Some people prefer neutral, elegant-looking speakers that could have come out of Apple’s own labs, such as Bowers & Wilkins’ MM-1. Other people enjoy unusual, conversation-starting designs, like B&W’s Zeppelin Air. And virtually everyone appreciates great value for the dollar. So while it’s immediately apparent that Edifier’s Spinnaker e30-Multimedia Speaker ($350) falls into the “unusual” design camp, and that the price tag isn’t exactly cheap, hands-on testing has yielded some surprises: Spinnaker delivers impressive sound quality and features for the dollar, even if it looks somewhat strange, and is saddled with a few usability quirks that detract from what would otherwise have been a higher rating.
Edifier is known for distinctive audio systems, having previously released speakers that look somewhat alien, so the fact that Spinnaker resembles a huge set of tusks or bull’s horns isn’t completely shocking. The company calls them sail-shaped, which would make sense if parachute-like spinnaker sails were actually conical when catching the wind, but in any case, they’re sail-inspired, and certainly unique. Black fabric wraps around all the sides that are visible from the front, with a ring of matte black plastic around the center, and a matching stripe of plastic running down the back, ending at the bottom in a silver, partially aluminum foot. (A burgundy and silver version of Spinnaker is also available.) Each speaker stands around 16” tall with roughly 5” diameter plastic bases, occupying 7” of total depth once the semi-circular aluminum feet are considered. Ports are hidden under the right speaker, which has grooves under the aluminum base for power and audio connectivity, plus support for an optional subwoofer that doesn’t appear to be available.
There are a couple of big surprises here, and one that’s small but also worth mentioning. First, Spinnaker e30 packs a Bluetooth 2.1 wireless chip, enabling it to work wirelessly with iOS devices—a rarity in freestanding systems such as this. Second, the system has three audio drivers per speaker—a 0.75” tweeter for treble, a 2.75” mid-range driver, and a 4” bass driver, all backed by a significant 90W amplifier. Third, the auxiliary audio input on the bottom back of the right speaker has both analog and optical functionality. Put these three details together and you’ll begin to realize that Spinnaker is a surprisingly well-equipped and versatile audio system. The six-driver array alone places it in the class of $300 all-in-one audio systems we’ve previously seen from companies such as Logitech, while the analog, optical, and Bluetooth connectivity options enable it to be a viable speaker system for anything from a desktop computer to an iOS device. So long as you’re happy with the sight of two black or red tusks sticking out of your table or desk, there’s a lot more to like here than one might expect.
A few other pack-in details are also worth noting. Edifier includes a novel wireless remote control that looks like a silver and black half egg, with a button on top, a dial-style volume controller in the middle, and an illuminating base to indicate power—you charge the remote using an included micro-USB cable, then detach it and use it from up to two rooms away. It worked perfectly in our testing for volume control, and can be made to change the tracks of Bluetooth devices, as well. There’s also a wall adapter, which is required to provide the speakers with power, an analog 3.5mm audio cable, an optical audio cable for connection to something such as an AirPort Express or an audio receiver, and enough cabling to separate the two speakers from each other by four or five feet. Stereo sound separation is considerable at this distance, and well beyond the capabilities of smaller all-in-one speakers.
Spinnaker’s two biggest selling points for iOS users will be the sound quality and wireless functionality. Thanks to the six speakers and robust amplifier package, Spinnaker is a surprisingly powerful, nicely balanced audio system, with very low amplifier noise and a lot more oomph than common computer speakers. Most notably, Spinnaker’s 4” drivers deliver far deeper bass than the average desktop or iOS-ready speaker set, while its treble drivers do a pretty good job on the high end, and its 2.75” midrange drivers deliver respectable clarity and volume in the center. Edifier hasn’t chosen such high-end components or achieved such stellar tuning that we’d describe the audio as sounding reference-quality—treble, for instance, is obvious but not sharp. Yet Spinnaker delivers noticeably wider frequency response and reaches higher volumes than the aforementioned Bowers & Wilkins MM-1, filling a medium-sized room with relatively clear, low-distortion audio. This isn’t a big surprise given how much larger and better-equipped Spinnaker is, but Edifier’s price is a lot lower than B&W’s, and you get Bluetooth support, which MM-1 and most other computer speakers lack.
This isn’t to say that Spinnaker e30 doesn’t have quirks, and some serious ones, at that. Our very first tests with a computer had us extremely concerned that the left speaker or speaker cable had arrived broken—the volume of the left channel appeared to be roughly 1/4 that of the right channel. However, as we continued testing, everything normalized the moment we switched over to Bluetooth wireless connectivity with an iOS device, and remained fine thereafter when we switched back to wired mode. Edifier’s troubleshooting tips suggest that it’s aware that one speaker mightn’t work right under certain conditions, but blames the issue “mainly” on electronic grounding issues with some computers and optical drivers. Regardless of what’s supposedly responsible for that issue, we’ve never had this problem with any properly-designed speaker we’ve tested in the past, and although the issue went away and became unreproducible, it was unsettling. If it wasn’t for this system’s unique Bluetooth functionality, which operated properly from roughly 50 feet away and exhibited no issues whatsoever in our testing, we’d consider it more of an problem.
Perhaps the largest persistent issue with Spinnaker is one that will confront users who hope to use it with wireless and wired devices at the same time. There’s nothing intuitive about the remote control’s method for input selection, and even after reading Edifier’s poorly-designed instruction manual, you may well be at a loss to understand how to do press-and-hold button commands to toggle between wired and wireless audio sources. Spinnaker turns off the Bluetooth and de-pairs from your wireless device whenever it’s in wired mode, only re-pairing when you switch back to the Bluetooth input, a user experience quirk that complicates initial pairing and may lead to accidental disconnections if you frequently switch inputs. Switching between analog audio and Bluetooth, incidentally, requires two press-and-hold commands: despite the aux and optical inputs sharing the same port, Edifier treats them as two separate inputs. The only way you’re supposed to know which one you’ve selected is a thin, colored LED indicator at the top of the right speaker—a tiny line that can only be seen when you’re directly in front of that speaker. Spinnaker’s wireless remote has a single RED light indicator that provides no clue as to which audio source it’s actually switching to.
If Edifier’s user interface for Spinnaker e30 was a little more thoughtful and polished, this speaker system would surely have rated higher: judged solely on its sonic and wireless performance for the dollar, this is certainly a very good to great speaker system, with only its aesthetics serving as a potentially negative polarizing factor. The most critical issue is that iOS users who hope to take advantage of its wired and wireless functionality will find Edifier’s approach to input selection and remote control to be far less than ideal—Spinnaker is really a system that should be set in either wireless or wired mode, and left there. Used purely as a Bluetooth speaker, it provides a very good experience, and as a wired speaker, it’s only a little short of that; overall, it merits our flat B rating and general recommendation. From our perspective, this is the best Edifier speaker we’ve yet tested, and hopefully the company will continue to improve the interfaces of its next-generation audio systems.
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Compatible: All iPads, iPhones, iPod touch 2G/3G/4G