Creative Labs ZiiSound D5
As the iPhone-iPod audio docking systems move into a more mature phase, Creative is hitching its wagon to Bluetooth in a bid to differentiate itself in this crowded category. Bluetooth compatibility allows the wide range of A2DP devices--which includes iPhones, iPads, recent iPod Touch models, most recent smartphones, and many PCs--to stream audio wirelessly to the speaker. On the PC speaker side, Creative has the $150 Inspire S2 Bluetooth system, and now the company has bulked up its audio line with several Bluetooth-enabled iPod speaker options, including the ZiiSound D5, a higher-end model that retails for $300.
The nice thing about the ZiiSound D5 is that it's pretty compact, measuring 3.5 inches high by 16.7 inches wide by 4.3 inches deep, with a low profile that's well suited for shelf placement. The attractively designed speaker has nice heft (8.4 pounds) and appears to be well-built, though the speaker cloth that covers the front and top of the speaker seems susceptible to fraying (keep this away from cats) and does attract some dust. In an ideal world, we would have preferred a matte-finished top and metal or plastic grilles to cover the speakers.
If you own any of the stereo Bluetooth-enabled devices mentioned above (the D5 supports the A2DP and AVRCP profiles), connecting to the D5 can be as simple as turning your device's Bluetooth on, waiting for it to search and find the D5, inputting the PIN (0000), then hitting play on your music. The music will stream wirelessly to the speaker so long as you're within about 30 feet of the D5.
For those with non-Bluetooth-enabled iPods, such as the Nano, the Classic, or the first-generation iPod Touch, Creative has bundled in a Bluetooth dongle that attaches to the bottom of your iPod and allows you to stream audio in the same fashion. What's nice is that this dongle stows away in the speaker itself and--when it's in place--it acts as the connector to charge your iPod or iPhone (the speaker is GSM shielded, so you don't get any issues with static when your iPhone is docked).
Though Creative clearly expects buyers of this audio system to have a Bluetooth audio device, it has equipped the unit with an auxiliary minijack input on the back so you can connect other audio devices with an optional cable. You can use this input for the iPod Shuffle, which does not have a 30-pin connector, or toss it in front of the television, where it can double as a TV speaker.
What happens when you're streaming music from your smartphone and a call comes in? The music pauses, and--when you hang up--it starts again where it left off. Alas, you can't use the D5 as a speakerphone, but that's not the end of the world.
As for sound, we were pretty impressed. With a Bluetooth connection, your digital music gets more compressed than it already is, but some companies, like Creative, infuse it with extra technology to optimize the sound; Creative uses something called the apt-x audio codec. We should also point out that the quality of the music matters less when you're dealing with a smaller speaker that doesn't accentuate the flaws created by compression. In other words, bigger and better speakers will highlight the flaws of your digital music. By comparison, ignorance is bliss: when listening to the ZiiSound D5, it's pretty hard to tell you're listening to music streamed wirelessly via Bluetooth.
The little speaker offers more bass than its size would indicate and decent, though not exceptional, detail. The D5 can also play pretty loudly, but it does a better job filling a small- to medium-size room than a large one with sound. For reference, we kept the volume on the speaker at about 80 to 85 percent from the top and then adjusted the volume via the control on our iPhone.
All in all, though we had some small gripes, we came away liking the D5 a lot. It offers better sound than the step-down Creative D200 speaker, which doesn't come with the iPod dongle and is targeted more toward owners of non-Apple devices. However, that model is less than half the price, costing just $130.