Did you know that 2013 is the International Year of Quinoa? Until this year not many people outside of health shops would have heard of the once-Incan-cultivated grain, but now it's seemingly everywhere. The same goes for wireless audio, for while the UN probably isn't considering lionizing Sonos next, more competing products have cropped up in the last 12 months than seemingly in the last five years.
Play-Fi emerged late last year as an Android streaming protocol, but with the addition last month of an iOS app, the system is getting a little closer to the power offered by the Sonos ecosystem. The Phorus PS1 Speaker is a hybrid Bluetooth/Play-Fi speaker that can also function as a charging cradle for your wireless devices.
While setup presented its own issues, performance is where the Phorus PS1 isn't able to compete against the new Sonos Play:1. Sound quality is overly clock-radio-like, midrange-heavy and lacking both true bass and treble. Add to that some connectivity issues and the lack of an Ethernet port -- though you can use a USB-to-Ethernet adapter -- the PS1 is unfortunately a disappointing execution of a great idea. Get a Sonos instead. Also: buy quinoa.
Before the arrival of the Sonos Play:1, Phorus' products weren't competing with Sonos' directly, but attempted to undercut them as a "value" option. Yet with cost-cutting comes compromise, and against the cute-as-a-button Play:1 the Phorus PS1 comes off looking like a cheap iPod dock.
With more than a passing resemblance to the JBL OnStage -- which is not surprising given the same engineers designed both -- the Phorus speaker is about the size and shape of a coffee tin with a roughly pyramidal shape. The "dock" features a large rubber lip that will hold most gadgets, including tablets, securely. While there is an indentation that could have been intended to house a connector, the only charging is done via the rear USB port and a couple of included USB adapters. Also at the rear are a 3.5mm input, a further unused Micro-USB port, and a power socket. Unfortunately the unit lacks an Ethernet port, but we did have success connecting a Mac Ethernet-to-USB adapter.
For sound production duties, the Phorus offers two neodymium drivers each driven by a Class D digital amplifier.
There are five buttons on the front of the speaker: power, volume up and down, and two wireless buttons, one for Bluetooth and one for the proprietary Play-Fi system.
The Phorus is a speaker system that uses the Play-Fi protocol for multiroom audio based on the existing 802.11 specification (b/g/n). Phorus says the system is designed to scale well, and isn't tied to an existing proprietary Mesh network like Sonos. At present there are just a speaker dock and a "receiver" but Phorus tells us there are more products planned from other companies.
Although the PS1 is currently billed as "Wireless Audio for Android" on the Phorus Web site the company has much loftier aspirations for the system than just streaming music from Google phones. Last month the company added iOS support, and coming shortly is PC playback. With future improvements including hi-res audio -- at present it's limited to 16/48 -- and more streaming services coming, parent company DTS is really hoping to take the Play-Fi(ight) directly to Sonos.
While the app is available for iOS and Android, they don't yet have the same functionality -- you can't currently stream from an NAS or other computer with the iOS app, nor can you listen to Internet radio. On iOS you can currently only listen to the music on the phone itself or via Pandora, and though AAC is ostensibly supported it didn't work during our testing.