Name: JBL Soundfly Air
Type: AirPlay wireless speaker
Specifications: Click here for full specs
Price: £159.95 from the Apple Store
The JBL Soundfly Air is one of the only truly wireless speakers out there, plugging directly into a wall without a power cable. It’s a unique speaker, but will its niche design limit its appeal? Read our full review to find out!
At first glance, the Soundfly Air seems like the ideal compact home speaker. Plugging directly into a wall socket, it does away with a universal hate of all gadget fans: the untold wires that have to trail around a house. Here, there’s no power cable, nor any speaker cabling or exposed ports to attach iPods or other MP3 players. It’s all housed within the speaker itself, with music streamed over Wi-Fi and Apple’s AirPlay wireless standard.
It’s a positive start that extends to the Soundfly Air’s aesthetics. Relatively compact in size and looking a bit like a large glasses case for a Star Wars Stormtrooper, the speaker has curved white casing and a black fabric covered speaker grille, a subtle design that should see it fit in nicely in most home decor situations. An illuminated JBL logo on the speaker grille glows white while the speaker is switched on, and a subtle touch-sensitive Wi-Fi logo sits embedded in the white plastic shell, used in the set-up process and glowing green or amber depending on whether or not its paired with an Apple audio device.Set up is simple. Plug the Soundfly Air into a spare wall socket and then leave your finger on the flashing Wi-Fi logo for a few seconds. This then makes the speaker discoverable to Apple products, letting you connect to the JBL speaker’s own network. From here, you enter a URL provided with the speaker into your browser to load up a settings page, pair the speaker with your personal home Wi-Fi network and then select the speaker through the AirPlay menu of your chosen Apple device. If that two minute set-up process sounds like hard work (and it really isn’t), JBL also have provided a set-up app to make things even simpler, requiring you only pop off the speaker grille and plug your iPod, iPhone or iPad into the USB port underneath and then follow a series of prompts on your iDevice screen. Once set up, you can wirelessly stream songs from iTunes or apps like Spotify without a hitch, with the speaker’s wireless range good for around ten metres.
Sonically, the speaker performs relatively well. It’s not a match for a dedicated Hi-Fi system, but holds its own against the likes of the Jambox, making it well suited for a bedroom or kitchen set up. It goes incredibly loud though too, meaning it’ll serve a party well enough in a fix. Though a little flat and heavy on the mid ranges, the speaker handles most types of music well. From the electro, bass heavy synth sounds of Kavinsky’s Nightcall to Dusty Springfield’s Son of a Preacher Man, what the Soundfly Air lacked in detail it made up for with punch.However, this is a speaker that certainly won’t fit the needs of everyone. For starters, though small for the sound it produces, the Soundfly Air juts out a few inches from a wall, meaning it won’t fit tucked away in discrete places. More importantly perhaps is the fact that its width is such that it’ll almost certainly cover a second plug socket if it is sat in a double wall fixture. It means you may need to attach an extension plug in some scenarios, somewhat defeating the point of the “no leads” design.
The upward-facing speakers also mean that you’ll want to place the Soundfly Air in a position where there’s no obstructions above or to its sides in order to project the sound most effectively. Considering most UK plug sockets sit in the corner of rooms (or below kitchen counters, with the kitchen being the room we see this speaker best suited for) it may dampen how expansive the Soundfly Air’s audio can get.
There’s something about the unique design of the Soundfly Air that we really love. It’s a compact, tidy home speaker system that has decent sound and a simple set up process with reliable AirPlay connectivity. The problem is going to be finding someone with the niche need for a wall-mounted speaker when there are so many more flexible options out there. At its £160 price point, there are many similar wireless speakers that offer the added flexibility of a rechargeable battery, not to mention line-in support for older music devices. If it suits your needs, the Soundfly Air will be a great addition to your home audio line up, but we feel there will be few who will match its narrow user criteria.
By Gerald Lynch | February 20th, 2013