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When I first unpacked the Bowers & Wilkins A5, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. The A5 doesn’t exactly have a control panel, or any controls for that matter. Thankfully, the device's handy little remote helped me get everything up-and-running in just a few minutes. Here are my first impressions of B&W’s intriguing little system.
The A5’s remote is a pretty simple device. It includes the basics – a power button, an input toggle, etc. Solid for its size, this is the kind of remote control that you definitely don't want to misplace. iPad and iPod owners will likely choose to control the A5 primarily via its Airplay capabilities – which allows you to wirelessly transmit audio to the A5's speakers. The Airplay feature can be accessed via PC by using your iTunes app. There's also an AUX port, which allows you to connect any conventional MP3 player to the A5.
Eager to get started, I threw on a few tracks from 1995’s “Fluke”, an awesome album by the classic Canadian band Rusty. Their dynamic, driving songs are full of flange and gravel, making them an ideal soundtrack for testing the bass quality of the A5. The songs I focused on were “Groovy Dead” for its low-end intensity, and “Wake Me” for its twangy lead guitar. The A5 gets started with some fuzzy separation between mids and lows, but it’s subtle and quite pleasant... almost something you might expect to hear out of a tube amp. Turns out, the A5 actually contains a pair of Nautilus tube aluminum tweeters. Reinforced by a pair of bass drivers, the A5 is a truly sweet sounding system.
Next up, I decided to listen to some of the most legendary singers of the last century. I chose The 3 Tenors’ rendition of “Singing in the Rain” – if you check it out, listen for the great change-up about a minute in. That’s about the point in the song when the agility of the A5 really becomes evident. Able to accurately capture the ebb and pulse of orchestral instruments, B&W’s little system also manages to be muscular enough to handle the mighty Pavarotti with the dignity and respect he deserves.
As a final test, I wanted to see how the A5 performed alongside a television show. Season 4, Episode 6 of Breaking Bad was particularly epic, so that’s what I went with – specifically, the scene where Walter is explaining the meaning of danger to his wife Skylar. With the A5 set at a modest volume, I can clearly hear Mr. White’s breathing from a good eight feet away. When Walter’s shouts, his straining voice sounds organic and distortion-free – it’s definitely an impressive experience. If you’re pressed for space, but want to extend the audio capabilities of your small TV or laptop, the Bowers and Wilkins manages to a pretty fantastic job.