Parrot DS1120 wireless hi-fi speaker system
Parrot, a French company, makes a growing number of stereo Bluetooth speaker systems, most of which we've reviewed favorably. Parrot has a few new offerings for 2008, including the DS1120 ($280), a compact two-speaker system that resembles a set of stylish computer speakers.
The identical speakers measure 6 inches tall by 5 inches wide by 5.4 inches deep, but with their cylindrical shape, they may remind you a little bit of mini cannons. They have a black, matte finish and touch-sensitive buttons on their top right corners for raising and lowering volume and Bluetooth synching. While you have to plug each one of them in to power them, they're linked to each other--and to an audio source--by the Bluetooth wireless standard. Their black-fabric speaker covers are removable and adhere magnetically, which is a nice touch. It's also worth noting that the front of the speaker (behind the grill) has a glossy black finish that makes the speaker look pretty slick sans cover.
On the inside, each speaker contains a digital two-channel Class-D amplifier with a 30-watt output. But the key bullet point here is the built-in Bluetooth 2.0: it includes the two key Bluetooth components--EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) and A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile)--required for decent-sounding stereo audio. AVRCP (Audio/Video Remote Control Profile) is also onboard, so compatible devices can control volume from afar, as well. It's also worth noting that the speakers' firmware is upgradeable (via the Bluetooth link from a PC).
Because Parrot utilized the Bluetooth standard (instead of some proprietary wireless format), the speakers should be able to stream from any Bluetooth audio source that includes the aforementioned A2DP profile. While that doesn't include every Bluetooth device--many older cell phones have only the lower fidelity software profile used for monaural headsets--it does encompass a large and ever-growing list of mobile devices. As of yet, the iPhone isn't on that list, but it may eventually get the A2DP profile via a future software upgrade. As for standard iPods, you'll need to purchase a separate Bluetooth/A2DP dongle. If you don't already have one (the ones included with some car stereo and wireless headphone iPod solutions should work just fine), Parrot recommends Ten Technology's NaviPlay--either the standalone adapter or the one included with the NaviPlay Bluetooth headphone kit. (A complete list of compatible phones and dongles can be found on Parrot's Web site.) Bluetooth streaming from PCs or Macs is also supported (a USB Bluetooth dongle is included if your computer doesn't have built-in Bluetooth support). Non-Bluetooth products, meanwhile, can still be connected to the DS1120 the old-fashioned way: each speaker includes a 3.5mm line input. Of course, if you're really going to use the wired connection, you should probably buy a cheaper set of speakers.
We tested the Parrot DS1120 with an iPod using a wired connection (via the line input) and streamed music from a Samsung YP-P2 Bluetooth MP3 player, and a few cell phones, including the Sprint Mogul and the relatively inexpensive Nokia 5300 Xpress Music phone. Inexplicably, we kept having problems with the YP-P2's connection--it played fine for a song or two, then started cutting in and out. We're not sure what the problem was and the Parrot folks never got us an answer.
However, streaming music from the phones worked just fine. Once you pair a device, it essentially becomes a remote for the music, and we were able to cycle through albums and artists from across the room. You can set the volume to a reasonably high level using the volume control, then ramp it up and down using the control on your phone or MP3 player. Within about 30 feet, we were able to get a clear signal, but as you move beyond that range, you will start to get some clipping and eventually the music will die entirely. Also, because Bluetooth relies on a degree of signal reflectivity, the range may actually be better in smaller rather than larger rooms.
As we've said in past reviews, it's a bit hard to judge the performance of Bluetooth speakers. When you stream via Bluetooth, your compressed MP3 music gets compressed even further, so something is lost in the process, which also means your listening experience will vary according to the quality of your source material.
The DS1120 doesn't sound as good as Parrot's larger and more expensive bookshelf speaker system, the Parrot Sound System. That said, the DS1120 sounds quite respectable with pretty full sound for such small speakers. The bass didn't bottom out too badly when we fed these little guys bass-heavy material and the high end was solid. All in all, the speakers offer excellent clarity and we were particularly impressed with how singers' voices and acoustic instruments came across on ballads and singer/songwriter material. We felt the midrange sounded a little distorted, which was odd, considering the low end--and not the mid or high range--tends to be the weakest part of these small systems.
When we "wired" our iPod up to the speakers via the line input and listened to some lossless audio tracks, we were generally impressed--the speakers measured up to some of the better iPod-dock speaker systems we've tested. It obviously helps that you can separate the speakers, which widens the soundstage. The sound quality wasn't as good with the Bluetooth streaming, but for a lot of folks, the wireless experience is going to seem just fine--certainly as good as a clear signal of analog FM radio. One note on the wired connections, though: While each of the two speakers has a stereo input, you can really only use either one or the other. And, somewhat annoyingly, there's no input toggle on the speakers themselves--you'll need to unpair your Bluetooth source before you can hear anything from the wired connections.
These speakers carry the same list price ($280) as the Parrot Boombox, a larger single-housing unit that offers more bass. However, the DS1120 is more stylish-looking and you can actually separate the speakers (though, as noted, each one has to be plugged in). While the problems we had streaming music from the Samsung YP-P2 dampened our enthusiasm a little, all in all we liked these speakers. That $280 is a bit steep, but a decent pair of Bluetooth wireless speakers unfortunately doesn't come cheap.