With its triangular design and big, open sound, the Creative Airwave HD wireless speaker wants to be seen as much as heard.
Build and design
The Creative Airwave HD certainly makes a bold statement with its funky design. The triangular shape stands out from the majority of rectangular or cylindrical shapes that pepper the portable speaker market. The geometric pattern on the fascia reinforces the design, and the Airwave HD is available in black and red finishes.
The design has its practical uses – Creative Labs claims the triangular shape minimises vibrations. It’s certainly a rigid, stable construction. The tilted baffle also aims to deliver sound directly to the listener, rather than projecting it straight ahead.
This is a well thought-out unit, although we wish a little more care had been given to the feel of the top-mounted control buttons.
The toggling power button and volume controls feel a little flimsy. The white LED that blinks each time you change the volume is a little slow to respond – it’s not unlike the lip-synching delays you sometimes get with video, and is equally annoying over time.
The Airwave HD is perfect for outdoors, rugged use. We’re not worried about getting it dirty or scuffed – it’s a tough unit. It may not be as compact and portable-friendly as rival speakers such as the Ultimate Ears Boom and JBL Charge, but it can be slung into a backpack easily enough.
Sadly, all this adventurous potential is let down a bit by a paltry seven hours of battery life. It would be far better if the Airwave HD could pump out tunes for more than 10 hours on a full charge.
It’s the first time Creative Labs has used NFC (Near-Field Communication) technology in its products, and other features of this wireless speaker include apt-X streaming support and a built-in mic for hands-free calls. Oh, and it speaks to you, too.
Connecting to the Airwave HD is easy. Simply tap an NFC-enabled Android or Windows device to the back of the speaker to connect (making sure Bluetooth is turned on). Apple devices and laptops and computers will have to connect via the more ‘conventional’ Bluetooth – but that’s easy enough to sort out.
A female voice regales you with status updates when you do something, such as ‘Powering on’ (when turning the speaker on), and ‘Pairing mode, waiting for device to connect’ when pressing the Bluetooth button. We haven’t lived with the speaker long enough to decide if we like it or not, but she’s no Siri.
You can see the built-in mic next to the top controls on the Airwave HD. You have to tap the Bluetooth button to take an incoming call - which seems a clunky way of going about things. If you’re streaming music and controlling playback from your smartphone, then you probably already have the device at hand. Literally.
It makes more sense to use your phone to pick up a call, and select whether you want to push it to the Airwave’s speaker, rather than having to reach over and press a button on the Airwave. You can reject the call by pressing the Bluetooth button for longer.
We like the open and spacious sound. There’s a lively sense of rhythm and plenty of energy. The bassline may not go as deep as on the Bose SoundLink Mini speaker, but it is solid. The treble sparkles and has plenty of bite, although it could do with a touch more refinement.
The wide soundfield is admirable, and turning up the volume gives a larger sense of scale. That increase in volume does, however, expose some of the Airwave’s flaws. The treble can sound a touch too hard, and the clash and clatter of percussions gains a bright edge.
A bigger problem, though, comes with voices, which start to sound muffled. We’d like to hear a clearer, more subtle sound from the Airwave HD, one that is better able to deliver the nuances and emotion in voices.
Stream Van Halen’s Take Your Whiskey Home, and plucked strings come across in a detailed and confident manner. However, the Airwave loses its composure when the rest of the instruments join in.
It sounds a little confused, as if it’s not able to juggle all the different elements of a song in an organised manner. It’s all a bit noisy, and the cohesion of songs is lost.
The Airwave HD is picky with music, too. Its punchy and rhythmic delivery suits the aggressive beats of Rage Against The Machine, but its lack of vocal clarity means it doesn’t do well with Birdy’s delicate tunes or the banjo-driven Mumford and Sons.
Switch to the 3.5mm wired connection, and voices sound cleaner, the guitar strings lose some of that overly hard character for a more musical twang, and it’s a touch tauter.
However it does sound a little restrained. Switch back to Bluetooth streaming and the large, airy sound returns. You pick your poison…
The Airwave HD’s talents seem restricted to delivering a big scale of music really loudly. Its energy and scale is commendable, but it doesn’t quite excite elsewhere. It’s not a hugely cohesive and subtle sound, and the lack of clarity does stop us from fully engaging with the music.
It’s a decent price, though, and decent in terms of design and build quality. It’s just that it’s a little rough around the edges in terms of both sound and finish. We’d like just a little more attention to detail with the Airwave HD.
MORE: Best bluetooth speakers