Samsung Dual Docking Speaker with Wireless Audio Review
Samsung get retro and take the audio dock to a whole new level with the DA-E750
Samsung's assault on the audio market continues unabated with their DA-E750 Dual Dock, which represents the zenith of their new sound design philosophy. The DA-E750 incorporates many of the features found on the DA-E550 Dual Dock that we recently reviewed here but also makes some significant changes. The similarities include the dual dock itself, which allows users to attach either an iDevice or one of Samsung's Galaxy devices, as well as Bluetooth connectivity. However the DA-E750 eschews the horn design used on the DA-E550 for a more traditional shape, it also includes a USB port, AirPlay, Allshare and uses a vacuum tube pre-amp in addition to the digital power amp. This latter addition really sets the DA-E750 apart from both its stable mates and much of the competition, delivering the promise of a warmer, less clinical sound. The DA-E750 is certainly one of the more expensive audio docks on the market but it does look the part, if it sounds as good, we could be in for a treat.
Samsung's ambitions on the higher-end of the audio market are well served by the DA-E750 and as a statement of intent it's genuinely impressive. The overall design and build quality result in an audio dock of true beauty with a gorgeous polished wood finish and metal trim. The solid nature of the construction adds to the feeling of a high end product and the overall size allows for a decent amount of separation between the speakers. The most striking element is the inclusion of a vacuum tube pre-amplifier that adds a touch of retro glamour to the overall design. There is an attractive metal control panel on the top of the DA-E750 and a small matching remote control. Our only complaints relate to the limited number of controls on the remote and the lack of a display, which would have proved useful for setup and playback from certain devices.
In terms of connectivity the DA-E750 covers all the bases with a dual dock for both Apple and Samsung devices, as well as Bluetooth, AirPlay and AllShare. There is also built-in WiFi to allow streaming from a network, SoundShare to beam audio from your 2012 Samsung TV, a Galaxy specific audio app, a USB port and a 3.5mm audio jack for just about anything else. The USB port can accept memory sticks but doesn't support hard disc drives and in terms of audio files the DA-E750 can handle MP3, WAV and WMA. However the lack of FLAC, AAC and WAV support is bound to disappoint some, especially given the DA-E750's audiophile aspirations. A DAB tuner would have been a nice addition and, given the built-in WiFi, we're surprised that Samsung haven't included Internet radio; although there's nothing stopping you from using an Internet radio app on your device and then playing it through the DA-E750.
Setup is reasonably straightforward especially if you intend to connect your device physically or via Bluetooth. If you want to employ the built-in WiFi and thus use AirPlay and AllShare you'll need to utilise the WPS/Reset button at the back of the DA-E750 but once setup everything worked extremely well. We found the connected devices responded quickly to instructions but the limited nature of the remote control could be a nuisance when using the physical dock. The same problem affected USB playback, where all you can do is skip through tracks with the remote and the difficulties are compounded by the lack of a display. Of course if you are connected wirelessly, then you can control everything from your device and the limitations of the remote are moot.
In terms of its audio performance, the DA-E750 was very impressive and this was in no small part thanks to the inclusion of the vacuum tube pre-amplifier. This retro touch imbued the sound with warmth and subtlety, as well as a nuanced mid-range, which really benefited more complex recordings. Thanks to the built-in subwoofer, it was also able to deliver an impressive bass response without swamping the overall sound; rather it complimented the mid-range to deliver an extremely robust and punchy platform. Thatís not to say that the high frequency detail suffered due to this solid mid-range and low-end performance and in fact the DA-E750 was able to let the upper-end breath with plenty detail in female vocals, strings and percussion.
Overall the DA-E750 offered a wonderful level of refinement and sophistication, combined with a solid build quality and impressive level of connectivity. The audio performance was superb, regardless of your musical tastes, making it one of the best sounding audio docks that we have tested.
There's no denying that the Samsung DA-E750 is eye-catching with its classic box design and traditional stereo speaker configuration. The build quality is exceptional, giving the DA-E750 a wonderfully solid appearance and feel. As a result it's quite heavy at 20kgs but that just adds to the overall sense of a luxury product, justifying its higher price tag. The entire chassis has a hand-polished mahogany wood finish, with a choice of either red or black and, when combined with the silver trim around the speakers, it gives the DA-E750 a truly elegant appearance. Underneath the main body there are rubber feet that provide good support and a degree of isolation and there is also a downward firing subwoofer.
At the top on the left hand side there is a circular glass compartment containing the vacuum tube pre-amplifier and the vacuum tubes themselves glow red when the DA-E750 is on. The presence of the vacuum tube pre-amp is what distinguishes the DA-E750 from the competition and this slightly retro feature gives the entire audio dock a unique and sophisticated appearance. Also on the top but on the right hand side there is a circular control panel with a metal finish and basic controls (play/pause, function, volume up/down) at the points of the compass. In the centre of the control panel there are illuminated icons that indicate which function you have currently selected. The choices of icon are TV, Docking, Bluetooth, USB, AirPlay, AllShare and Aux.
The combination of the wood finish, metal control panel and glass vacuum tube pre-amp gives the DA-E750 a splash of glamour and results in one of the most attractive audio docks we have ever seen. Our only minor complaint is that there is no display panel, aside from the lighted icons at the top, and we feel that the inclusion of one would have made the setup and use of the DA-E750 even easier. It would certainly be possible to add a display that was in keeping with the overall design ethos and thus not ruin the DA-E750's retro elegance.
At the rear on the right hand side as you face the unit there is a port and in the middle is the dock itself which can be released by clicking the dock and then pushed back into the main body when not in use. The ability to store the retractable dock out of sight is useful because it maintains the minimalist look of the DA-E750. The dock is suitably sturdy which means that not only can it easily support an iPod, iPhone or Galaxy device but also an iPad. The DA-E750 also comes with spacer covers for the unused connector and there's a slide up support which is especially handy if you're connecting an iPad. On the left hand side are the connections and here you'll find an Ethernet port, a USB port, a 3.5mm audio in jack and a WPS/Reset button. There is also a connection for any possible service requirements and a standard two-pin connector for the detachable power cable. In terms of the wireless connections, there is built in WiFi as well as Bluetooth and AirPlay compatibility.
The remote control is not quite up to the exceptional build standard found on the rest of the DA-E750 and as such it is a bit of a disappointment. The remote is small, light and made of plastic, with a metal effect that is similar to the control panel on the DA-E750 itself. The actual buttons on the remote are very limited and only cover the most basic operations, including on/off, play/pause, skip, volume up/down, mute, function and bass. However the simplicity of the remote is only an issue if you are connecting a device directly to the DA-E750, if you are using a wireless connection then the remote is largely redundant.
The DA-E750 has an impressive selection of features, some of which are unique to Samsung's dual docks and some of which are unique to the DA-E750. Obviously the main selling point of Samsung's audio docks is their dual nature which makes them unique in the market place and allows users to enjoy their music simultaneously from various smart devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S II and Galaxy Note, or other products such as the iPhone (excluding the 5), iPod and iPad. More exclusive to the DA-E750 is the built-in vacuum tube pre-amplifier, which is designed to deliver a richer and warmer experience - creating true high fidelity sound from an audio dock. Along with the vacuum tube pre-amp, the DA-E750 includes other design enhancements such as better quality of speakers. These feature premium glass fibre construction and phase plug design, coupled with 2 x 20W of amplification. You can also enjoy deep and rich bass thanks to the inclusion of a powerful 60W built-in subwoofer to offer a greater range of low-end sound.
As with the other audio docks that Samsung currently offer, the DA-E750 allows you to wirelessly sync and play music, thanks to the inclusion Bluetooth 3.0. It also includes the superior apt-X codec, which allows for faster streaming of data without losing the original sound quality, which is usually the case with file compressions. The combination of Bluetooth 3.0 and apt-X technology prevents this from happening, and allows for higher quality music to be sent. In addition, the DA-E750 includes Samsungís AllShare Play and Airplay capabilities, so whether it is from your Samsung Galaxy devices or your Apple products, you can sync and play music effortlessly. The inclusion of built-in Wi-Fi technology also allows you to take control anywhere in your house, giving you the freedom to access and play your music without actually docking your device. Another addition on the DA-E750 compared to its cheaper siblings is the ability to play music directly from USB memory sticks with MP3, WAV and WMA file support. However the lack of FLAC, AAC and WAV support is bound to disappoint some, especially given the DA-E750's audiophile aspirations and you can't attach an external hard-disc drive.
If you download the Samsung audio app, you can play music from Galaxy devices and access a range of useful functional features. You can check battery level, find out what the time is and hear reports of the weather and even the current temperature. Bluetooth enabled Android devices benefit from auto pairing, which makes streaming and enjoying your various music collections very easy. The app can also remember where your music stopped playing after being disconnected for a phone call, and will then play from that very same spot when reconnected. The inclusion of Bluetooth-enabled SoundShare could also be handy, allowing you to stream sound wirelessly from a 2012 Samsung TV to the DA-E750 and thus improve on the generally poor audio produced by today's super-slim TVs. In terms of missing features, a DAB tuner would have been a nice addition but hardly essential and given the built-in WiFi, we're surprised that Samsung haven't included Internet radio either. Of course there's nothing stopping you from using an Internet radio app on your device and then playing it through the DA-E750.
In general setting up the DA-E750 is very simple and largely depends on how you want to connect your device to the dock. If you have an Apple or Samsung device then you can use the physical dock, which will obviously provide a high quality connection and recharge your device at the same time. If you can't take advantage of the dock you can still connect your device using the 3.5mm audio in jack. We found the connected devices responded quickly to instructions from the remote control but the available commands are limited, making it impossible to return to the previous menu or browse the library. This means to choose another album or artist you need to access the device directly, which rather negates the whole point of having a remote control. The same problem affects USB playback, the DA-E750 just starts playing the first track on the list and all you can do is skip through tracks with the remote and the difficulties are compounded by the lack of a display.
If you want to go the wireless route, and we suspect most will, then you just choose the best option available to you, either Bluetooth, AllShare or AirPlay. To pair using Bluetooth is easy enough but for AirPlay and AllShare you need to use the WPS/Reset button at the back. Whichever method of connection you choose, you can toggle through the various sources using the F. button the remote or the corresponding control on the top-mounted control panel. There are corresponding icons for each type of source chosen on this control panel but we would have preferred a more comprehensive display. If you want to connect the dock to your network, you can either use an Ethernet cable and the provided LAN port at the rear or use the built-in WiFi. To setup a WiFi connection, you again hold down the WPS/Reset button and the dockís name will appear on the list of access points on your laptop. Then you have to enter the DA-E750ís IP address and enter the relevant information on the setup screen that appears; this took longer than we expected but it ultimately worked.
So how did the DA-E750 sound? Well in a word fantastic and this was in no small part thanks to the inclusion of the vacuum tube pre-amplifier. This retro touch imbued the sound with a warmth and subtlety that genuinely impressed. There was a nuanced element to the mid-range that really benefited more complex recordings and we found ourselves really enjoying a run through of our usual test music. Thanks to the DA-E750ís overall solidity and built-in subwoofer, it was also able to deliver real depth to low-end that you wouldnít normally get with an audio dock. Thatís not to say that the bass swamped the overall sound and in fact it actually complimented the mid-range to deliver an extremely robust and punchy platform. Thatís not to say that the high frequency detail suffered due to this solid mid-range and low-end performance and, in fact, the DA-E750 was able to let the upper-end breath with plenty detail in female vocals, strings and percussion.
There is a Bass mode on the DA-E750 which gives the low-end an even deeper sensation and this results in a fuller overall sound that can make you forget youíre actually listening to an audio dock. It also achieves this low-end boost without swamping the higher frequencies, so all the top-end detail is retained. One of the big limitations of audio docks tends to stem from their size which inhibits stereo separation due to the simple fact the speakers are so close together. The unusual horn design that Samsung used for the DA-E550 helped mitigate this and whilst the DA-E750 has a far more traditional shape, its size allows for a reasonable amount of stereo separation. The result is an open and textured soundfield, allowing room for the well defined elements of the dockís audio performance to be represented within the stereo image.
We tested the DA-E750 with a number of different devices connected using a number of different methods and itís a testament to the audio dockís capabilities that there was no perceivable difference in sound quality. Regardless of whether we played music over wireless or through a physical connection, the results were equally impressive. The detail retrieval was extremely good, allowing us to pick out small nuances in material that can vanish into the background with some other docks. The mid-range and top-end of the DA-E750 had a richness and realism that was impressive and when coupled with the punchy and responsive bass, resulted in a very enjoyable audio experience.
The complex choral and orchestral arrangements on the Lord of the Rings soundtracks really benefited from this, with the deep baritone male choirs mixing seamlessly with the far higher female voices and vocals from Enya and Annie Lennox. The same impressive range was displayed when listening to Pink Floydís Time, which includes a deep bass line and tom toms before all the clocks start ringing at the beginning. This is a good test of a dockís ability to reproduce the full gamut of frequencies, as well as its ability to position objects within the soundfield. The DA-E750 was equally as assured with simpler arrangements, including acoustic recordings and those using just piano and vocals. However the rich bass also meant that dance numbers and those that with a greater emphasis on drums and percussion were also reproduced with great fidelity. Overall the DA-E750 offered an wonderful level of refinement and performance, regardless of your musical tastes, making it one of the best sounding audio docks that we have tested.
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Dual Docking Speaker with Wireless Audio Streaming
Suggested price: £600
Reviewed 22nd October, 2012 by Stephen Withers
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