabled device, there’s also the option to use the built-in microphones in the dial controller to interact with the voice assistant on your smartphone (Bixby, Siri, or Google Assistant) when paired via Bluetooth. You simply press and hold the multi-function button on the dial controller for more than two seconds to activate voice recognition.
Samsung AKG VL5 – Setup
The Samsung AKG VL5 is extremely easy to set up: simply plug it in and choose the appropriate source. If you plan on connecting wirelessly, you’ll either need to pair your Bluetooth device or download the SmartThings app and set up Wi-Fi. When a connection is made, the speaker will inform you audibly with a voice message.
The dial controller will need to be charged, which means getting hold of a micro-USB cable because – as mentioned – Samsung annoyingly doesn’t include one. However, the dial and speaker should already be paired with each other – although, if not, there are connect buttons on both and reset buttons if you need to start again.
The buttons on the speaker and the dial controller provide basic playback functionality, and there’s also a degree of control when using a paired device. However, the SmartThings app offers a number of features that can’t be accessed in any other way.
These include selecting the input source, bass and treble controls, and even a graphic equaliser. You can also select music services, set a sleep timer, choose the installation type, turn on auto power off, and toggle the audio prompt on and off. You can group the speaker with other Samsung audio devices in your home, too.
Samsung AKG VL5 – Sound quality
The review sample was brand new, so I ran the VL5 in for a while, just to knock the corners off. After which I set about putting the speaker through its paces. It’s fairly big for a smart speaker, but that’s a good thing: the larger the cabinet, the better the drivers inside.
Samsung may not state the exact specifications of the the drivers or the amplification, but both certainly delivered the goods in terms of a big and open soundstage. The width of the cabinet means the speaker is also able to deliver a sense of stereo separation. That’s crucial, because too often the soundstage produced by a smart speaker just collapses down to mono, and feels as if it is emanating from a single point.
Thanks to this stereo soundstage there was a convincing sonic presence, and listening to the Memphis recordings of Primal Scream’s “Give Out but Don’t Give Up”, the instruments were rendered with a pleasing accuracy. The distortion cancelling technology revealed all the detail present in the source recording, and the tuning by AKG gave the speaker’s signature a shade of warmth to stop it sounding too sterile.
The VL5 also boasts plenty of power, and you can drive this speaker loud without it distorting or sounding strained. The solid nature of the cabinet’s construction means there’s also plenty of bass, giving drums an impressive low-end presence. The bass is well integrated with the speaker’s excellent mid-range – but it isn’t all bass and treble, with the wide-range tweeter delivering female voices and violins without sounding sharp or brittle.
All these attributes were clearly evidenced when listening to the epic soundscapes of Suede’s new album The Blue Hour. There was a sweeping and symphonic majesty to the delivery, and Brett Anderson’s vocals retained a pleasing quality and remained intelligible over the instruments, thanks to a balanced mid-range. The bass also impressed, with plenty of depth to the baritone chorus in the opening track and an ominous tone to the orchestration.
The VL5 proved to be adept at every genre of music, delivering even the most complex mix with an enjoyable sense of precision. You can certainly use this speaker as a means of providing a background soundtrack to your daily life, but if you take the time to sit down and listen to it, you’ll discover a nuanced and sophisticated performer.
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Why buy the Samsung AKG VL5?
The Samsung AKG VL5 is a well-designed and great-sounding smart speaker that includes cutting-edge features that are very useful. The distortion cancelling technology is highly effective, and the speaker has the size and power to deliver a room-filling audio experience. The dial controller is a fun touch and the SmartThings app is extremely intuitive. My only real complaint is its price.
At £599, the Samsung AKG VL5 is competing against a number of very capable wireless speakers, some of which can even offer a genuine stereo experience. One excellent example is the Elipson Prestige Facet 6B BT, an active version of Elipson’s Prestige bookshelf speaker that not only has built-in Bluetooth, but also comes with a Chromecast Audio dongle. This classy and extremely well-made two-speaker system not only sounds fantastic but it costs only £499, making it a bit of a bargain.
The Samsung AKG VL5 can deliver big, room-filling sound thanks to a large cabinet, noise cancelling technology, and some great features. In fact, this excellent Bluetooth and Wi-Fi speaker’s only real downside is a hefty price tag.
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