Creative’s ZiiSound D5 Wireless Bluetooth Speakers is an interesting Bluetooth speaker. The long, square-profile [For the shape geeks out there, the correct description is “rectangular polyhedron” or “square prism.”-Ed.] unit is made of plastic and metal, with black-mesh fabric covering most of its surfaces and shiny-metal plates on each end. The unit sports touch-sensitive controls and an unusual dock that can charge your iPhone or iPod even as your player streams audio wirelessly.
At 16.7 inches wide, 4.3 inches deep, and 3.5 inches tall, and weighing 8.4 pounds, the D5 is larger than many of the Bluetooth speaker systems we’ve tested. The thin band of black plastic around the center of the unit hosts the Z5’s controls and elevates it ever so slightly off your tabletop. On the back of the system, along the bottom edge, sit a a 1/8-inch (3.5mm) stereo line-in jack, a tiny power button, and a jack for the included AC adapter. A two-foot, miniplug-to-miniplug cable is also included in the box.
The controls are the first of several unique design choices that Creative has made with the ZiiSound D5. On the top is a touch-sensitive volume-control; as you slide your finger along its surface, LEDs underneath light up to show the volume level. The approach is a bit too clever for its own good, however, as you can’t just tap at the approximate desired volume level—the D5 detects volume changes only if you actually slide your finger.
On the front of the ZiiSound D5 is its only other control, also touch-sensitive. This one is labeled Connect, and it serves two purposes: If you press and hold Connect, the unit enters Bluetooth pairing mode. (If your Bluetooth device prompts you for a passcode to complete pairing, use 0000.) Tapping Connect cycles through multiple paired devices.
Packaged with the ZiiSound D5 is a small Bluetooth dongle that you can attach to the dock-connector port of your iPhone or iPod to pair that player with the D5. This is a welcome inclusion for iPods that lack Bluetooth capability, but Creative actually recommends using the dongle with Bluetooth-equipped iPhones and iPod touch models, as well, claiming that you’ll get superior audio performance than if you use your device’s built-in Bluetooth for pairing. The reason for this is that instead of using standard A2DP (stereo Bluetooth) streaming, which compresses audio in transit, the dongle uses the Apt-X Bluetooth-audio codec, which transmits audio losslessly. With higher-quality audio files, I definitely heard the difference when streaming through the dongle—the Apt-X technology provides CD-quality audio (a helpful comparison if you’re old enough to remember CDs).
Another advantage to using the dongle is charging. Included in the ZiiSound D5’s box are a small plastic tab and a series of rubber bumpers. You mount the correct rubber bumper for your device to the plastic tab, and then attach the tab to the “cradle” on the rear-center of the ZiiSound D5. (All iPhones and dock-connector iPods will work with the D5; the D5’s manual notes, with the exception of the iPhone 4, which devices fit each bumper.) Then you slide your device, dongle attached, into the cradle. Though your music continues to stream wirelessly, via Bluetooth, the D5 charges your iPhone or iPod.
Finally, using the Z5’s Bluetooth dongle has another advantage for iPhone owners: By pairing a Bluetooth headset directly with your iPhone for calls, and then using the dongle to pair with the ZiiSound D5, you can avoid issues with having multiple Bluetooth devices paired directly with the phone. (Since the D5 has no microphone, you’d need to use a Bluetooth headset—or pick up your phone—to receive a call anyway.) You can even disable Bluetooth on the iPhone itself and remain paired with the ZiiSound via the dongle.
I thoroughly enjoyed the D5’s sound quality. It’s rare to find a Bluetooth speaker large enough to create distinct stereo separation, but at nearly 17 inches wide, the ZiiSound D5 does just that. The lack of a true dedicated subwoofer certainly affects the system’s ability to produce voluminous bass, but thanks to an integrated bass port on the back of the unit, the D5’s 2.75-inch, full-range drivers produce a good amount of kick. The D5 also gets plenty—even painfully—loud, providing clear, distortion-free audio that saturated my test room. (The unit also sounds great at quieter volumes.) Particularly when using the dongle, the wireless D5 provides rich, full, and clear sound that can rival direct-connection speaker setups.
Creative claims that, when using the dongle, the D5 can receive streamed audio from up to 30 feet away. That claim considerably undersells the system’s range, at least in my testing—I successfully streamed music from my iPhone 3GS from nearly 50 feet away without any distortion or cutouts.
Macworld’s buying advice
At $300, the ZiiSound D5 isn’t inexpensive, but it delivers great physical design and outstanding audio quality. And although the D5 works well as a traditional Bluetooth speaker system, the included dongle affords iPhone and iPod owners exceptional versatility—you can dock your device to juice up your battery, or remove your player, without stopping the music, to use it as a higher-quality-than-standard-Bluetooth remote control and audio streamer. The ZiiSound D5 is as well-implemented a Bluetooth audio system as we’ve seen.