Call it the curse of Sigur Rós. The Icelandic band’s dramatic, dynamic music provides a good test for any small speaker, pummeling the electronic innards with distorted guitars, guttural bass and drums, intricate details, and soaring upper-register vocals from lead singer Jónsi, who always sings like he just ate a lemon. So if you’re going to charge big money for your speaker, I’m going to pour some Sigur on you.
Pioneer’s A3 XW-SMA3-K ($400), the company’s portable wireless AirPlay speaker, seems up to the challenge. Pioneer makes three AirPlay units — the A3, the same-sized A1, which lacks the A3’s battery pack, and the A4, which is larger and includes a rear-ported subwoofer. All three speakers in the line-up were tuned by Andrew Jones, a big-name speaker designer who used to work for KEF and Infinity, and who now designs both Pioneer’s high-end reference speakers as well as its latest crop of consumer audio boxes. Turn each of these A-series speakers around, and you’ll see his signature, “A. Jones, Chief Speaker Engineer,” emblazoned proudly on the back. I’ve always wanted to have one of those jobs, living in a world of tweeters and speaker wire.
Well, Mr. Jones, you’ve created an interesting hybrid speaker. The A3, which is about the size of a fire log, lets you stream audio from iTunes and iOS devices via AirPlay, directly from your phone (using Wi-Fi Direct), from any DLNA-certified server, or through a hard connection (USB or 3.5 mm plug). The added flexibility and the design pedigree are the A1’s main selling points, as there are other wireless speakers that are less expensive.