Highlight: One is good. But the more you add, the better they get
While consumers certainly do have a wide selection to choose from, when it comes to Bluetooth speakers, most of what is on offer is largely the same. They are all generally speaking, portable, able to withstand outdoor use, offer a relatively good level of sound, and obviously, are able to connect to your audio sources wirelessly. Which means that standing out in the crowded Bluetooth speaker market can be hard at times. However, every once in awhile a product comes through which not only breaks the mold, but even gets you reevaluating how you view the parent market. aiFi’s Ai-1 stackable speakers are that product and offer something you won't get from most of the current crop of Bluetooth speakers. In terms of availability, the aiFi Ai-1 stackable speakers are available to buy now and are priced at $299 per unit.
According to the official specs, each Ai-1 stackable speaker contains two 48mm drivers which offer a combined (total) output of 15-watts per speaker. The aiFi Ai-1 stackable speakers are able to connect via Bluetooth 4.0 to a Bluetooth-enabled source device. Although, each speaker also includes a 3.5 mm jack port for direct connecting to non-Bluetooth devices. In terms of their physical properties, each aiFi Ai-1 stackable speaker makes use of an aluminum-based exterior, measures 184 mm in width, 65 mm in depth and 64 mm in height, while weighing in at 750 grams.
In the Box
When you pick up the aiFi Ai-1 Bluetooth speaker, you do get everything you need to get started. Besides the actual Bluetooth speaker, you can expect to find a power cable (with separate figure 8 mains lead), a carry case for the speaker, some additional brackets, and a brief, but good enough, quick start guide.
Design & Hardware
The first thing to note about the design of the aiFi Ai-1 stackable speakers is that these are very small speakers. At this price point, you would probably expect a certain sized speaker and this will likely be smaller than what you are expecting. At their widest width, each speaker measures just above 7-inches. Each speaker then narrows inward so that the back portion measures just over 6.25-inches in width. While in height, the speakers measure just north of 2.5-inches. So these really are small speakers when viewed individually.
However, they do seem very well designed speakers and overall come with a nice build quality. The outside casing is aluminium and generally speaking, they do adopt a rather minimalist look. There is very little color or discernible design traits to speak of. The front portion is a fully grilled front housing which showcases the two drivers and not much else. The bottom of the speakers sport the aiFi logo (as do most of the other sides) along with some depth-aligned feet, while the top boasts cutouts for the feet of a stacked speaker along with the aiFi branding once again. The back is largely as uneventful, with a protruding grill (and presumed vent), as well as the connection and control points.
Speaking of which, the controls are also a little limited as the entirely of the speaker only includes three buttons. The first (top) is the main power button, which is joined below by the Bluetooth button and further down by the brightness button (more on this later). Which means there are no dedicated volumes buttons on offer with the aiFi Ai-1 speakers. However, that does not mean that you cannot control the volume manually as aiFi have very cleverly including the volume control as a swipe feature on the buttons. So for instance, swiping up on the Bluetooth button turns the volume up and swiping down, the volume down.
So while these speakers would be forgiven for appearing a little bland, they do a good job of providing a premium look and feel. The finish is very good and they are attractive compact speakers. Not to mention that their design goes beyond just the outer casing as within the front-facing grill, these speakers do come equipped with LED lights and these lights offer more than just an aesthetic value as the lights are also what is used to provide feedback that a speaker is connected. When you first turn on the speaker, it appears in one color and once it makes a connection it briefly changes color before finally changing to a color which matches the speakers it is connecting to - effectively (and visually) confirming that a connection has been made. This is where that brightness button also comes in as you can manually adjust the intensity and visual brightness of each speaker.
Overall, when it comes to the design and general hardware, these are very nice individual units. On their own they are a little on the small side, but each speaker offer what seems to be a very good build quality and they do feel as though they will last over time. Although drops and bangs are likely to scuff up these units a little more than other Bluetooth speakers - which come with a greater emphasis on durability. However, once more speakers are added to the equation, the hardware suddenly starts to become far more impressive and you do immediately start to view these speakers in a better light. Likewise, as a collective, the detail in their design does start to become very apparent, very quickly - as the way in which they connect to each other (physically and wirelessly) is certainly extremely well thought out and executed.
Sound Quality & Performance
After using three of these speakers in tandem, it seems difficult to really isolate one from the pack. Although for comparison sake, they need to be. If you are picking up one single aiFi Ai-1 stackable speaker then you are going to be at a disadvantage here, as they are somewhat designed to work together and the more you have, the more impressive they perform. So when taking one as a single purchase into the equation (and keeping in mind that $299 price), you are likely to find a speaker which performs better for the money. Arguable, whether you will find one which comes with a nicer design and build quality is debatable, as these are very nicely finished speakers. But in terms of pure individual performance, while there is nothing that wrong with a single aiFi Ai-1 stackable speaker, it is not a breathtaking sound quality by any means.
To be clear, the sound quality is good and the frequency response on offer seems wide enough. However, whether it is $299 good enough is another story. When used in a singular fashion, the speaker can at times feels narrower in frequency range than you might want. Bass in not massive or punchy and the mids can feel a little squeezed at times. On a positive note, there is not much to complain about with the tops. Although some could argue this means they are a little top-heavy, which will not be to everyone’s liking.
HOWEVER, and this is a big however, the game changes completely when you do start to add the additional units. While it hardly seems theoretically possible, the more you add the wider the range starts to sound. You literally feel as though you are gaining frequency width. Which likely means that the speakers are effectively sharing the signal coming in very well and are able to act more like a system that employs a crossover, allowing for a more evenly distributed sound. To be technically accurate here, the understanding is that this is not what is happening and they are not adopting a more dedicated crossover-like level of use. It is just that they sound as though they are. Whatever is happening, it is clear that the more you add, the better handled the overall sound output is and perceptually, the better they sound.
That said, there are still some notable issues with the collective sound quality. Sound at times can come through a little squeezed which does highlight that the frequency range is not as wide as would be liked - likely a result of the individual size of each speaker. Although, this is not a massive issue and the range is unlikely to be suitable enough for most people. However, if you are accustomed to picking up on discrepancies or imbalances between the tops, mids and bass, then you might find these lacking a little and especially as the volume increases.
As is the case with most Bluetooth speakers nowadays, the aiFi Ai-1 stackable speakers also come with a corresponding Android app which is available to download for free via the Google Play Store. However, the app is a little limited in terms of what it offers and largely just seems to be an additional way to control the volume and other basic features (play, pause and so on). So this is not the most feature-rich app available. That aside, there is one important point to note about the app. When the app was first downloaded, it would not connect at all to the aiFi Ai-1 stackable speakers. The app would load and while seemingly trying to connect, you are just presented with a bootloop-like indefinitely spinning logo. After some minor research, it seems to be the case that the app in unable to connect with the speakers immediately out of the box. Instead, you first have to download another app from the company. The sole purpose of which is to update the speakers firmware so that it can connect to the original app.
What was most disappointing about this, is that the paperwork does not make this clear at all. The included ‘getting started’ guide simply advises that there is an ‘aiFi app’ available to download from the Google Play Store with no mention of the need to download the other app first. Likewise, the aiFi website has yet to even be updated informing that the app is now available with the current support section simply stating that the Android app is ‘coming soon’. As a result, it is assumed that a number of users will likely be under the impression that the Android app is not working - as is does not in its current state. Add to that the lack of forewarned information on the secondary app (other than actually checking to see if the company has any other apps on the Play Store) and the first encounter with the aiFi smartphone software is not the best experience. Ironically, the secondary app does list under ‘what’s new’ that the user should “use this app before using wiFi app for Android”. Although you need to know this app exists in the first place. By the looks of it, this is already likely to have been an issue for some users based on the number of downloads the main app has (compared to the supplementary app). So something you do need to be aware of if you do plan on making use of the app with the speakers.
Once the initial app is downloaded though, the update takes about ten to fifteen minutes to be applied and then the second (main) app is able to work fine with the speakers, although as mentioned, it is not the most in-depth or feature-driven app. All it really does is offer a way to control the playing of tracks and the adjusting of volume.
Battery Life & Connectivity
Normally, the focus would be on the battery life before moving on to the connectivity. However, in this case the connectivity is what matters and in short, these speakers are excellent at connecting and especially to each other. This is quite simply one of the aiFi Ai-1 stackable speakers biggest selling points, as getting them to communicate with each other is as simple as stacking them. Once you turn on the power you just place one on top of another and providing the initial aiFi Ai-1 stackable speaker is connected to your audio source (and playing), the additional aiFi Ai-1 stackable speaker will take a second or two to register the connection and immediately join the playback. The user does nothing to activate additional units after the initial speaker connection is established. It is that simple. Just turn them on, stack them and you are good to go. For those that are not really a fan of vertically stacking the speakers, not a problem! The aiFi Ai-1 stackable speakers also come equipped with the ability to be horizontally aligned in much the same way.
On the side of the speakers you will find what aiFi refers to as ‘coins’. These are small magnetic coin-shaped tokens which once removed allow the speakers to connect to each other horizontally and in doing so, they start to form a curved shape. So add enough and you will likely complete the circle. In these instances you only need to remove the coin from one speaker as the coin on the other joining speaker slots into the unoccupied coin slot, joining the two speakers together neatly.
To add to the well-thought out design, aiFi also included another slot on the back where you can store the coins when used in this mode. So you don’t have to worry about losing any. Detach the coin, place it on the back, align the speakers horizontally and once again, you are good to go. Once they are touching, as they do in the vertical position, one talks to the next and the additional unit joins the playback. Which also means that you do have the ability to make use of both vertical and horizontal alignment at the same time, as shown below.
Which is a nice additional use case. As long as one speaker is touching another, then there is no set way that you have to make use of these speakers. Some can be aligned horizontally, while other stacked vertically and the system will still connect to all speakers and collectively play. Again, all without the user doing anything other than establishing the connection between the initial speaker and the audio source. It really is a seamless design in play here and easily, the biggest selling point on offer with the aiFi Ai-1 stackable speakers.
A criticism which could be leveled here though, is with the charging of these speakers. Evidently, the more speakers you have the more speakers you need to charge individually. It would have been helpful if there was a way in which you could connect one speaker to the next and be able to charge more than one at the same time. Well in fairness, there is. aiFi does have a special cable which allows you to do just that. However, there are issues here. Firstly, the cable is an accessory purchase which means on top of having to pay out $299 per unit, you then need to pay an additional $30 for each charging cable. The other issue is that the cable can only charge two additional units (three in total - including the main unit which is receiving the charge from the wall socket). Which again means that the bigger you build your wall, the more of these cables you will need. Whether this three-limitation is due to the cable or is a safety requirement remains to be seen, but the end result is largely the same - the more of these speakers you have, the harder it becomes to juggle the charging of all of them, providing you can actually tell the difference between the units that are charged and the ones that are not.
Which neatly brings us to battery life. On the whole, there is nothing majorly wrong with the battery life on offer here. These are small speakers and by association, do come with small batteries inside. However, the speaker are able to offer a decent level of playback before needing to be recharged again and during testing, never ran out during an average level of daily usage. So on the whole you can expect a comparative level of battery life with similar priced and sized Bluetooth speakers. Likewise, there was little difference noted with the off the charge duration when used together, compared to when a speaker is used alone. While it probably should be expected that there is a difference, it was not a noticeable difference and was therefore, considered fairly negligible. Likewise, while the speakers never remained off the charge (and turned off) for lengthy periods of time (due to the review time-frame), the speakers did maintain a charge when not used for a number of days. Although it is unclear how long they will hold a charge for when off, not connected to the wall socket, and not in use.
In terms of non-speaker-to-speaker connectivity, there is not a lot wrong here and the aiFi Ai-1 stackable speakers seem fairly adept at connecting to audio sources remotely. There were no issues encountered in this respect and the speakers were able to maintain a connection to a distance of about 10m away. Which is fairly consistent with most decent Bluetooth speakers on the market. Although for those who own more than one speaker - when used in multiple mode, as the source device technically only connects to one of the speakers, that does mean that you are only ever set up to connect to that speaker. So for instance, if you just grab one of the pack to connect to and use in an individual mode, unless it is that initial speaker that you usually connect to, you will obviously need to connect to the additional speaker manually as well. Of course, this is not a massive issue and is the case with any speaker range that you own more than one of. Although, due to their connected-to-each-other nature, you do tend to forget that you are only connected to one actual speaker at any given time, and so it is still worth noting.
There is no doubt that there is an air of gimmick about the aiFi Ai-1 stackable speakers. The premise alone at first seems a bit much and while you can effectively 'build a wall' of speakers, you are having to pay $299 per speaker. Which does mean that as few as three speakers will cost close to $1000. You can therefore imagine how much a ‘wall’ will realistically set you back in total. So when it comes to these speakers, while they do offer something different, few will likely purchase enough to really take advantage of their full potential.
But here is the kicker, the speakers do work exactly as stated and that does mean that while building a wall might not be feasible for most people financially, these speakers do offer you a way to build an impressive system over time. And this is where their true value lies. If you just want to use one speaker at a time, you can. Having a party and want to blow the roof off, then add as many as you like. Which does mean it is hard to argue against what you are getting here. These are great sounding speakers, which perform flawlessly, and make use of a very clever design. If you can afford them, these are an option you might want to consider.