Review: Wren V5PF Play-Fi Speaker

Mike Giffin, the silver-tongued CEO of Wren Sound Systems, is an audio journeyman. For about 35 years, he has worked in the high-end audio segment, partly as a division president at Harman International. He speaks with a radio-friendly cadence and a rich tonal quality, almost like the products he creates. After more than three decades making speakers and home audio components, he has hit a home run.

The Wren V5PF ($400) is the Android-enabled version of Wren’s V5AP speaker designed for iOS devices. Unlike that model, which relies on the sometimes sketchy AirPlay wireless streaming technology, the new Wren uses DTS Play-Fi. This is the same technology inside the Phorus Play-Fi wireless speaker system speaker I reviewed recently.

There’s one major difference between AirPlay and Play-Fi, outside of the iOS versus Android debate. AirPlay works most of the time, but in my tests, it can flake out when someone else in your home is downloading a new game demo on an Xbox 360, streaming a movie to a laptop, and generally consuming a chunk of your wireless bandwidth. Play-Fi, on the other hand, worked amazingly well when I first encountered it in the Phorus speakers, even though I wasn’t a big fan of the speaker quality itself.

The Wren V5PF is the best of both worlds. The speaker, available in bamboo or rosewood, has the chops to produce a rich (but not overwhelming) bass, warm midtones, and pristine highs. And Play-Fi maintains a clean, consistent signal even when there’s congestion on the network. In some ways, it’s like having a quality-of-service (QoS) engine inside your music collection, apart from whatever QoS you run on your router.

The slim speaker, which weighs just 6.6 pounds, has an understated design that looks like another piece of furniture inside your home. There’s no handle to carry it around; it’s meant to stay put in your living room or by the bed. It is also not battery powered, you plug it in. The speaker enclosure measures about 16-inch across, 4 inches deep, and 6 inches tall. It’s curved — Wren uses a medium-density fiberboard that’s not only pliable, but tends to vibrate less than the injected-molded plastic used on other speakers. This improves the overall sound and adds a depth to the low end. The bass hits a low point of 60Hz (lower is better) instead of the 80Hz typical of these mid-sized speakers.

Now, you can easily get a “big sound” with a big cabinet, or you can use powerful drivers inside a smaller speaker box to accomplish a similar goal, which is the path Wren takes. Inside the speaker are four drivers — a pair of three-inch, long-throw speakers with four-layer voice coils that push most of the sound out, and two 19-mm tweeters spaced as far apart as possible. The arrangement provides just enough power and richness to fill a room, but not overwhelm it.

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