Audioengine AW1 Wireless Audio Adapter
There are lots of wireless ways to get two channels of audio from point A to point B. But which is the right one for you? One of several possible answers is the Audioengine AW1 wireless audio adapter. It takes the form of two shiny black objects. Each one is the size and shape of a box of kitchen matches, with a stubby USB dongle at one end and a stereo mini-jack at the other end.
Of course they are not identical. One is the transmitter and the other is the receiver. Packaged with the product are two cables with mini-plugs at both ends, plus a mini-plug-male to RCA-female adapter. There is also a small wall-wart power adapter with a USB jack embedded into its side (no trailing cables).
Audioengine suggests several applications, some of which involve the company's excellent Audioengine 5 powered speakers. You might move the signal from a PC, iPod, or any kind of component audio system to the A5. If you don't own the A5, you can also move the signal from your computer to just about any kind of audio system with a stereo analog input.
The limitation in all these scenarios is the AW1's need for a USB power source at both ends. The supplied USB power adapter will help at one end, but at the other, you'll need a USB-equipped device like a computer, the A5, or perhaps a USB-equipped surround receiver. Audioengine says Apple iPod or cell phone USB power adapters will also work.
The AW1 uses the 802.11 wireless protocol between 2.4-2.4835GHz. The data rate of 340Mbps should be enough to handle any audio codec, from lossy to uncompressed. Rated range is 100 feet, though as I discovered, obstructions can prevent the product from working.
All of my experiments involved a PC as the originating signal source. My Lenovo A61e desktop delivered both power and signal to the AW1 transmitter. (The computer's analog output, connected to an amp on my desk, was muted when the transmitter was connected.) I mini-jacked the receiver into a set of Altec Lansing im600 iPod speakers in the same room, with the USB plug going into the power adapter. The signal got through, and sounded decent, though it wasn't loud. I needed to max the volume both in the PC and in the powered speakers to achieve a moderate listening level.
Next I plugged the USB power adapter into one of the spare AC outlets on back of my Rotel RSX-1065 surround receiver, also in the same room, and plugged the AW1 receiver into one of the Rotel's analog inputs. With the PC still cranked all the way up, I got a moderate level with the Rotel at 70 out of a possible 90 volume increments (a normal level would be 50-55 with most speakers). Having the volume that high on my main system made me a bit nervous. Forgetting to reset the volume before changing signal sources might result in a loud surprise. But knocking down the barrier between my surround system and PC was worth the effort.
The next two experiments were not as successful. I moved the AW1 receiver into my bedroom, plugging it into the analog input of a pair of Audioengine 2 powered speakers. Though only 50 or so feet from the transmitter, half the AW1's rated range, this setup required the signal to penetrate the thick plaster wall of my 1910-vintage building (they knew how to build 'em in those days). The signal got through but sounded slightly garbled. Moving the receiver another 10 feet farther from the transmitter--into the kitchen, for use with the kitchen system--there was no signal at all.
Back in the bedroom, where the connection was weak, I tried ways of making it still weaker. When I stood between the receiver and the direction of the transmitter, the signal became more garbled. When I wrapped the receiver in my fist, the signal cut off altogether. Later, when the receiver and transmitter were back in the same room, I again tried covering the receiver with my fist. This time, that kind of physical obstruction didn't seem to faze it. As long as the transmitter and receiver are in close proximity, they are fairly bulletproof.
One of the AW1's strong suits was that, when it got a good signal, it didn't drop the signal. This stands in stark contrast to my Linksys wi-fi router, which drops the wireless and wired signals regularly. I have to reboot the stupid thing at least two or three times a day. It's maddening, and my old Belkin wired router was no better. I wouldn't want to use a router for listening to music, even if I had a wi-fi receiver of some kind in my main system.
The Audioengine AW1 has some limitations. It will work, probably up to its rated range, in an unobstructed situation. If it has to get through a wall, it may not do as well, though I didn't get a chance to try it with a thin drywall. But as long as it's not unreasonably challenged by a thick wall, it does the job and fairly painlessly.
Price: $149 from audioengineusa.com and other online retailers.
Mark Fleischmann is the author of the annually updated book Practical Home Theater and tastemaster of Happy Pig's Hot 100 New York Restaurants.