While there are several ways to wirelessly stream audio from your notebook--including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and AirPlay (for Macs)--HP has embraced yet another technology, called KleerNet, for its new Wireless Audio. This $99 device can let you stream uncompressed audio more than 100 feet from your PC to your home theater. But is it worth the splurge for wireless freedom?
HP did a relatively good job of giving HP Wireless Audio a look that's both functional and stylish. At 3.8 ounces, the 3.2 x 3.1 x 1.3-inch receiver is just small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. The corners are rounded for a soft yet modern look.
The top of the receiver is a glossy black plastic that is a fingerprint magnet. LED indicators for pairing and power sit at the front right lip of the transmitter while a small gray HP logo can be seen in the opposite corner.
The plastic finish extends to the middle of the receiver's rear, where S/PDIF, a combo Mini TOSLINK/3.5mm analog, and left and right analog jacks reside. A pairing button and a USB power connector are also located in the back. The bottom of the receiver uses a matte gray plastic, and there's a white HP Wireless Audio logo displayed prominently in the front of the device.
The accompanying 3.4 x 1.2 x 0.6-inch USB transmitter follows a similar color scheme, with a gray head and a shiny black plastic tail.
HP Wireless Audio can be used with any Windows notebook with a USB port. However, if you have a KleerNet-compatible notebook--such as the latest HP Envy 15 and HP Envy 17--you don't need to use the USB transmitter. During our testing, we used the Dell Inspiron 14z as our notebook, and the Audyssey Lower East Side Dock Air as our wireless speaker.
Setup was simple, taking between 3 to 4 minutes. First, we installed the HP Wireless Audio software on the Inspiron 14z via the included software CD (HP is in the process of making the software available on the Web) and opened the HP Wireless Audio Manager. Then we plugged the transmitter into an available USB port. From there, we plugged the receiver into the LES Dock Air's auxiliary port and turned on the speaker. The Wireless Audio Manager immediately detected the receiver and we were ready to pair.
The Wireless Audio Manager is a pretty straightforward affair. The black-and-grey control panel displays all available audio devices for streaming, Once the program launched, it automatically scanned for devices and listed them under the Available Devices panel. Users can add multiple devices and create groups, which allows you to transmit one audio feed to several devices in different locations.
Kleernet streams umcompressed audio over the 2.4-, 5.2- and 5.8-GHz frequencies. Unlike compressed audio that eliminates certain audio frequencies in favor of creating a smaller file, uncompressed audio lets listeners hear the music as it was orignally recorded. On Jay-Z's Pharrell-assisted track "I Know," the bongos and snares were crisp and distinctive, and we could hear the subtle inflections in Jay-Z ad-libs. A live version of Marvin Gaye's "After The Dance" sounded just as good as a vinyl record--we even heard the pops and hisses.
Aside from fidelity, we were also impressed how seamlessly audio streamed over the HP Wireless Audio Solution, regardless of the source. When we quickly clicked pause and play on the notebook, the receiver and speaker reacted without a hint of latency.
HP claims that HP Wireless Audio can stream music from any direction up to 100 feet. (By comparison, Bluetooth-enabled devices usually have a range of about 33 feet.) When we used the built-in transmitter on the Envy 17, we were able to get more than 60 feet away from the receiver before the sound cut out. Using the USB transmitter on the Inspiron 14z, we were able to get about 50 feet away. In every instance of our testing, we appreciated that the receiver began streaming as soon as we walked back into range.
HP Wireless Audio can also pair with up to four speakers or audio devices at any given time, provided they're KleerNet-compatible and within range of your laptop.
Small and functional, the $99.99 HP Wireless Audio is a good audio streaming solution for KleerNet-compatible devices or devices that lack any streaming or syncing capability. Its long range means that users can easily stream music throughout their homes from a variety of audio sources. However, with an increasing amount of AirPlay and Bluetooth-enabled devices on the market that don't require middle-man tech, HP Wireless Audio is an added expense that might only appeal to die-hard audiophiles.