Review: C4 Electronics Dolry HiFi Stone 30-Pin AirPlay Adapter
Apple hasn't flinched when updating features in its products: it has switched "new" iMacs and iPads after six months in the name of selling something better, and typically doesn't apologize to consumers for moving on. On some occasions, the changes have been mostly benign -- it has unexpectedly swapped MacBooks' MagSafe connectors for MagSafe 2, and iPads' Dock Connectors for Lightning, bridging the standards with overpriced adapters -- but Apple has chafed when third-party companies have tried to offer alternatives. Last year, Apple threatened companies that offered inexpensive Bluetooth adapters for Dock Connector speakers, demanding that the adapters be yanked from the market. Now C4 Electronics is offering a new option called Dolry (€89/~$115), a Dock Connector to AirPlay adapter that can rejuvenate old speakers built with Apple's 30-pin plug. Without the need for cables, Dolry transforms a prior-generation iPod, iPhone, and/or iPad speaker into a Wi-Fi audio receiver, streaming music from AirPlay-equipped iOS devices and computers running iTunes.
Glossy on the front and matte-finished on the back, Dolry is as elegantly designed as wireless adapters get. Oval-shaped with a white light on the front and a 30-pin port on the bottom, it also goes by the name “HiFi Stone,” which appears on the unit’s back. There are no buttons to press or cables to worry about; you just plug it into a Dock Connector speaker, wait for the white light to go solid, and connect your iOS device to the unit’s Wi-Fi Direct network. You can stream directly to your Dock Connector speaker at that point, or use a free Dolry app to bring the accessory onto an existing home or office Wi-Fi network. The app makes setup simple, handles firmware updates, and adds Internet Radio tuning functionality—the latter currently only in Chinese, the only odd part of the app. While the software will need tweaks to make it useful beyond the initial setup process for non-Chinese speakers, one can guess that Dolry won’t just be limited to AirPlay (and for non-iOS users, DLNA steaming) in the future.
If there was any arguably valid reason for Apple to oppose Dock Connector to Bluetooth adapters, concerns about streaming audio quality might—underscore “might”—have swayed some people. Early stereo Bluetooth accessories suffered from obvious audio compression, manifesting variously in unnaturally staticy highs, flattened mids, and/or cut-off, crunchy-sounding lows, issues that were solved some time ago by improved Bluetooth speakers; many Bluetooth accessories now can stream music stored on iOS devices as raw data, without applying any additional compression. Between that improvement and wide variations in the quality of components used in AirPlay and Bluetooth speakers, AirPlay’s technical advantage of “lossless audio streaming” is more theoretical than real; at this point, you’re as likely to hear great sound from a Bluetooth speaker as one with AirPlay.
That having been said, AirPlay is a good alternative to Dock Connector audio, and we had no major gripes with Dolry’s sound quality. For all intents and purposes, what you’ll hear from a speaker with Dolry plugged in is roughly identical to what you’d hear if your iPad, iPhone, or iPod was physically connected to the Dock Connector port. As with virtually all of the AirPlay speakers we’ve tested, we noted streaming-related delays and occasional small hiccups—issues that have previously led us to recommend Bluetooth, instead—but otherwise, Dolry’s wireless audio quality is just like a wired connection. If there’s a little hiss or a moment of dead silence in the original recording, a deep, heavy beat, or a sharp high note, you’ll hear it here, assuming that your Dock Connector speaker is up to the task.
Moreover, Dolry lets you accomplish a feat that Apple’s Lightning to 30-Pin Adapters handle awkwardly at best: it lets you use iPod and iPhone speakers with iPads. The tiny stone-shaped adapter measures roughly 2.2” wide by 1.6” tall by 0.2” thick—around half the size of a third-generation iPod nano, and capable of fitting in any dock without blocking their speakers. You also gain AirPlay’s ability to broadcast to multiple speakers at once using iTunes on a Mac or PC, which might appeal to users looking for a simple whole-home audio solution.
Not surprisingly, Dolry arrives with some hitches. It’s not compatible with every old Dock Connector speaker; for instance, we couldn’t get it to turn on when connected to Apple’s long-since-discontinued iPod Hi-Fi, which used an old iPod charging standard that’s not compatible with newer devices, and similarly aged speakers will have similar issues. Every reasonably modern speaker we tested, however, worked just fine. We also noted that it was ever so slightly desynchronized with iTunes when doing multi-speaker simultaneous playback—slow by a split-second, which is just enough to make for messy listening on two AirPlay speakers in the same room, though less of an issue for speakers separated from one another. On a related note, there’s no indication that Dolry is licensed by Apple, which theoretically could toss a monkey wrench into its future iOS/iTunes compatibility. And finally, the €89/$115 asking price is all but crazy. Apple-approved or not, Bluetooth adapters of this sort sell for $40 to $60 and do pretty much the same things. There may be reasons for some users to prefer AirPlay over Bluetooth, but those reasons generally won’t justify paying two or three times as much.
Ultimately, Dolry’s price tag is the only reason this otherwise good accessory fell short of our general recommendation. While it’s not perfect—the app and simultaneous iTunes streaming could both use a little work—Dolry does almost everything that one would expect it to do, and looks good enough doing so that we’d typically be able to recommend it to anyone interested in repurposing an old Dock Connector speaker. Unfortunately, there’s a price point at which people will ask whether they’re better off putting dollars into an adapter or an entirely new product, and with great standalone Bluetooth speakers now available at $100, Dolry will certainly be at or above that threshold for most users. As it’s currently being sold, it will only appeal to people with large pocketbooks and similarly substantial investments in Dock Connector speakers, but at a lower price, it would have the chance to do wonders for both old audio systems and the flagging AirPlay third-party audio ecosystem. Hopefully C4 Electronics will find a way to pare the cost down, as the concept and execution are otherwise substantially worthwhile.