Creative ZiiSound D5 Review

creative ziisound d5 main Creative ZiiSound D5 Review

The ZiiSound D5 is Creative’s flag ship compact speaker system and centered around Bluetooth audio. I have tended to shy away from Bluetooth audio devices since most of the devices I have tried came up pretty short in terms of sound quality. In short, the ZiiSound D5 has changed my opinion and showed me that if done right, Bluetooth can rival wired or docked performance.

Design

The 2 speaker single unit design is basically a 4” square extruded to a length of approximately 17”. Most of the surface area is wrapped with an acoustically transparent fabric mesh covering the two full range speakers. The speakers are bisected by a smooth plastic stand that houses a touch sensitive connect button on the front and a touch sensitive volume slider on the top. The ends are capped in a polished gun metal giving the speakers a bit more of a premium look and feel. On the back a dock sits in the center with a power button, AUX input, and AC input. Also on the back is a bass port to give the speakers a bit of a low end bump.

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The unit feels like a single piece of material, almost like a solid block of hardwood but a bit heavier. The plastic used is very sturdy and the gunmetal feels thick. It is what you should expect from a premium set of speakers.

The Dock

The dock on the back is bitter sweet, it’s an incredibly clever but it only supports the iPod ecosystem. What makes it even more bitter is that it could potentially support all kinds of devices with modular Bluetooth dongles.

The D5 comes with a Bluetooth dongle for the iPod/iPhone/iPad that snaps into bottom and then docks onto the D5. What is clever about this is that the only thing the dock does when sitting in the speakers is charge it, audio is still wirelessly transmitted though the Bluetooth adapter. What this means is that Creative could easily sell additional dongles for other devices pretty easily. So for instance, you should easily be able to buy a Bluetooth adapter for the Zune, Samsung P3, Sony Walkman, or any number of mobile phones for $40 or less. But Creative has yet to offer anything like this. It seems like a pretty obvious way to increase sales, but I’m not sure why this is not offered. Perhaps they don’t think there is legitimate return on investment into additional devices or it may also be a lock into Apple devices as per their “Made for iPod” deal Creative struck with Apple when they sued Apple on UI infringements. However I tend to believe the former over the latter since Creative more so touts wireless audio as a feature and declares, “Docking Speakers Are Dead” on their wireless landing page and the D5 is the only compact speaker with a dock on it. http://www.creative.com/wireless/

Bluetooth, The Other Dock

I am pleasantly surprised at how well Bluetooth is done on the D5 and could not tell the difference between a Bluetooth connected device and one connected over the AUX input. However, the results did vary drastically among the different devices with the results dependent on the device, not the speakers.

Creative chose to use the best possible Bluetooth audio technology. It is Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR that also uses a codec that wraps itself inside of A2DP called Apt-X. This provides CD quality bandwidth over Bluetooth making it just as good as a wired connection. Apt-X is not some fly by night audio codec company and is used in live performances and professional audio. You can see their various partners here. With that said in order to take advantage of the best sound quality, you have to have a device that supports Apt-X. Various companies license the technology but sometimes it’s hard to know where this Apt-X middleware is being used. In other words there is not always “Apt-X inside” tag in the product. From researching their partners, it seems to be gaining moment and expanding i
nto many new Bluetooth products. Shure, Sennheiser, Creative, Micorsoft, and Google are listed as partners as well as chip designer ARM that eventually trickles into many mobile devices on various platforms including Windows Mobile, Symbian, and Android. Partner list.

Sound quality over Bluetooth

Apt-X enabled devices will give you a wired experience over Bluetooth and other A2DP devices came pretty close, but varied widely based on how well the device sending the audio to the D5 handled the transmission. For instance one to my favorite ways to use the D5 is with my HTC Incredible- this pairing sound as if its wired, but on the other hand the Kin ONE is completely unlistenable. I suspect this is due to a poorly written Bluetooth stack in the Kin ONE. While I haven’t found any other device as unlistenable as the Kin, the quality did vary from average to great with most devices. An example of an average sounding device was the Cowon J3, it sounded good but slightly sounded digitally hazy or “pixelated”. By comparison, the Samsung was somewhere in between the J3 and the HTC Incredible.

Sound Quality in General

A lot of time was spend in the engineering behind the D5 and it shows. For its size and use of two full range speakers, it sounds incredibly good. Very smooth and well balance throughout the sound spectrum, but as any speaker system relying on a full range speaker you will miss some detail in the highs and lower lows. It still does a good job of producing bass with the full range drivers similar to the Kicker ZK150 alarm clock, but does do a better job of clarity towards the higher end comparatively.

Various Uses

With cross product capability though the use of Bluetooth there are quite a few scenarios and devices you can use the ZiiSound D5 with. The main way I have been using the D5 is paired by streaming Pandora (or this could be your own favorite music services) over 3G and then pass it to the D5 over Bluetooth. It might seem a little convoluted but it all configures with little effort. I really did want to use the D5 paired with the KIN ONE since I can use my Zune pass on it but as I mentioned earlier, the Kin One sound horrible over Bluetooth. It sound great through the headphone jack and even the built speaker, but something in the hardware or software is not handling the Bluetooth stream correctly. The downside however about using my phone in this case is that it will kill the battery pretty quickly, so it will be a good idea to have it plugged in while you are listening on a mobile phone.

Battery results were a lot better when using Bluetooth MP3 Players. It was nice to be able to pick up any Bluetooth player and have instant music. A few players gave me some issues, but most were solved by updating to the latest firmware.

One scenario where I think this would be very useful is for laptops and desktops. It would be nice to skip the sound card all together, since they are usually poor sounding, and get all of your PC audio out of the D5. At your desk even eliminating one wire helps. Though you could wire it though the AUX and use it as a sound bar since it take up little desk real estate. Creative sells a USB Bluetooth dongle for desktops or laptops if you don’t already have Bluetooth in your laptop- this sells for $40. I did not have much luck trying to connect my internal Bluetooth on my Lenovo X200 since out of the box Windows 7 doesn’t support A2DP unless the proper drivers for your device have been installed. After a few hours of downloading various drivers on shady Rapidshare sites (since they weren’t available from the manufacture) and trying to properly configure the drivers, I never got it to work. I may eventually pick up the official Creative adapter since I could get a lot of use out more use out of my D5 if I could use my laptop.

Conclusion

What I like the most about the D5 is the sound to size ratio and the versatility of being able to use different devices. For these reasons it will become a permanent resident in the corner of my living room. The solid design and quality materials is what you should expect from a $300 pair of speakers. I am rather disappointed by the lack of device options for the dock & dongle. To be able to purchase a dongle connections for any other devices would be fantastic and really open it up to potential buyers.

Poor sound quality always made me shy away from Bluetooth audio, but the D5 has shown me that Bluetooth can match the quality of a wired connection with the use of Apt-X audio codec. The unfortunate part of it is, Bluetooth has always been and is still a total mess. It’s better but still frustrating trying to get devices paired and predicting quality. I tried a lot of different devices, most worked and most sounded great so done let that deter you since issues tend to be more so with older devices, just understand you may have some issues.

Purchase

Check out Amazon for the Creative ZiiSound D5. It is also available directly though Creative who is offering a free USB Bluetooth dongle so you will certainly be able to take advantage of APT-X though your laptop.

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