Wren V5BT Bluetooth Speaker Review

01
of 07

A Wireless Speaker That Lets You Have It Your Way

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Wren Audio

People (well, most people) like the convenience of wireless speakers. But that convenience comes at a price: You have to pick a format. As I detailed in "Which of These 5 Wireless Audio Technologies is Right for You?", you can choose Apple AirPlay, Bluetooth, DTS Play-Fi, DLNA or a proprietary, single-brand system such found in the Sonos Play:1 or the new Samsung Shape M7. Unless, that is, you choose the Wren V5 wireless speaker.

The Wren comes in three versions: the V5AP, with AirPlay; the V5PF, with Play-Fi; and the V5BT, with Bluetooth. During the three-year warranty period, you can exchange your V5 for a model using a different wireless technology at a small cost, shipping included. So for example, if you buy the AirPlay version to use with your iPhone, then dump that dinky phone for a nice new Samsung Galaxy whatever next year, you can switch to Bluetooth or Play-Fi.

About.com Portables Expert Jason Hidalgo reviewed the AirPlay version of the Wren. I reviewed the Play-Fi version for Sound & Vision earlier this year (no link available). Now that the Bluetooth version's out, I thought I'd give it a spin here.

02
of 07

Wren V5BT: Features

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Brent Butterworth

• Available with AirPlay, apt-X Bluetooth or Play-Fi wireless
• Two 0.75-inch tweeters
• Two 3-inch midrange/woofers
• Available in rosewood finish now; bamboo available in January 2014
• 2 x 25 watts per channel
• 3.5mm analog audio input
• USB output for charging portable device
• Dimensions: 6.13 x 4.25 x 16.63 in / 15.56 x 10.79 x 42.23 cm
• Weight: 6.6 lb / 2.99 kg

The V5BT has a fairly typical driver complement and amplifiers for a wireless speaker in its price range. What's missing? There's no remote control. The V5AP AirPlay version includes one, though.

03
of 07

Wren V5BT: Setup and Ergonomics

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Brent Butterworth

With the Bluetooth version of the V5, there's no app to download, no network setup, nothing but the usual Bluetooth pairing process. Which I accomplished easily with my Samsung Galaxy S III Android phone and my HP Spectre XT laptop.

Once the Bluetooth's paired, there's nothing to do but set the V5's volume. There's no remote control, no tone or sound mode controls, no nothing. I'm not complaining, BTW. Shouldn't our audio products just sound good?

I did notice a weird problem with my Samsung phone: frequent dropouts. I haven't had this problem to a significant or troublesome degree with any other Bluetooth speaker I've tested using this phone. Unfortunately, my iPod touch was in to get its battery changed, so I couldn't test the V5BT's Bluetooth link with that, but the link with my HP laptop was flawless.

04
of 07

Wren V5BT: Sound Quality

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Wren Sound

In my original review of the Wren V5PF, I liked the sound fairly well but complained that "the mid- and upper treble sizzled a bit, which made high-pitched instruments like high hat and tambourine sound a little harsh."

It sounds to me like the new Bluetooth unit I received had the treble dialed down a bit, the bass pumped up a bit, or both. The character of the tweeters sounds the same as in the version I tested, but they're somehow damped so they didn't bother me much. What's left is a smoother-sounding unit. Listening to Holly Cole's "Train Song," I noticed plenty of detail and liveliness in the tune's high-pitched cabasa and other percussion instruments, yet with none of the edge that bothered me before. Cole's voice sounded wonderfully smooth -- as did James Taylor's when I played tunes from Live at the Beacon Theatre. And the delicate cymbals and glockenspiel on Taylor's "Shower the People" sounded superb.

On a few male voices -- Mötley Crüe's Vince Neil, Steely Dan's Donald Fagen, the English Beat's Dave Wakeling -- and on an occasional cymbal crash, I did hear a bit of that edgy treble that bothered me before, but it was just noticeable. So I'm still not crazy about the tweeters, but now they're properly balanced and all things considered, the treble's better than you'd hear from most other comparably priced wireless speakers.

I was happy to hear how well the V5BT's tonal balance suits such a wide variety of music. I played lots of jazz, pop and heavy metal through it, and never thought "This thing doesn't sound right on this tune."

There was also a ton of bass. That's not to say the V5BT sounded boomy or bloated, just that it delivers far more and better bass than I expected from dual 3-inchers in a ported enclosure. The bass does seem boosted around the frequency of the port tuning, which occasionally makes some deep notes sort of "jump out" at you, playing a little louder than you'd expect given the level of the rest of the audio range. Maybe that's just a reflection of my low expectations for bass output with a device this small. Regardless, the V5BT's powerful bass made hard-grooving, rhythmically oriented tunes like George Benson's version of "Along Came Mary" and Yes's "Lightning Strikes" a lot of fun to listen to, inspiring me to crank the V5BT full-blast for a lot of my listening. 

Let's just simplify that last paragraph and say that the bass is ample and tuneful. I did, however, encounter a lot of port noise -- air turbulence that sounds somewhat like rattling -- when I played demanding deep-bass material; I noticed it in the bass line from "Train Song," for example, and to a lesser degree in the Cult's "Love Removal Machine." However, I only fleetingly and just barely noticed it in the pop material I played -- and maybe that was distortion and not port noise, anyway. I didn't hear it at all in Soundgarden's intense "Jesus Christ Pose."

05
of 07

Wren V5BT: Measurements

Wren frequency response chart
Brent Butterworth

Frequency response
on-axis: ±8.2 dB from 62 Hz to 20 kHz
average: ±7.1 dB from 62 Hz to 20 kHz

MCMäxxx maximum output level
97 dBC at 1 meter

The frequency response for the V5BT on-axis, 1 meter in front of the tweeter, is shown in the blue trace in the chart above. Averaged response across a ±30° horizontal listening window is shown in the green trace. With a speaker frequency response measurement, you generally want the blue (on-axis) line to be as flat as possible, and the green (averaged) response to be very close to flat, perhaps with a mild reduction in treble response.

Obviously, the V5BT's measurements are far from flat. It's actually smoother when averaged across a ±30° horizontal listening window, which is unusual. There's a big dip between 250 and 700 Hz, and another big one centered at 2.5 kHz.

I performed these measurements with a CLIO 10 FW audio analyzer and CLIO MIC-01 at a distance of 1 meter. Measurements above 200 Hz were made using quasi-anechoic technique to remove sound reflections from the surrounding environment. Response below 200 Hz was measured using ground plane technique, with the mic at a distance of 1 meter. Results above 300 Hz smoothed to 1/12th octave, results below 300 Hz smoothed to 1/6th octave. Measurements were taken at a level of 80 dB at 1 kHz/1 meter (what I usually do for relatively small audio products), then scaled to a reference level of 0 dB at 1 kHz for this chart.

The V5BT plays quite loud. On my MCMäxxx test -- cranking Mötley Crüe's "Kickstart My Heart" as loud as the unit can play while still sounding fairly clean (which in this case meant full-blast), then measuring the average level at 1 meter -- the V5BT gave me 97 dBC SPL, which is quite good and plenty enough to fill a large room. At this level, I heard just a subtle hint of distortion.

06
of 07

Measurements of Wren V5BT vs. V5PF

Wren frequency response V5PF vs. V5BT
Brent Butterworth

I didn't have the original sample of the V5PF I tested several months earlier, but I still had the measurements in my lab computer. You can see how the measurements differ in the chart above, which shows the on-axis measurement of the left channel from 200 Hz to 20 kHZ. The purple trace is the V5PF and the blue trace is the V5BT. Note how the V5BT has about -4 to -7 dB less treble energy between about 2 and 14 kHz.

You've always got to allow for some normal sample-to-sample variation when measuring multiple samples of the same product, especially when the measurements were done in different sessions and the exact same mike placement can't be guaranteed. Still, even allowing for the maximum possible measurement variance, it's clear that the V5BT sample I received performs significantly differently from the V5PF I received.

It's such a big difference I can't believe it would be due to production inconsistencies. My CLIO analyzer and I agree: This product has been retuned.

07
of 07

Wren V5BT: Final Take

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Wren Sound

My original review of the Play-Fi version of the V5 was lukewarm; I liked the design but found the unit a little too edgy-sounding. I have no such reservations about the V5BT. It does have one sonic glitch -- that port noise I mentioned -- but you'll hear that only once in a great while. Or you might never hear it, depending on what you listen to.

I'd rank the Wren V5BT among the best wireless speakers in its price range. Compared with the B&W Z2, it sounds similarly smooth but plays a lot louder. It's better than the Soundcast Systems Melody, but that's a whole different kind of speaker.