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Unless you’re satisfied with the tiny speakers built into your mobile gadget or laptop, consider a speaker upgrade—it is something that can benefit nearly anyone. Here’s another thing most of us have in common regarding speakers: we don’t want wires. Thankfully, wireless speakers are a reality these days, not the stuff of dreams. I had the opportunity recently to try out the Wolverine WIOS-5.8, a new wireless speaker system with some pretty intriguing features.
What makes the Wolverine speakers unique, besides the fact that my aesthetically picky spouse described them as “cute”—a massive compliment to the industrial designers—is that they combine two kinds of wireless technology: 5.8GHz and Bluetooth. The Bluetooth acts as an audio input, so you can stream audio from your smartphone, computer, or other devices. The 5.8GHz wireless is like invisible speaker wire, so you can separate the speakers by as much as 200 feet (a significantly larger range than Bluetooth).
"What makes the Wolverine speakers unique, is that they combine two kinds of wireless technology: 5.8GHz and Bluetooth."
I’m a big fan of stereo separation. If music producers decide that a specific instrument sounds best when it’s panned to the left speaker, and another element sounds best panned to the right, I want to be able to hear these details. When you only have a single speaker, you lose the ability to hear stereo mixes. With the Wolverine WIOS-5.8, you can assign its two speakers as left and right with physical switches, keeping the stereo artistry of recordings intact.
The speakers can either plug into an AC outlet or be powered by six AA batteries each. The transmitter base, a third required component that’s included with the kit, needs to plug in to an AC outlet (it has no option for battery power). This means you can’t just grab this system and bring it to the park for a picnic—unless an AC outlet happens to be available at a gazebo.
This is not to say that the WIOS-5.8 can’t be used outside. It’s weather resistant, which means you can set it up on a patio, or beside a swimming pool, to enjoy your tunes in the fresh air. The speakers are splash proof, but you certainly don’t want to submerge them in water. Any setting that’s technically outside yet provides AC outlets and shelter is fair game for the Wolverine WIOS-5.8.
Both speakers have integrated carrying handles that flip down handsomely when not needed. Due to the AC power requirement of the transmitter base, these handles aren’t designed for blasting classic hip hop on the subway. They’re for moving the speakers where you want them in your home, yard, or pool area, in order to best hear your music or other audio content.
Going for a dip in the pool? Grab the handles and place the battery-powered speakers closer to the water, so you can better enjoy your audio as you swim. Retiring to the shaded patio table for a sandwich? Lift the speakers and place them near the table to keep the music with you.
The same convenience applies in your home. Think of this system as a set of bookshelf speakers that has the freedom to leave the shelf. Listening to an intriguing podcast that you don’t want to pause when you step away? Grab a speaker and bring it with you. Got an open-concept kitchen/living room? Connect the WIOS-5.8 to your TV and leave one speaker near the sofa and bring the other into the kitchen so you can hear your shows clearly as you cook.
I tested streaming Bluetooth audio to the WIOS-5.8 from an Android smartphone and an iPhone 6. In both cases, pairing the phones with the system was easy. I streamed lullabies from my wife’s iPhone using iTunes Radio, as our seven-month-old baby napped. At one point, my wife placed a call, and when she did, the speakers automatically muted. When she hung up, the speakers resumed playing the lullabies. It was pretty neat. Credit for this functionality goes to Apple, but it was nice to see it operate flawlessly with the Wolverine WIOS-5.8.
If you don’t want to use Bluetooth, you have the option of connecting a wired audio signal to the Wolverine WIOS-5.8. It comes with a mini-to-mini stereo cable and a dual RCA to mini-plug cable, which enables you to interface with almost any kind of music player, TV, or home entertainment system.
If you plan on using these speakers for TV and movies, they feature a “Virtual Surround Sound” mode that simulates surround sound speakers. It’s possible to add up to six additional wireless speakers, which means you could simulate surround sound with eight speakers. It also means you can fill a large area with sound for parties and other special events. The wireless abilities of the Wolverine WIOS-5.8 may be hampered by walls made of certain materials, but you should be able to place speakers in multiple rooms.
If you are accustomed to listening to high-end speakers, the sound that this system reproduces won’t be of the same caliber. I streamed a few Raffi albums for my kids, and they legitimately enjoyed listening to the tunes. I played some Mazzy Star one evening and made a point of cranking up the volume. I moved one speaker to the other side of the room to get the full, room-filling stereo effect. The sound quality wasn’t great, but it was good enough. This system is not for discerning audiophiles, but I think most people will be satisfied.
The Wolverine WIOS-5.8 can add some visual flair to a darkened space with its built-in lightshow. Both speakers have eye-catching integrated lights. You can turn them on with a dedicated button on each speaker, or with an included remote. The remote also lets you control the volume, power, and Bluetooth pairing.
If you already have a stereo system in your home, you can use it in conjunction the Wolverine WIOS-5.8 with the separately available WIOS-AR Wireless receiver. Let me explain how this works. Imagine you have a living room that opens up to a pool area, and your stereo system is in the living room. You want to be able to play audio from your phone, and have it heard throughout the living room and pool area. You connect this separately available wireless receiver to an input on your living room stereo. Now, when you stream audio from your phone via Bluetooth, the included transmitter base that comes with the WIOS-5.8 will pick it up and send it to the wireless speakers (which you can place in the pool area), and to the wireless receiver connected to the stereo system in your living room.
If you only want the ability to stream Bluetooth audio from your phone or other devices to your home stereo system, you can pick up the WIOS-WAS Wireless Audio Transmitter and Receiver kit, which includes the transmitter base from the WIOS-5.8 system, and the WIOS-AR wireless receiver. Obviously, you won’t have wireless speakers this way, but you will be able to stream content from your phone to your home stereo. As long as you’re listening with at least two speakers, you’ll be in good shape, even if you’re listening to Raffi.