Creative Labs ZiiSound D5x Wireless Speaker and DSx Subwoofer

High-quality Bluetooth audio? I know what you're thinking.

Bluetooth's incredibly convenient, since it's built into just about every mobile device, but it has a reputation for so-so sonics.  Designed as a low-power, low bandwidth system, it doesn't seem ideally suited to high fidelity audio reproduction. Maximum bandwidth for A2DP (Bluetooth's "stereo audio profile" for music, as opposed to the various voice communication and remote control protocols) is 768kbps, well short of the 1.411 Mbps that transmission of  uncompressed 16 bit, 44.1 kHz (CD-quality) audio requires. . .so something has generally had to give on the perceptual coding front. And until recently, the codecs employed (most commonly SBC, a general-purpose sub-band codec) haven't quite done justice to the source.

But the folks at CSR have quietly been improving the response of that old standby, Bluetooth, and they've come up with apt-X, a Bluetooth codec that offers much improved audio performance over good old SBC. Only problem is, apt-X devices aren't all that common quite yet, though CSR's tech has been making its way into more and more products, including the ZiiSound line of speakers from Creative, the latest iteration of which is a modular system encompassing two dock/speaker/soundbars (the D5x and D3x) and a wireless subwoofer, the DSx.

I checked out a system consisting of two of the flagship ZiiSound D5x speaker/docks and a ZiiSound DSx subwoofer, along with Creative's apt-X iOS and USB dongles; listening was done primarily using lossless files played back via FLAC Player on an iPad2 (with Creative's iOS dongle) or Play on a MacBook (using a USB dongle) and mp3s from an Android phone over plain-vanilla A2DP for comparison.

The D5x itself is an update of Creative's older D5; which looked more or less identical but was a standalone iPod/iPhone dock, with a bit of a twist. Creative's dongle also serves as the docking connector, functioning as a transmitter when detached and passing charge through when your iDevice, dongle attached, is parked in it's cradle. Or, of course, you can leave the dongle parked, in which case functionality is pretty much like any other static docking system. That dongle carries over to its successor

Like many newer systems, Creative's gone for a modular array of do-it-all devices with the ZiiSound line. Buy a single speaker for desktop audio, two if you want stereo or go with a multiroom setup, add a sub if you like, or go ape and build a 3.1 system with a center channel for a soundbar-like quasi-surround system (though at that scale the overall cost of the system begins to become prohibitive when compared to more traditional options. Everything connects wirelessly, so all you'll have to plug in are the power adapters.

The "Pure Wireless" universe of Zii stuff, by the way, includes not just speakers but sources like the Zen X-Fi 3 portable music player and the ZiiO tablet, which gives you a video solution that'll stream audio via apt-X to the speakers. In for a dollar. . .

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