Monitor Audio WS100 Wireless Powered Desktop Speaker

Device Type: Wireless Powered Desktop Speaker
Input: 2.4GHz wi-fi, 3.5mm mini-jack
Dimensions (H x W x D): 125 x 120 x 120mm (4 15/16 x 4 3/4 x 4 3/4”)
Weight: 1.8Kg (4lb)
Availability: through authorized dealers
Price: $399.00
Website: www.monitoraudio.co.uk

Fun Factor
Sometimes, most times for non-audiophiles, when you buy a piece of hi-fi gear you want to hook it up, plug it in, and enjoy your music. This kind of enjoyment mainly means dancing, singing along with your favorite songs, playing air guitar or air cello for the more sophisticated listener, and genrally just having fun. Fun with music. I'm not saying that audiophiles don't do all of these things, I'm just saying they tend to add a lot of baggage to this relatively simple prospect. And if nothing else, the Monitor Audio WS100 speakers are all about fun.

The Monitor Audio WS100s are wireless speakers but I have to raise one key point which is the fact that they have wires. Namely one power cord and one cable that connects right speaker to left speaker while also providing power for the left speaker's Class D amps and DAC. So by wireless what we're really talking about is no speaker wire which means you can have your music source up to 10 meters from the WS100 and its wires. I'd imagine one simple setup to consist of a laptop with the included WS100 Wi-Fi dongle and the speakers sitting somewhere nearby. Monitor Audio calls it a "same-room solution".

The WS100's wi-fi is not your basic IEEE 802.11 alphabet soup. Rather it employs SKAA™ that travels on the 2.4 GHz radio frequency band. Since this is a crowded band, "SKAA employs a patented wireless protocol, Walking Frequency Diversity™ (WFD), to avoid conflicts with other wireless devices". The real measure of any wi-fi protocol is in-use so we'll talk about that in a minute but I'll give you the heads up and say it worked without as much as a hiccup.

Each WS100 speaker houses two Class D amplifiers (bass 20 watts, tweeter 10 watts) that power the 75mm (3") C-CAM Cone Bass Driver and 19mm (3/4") C-CAM Gold Dome Tweeter. Each WS100 also houses a dedicated DAC that passes 16-bit/48kHz data. Period. So all of your music will get up or downsampled to match this resolution. Now don't forget I said fun and in fun land you can't have everything (but in fun land that doesn't matter). The price you pay for wireless speakers is resolution which is a fair tradeoff in my mind especially if you know about this going in.

And there are extras. Namely a 3.5mm input to connect your portable music device and a nice eyeball-shaped palm-sized remote that controls volume and basic playback functionality (play, pause, forward, back, and volume), as well as zone selection. Yes, the one WS100 dongle can play to four pairs of WS100 speakers and you can have more than one dongle send music to more than one pair of speakers. I'm not going to get into this because I have just one pair of WS100 speakers and one dongle but if you're interested in dissecting the details of multi-zone multi-room setups, head on over to the Monitor Audio website or let your imagination run wild.

Making the WS100s work was a snap and did not require even so much as a peak at the included Quick Start Guide. Plug the USB dongle into your computer, plug in the WS100 speakers, connect then to each other, turn them on, and hit the bottom button on the remote (the one with the arrow in the rectangle), tell your computer to play your music through the "SKAA Transmitter", and play (music).

The Sound of Fun
The Monitor Audio WS 100s sound really good (that's me talking like a non-audiophile). They sound surprisingly full-bodied considering they're rated at 80Hz - 25kHz. You can coax a surprising amount of music from a 3" driver especially when that driver is sitting near-field. Yea, my ADAM A3Xs go lower (and higher and louder) but these speakers are tiny in comparison. They practically disappear on my desktop. And while we're talking about how they look, I think they look like more than $399/pair. My only wish would be to wish that the Monitor Audio tag was somewhere, anywhere, else. But that's just me.

The WS100s sound, in a word, fun. Bass is big if a tad loose but moving the speakers away from the back wall helps even this out. And the very clever in-built hinged stands provide just the right amount of tilt to deliver that surprisingly full-bodied sound to your ears. To step away from fun for a minute, the WS100s are a tad on the dark side but this really does not take away from the enjoyment unless you are overly concerned with the idea of neutrality in which case you'll have to spend more than $399 and deal with speaker wires.

On the down side, the overall size or scale of the music reproduced is on the small side especially when playing your music at lower levels. This is most apparent with acoustic instruments which can sound as if they're being played by tiny musicians capable of fitting on your desktop. But this miniature picture is still capable of reproducing even subtle nuance and micro-detail. It's the macro stuff that gets lost when reduced, especially so with large-scale music. In other words, I would not recommend the WS100s for orchestral music lovers.

The real potential drawback of the WS100s is volume. The WS100's max SPL at 1 meter is rated at 99.5dBA (for comparison, my ADAM A3Xs are rated at ≥106 dB peak) and on some recordings, especially HD classical recordings, I was at the WS100's max volume level and I could have used more. This level issue is recording-dependent and most of the music I played had head room to spare but on really dynamic music I hit the WS100's volume level wall. The practical takeaway for me is the WS100s are intended for moderate to loud listening levels near-field. They are not not room-filling speakers.

The F's Have It
If you haven't noticed, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the WS100s. They do not commit any grave sins against sound unless you need your music really loud. I find them well-balanced and engaging and the Wi-Fi worked flawlessly in-room as advertised. And they look good, especially with like-designed computers (think aluminum, think Apple). I also did not mind the 16/48 limit and CD-quality music sounded eminently good and while higher resolution music sounds better at its native rate, people looking for wireless speakers should be willing to compromise and I think Monitor Audio has reached a very nice balance without sacrificing the sound of music.

If you are looking for a small, attractive, good-sounding, reasonably-priced powered wireless speaker with a built-in DAC and stands for near-field listening, I would send you to Monitor Audio and their WS100s in a heart beat.



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COMMENTS
flohmann's picture

The natural question at this price is why not get a pair of Audioengine A2 speakers ($199) and an Airport Express ($99)? That gets you wireless powered speakers that are more versatile, go lower, are similarly priced, and omit the USB dongle business. 

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I'm a fan of the A2s, we have 2 pairs, but I think some people may be attracted to the WS100s for their sound, simplicity as well as their looks.

lwyjames's picture

Hi Michael 

I need some advice from you. 

I like WS100 for the sound to footprint ratio.  Actually I like any 2.0 speaker that has good sound to footprint ratio, because I travel a lot and I need some good 2.0 speak that doensn't take much space in my travel suitcase or backpack. I don't care any other features like wireless.

I did some research. I only found two 2.0 speaks that fit into my needs: WS100 and Bose MusicMonitor. Do you have other recommendations? Which one sounds best in this category. And I do intend to use these speaker for both music and movies.

I do need a 3.5 mm to connect with my iPhone. So those USB only speakers like UCube will be excluded. 

Thanks!

James

Michael Lavorgna's picture

If you do not need a wireless solution, you should check out the Audioengine A2s ($199/pair). They are a tad bigger than the WS100s but only by about an inch.

And while I'm just getting into listening to these, the PSB Alpha PS1 Powered Speakers sure sound like they pack a lot of musical punch into a small and nicely priced ($300/pair) package. They may be a bit large to carry in a backpack...

Hope that helps.

lwyjames's picture

This is really helpful and informative. I knew Audioengine A2 for a long time. But I made a stupid mistake. I only looked at the photos from Audioengine A2 gallery site. I never bothered to take a look at the actual dimension number until today. If you look at those photos from official WS100 gallery, it feels like A2 is at least twice as big as the WS100. Man, those photographers hired by Monitor Audio really knows how to make things look small :)

And I also start digging the PSB Alpha PS1 you recommend. While bigger than A2, I do like the subwoofer output a lot. Looking forward to your review on PS1.

Thanks a lot!

James

hotsoup's picture

I'm looking with the same sort of criteria. Was considering the Audyssey Lower East Sides (or Media Speakers) too. Wish there was a way to hear them locally... Kind of running on reviews.

lwyjames's picture

Hi Micheal

  Have you listened to B&W MM-1 before? How does A2 stack up against MM-1? I know it's not a fair comparison given the huge difference on the price. But whether they have a huge difference on sonic performance did impact my purchase choice. MM-1 is within my budget by the way.

thanks

James

BradleyP's picture

...or if you do need a wireless solution, also check out the new Audioengine W3 wireless bridge/DAC.  It sends files up to 48/16.  Granted, it's not built in like Monitor's offering, but for $150, you are looking at a package with the A2 speakers that's about $50 less than the product reviewed here.  (I do not have a W3 yet, but I would love to see it reviewed.)  Further, the W3 will transmit to as many as three W3 receivers at once, so you can add a wireless subwoofer easily if you buy an extra receiver.  (Yeah, I'm an unabashed Audioengine fan.)

Vincent Kars's picture

As each driver has his own amp I do think this is an active speaker.

Powered are speakers with a build-in amp but do have a passive crossover like the Audioengine's IMO

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