Sony invited me to its Tokyo HQ to get a sneak peak of some of the latest gear that it'll be launching in the coming year. One of the most interesting products it showed me was the SA-NS510 wireless speaker. This is designed to be used not just with AirPlay-compatible iOS devices, but also with Android mobile phones and tablets via Wi-Fi.
Thanks to Sony's clever new iOS and Android apps, if you buy two or more docks, you can create a multi-room audio system.
Design and build quality
There are actually three new wireless speakers in the range -- the cheaper NS310, mid-range NS410 and top-of-the-range NS510. Of the three, the NS510 is naturally the most interesting. It has a circular design that makes it look like an upturned vase. Wide at the bottom, it narrows as you move further up the speaker, and its matte black finish shouldn't show up finger print smudges. The overall look is attractive enough, although it's not as sexy as the Philips DS8800W.
The circular design is important. While stereo speakers have quite a narrow sweet spot, Sony has instead arranged a number of speaker drivers inside the chassis to fire out audio from all sides. This creates a much wider sound stage than you'd usually get from this type of wireless speaker. There's also a down-firing subwoofer mounted on the bottom to add some meaty bass.
Interestingly, the dock can run on either mains power or via its built-in rechargeable battery. Sony says you should get around 5 hours of playback while running on battery power. That should prove handy during the summer months when you want to use it outdoors at a barbecue.
Setting up the dock on your Wi-Fi network should be pretty straightforward. The dock initially creates its own Wi-Fi network that you can log onto via your iOS or Android phone or tablet. You then select the name of your own Wi-Fi network and enter your network's password.
Once the speaker is set up on your network, AirPlay-compatible devices will automatically find it. So you can send your tunes to the speaker simply by tapping an icon on the Now Playing screen on your iPhone or iPad and selecting the dock as the output device.
Sony's Android phones and tablets will offer similar functionality to AirPlay. In the Sony's custom music player app for Android products, you'll be able to select the dock as the output device from the Now Playing screen.
Multi-room audio support
The most exciting thing about the new dock is that Sony goes much further than just supporting AirPlay and audio over Wi-Fi on Android. It has developed apps for iOS and Android devices that allow you to create a multi-room audio system, similar to a Sonos set-up. You can use any of these three new wireless speakers, or its Wi-Fi-enabled micro-Hi-Fis, such as the CMT-G2BNIP model that launched last year.
Using these apps, you can stream audio not just from your phone or tablet, but also from Internet radio or cloud-based music services, including Sony's own Music Unlimited offering. What's more, these apps can also connect to the library of tunes that you've got stored on your PC or NAS drive, streaming them to your dock via DLNA.
You can name your docks according to the rooms they're in -- such as bedroom, kitchen and lounge -- and you can opt to have tunes playing in all rooms synced together, or just a sub-set of rooms. Cleverly, a person can be listening to one tune via a dock in the bedroom, while someone else sets a different tune playing simultaneously in both the kitchen and lounge.
I had a play with the Android and iOS apps. Both had neatly designed interfaces that made browsing tracks locally or on cloud-based music services very easy. Selecting which docks you want to play your tunes on was child's play. To choose a dock, you just tap on a small image of it in the main interface.
In fact, the only feature that seemed to be missing, compared to systems from competitors such as Sonos, was the ability for different people using separate devices to add to a shared music queue or playlist.
Sony was keeping tight-lipped on pricing at the time of writing. If it can launch the NS510 at a price that's similar to other AirPlay speakers currently on the market, then its ability to create a multi-room audio system, using two or more of its wireless speakers, should give it a significant edge over the competition.
Editors' note: Niall Magennis saw the Sony SA-NS510 at a Sony event in Tokyo. His flight and accommodation were
paid for by Sony, but the company had no input into the content of