I've been reviewing multifunction single-speaker iPod systems for a while now and have seen their evolution take shape over the years. The one trend they all seem to follow is hooking into a specific iPod functionality and boasting it as a highlight feature--whether it's the ability to display track information, play video off the device, or allow for wireless control. Now with the prevalence of iPads, AirPlay technology has caused manufacturers to shift their focus.
Only one other AirPlay device has graced my review desk, the JBL On Air Wireless, which by all accounts was an oddly designed, yet great-sounding device. Unfortunately for the JBL, it lost major points in my opinion because of its $350 MSRP, though I'm now seeing it online for as cheap as $230. Sure, the JBL flashed a bevy of features, but when all was said and done, it was a tough sell primarily in regards to its price.
With the Klipsch Gallery G-17 Air, we're introduced to another AirPlay-focused single-speaker system with some impressive functionality. The G-17 not only wirelessly streams audio from an iPad, but can also play nicely with any computer running iTunes, or an iPod Touch or iPhone. It accomplishes this via a very easy-to-use Web-based interface that uses your wireless home network. To boot, the G-17 sounds great and is surprisingly painless to set up. All these positives aside, its jaw-dropping $550 price tag seems extraordinarily high, reserving this luxury item for the few who aren't interested in cheaper DIY or wired alternatives.
Judging by looks alone, the G-17 seems like it's the center channel of a high-end 5.1 speaker system. A stretch-cloth grille covers the front face of the speaker, which is anchored by a steel rod around back.
The unit's outer casing is a polished black matte plastic. It's a heavy box, too, weighing in at almost 8 pounds. The G-17 comes with an optional stand as well which elevates the speaker about two inches off the surface. It's not required though, as the speaker can lie comfortably on its own.
The speaker itself packs in two 20-watt woofers and two 10-watt tweeters.
All of the G-17's interactive connectivity options are found around back and include an auxiliary-in and a USB port that can charge a device or be used to transform the G-17 into a wired speaker for a USB device. Unfortunately this only includes Apple products.
The included remote isn't anything to write home about. Its flimsy feel and appearance don't fall in line with a $550 product. The optional Klipsch app will only allow for initial setup, so once that's working there's really no reason to keep it around unless you change networks and need to run the setup again.
Finally, the main buttons on the G-17 are located on its right side; they include power, volume, input selection, and wireless connection configuration.
Setup, features, and performance
The G-17 certainly packs in a healthy feature set, but its highlight has to be its compatibility with the Apple wireless standard, AirPlay. Any device that has iTunes, including, iPads, and iPod Touches can stream music wirelessly to the G-17 with ease.
Setting up the G-17 for wireless playback involves a one-time configuration (though if you switch networks you'll need to reset and perform setup again). First, I had to connect to the G-17 like it was a wireless router through my laptop. Once connected to the G-17's "access point," I could then configure the device to learn the SSID of my home network and voila, my G-17 was ready to stream music via AirPlay. A simple tick of a few iTunes preferences then allowed me to control the G-17 within iTunes, and I was all set.
In my testing with actual music playback, of all the connection options available I found that direct connections trumped wireless play in terms of quality. This falls in line with my experience with other AirPlay and wireless devices in the past as well, so it really was not a shocking revelation. That said, the Klipsch's overall sound quality packs a heavy punch.
I was blown away with the way the G-17 handled the sludgy composition of Mastodon's "The Hunter" album. It's a muddy record with every imaginable chance for distortion, but the G-17 played it all the way through with precision. Next up was Fitz and the Tantrums' "Pickin' Up the Pieces," which orchestrates a more jazz-influenced sound, allowing the ears to isolate instruments more easily. Again, I was really impressed here with the G-17's performance. I love how the volume can really be turned almost all the way up and the Klipsch will continue to hold its composure all the way through.
It's no secret, I'm very much in love with the G-17's fantastic sound and ability to stay sharp and crystal-clear at high volumes. The fact that I was able to get it up and running in under 15 minutes adds more bonus points as well. That said, Klipsch's G-17 price tag is asking way too much. Its retail of $550 is enough for anyone of any income level to balk at.
If you're a lucky-enough soul where cost is of no importance and your only concern is whether or not a device works and sounds great, go buy the G-17. If you're among the masses and consider price to be a major factor in purchasing an AirPlay accessory, I'm afraid the G-17 is not worth it.
AirPlay devices aren't cheap as we've seen in our AirPlay accessory roundup, but for the money, there are other alternatives. And besides, if you're spending upward of $500, why not opt for something like a new AV receiver that can handle AirPlay, too? CNET really likes the Pioneer VSX-1021.