The world certainly isn't lacking in iPod speakers. A quick search of this category on Crutchfield.com (which includes products that support iPods, iPhones, and iPads) reveals almost 100 choices. The latest and most logical trend in this category is to add support for Apple's AirPlay technology to wirelessly stream content from your iDevice or computer to the speaker. Products like the B&W Zeppelin Air, Audyssey Audio Dock Air, Klipsch Gallery G-17 Air, and JBL OnBeat Air feature built-in AirPlay technology. Meanwhile, Russound's AirGo provides a similar result but takes a slightly different path: This outdoor speaker is designed to house an AirPort Express (sold separately), which provides the same AirPlay functionality but adds a bit more setup flexibility.
The AirGo is a two-way powered speaker that features two 1-inch Teteron tweeters, one 6.5-inch IMPP cone woofer, and a 20-watt-per-channel amplifier housed in a cabinet that measures 12.9 x 10.2 x 12.6 inches (WLH) and weighs about 16 pounds. The unit comes with a convenient carrying handle, and its adjustable base allows you to tilt the speaker up about 60 degrees, which is desirable if you set it on the floor of your patio, garage, or other outdoor area. The AirGo is not battery-powered; it comes with a non-detachable 5-foot power cord. This portable speaker is designed to be fully weather-resistant, right down to the sealed internal chamber where the AirPort Express is housed.
The AirGo's MSRP is $399.99, but you need to factor in the cost of an Airport Express ($99), as this product is essentially useless without it. The speaker lacks an iPod dock, a USB port, or Bluetooth streaming. The first step in the setup process is to install the Airport Express into the "APX Pocket" on the AirGo's back panel. This requires removing the protective back cover (Philips screwdriver needed), inserting the Airport Express into the Pocket, and connecting the AirGo's power jack and 3.5mm audio plug to the Airport Express. Yes, that 3.5mm audio plug would allow you to physically connect a portable audio device and bypass the need for the Airport Express, but that's not an ideal long-term solution--especially for outdoor use, since you'd have to leave off the weatherproof back panel. Still, it's an option if you wanted to temporarily connect a different audio player to the AirGo.
The next step is to configure the Airport Express using the Airport Utility software on your computer. Two configuration options exist: You can either set up the Airport Express to be its own standalone network or add it to your existing home network. Each approach carries with it some pluses and minuses. If you create a standalone network, in order to stream audio from an iDevice or computer, you need to change your WiFi setting to join the AirGo network. The benefit to this approach is that the AirGo network is being used solely for audio streaming and not Internet activity, it doesn't need to be password-protected, and you can take the AirGo away from home and still have the wireless network in place. Of course, if you don't have a home network at all, then this is the path you'll take. The drawback is that you have to disconnect your iDevice or computer from your home's WiFi network to add it to the AirGo network, which forces you to go without Internet access or use another connection method (mobile broadband on your iDevice or Ethernet on your computer). If you take the second approach and add the Airport Express to your existing home network, then you don't have to give up Internet access and you're not constantly changing your WiFi settings to enter and exit the AirGo network. Also, you can configure the AirGo's Airport Express to extend your network's WiFi range--to have better coverage in your backyard or garage, for instance. On the downside, you can't take your home network with you to another location, and it may not be as easy for guests to hop on the network and play content from their iDevices. In my case, I went with the latter approach of adding the AirGo to my existing network, since I have a couple other AirPlay-enabled devices around the house and this configuration was the easiest way to stream to all of them simultaneously. Of course, you can always change the configuration through Airport Utility to suit your needs at any given moment.
With setup out of the way, it was time to enjoy some music. I loaded my favorite AIFF demo tracks onto my iPhone, opened the phone's iTunes player, selected the AirGo from my list of networked players, and hit play. The iPhone handles volume control, but the AirGo does have a mute button on the front of the base (which glows green when audio is playing, red when it's muted). AirPlay works specifically with content streamed from your iTunes library. On my iPhone, it also worked with the Pandora and NPR Music apps, but not Spotify or AOL Radio. I also demoed a lot of content streamed directly from iTunes on my MacBook. If you want to extend functionality to more sources on your computer, you can add Rogue Amoeba's free Airfoil software to stream from other computer sources, like Spotify, Windows Media Player, etc.
The AirGo has impressive dynamic ability for a relatively compact single-speaker solution. It easily filled enclosed spaces like my garage, family room, and basement with robust audio, yet it also provided impressive volume for my patio and decent-sized backyard. It has a generally neutral, balanced sound that helps it perform well in a variety of environments. The highs are crisp without being harsh or tinny, mids are clean and respectably full for this genre of speaker, and I was impressed with the lower-frequency production. The AirGo's curved base makes for a useful boundary to help boost the low end. Of course the speaker couldn't handle the deepest bass notes in my test tracks, but it did a surprisingly good job with Tom Waits' "Long Way Home"--Waits' raspy growl had nice meat to it, and the bass notes had good, clean definition and presence. The AirGo's sound quality isn't as warm and airy as you might get from a high-end tabletop system, but those traits don't necessarily translate well to the great outdoors. I felt the AirGo struck a nice balance--it successfully cut through the elements to deliver a clean, full sound outdoors without sounding too sterile and flat indoors. While the AirGo can play pretty loud, it's also fairly directional, so it isn't ideally suited to cover a large outdoor space. Unlike an omni-directional outdoor speaker that can offer even coverage all around the yard, the AirGo's more traditional design makes it better suited to direct at a specific area, like the patio, boat deck, or hot tub.
Read about the high points and low points of the AirGo on Page 2.
• The AirGo is an outdoor powered speaker that uses AirPlay technology, allowing you to wirelessly stream content from any iTunes-capable device.
• The speaker performs well, offering good dynamic ability, solid bass, and a neutral sound quality to suit multiple environments.
• The AirGo's Airport Express approach has more flexibility than a system with built-in AirPlay.
• You can use the AirGo's Airport Express to extend your network's WiFi range.
• This is an easy, fairly inexpensive way to add an outdoor sound system.
• The AirGo is fairly directional. It's better suited for a patio, boat deck, or garage, as opposed to covering a wide outdoor area.
• The AirGo does not include an iPod dock.
• You have to add your own Airport Express, which will add $99 to the cost unless you already have one lying around.
• The AirGo does not support battery power, and the non-detachable power cord is only about 5 feet long.
Competition and Comparison
The Russound AirGo falls into an interesting space, in that it is both an outdoor speaker and a tabletop AirPlay system. To my knowledge, it is currently the only single-speaker solution to combine both of these traits. You can compare it with other wireless tabletop systems like the ones I mentioned above, including the B&W Zeppelin Air, Audyssey Audio Dock Air, Klipsch Gallery G-17 Air, and JBL OnBeat Air. With an MSRP of $399.99 plus the $99 Airport Express add-on, the AirGo isn't exactly cheap, but its price is competitive with other higher-end wireless audio systems.
The AirGo combines the convenience of AirPlay with the portability of a boombox and the ruggedness of an outdoor speaker. When I first started reviewing the system, it was still pretty chilly outside, so it got a lot of indoor use. It followed me from family room to play room to garage to kitchen. When the temperature finally warmed up, it followed me out to the patio and to both the front and back yards. The speaker was so convenient and easy to use, I quickly grew attached to having it around. The AirGo is a great way to enjoy a higher-quality audio experience in a variety of environments, and it provides an easy, economical way to introduce your family to the joys of an outdoor sound system without the wire-running hassles that often go long with it.