One of my favourite iOS features is Airplay. The ability to send Audio and/or video wirelessly to a device such as an Apple TV or something like a Gear4 Airzone Series 1 speaker dock is pretty useful and handily I have been using the latter for the last few days.
First, lets start with how it looks. Overall the size is comparable with a shoebox thats been tipped on its side. The front is dominated by the silver metal speaker grille and 30 pin dock connector, which sticks out on a little silver shelf with the GEAR4 logo printed on it. The top is capped in a glossy piano black and is home to all the buttons as well as the volume dial. The bottom is covered in red non-slip rubber and the back has the power switch and cable, Aux In, Wifi antenna and FM Radio Aerial. It looks pretty stylish and it fits in well with my other home entertainment equipment.
The Airzone Series 1 (I’ll just call it the Airzone from now on) comes with the usual stuff you would expect from a speaker dock. There is the 30 pin dock connector on the front for connecting your iOS device. This will also charge your devices as well, including the iPad, which is notable as some docks I have tested don’t due to the extra power needed. Yes, you can even plug in an iPad without any issues. There is more than enough room and there is even a little rubber support to lean the iPad against. The Airzone also has an FM Radio with the ability to store presets in addition to manually scanning frequencies. Also included in the box is a remote control.
If you’ve ever used a speaker dock before then the docked mode will be familiar. You plug your device in, select your preferred audio app and sound comes through the dock. This is good if you have a dedicated iPod that stores all your music as you’ll always have power and you can control your music with the remote control.
The headline feature, as alluded to in the opening, is AirPlay. To setup this mode you select which network you would like to connect to using the display on the front and the remote, Input your network password and you are good to go. This whole process was painless and took less than a minute. Once that’s done, if you are using an iOS app that supports it, you can tap the Airplay button and the audio is almost instantly sent to the speaker. Incidentally I didn’t find any apps that I use daily that weren’t compatible. AirPlay is activated by swiping right on the multitasking bar. I used it for listening to Podcasts, Spotify and even the audio from Youtube and Safari videos, all without any hassle. It’s good for when you still need to use the device you are streaming from. I could still work on my iPad or send texts and play games from my phone without even a hiccup in the sound. You’d never guess where the audio was streaming from.
Streaming music from your computer is also possible. This can be done using iTunes but there are apps available for OSX that will send all audio output to an Airplay device. I personally use a combination of Airfoil and Spotify and had no problems there at all.
When it comes to the display at first I thought I’d have liked it to have been bigger, as it only shows one line of text. In use however, I came to realise it shows just enough information without being too distracting or eye catching. The text is dark blue so it blends in well with the black surround. When in AirPlay or docked mode, the display shows the current playing track and when using the FM Radio the Station name is displayed. As mentioned before, this is also where you select wifi networks and input passwords.
The FM radio is a decent effort. Presets were easily saved and cycled through and the quality was as good as you’ll ever get from an FM station I expect. Having a digital tuner would have been a nice option but in my experience they still aren’t as good as FM in terms of sound quality. I liked that you have to manually tune in stations rather than having to use auto tune. Whenever I have used any auto tuning function in the past on alarm clocks, docks and my car, they always miss at least 2 of the local radio stations.
I’m by no means an audiophile but the sound output impressed me. So much so I actually ended up hooking my TV up to the Aux in because it was better than the TV’s built in speakers. Bass wasn’t too overpowering (there are some EQ options for those who want to make adjustments) and there was no distortion when the I turned the volume up to the highest comfortable level. When listening to a podcast it sounded like the hosts were in the room with me. This speaker would work equally well being used at party’s as it would for listening to an audiobook.
All functions can be performed from the remote, which is quite small and a little cheap feeling if I’m honest. It works well enough but I can’t help but feel a little disappointed in the build quality compared to the actual Airzone. The remote will still control the attached device both whilst docked and when using AirPlay and can be used to change radio stations if you get bored of hearing “Moves Like Jagger” for the 17th time that day.
I’m really impressed with the Airzone. I like the styling and the convenience of Airplay is not to be underrated. The Airzone was very easy to set up and the ability to dock the iPad is great. A lot of speaker docks are made with only the iPhone or iPod touch in mind. As mentioned, the remote could have been better but its not necessarily bad and it does do the job its designed to do well. I’ve grown really attached to the Airzone whilst using it and I’ll be sad to see it go back.
If you have any questions then please feel free to ask them in the comments below or you can send me a tweet @chunkygeek
I’ve included some additional pictures below
The Gear4 Airzone Series 1 is available from Gear4 directly at the link below and costs £199.99
Links – Gear4