New Gear: Phorus Play-Fi Wireless Music System

Another day, another dock - but wait. There's no dock on the new Phorus PS1 ($199). It's just a shelf. And the little Phorus PR1 ($149). That's no dock either. . .

What's going on here? A recognition that while not everybody has or wants an iOS device, they all want wireless audio - that's what.

Earlier this afternoon S+V got a demo of the new whole-house wireless system from DTS subsidiary Phorus, and in the process a demo of DTS' new Play-Fi wireless audio platform. Like Apple's AirPlay, Play-Fi piggybacks its streams on your existing Wi-Fi network, meaning there's no need for an application-specific router or bridge, or for the devices to establish their own network as happens in Sonos' system - thus the individual units (and thus the overall system) can be less expensive. Management of the system is handled - as is the fashion these days - by an Android app. Streaming is lossless, up to 16 bit/44.1 kHz resolution (sorry, high-resolution fans).

The app can stream content stored on your device or from a NAS or computer on the same wireless network; multiple devices can send audio to any PS1 or PR1 on a given network, with new devices able to kick already-playing devices off. One stream per device, however. Both PS1 and PR1 will charge your device over USB, and as I mentioned above, the PS1 includes a dock like shelf on which to park your phone or tablet.

Like most Android-focused "docks," the Phorus units include Bluetooth, but that's only there as a backup - with iOS devices in mind.

Today's demo involved a hotel suite set up with several PS1 speakers and PR1 receivers hooked up to various systems. Setup of devices was quick and easy, requiring no cryptic codes or blinking LED patterns. The app handles Wi-Fi login, letting you enter a single password to sign all PS1 and PR1 devices onto your network in one fell swoop; thereafter you can give them names, or you can deal with such niceties later. The app then automatically indexes the music files on your device, and you can get started playing music right away.

Play-Fi runs in the background, letting you do other stuff with your Android device while you listen. You can't send audio through Play-Fi from your other apps, but DTS/Phorus is working on access to streaming services; Pandora was an option during the demo (you can also use Bluetooth to stream from other audio apps on your phone, though you can't take advantage of Play-Fi benefits, like lossless streaming). If you're carrying your device around, you can send your audio stream to various combinations of playback devices on your network with no perceptible lag. Functionality in the demo I saw was smooth and polished.

The PS1 sounded good and played quite loudly - the goal with these sorts of designs is "room-filling sound" and it certainly delivered. If you prefer to roll your own system, the PR1 offers an analog output.

The long-term plan is that Play-Fi will make its way into a broad range of devices, though other partners have not yet been announced. Phorus' systems are a nice proof of concept, and an inexpensive way to get into mobile device based audio. And you can order one right now; units will be available October 1.