Sony Wireless Digital Audio VGF-WA1 speaker system
Stream your PC tunes to this wireless speaker system
By Joshua Virata
Today's world of digital music gives us lots of choices to enjoy music every day. The problem with digital music is that the files are either all stored on computer, be it a personal or family computer, or on a portable music player. If you want to listen to your music you have to either listen to a portable MP3 player or be sitting in front of you computer. But what happens when you have guests over and you want to play that music for them? You have a few choices, either play the computer speakers as loud as they can go, hook up your MP3 player to a stereo system, or pull out some portable speakers that you can play your MP3 player on. What if you didn't have to do all this just to play your music? What if you could play your music wirelessly streamed directly from the computer that all of the music files are on. The Sony Wireless Digital Audio Streamer WA1, lets you do all this and just a little more in one simple package.
The Audio Streamer is a simple way to play your music on your computer anywhere in your house as long as it stays within wireless range. The way the streamer works is that when you set up the speaker base you have two options of connecting it to your computer. You can either use the included wireless adapter that is already paired for use with it, or if you have a wireless network deployed across your home you can connect the speaker base to the wireless network. The VGF-WA1 supports ATRAC3, ATRAC3plus, MP3, WMA, AAC, WAVE, Linear PCM, protected (DRM) ATRAC3, ATRAC3plus, and AAC files are not supported.
The included adapter creates a wireless Ad-Hoc network that auto-connects to the speaker base and automatically configures the wireless settings for optimal use. It supports IEEE 802.11b/g compliant wireless routers. The adapter has a very small, barely visible toggle switch on its side that allows you to install the software and driver for it directly from built-in flash memory. The software includes a media server program and the drivers for the adapter. If you connect the speaker base to your wireless network then you need to install the media server software that you can setup your computer to act as a server allowing the speaker base access to all of your music files.
Setup and installation was very quick and easy through use of the installation CD. I did run into some issues though when I tried installing the program on another computer using the auto install on the wireless adapter. When I installed the server program using the installation CD I was using my home's wireless network to stream media to the base with rarely any dropped signals as I moved the base around the outskirts of my house. Audio quality was very good within my house with minimal loss in quality as I moved away from my wireless router.
The speaker base also has an internal, user replaceable battery pack that allows you to move it to places around your property where there isn't a power outlet available. I also tested the speaker base using the internal battery and witnessed similar quality results as when it was plugged in. I know for a fact that my wireless network spreads about 5 houses down from mine so I thought I would try and see if the base was able to stream my music at that distance. Although I was able to connect the base, audio quality was greatly diminished, no doubt due to the lower data throughput. Connecting the base to a wireless network is very tedious work if done with the touch interface by itself because of the input style. You have to push the navigation arrows up and down multiple times until you enter the wireless network name and encryption key. The base supports 64-bit and 128-bit WEP encryption styles, as well as WPA-PSK TKIP and WPA2-PSK AES, although with the WPA keys if you assigned a passphrase to your network you also need to know the alphanumeric combination that is created.
When I used the auto install program on the included adapter, the installer would finish installing and Id unplug the adapter to switch the auto install switch back to off . After restarting the computer, I plugged the adapter back in and the server program didn't automatically launch, but my system did find a new wireless network adapter and then told me that there were wireless networks in the area. I uninstalled the program and then reinstalled it using the setup CD. After completing the installation the adapter worked and the server loaded, allowing me to set up the folders and program where my music was located. With the adapter, the range of the wireless network is greatly diminished but still powerful enough to produce a wide enough area for use. When using the included wireless adapter the encryption keys are automatically generated upon connection.
The speaker base comes in two colors, white and black, both have the same features on them from the main speakers to the touch button interface. On the back of the base there is an analog in (Stereo mini jack for portable audio), a standard analog RCA audio out jack, and an optical digital out. All of the input and output jacks are controllable through the user interface on the base or through the included IR remote. You can choose to use the mini stereo jack to plug in your portable MP3 player for playback through the amplified speakers. You can stream Internet Radio. Or you can integrate the WA1 into your home stereo system using it as a bridge between your computer and the stereo. All controls on the speaker base are made through the touch button interface and the grayscale backlit LCD which allows you to configure almost every part of the base from volume, equalizer, track, album, and internet radio stations.
This system works really well and is great for those people who want to play the music on their computers anywhere in their home. Besides looking good, it is easy to use and it sounds good. Audio is clear and crisp with the highs and mid tones and it can reproduce pretty strong low range audio. This is due in large part to the system's 8 watt x 8 watt speakers and 45-95W maximum output of the unit. It requires a Windows XP compuer or Windows Vista computer to run. Macintosh computers running the Mac OS are not supported. $349 For more information, visit www.sonystyle.com.