We’ve been impressed by Monitor Audio’s Airstream range of products, but we think this £200 wireless speaker might just be the jewel in the crown.
The Monitor Audio Airstream S200 is talented - very talented. It has a long list of streaming features that seems incredible for its £200 pricetag, while the large-scale and subtly dynamic sound is even more impressive considering its small footprint.
Let’s start with that spacious and subtle sound - the open presentation, the clear and confident delivery and the punchy rhythm. It’s impressive stuff from a speaker of this size and price.
The sound is lively and eager to please, which is exactly the kind of approach you want if your music library is made up of streamed files of varying resolution.
Play CD-ripped WAV files from your laptop, such as the Inception soundtrack, and the S200 soars with great authority and digs up a huge amount of detail in the orchestral piece.
There’s a surprising amount of low-end weight, as drums hit with satisfying impact and basslines are deep and punchy. Timing is spot-on, with notes stopping and starting with precision.
It doesn’t lose an ounce of its enthusiasm when fed low-resolution files, either. Spotify-streamed tracks from a smartphone are handled with just as much deftness and alacrity.
There’s punch and bite to the brash guitar riffs in Hole’s Celebrity Skin, while alt-J’s mellow and fluid tunes are delivered with a great sense of undulating rhythm. Voices are subtly conveyed, sounding natural and expressive.
We like how loud the S200 can go without sounding restrained or harsh. In fact, it manages to reach high volumes without ever actually sounding as if it’s too loud – an admirable feat. There are no bright edges to the S200’s sound (but we’d still run it in for a day or so to get it sounding at its best).
It’s entirely engaging and musical to listen to, and its smooth yet subtle approach will keep you engaged for hours.
Features and connectivity
If the S200’s sound quality wasn’t impressive enough, the long list of streaming connectivity is bound to please users of various smart devices.
Unlike with the Airstream S300, where Apple didn’t allow AirPlay and Bluetooth to coexist in the same speaker, the S200 features both ways of streaming.
That opens up the S200’s flexibility considerably. Bluetooth is of the higher-quality aptX variety and connects swiftly, while DLNA certification and Monitor Audio’s own Airstream Direct connection are also thrown into the mix.
Whether you want to stream from a PC, NAS device, Mac or Android, the options are there. If you prefer hardwiring your music players, the 3.5mm input will serve you well.
Airstream Direct is handy when you’re not in a wi-fi zone, as you can simply tap into the S200’s own wi-fi network. If you’re an Apple user, this is the quickest method for streaming your stored songs.
Joining a wireless network is easily done, though: plug in your iOS device into the USB input and press the wi-fi sharing button to transfer your network settings to the speaker. Simple. The USB input also charges and plays from your iPod, iPhone or iPad.
Build quality and design
At first glance, the Monitor Audio Airstream S200 seems an unusual shape, with the angled design looking a bit like a contemporary skyscraper. But, in use, it's a smart design: the tall cabinet is slim and compact, and we can see it fitting neatly into many spaces in a house.
The build quality is excellent too. There’s a premium feel to the elegant finish (which comes in black or white), and we like the reassuring weight of the unit itself.
The drivers – a 20mm tweeter flanked by two 7.5cmm mid/bass drivers – are cleverly placed on an angled baffle, which contributes to the S200’s widespread sound.
Finally, a rear-firing ‘race track’ bass driver brings the punchy low extension.
Multi-purpose buttons (discreetly placed along the side of the unit) help speed along AirPlay and wi-fi set up, switch between Airstream and DLNA, and change volumes. There’s a single button that changes input.
There is a prominent LED on the front of the speaker that changes colour for each input: cyan (Bluetooth), purple (Airstream Direct), dark blue (AirPlay/DLNA), green (3.5mm input) and white (USB).
It’s worth studying the manual to learn all the LED colour combinations (the unit will indicate more), because it can be a little complicated at first - but once you get used to it, it’s all fairly plain sailing.
It’s safe to say we’re impressed with the Airstream S200. Monitor Audio has ticked all the right boxes with this wireless speaker: great design, plenty of features, exciting sound performance, and all for just £200.
Its direct rival is the Samsung M5. We think the Monitor Audio delivers a more musical and cohesive performance. It’s a remarkably good wireless speaker, and one that deserves to attract many fans.