Eos provides wireless audio on a budget. (July 25th, 2010)
Eos' Converge audio system is, in theory, the wireless audio system for everyone: it streams iTunes music and Internet radio directly to either an existing audio system or its own speakers, but it can also take music directly from an iPhone or iPod. It's billed as offering great sound quality and simplicity. Read on to our full Converge system review to see our take on whether it reaches those two goals.
Product Manufacturer: Eos
Price: $130 (Speaker/Receiver), $100 (Transmitter)
- Good value for money.
- No Wi-Fi or software needed.
- Very easy setup.
- Internet radio.
- Significant static on line-in and speakers.
- Need to restart apps if USB link breaks.
- Flimsy Speaker/Receiver mount.
Hardware tested and the design
An explanation of the equipment is in order before talking about the experience. For this review, we tested the full gamut of Eos Converge Receivers and the standard Converge Transmitter. In addition to the standard Converge Transmitter, Eos also manufactures an iPod docking station that doubles as a Converge Transmitter. The Converge Transmitter we tested can accept analog audio from a line level audio cable or digital audio from a computer via USB. The USB connection on the Converge Transmitter also doubles as the Transmitter's power source. The antennas on all of the Converge products light up blue when powered up, which is a nice touch. Other than a power button, the only other function on the Converge Transmitter is a button that toggles the audio input from USB to the 1/8-inch aux audio connection. The transmitter also offers an audio out jack so that desktop users can connect the Eos system between their computer and their desktop speakers. The Converge Transmitter is priced at $100 ,while the iPod Dock/Transmitter is $250.
Eos produces three types of Receivers for the Converge line, all of which we tested. The flagship receiver in the Converge system is the Portable Wireless Speaker/Receiver; this receiver has two tweeters in the front and a small ported woofer in the back. We were quite impressed with the volume that the Speaker/Receiver could produce given its size, and we're sure that the woofer contributed heavily to this. As with most small speaker systems, there was some distortion at higher volume levels but given the size and price of the receiver we were impressed overall. This unit retails for $130.
The other two receivers are simply called the Converge Receiver and the Converge Amplified Receiver. These units are roughly the same size and design as the Converge Transmitter. The Amplified Receiver features a large volume dial on the front as well as a line input connection. Both receiver units contain start/pause and back/next functions located on the top of the unit. The Converge Receiver has a pair of RCA outputs on the back and also ships with a RCA to 1/8-inch converter. The Amplified Receiver contains one RCA output for connecting a subwoofer and a pair of traditional speaker wire connections. There is a $50 price difference between the two units, with the standard Receiver priced at $100 and the Amplified version at $150.
To go along with the Converge Amplified Receiver Eos also provided us with a pair of their stereo bookshelf Loudspeakers to test. These speakers are priced at $100 for the pair and house a one-inch tweeter and five-inch woofer in black wooden cabinets. Like the rest of the Eos line, these speakers look and feel well built.
The wireless connection that runs the EOS system is dubbed GigaWave, which Eos claims to be a proprietary 2.4GHz digital wireless technology that can provide "interference free CD quality audio to up to four satellite receivers" at distances up to 150 feet; it's likely typical RF. On the bottom of the Converge Transmitter are some toggle switches to allow users to change channels within the 2.4GHz space to ensure the Eos system doesn't interfere with any cordless phones or Wi-Fi systems.
Setting up the Eos Converge system truly is a plug and play experience. The Converge Transmitter is treated by computers as a pair of digital USB speakers; we literally plugged in the transmitter, powered up the receivers and began playing music wirelessly. It should work with both Macs and Windows PCs.
We tested both the digital USB connection and the line level connection on the Transmitter. The USB connection was consistently crisp and static free; however, when using the included 1/8-inch gold platted audio cable on the line level connection, there was some noticeable static and crackling. Regardless of how we changed the volume settings or what receiver we used, the system simply produced better quality audio via the USB connection.
In terms of sound quality for the receivers we enjoyed the volume of the Speaker/Receiver. We were quite impressed with the volume that the Speaker/Receiver combo could produce given its size, and we're sure that the woofer contributed heavily to this. As with most small speaker systems, there was some distortion at higher volume levels but given the size and price of the receiver we were impressed overall. It did have one disappointment. The power supply for the Speaker/Receiver can either be run from the unit to a power source or mounted to the speaker and used to wall mount the speaker to a power jack, but the mechanism connecting to the back of the speaker is cheaply built: we actually broke the switch that was designed to keep the power brick attached to the speaker and were never able to wall mount it. Eos would do well to rethink this design or include some more "idiot proof" instructions on how to attach and remove the power supply.
The Converge Receiver performed like a champ. We hooked it up to a pair of 2.1 stereo speakers and got crisp, clear audio from the Receiver. The Converge Amplified Receiver and EOS Loudspeakers also produce great sound quality and excellent volume. The performance of the Amplified Receiver is not without issue, however. The Amplified Receiver consistently had a static hiss played through the Loudspeakers. We tested a second pair of speaker wires as well as a second pair of bookshelf speakers and the hiss remained. Something in the amplifier of the Receiver was creating terribly noticeable interference that was present at all volume levels both with and without music playing. The static was really disappointing and truly unforgivable given how loud and obvious it was. On a positive note, the speaker grills on the Loudspeakers are entirely acoustically transparent, and the included speaker wires were of adequate length (but perhaps not of the highest quality that we've seen).
Other than the complaints already mentioned, we have one final criticism to levy on the Eos Converge system. Since the Transmitter is treated as an external USB speaker, unplugging the USB cable will require you to restart whatever application is playing audio. While this isn't likely to be a major issue for most users, it did perplex us for a moment when we needed to access the USB port we had the transmitter connected to. Upon reconnecting the transmitter nothing happened; once we restarted iTunes, music immediately started playing on the receiver again.
The Eos system can play any audio coming from a computer via USB connection or from any audio source that can be connected via the line level jack on the Transmitter. We tested the Receiver controls using Windows Media Player, MySpace Music, iTunes, and Pandora. The pause/start and back/next functions on the Receivers worked fine in iTunes and Windows Media Player, but not at all in Pandora or MySpace Music. This result didn't necessarily disappoint us, as we weren't expecting the functions to work with web browser music platforms, but it would have been a pleasant surprise had the functionality been there; Sonos has such hooks.
For sheer value, the Eos Converge line is very competitive. Similar systems from other manufacturers. such as Sonos, retail for nearly twice as much. Unfortunately, there is a distinct difference in the products' overall quality. The performance of the entire system makes for a compelling offering, but we were disappointed by the static on the Transmitter's line-in and the static on the Amplified Receiver. The sound quality and performance of the non-amplified Receiver and the Speaker/Receiver were very good in ideal conditions. We did enjoy the Eos Loudspeakers, too, in terms of both volume and sound quality.