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Parrot jazzes up sleek Philippe Starck speaker

At CES, Parrot shows off a beautiful but costly speaker system that connects with just about anything. Crave's Christopher Macmanus goes ears-on.

The Starck-designed Zikmu Solo. Photo by Christopher MacManus/CNET

LAS VEGAS--Wireless peripheral maker Parrot is showing off an update to its Philippe Starck-designed Zikmu Solo wireless speaker system. Due sometime this year, the system doesn't differ much aesthetically from the original model introduced back in 2009. The latest version, does, however, offer improved innards, powerful sound, and a lower price point.

The $999 Zikmu Solo has 2x100-watt output and a built-in 1GHz ARM A8 processor that the company says "controls the path of the coil of the bass loudspeaker in real time" to greatly reduce distortion during playback.

The 2.1 stereo audio speaker system features built-in Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC (for quick pairing). Aside from the array of connectivity features, the Zikmu also jives with DLNA for networked streaming and can even connect with another Zikmu (over Wi-Fi) for even more output. A built-in speaker dock at the top of the device works with older iPhones and iPods with a 30-pin power port.

A glimpse at the Parrot Zikmu app. Photo by Christopher MacManus/CNET

Like other makers of wireless speakers, Parrot designed some spiffy apps to control the Zikmu with either iOS or Android. The apps offer a surprising array of audio controls, and the ability to adjust the output based on room size or adjust sound based on speaker location.

In a secluded white room here at CES, a Parrot rep demonstrated two white Zikmu Solos paired via Wi-Fi. After tapping a few buttons on an iPad, the rep queued up a high-bitrate version of Lana Del Rey's "Video Games," which sounded exceptional considering the relatively moderate size of the speakers (about 2.7 feet tall). I was unable to detect the muddling and distortion that I often hear in similar streaming setups. With the Zikmu, the bass reproduction sounded accurate but not over the top, while the clarity of the mids and highs sounded true to form and not tinny.

I challenged the rep to play a low-bitrate song to see just how good the Zikmu could really perform, and once again I found myself surprised with the output; the speaker can seemingly clean up poor-quality songs and make them sound better. Still, I walked away unconvinced that the speaker would work for anyone but a design aficionado with money burning a hole in his or her wallet.