introduction, Package and Contents
Creative Labs have been amongst the biggest producers of multimedia audio equipment for the best part of the last fifteen years. Their well known presence in the industry has also seen them being several award winning products and a long line of gamer based support which has consistently grown over the years; this thanks in no small part to Creative labs' proprietary environmental audio system, EAX.
Lending from that vast track record of experience building audio equipment, Creative have now begun to develop systems based on Bluetooth which are oriented towards iPhone and iPod use.
These systems take advantage of what has arguably been one of the dark knights of computing technology, Bluetooth, which has seen a mixed reception and uptake from the buying public over the year. Many people we suspect are putting it into the technological equivalent of the 'too hard' basket. Today, though, we're on the subject of Bluetooth as you've never heard it before; 2010, 'Apt-X style'.
Package and Contents
- One-piece speaker.
- Bluetooth wireless transmitter
- Backrest adapters for iPhone/iPod.
- Support stand for iPhone/iPod
Universal power adapter.
- Stereo-to-stereo cable.
- User Guide.
- Warranty and Technical
The package the ZiiSound D5 comes in is another example of some very lavish materials being used along with a high quality print which is certainly a trendy thing to hold and no doubt will be appealing to certain demographics.
Inside things are pretty basic with the unit itself being housed below a single white cardboard tray which houses everything else.
This is not an accessory laden box by any stretch and assumes a very minimalist approach to getting things done. Don't get us wrong, though, there is everything needed to get the ball rolling.
Including a product manual, warranty and now obligatory quick start guide; accompanied by one last document that is a single sheet and acts as a tablet for the written version of the ethos behind the ZiiSound audio movement by Creative, much like the little gold bound test report found with the Xonar Essence sound card from ASUS.
Although these expensively printed and finely textured doctrines of excellence serve no real world purpose when it comes to the crunch, we think they are quite endearing things to look at and provide a sense of character to those products they come with.
Not much else to report here, aside from a small stereo mini jack cable and a power cable. But in order to connect via Bluetooth you will need one more thing.
This is the small Bluetooth transmitter that slots into your portable and is also included in the box.
Speaking technically, let's start by looking at some specifications.
Bluetooth Version: Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR (Enhanced Data Rate)
Power Output: 15watts RMS (each channel)
Frequency Response: 45-20KHz
Supported Bluetooth profiles:
* A2DP (Wireless Stereo Bluetooth)*
* AVRCP (Bluetooth Remote Control)**
Frequency: 2.4 GHz
Operating Range: Up to 10 meters (measured in open space. Walls and structures may affect range of device)
Dimensions (L x W x H): 42.5cm x 11cm x 9cm (16.7" x 4.3" x 3.5")
Weight: 3.8Kg / 8.4lbs
The ZiiSound uses a very high quality digital amp and digital processing stage to maintain total signal integrity. The efficiency of this amp is given at 80% which is really quite good. This amp also uses a MOSFET output stage which is real hi-fi spec.
The D5 uses a single monocoque exo-skeleton for maximum rigidity. This shell also features strengthening pillars inside to aid in this process. The use of a special baffle design has been implemented in order to further project the sound in the way a horn loaded speaker would, but without the coloration.
The drivers are custom specified dispersion controlled units. Basically, a lot of time and engineering has gone into ensuring that these drivers disperse the sound very well indeed.
Inside the ZiiSound D5 lies some very exciting technology, arguably the most important of which is Apt-X. Below are some technical figures for its performance for Bluetooth applications. Basically it's a proprietary audio codec that allows for high fidelity audio to be sent wherever needed and is used right the way through to professional performances.
- Apt-X (for) Bluetooth Specs
Compression Ratio: 4:1
Audio Format: 16-bit, 44.1kHz (CD-Quality)
Data Rates: 352Kbps
Frequency Response: 10Hz to 22kHz
Algorithmic Delay: <1.89ms @ Fs 48KHz
Dynamic Range: 16-bit: >92bB, THD+N -68.8dB
Furthermore, Apt-X say that when incorporated into A2DP Bluetooth products Apt-X (Bluetooth) can deliver full wired audio quality without the wires. Whether your music is stored uncompressed or in a compressed format such as MP3, AAC, FLAC etc. the result should still sound the same as a wired system, according to their company spiel.
Interesting enough, the claim of having 2Mbit's of headroom with this codec is, well, quite a big one. Also Interesting to us was how this version of Apt-X samples the whole spectrum of sound from 10-22KHz which basically takes the Bluetooth rule book and shreds it. This certainly sounds like an exciting revival for Bluetooth, but there is still more of interest away from this codec.
This system is quite heavy and feels like it's a solid piece of material out of which space for everything has been carved and has two heavy duty gun metal end caps to finish it all off nicely. There are two 2.75" speaker drivers of a very high quality inside. There is also a small bass port on the rear of the unit to provide a little bit of a thump to everything.
There is a very neat little touch control volume slider that eliminates the need for having any dials or knobs on the system. There is, however, a single switch located in the most awkward place possible; right at the rear of the system, down the bottom.
Setting up the D5 is thankfully easier than any other Bluetooth device we have used in recent times. Once everything is out of the box and set in place, the next job is to connect the small transmitter to your mobile device and then to initiate a conversation between the two. This is done by pressing the small button on the transmitter until a link is made between the two devices.
Once there is a successful pairing between the two devices, playback should follow pretty closely. In fact, the first time we used the system there was not even a need to press the pairing button; all we did was press play and music filled the room.
On later uses we did find it necessary to press the pairing button as initially instructed by the product manual. The ZiiSound D5 also allows the portable devices to use their built-in volume controls to directly interface with the unit, which is a really cool feature out and out... when it works.
Unfortunately several times during testing we found that the volume control inside the device would either freeze, lag or not show up at all until successive pairings were made. Now, we are not sure whether this was a glitch with the portable or the device, so no figures are being pointed here.
We also had issues with the volume control on our test device popping up without request, sometimes when the transmitter was fitted and the devices linked.
There is also a warning to be headed about the inherent sensitivity of the touch volume slider atop the unit, which seems to have a mind of its own being somewhat partial to exploding towards its topmost reaches on a whim. But there is every possibility of that being attributed to our feebleness and not the D5 unit.
Overall, though, those slight issues aside, we had the ZiiSound D5 up and running in no time flat. It takes our informal 'fastest Bluetooth pairing award' right off the line. In fact, right out of the box would probably be more apt, or maybe we should be saying Apt-X from here on.
We found the overall performance of the D5 to be of a critically high standard throughout testing, offering the highest fidelity audio we have heard to date from either a SoundBar or from a Bluetooth device.
Some issues were found with the (extreme) low and high end reproduction capabilities due to size and component limitations faced. However, these were not beyond what is characteristic of this size enclosure, generally speaking.
- High end:
The Apt-X Bluetooth codec samples up to 22kHz, but without a dedicated tweeter the D5 will struggle to make those frequencies heard. Technically, those full range drivers may be able to reproduce this high, but not with fantastic audibility/clarity.
We're sorry, but no, just no. Generally, speaker manufacturers would need to spend a considerable amount in time and resources, not to mention specialty components to accomplish this.
Yes, this is another system that uses full range drivers to handle the high frequencies. When questioned about this choice at the product launch, the engineers from Creative informed us that the use of tweeters would require a dedicated crossover network and would ultimately push the price up past what is thought to be a competitive figure.
During our evaluation of the D5, for the most part high frequencies had a very balanced and airy tone reminiscent of a small pair of hi-fi speakers costing a few hundred.
Truth be told, these full range drivers sound great a lot of the time. Unfortunately, as soon as they are played up against a dedicated tweeter, things become readily apparent as to how much high end information is actually obfuscated or simply missing entirely.
To further expand and clarify, we all know that most people have heard a live drum kit before. Right, so then, do you remember how the cymbals and high hats seemed to sit out from everything else and you could hear them ring out after being struck?
Well, it's those dynamic transient frequencies that provide the presence and air to a stereo reproduction.
- Mid Frequencies:
Arguably this is the strongest point in performance for the D5. We found no issue whatsoever with how mid bass sounded. In fact, performance in this area was amongst some of the best we have heard period from a small speaker solution. We found ourselves hearing parts of albums and swearing that they were not in the mix before; this simply because of the beautifully balanced tonality and intrinsic detail of these frequencies extruding from the pint sized D5.
The sort of tonal balance across the range we found when evaluating this criterion was entry level studio monitor quality ($350-400AUS). We also found musicality and rhythmic integrity to feature highly in this performance by the D5. Basically, if you are listening to a recording and not at least bobbing around a little from time to time, then the system is doing a poor job of conveying the recording's original musicality.
- Low End
Again, much like the high end, this area of performance is (by implication) hamstrung by the small size of the unit and the use of full range drivers. While low end extension is aided by the inclusion of a bass port on the rear of the unit, things never really hit their stride when attempting to meet this criteria.
Unfortunately for all of the tonality and musicality on offer with the D5, really low bass (under 80Hz) is simply absent for the most part, which is going to be considerably more noticeable with some varieties of music than others.
When listening to something with a lot of bass guitar, the middle part of that instruments acoustic envelope sounds absolutely fantastic, but rolls away to almost nothing below that point.
It's the same with a drum kit. Listening to the snare and toms sounds great, but the kick drum just seems to disappear somewhere within the mix. This scenario is only more apparent when shifting to heavier rock and metal music.
We feel that this system could easily have a line out connection built in to the rear of the unit. This would allow flexibility of connection to suit a wider range of users needs while not adding much to construction costs.
Today we have seen something great in terms of innovation and the reinvention of a technology thought to be all but lost in the fog. Let's face it; Bluetooth has a pretty ordinary track record to date.
Not to be discouraged, though. Creative Labs have totally changed the public face of Bluetooth with the use of the Apt-X codec. Make no mistake, this is a hi-fi level codec and sounds fantastic. Build and construction quality is really impressive also and has shades of true hi-fi level equipment. The package is pretty slim in terms of extras, but beautifully printed and designed.
Overall sound quality was not perfect, though; this due to inherent low and high frequency limitations caused by the use of full range drivers. True high and low frequency extension is not possible with the ZiiSound D5.
However, it did perform wonderfully in terms of mid range tonality, musicality and timbre with some test music sounding as good, if not better than ever heard by us before. Make no mistake; the D5 is one of the most musical pieces of audio equipment we have used period.
So now we know the pros and cons associated with the ZiiSound D5. Is it worth $370AU? - Yes, we think it is! Bottom line; you will struggle to find anything on the market now offering such a comprehensive amount of technology, usability and musicality for that price.
There are other options out there that offer similar/better sound quality, but the drawback is that you don't get Bluetooth with that all important Apt-X codec.
We think that the D5 is shaping up as one of the most potent and influential 'must have's' of 2010, which will send many a ripple through the SoundBar market as word begins to spread following a mid month Australian release.
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