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
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.