You may know Oppo Digital for its acclaimed lineup of universal disc players, like the BDP-105 and BDP-103. Or perhaps you know the company for planar magnetic headphone offerings like the PM-1 and headphone amps like the HA-1. Now, Oppo hopes to distinguish itself in a new and very crowded product category: wireless tabletop speakers.
The company recently introduced the $299 Sonica speaker, a powered 2.1-channel tabletop speaker that combines a 3.5-inch bass woofer, dual three-inch bass radiators, and a pair of 2.5-inch wideband drivers. The Sonica uses four amplifiers: The bass drivers are powered by two 15-watt amps in bridged mode, while a 10-watt amplifier powers each wideband driver.
Oppo has developed its own Wi-Fi-based streaming platform to wirelessly play music from smartphones and tablets, but you're not locked in to using the company's proprietary wireless system, since the Sonica also supports AirPlay, Bluetooth, and DLNA streaming. To further broaden your connection options, the speaker has USB and auxiliary inputs, and you can stream those sources over Oppo's Wi-Fi system if desired.
Via the Oppo Sonica app for iOS and Android, you can manage your music sources, control music playback, link multiple speakers together for multi-room playback, and set up stereo speaker pairs.
It's fair to say that, on paper, the Sonica delivers all the requisite features to make it a formidable presence in the tabletop speaker category, but let's put the paper down and see how it performs in the real world.
Oppo sent me two Sonica review samples so that I could try out the multi-room aspect. The speaker has a simple but elegant aesthetic and nice build quality for its price. The rounded cabinet, which has a hefty and inert feel to it, sports a brushed-black finish and a non-removable cloth grille that runs across the front and around the sides. The speaker measures 11.9 inches long by 5.8 wide by 5.3 high and weighs 5.3 pounds.
On top are buttons for mute and volume up/down, as well as indicator lights for Bluetooth and network connection. On the unit's underside, toward the front, is a small "mood" light that glows during music playback. You can turn this on or off, as well adjust the color, brightness, and style (constant or "breathing") via the Sonica app.
Around back you'll find the power port, auxiliary input, USB port, and an Ethernet port if you prefer a wired network connection over the built-in Wi-Fi (dual-band 802.11ac, with MIMO technology to improve signal reception and reliability). One minor issue I noticed is that, with one of my review samples, it was a bit of a struggle to push the power cord all the way into the slot to ensure a reliable connection, but it did get there with some effort.
Setting up the Sonica is pretty straightforward. Once the speaker is plugged in and powered up, you can initiate the Bluetooth pairing mode (if that is your connection method of choice) by simply pressing the mute and "+" buttons simultaneously and then pairing your device. The speaker uses the Bluetooth 4.1 standard.
To add the speaker to your home network for Wi-Fi/AirPlay/DLNA playback, you first need to download the free Sonica app. I downloaded the iOS version to an iPhone 6. The app's "Welcome" page will prompt you to add speakers via either an Ethernet or a Wi-Fi connection; I chose Wi-Fi and was prompted to enter my network password. The app then scans the home for any "network-ready" Sonica speakers (the top-panel indicator pulses blue during power-up, then it pulses orange when the speaker is network-ready). If you're adding more than one speaker, it may take up to 30 seconds for all speakers to appear on the list; once they do, hit the "add" button, and you're all set. Oppo does not give you the option to name each speaker during setup, which would be nice, but you can name the different speakers after the fact.
If you unplug the speakers to move them around the house, they will automatically rejoin the network when powered back up. To change the home network you want to use, you can press the Sonica's mute and "-" buttons simultaneously to clear the current network status and start over.
The Sonica system supports a variety of music file formats; the official list on the website is as follows: AAC, AIF, AIFC, AIFF, APE, FLAC, M4A, M4A (Apple Lossless) ALAC, MP2, OGG, WAV, and WMA. DSD playback is not supported, but the Sonica can decode files up to a 24/192 resolution in the FLAC, WAV, and Apple Lossless formats. In addition to being able to decode hi-res files, the system can also wirelessly stream hi-res audio (up to 24/192). According to Oppo, when you stream to one speaker only, the audio path will be in hi-res. When streaming to multiple speakers, the signal is downconverted to a 44.1 or 48 sample rate.
Music sources that I used for my review included an iPhone 6, a Mac PowerBook running iTunes, and a Samsung Galaxy tablet running the AllShare DLNA app. My music files included a mix of MP3, AAC, Apple Lossless, WAV, AIFF, and FLAC. I also loaded the HDTracks 2015 sample disc (24/96 resolution in the FLAC format) on a USB flash drive to test the USB playback.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
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