This review is being written for both the Panasonic Panasonic ALL8 Wireless Speaker System (White)
ALL8 and the smaller ALL3 Panasonic ALL3 Wireless Speaker System (Black)
speakers. A comparison between could be of interest to potential purchasers.
This product (either of the speakers) effectively comes in two parts: the actual physical speaker and the app that you download for the Android or Apple smart phone. If you don't have a smart phone you're limited it would seem to using a standard 3.5mm jack plug lead which means your paying for a highly technical product and not making use of its facilities!
THE SPEAKER (ALL8 or ALL3)
Apart from the difference in dimensions these both operate exactly the same. It's far heavier than you might think, doubtless due to the internal power supply and electronics. 'Solid' is a word often overused but here it most definitely applies.
Both speakers come with two bass drivers and two tweeters; the sound is identical from both speakers. The major difference is that the ALL8 can play much louder than the ALL3, which is itself pretty loud. For a single room the ALL3 is plenty loud enough; if you're having a party the ALL8 has definite neighbour-annoying potential with its 80W RMS output.
Most amazing is the mid-range clarity. Listening to Kate Bush singing Wuthering Heights (a song sometimes difficult to follow, vocally) it was clarity personified. I was impressed. It seems silly to even mention the decent (but not overpowering) bass given its two woofers. The treble, if anything, was little muted but then (at my age) I boost the high notes to compensate for reduced hearing. To put this in context, I cannot hear 14Khz in one of my ears any more, whereas a 20-something youngster would probably be able to hear 18Khz without a problem. Hence the need for a treble boost for me.
Once all the kerfuffle with the initial set up is complete (more of this later) all you need is a mains socket and you're away. Excellent sound from both of these speakers. BTW you can pair two of either speakers as a LEFT / RIGHT pair and get true stereo, or just 'group' them as a stereo pair; that is, they both get LEFT and RIGHT channels sent to them so you can put one speaker in the lounge and another in the kitchen.
Panasonic include some easy start instructions which are OK (but no better) to follow; the worst part is getting to grips with which LED (A/B/C etc.) is supposed to flash next and which ultra-sensitive touch button(s) you are to press together to get it all linked to your home wifi.
A speaker software upgrade is also recommended and for this you need a LAN cable for a few minutes which also seemed to work reasonably well; whilst waiting for the blue LED to blink you can read up on the next set of buttons to press / hold or whatever!
THE APP (Panasonic Music Stream)
The speaker works by accepting a DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) audio stream from your smart phone. This means even if you configure your laptop or home PC to allow streaming, the audio is still streamed to your smart phone and from there to the speaker. If anyone can tell me how to *directly* stream to the speaker I would be most grateful but I suspect it cannot be done. The smart phone acts as an intermediary from your wifi and the speaker. I'm tempted to knock off a star for this but as the system as a whole works so well I'll give Panasonic the benefit of the doubt.
The downside of this smart phone intermediary is that when I waltz off to work in the morning my wife (who unbelievably) has no smart phone cannot use this system. Bizarre. Even when I turn up again the phone's battery is drained quicker than a baby's bathtub as it is constantly using the wifi. And there's no docking station or even a charging socket on the speaker to be warned!
Be prepared to spend some considerable time finding out all the nuances and limitations of the app. I use Android so maybe the Apple App is more polished and sophisticated but Panasonic have come pretty close to ruining an otherwise good system.
Sometimes you have to press BACK on your phone to return to previous menu; othertimes it expects you to press the back arrow within the app itself, or you will get a 'Exit the app and stop the current song?' query on your phone.
Anyway after some hours I could not only play all the songs on my phone IN RANDOM ORDER (not easy to find out how to do this, initially; you do from the list of songs and press the + sign on the right hand side) but could select either of the two speakers on test (or both of them as I had GROUPED them into a stereo pair).
Please don't use the EQUALISER in the app as it is shocking. A simple BASS and TREBLE slider that, quite frankly, is absolutely rubbish. The speaker sounds MUCH better with this switched off. When I think of the music apps on my phone that all have a 10-slider graphic equaliser included as standard this is pretty unforgivable. Thank goodness the speaker(s) sound pretty brilliant without any help from the equaliser.
Perhaps Panasonic will improve the whole app making usability and intuitive use a priority (in the Android app, anyway).
The speakers cannot be faulted. Solid, good quality and which can be used with a standard 3.5mm cable if you want (in addition to the streaming capability).
The initial setup is a bit fiddly but it's a once-only operation (unless you change your router) so not so bad.
The (Android version of the) app is badly thought out, reports far too often 'Cannot play a song' which can mean anything and if you just close the app and re-open it the song will be played just fine. I will have to find someone who has an iPhone and get them to hook up to the system to see whether it's any better! This all said, once the speakers have been setup, the app works tolerably well enough even if cross-fading the tracks is beyond it.
Not cheap but then you are getting some quality sound here, with potential to stream from your PC if you're willing to put in the extra effort in configuring Windows Media Player.