Introduction - What is the Premium Wireless 301?
The Piega Premium Wireless 301 is a wireless active speaker system. At least it is some of the time. If that sounds somewhat perplexing, all will be revealed in due course. The reason we are looking at both the Piega and a few other such designs this year is part of our ongoing work into mapping out the concept of ‘Post AV’; the process by which some people move away from conventional AV systems and what the makeup of the systems that they move to might be.
Recently, our own Steve Withers weighed up the pros and cons between AV systems and soundbar based setups. From soundbar based setups, there is an overlap into my world and for my part, I’ll be looking at a selection of equipment over the course of the year that can do soundbar like things but with an emphasis on stereo instead of extended surround. What links them together is the greater integration and simplicity that they have over a dedicated separates system (in the same way that soundbars have value and convenience advantages over AV systems).
Piega is not a household name in the UK but, thanks in part to how they design and build speakers, they are rather well placed to entertain a bit of lifestyle thinking. Does the Premium Wireless 301 sound any good and might it be a compelling alternative to a soundbar? Read on to find out.
Specification and Design
We’ve covered a Piega speaker on AVForums before in the form of the TMicro AMT 40 which was tiny but absurdly capable. Many of the aspects that went into that speaker are present here as Piega has a number of ‘core values’ that make their way into everything that make. The most significant is that the 301 makes use of a metal cabinet. Rather than MDF or variations thereof, the 301 has an enclosure made of sections of aluminium. Piega says that this is integral to resonance control and the relationship between the cabinet and the drivers. It’s still a fairly unusual material to encounter and it gives the Piega a different ‘feel’ to most rivals.
This cabinet contains a pair of drivers that are also entirely in keeping with the company ethos. A ribbon tweeter (as distinct from the air motion transformer in the TMicro) handles high frequencies as it does in the vast majority of Piega designs. It hands over to a 140mm mid bass driver that uses a technology that Piega calls MDS. This doesn’t pertain to what the driver is made of - that’s not specified but appears to be doped paper - but instead the manner in which it is mounted. Piega says it has an exceptionally long throw to help with frequency response and this is borne out in the frequency response. Piega claims an eyebrow raising 39Hz-35kHz (albeit with no roll off) which is some going for a relatively small cabinet. As the TMicro proceeded to demonstrate improbable low end for a speaker of its size, this figure may have some basis in reality too. A pair of small rear bass ports augment this low end response.
Thus far, if you like the sound of what you’ve read but you have an amplifier, you can buy an ordinary, passive version of the 301 and go on your way rejoicing. Here though, the 301 becomes a self-contained device. There is a slight degree of ambiguity as to whether the 301 Wireless is powered or active. Piega uses the word ‘Active’ in their literature but only quotes a single amplifier power figure of 100 watts, which would need to be split between two amps if the crossover is in front of it as per a true active. If it is powered rather than true active, it is not the same as most powered speakers we look at in that each cabinet contains an amplifier and requires a mains connection (rather than one speaker containing the power circuitry and handing off to a passive partner).
The nature of how Piega sees you using the 301 Wireless is hinted at in the name and is different to many rivals too. Each cabinet is fitted with a wireless receiver. This can operate on three different frequencies (assigned as Red, Blue and White) which allows for three different installations of members of the family (there are two floorstanders in addition to the standmount 301) in the same house without conflict. The caveat to this is that only the Red connection has a high bandwidth wireless transfer (24/96 in this case). White and Blue run at 24/48 which is still comfortably in excess of CD/‘lossless’ transmission.
To communicate with the speakers, Piega builds the Connect. This is supplied as standard with the 301 and is an option for the larger speakers. The Connect is a wireless interface that offers an analogue RCA input (and looped out) together with optical and coaxial connections and aptX Bluetooth. From there, the signal is re-digitised and sent wirelessly to the speakers.
Now, I am going to have to go record and say that I don’t understand the Connect. At all. The inputs themselves are fine, if a trifle limiting, but where I find myself scratching my head is that there is no form of remote control of any kind. You can adjust the volume via buttons on the top of the Connect and the input in use via a switch on the back but this seems somewhat limiting. Piega apparently feels that the Connect is likely to be added to a variable output streamer or similar but that’s a slightly random piece of hardware to expect people to have. As it stands, if you connect a TV via optical to the Connect, you better get used to setting a volume level you want for the evening.
There is a saving grace here though. Piega hasn’t gone all in with the Connect. As well as the wireless hardware built into the speakers, you’ll find a bog standard RCA input. Connect a cable to that and after a few seconds, you’ll hear a small thump and the speakers are ready to be controlled over a wired connection. Now, I know that in 2021 wires are bad but active and powered speakers are not intrinsically a wireless solution because they need power to function. If you are going to the effort of plugging them in (and presumably dressing that cable to look neat), I can’t see why adding a signal cable is somehow worse.
This design idiosyncrasy aside, the rest of the Piega feels very well thought out and implemented. Like all Swiss Hi-Fi (and there’s a surprising amount of Swiss Hi-Fi - just saying), the build is superb. Those metal cabinets are perfectly finished and hugely solid. I don’t mind the white finish of the review samples but Piega’s star turn has always been the unpainted aluminium which looks absolutely superb. There’re some other clever features too. Each speaker has DSP settings for wall corner and free space installation and can be told whether it is left or right (so if you’re using the Connect, the speakers don’t have to be placed relative to it). The DSP also apparently prevents any form of overload on the drivers themselves, which is a nice safety feature to have.
The nature of how Piega sees you using the 301 is hinted at in the name and is different to many rivals
How was the Premium Wireless 301 tested?
The Piegas have been placed on a pair of Soundstyle ZT60 speaker stands and connected to an IsoTek Evo3 Aquarius mains conditioner for power. They have been used with the Connect on its own, taking a feed from a Roon Nucleus running via M2Tech HiFace Two USB/SP-Dif converter and an LG 55B7 OLED via optical. Then a Chord Hugo2 and 2Go acting as a Roon Endpoint with the LG connected to that was added to the Connect before the Hugo2 was connected directly to the speakers via 3 metre RCA cables. Material used has been FLAC, AIFF, Qobuz and Tidal and on demand TV Services.
More: Audio Formats
Having been doing this job long enough to remember early wireless speaker modules, there’s something wonderfully satisfying about how modern systems like this go together. With the Red network selected, left and right speakers allocated and mains applied to all three boxes it worked first time with no faffing required (save for me leaving the volume on bypass and briefly but invigoratingly sending a max signal to the speakers. I’ve been asked before why the first thing I play on newly setup network is One Slip by Pink Floyd - it’s because it starts fairly gently in situations such as this). The convenience angle of the Piega is realised admirably.
Furthermore, it sounds good too. The wireless connection has been entirely stable under test and it never feels constrained or compressed. Latency is good too. Watching a brief stint of WandaVision via the Piega demonstrated perfect lip sync and it sounded fine while it did so. If this sounds like damming with faint praise here, it sort of is. Using the Connect as your main source collator doesn’t sound bad - far from it - but without remote volume adjustment and input selection, it’s completely unworkable.
Adding the Hugo2 in order to abandon further trips back and forth from the sofa to adjust volume allows you to focus on the speakers themselves and here the news is very good indeed. Leaving aside the business of how sound reaches it for a moment, the 301 is a seriously accomplished speaker. For starters, that impressive claimed bass response doesn’t seem to be fiction. In room, 50 centimetres out from the wall, the 39Hz figure is reached in this room on the cusp of +/- 3dB roll off. This means that the 301 has serious shove for a slender standmount and it’s extremely well damped and controlled too, integrating well with the upper registers and lending everything you play on them a palpable authority.
If anything, the upper registers are even better. When you encounter a ribbon tweeter being used by someone who knows what they are doing, the speed, articulation and overall fluency of these devices takes some beating. During one listening session, Roon happened upon the oddly wonderful Real Nightmare by Osaka Oz on Paul Oakenfold’s mighty Perfecto Fluro set. This combines huge slabs of low end energy with a weird and frankly creepy sample. It’s been a while since I heard it and here it sounded phenomenal.
Some of the attributes of the 301 are very clearly down to the cabinet. Even when the speaker is hammering its way through nineties trance compilations, you can place a hand on the top or sides of the cabinet and it is completely inert. It means that every excursion of the driver is being turned into audio and that the cabinets themselves are not contributing to that sound. There are times where the 301 would happily pass muster as a monitor such is the fundamental lack of colouration present.
The thing is though, if you’ve got a remote control equipped preamp, you really need to accept the existence of two more cables in your life and connect the Piegas to it directly. The performance wired directly to the Hugo2 is a step forwards again. Bass remains deep but there’s more detail and definition to what you’re hearing and there are gains to both the levels of detail and the soundstage being created. As well as having a remote, the Hugo2 volume has better fine adjustment and the format handling is superior too. If you feel that the Chord is a bit expensive (and it has to be said, it isn’t cheap), something like the Cambridge Audio CXNv2 or the various DACs hitting the market with remote controls (technically, even the Topping E30 would work in this context) will also get the job done.
I salute Piega’s decision to allow the 301 to be used in either configuration because it shows a pragmatism that some companies might not share and it means that you can consider the 301 in a few different implementations. Connected to the Chord, the 301 is a complete system that takes up very little space and performs as well as a more conventional collection of components for similar money. As the Connect is bundled with the 301, it’s best to view it as being there if you need it but there being better options available which the speakers are ready and waiting to make use of.
There are times where the 301 would happily pass muster as a monitor such is the fundamental lack of colouration present
- Exceptional sound quality and scale from a small cabinet
- Built like a Swiss... well, you know
- Simple setup and stable wireless operation
- Functionality of the Connect box is a little odd
- High wireless bandwidth limited to one channel
Piega Premium Wireless 301 Active Speaker System Review
As a foray into soundbar alternatives, the Piega 301 is not an absolutely perfect fit. As an out of the box solution for combining the jobs of boosting your TV performance with seriously capable music replay, the Connect part of the package is simply too compromised to do this in a manner that I’d consider satisfactory. Don’t worry, if you’re looking for something that meets this criteria, we’ll be looking at a few more of these systems in the weeks and months to come.
Where the 301 roars back into contention is with the sheer quality of the speakers themselves. If you don’t mind adding source equipment to the Connect or - better still - going wired and connecting that source equipment to the speakers directly, the Piega is outstanding. It delivers a performance that is a sensational blend of impact and refinement from two small and beautifully finished cabinets. Judged on the merits of the speakers and used in a way that works to their talents, the Piega is a product that definitely earns our Recommendation.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.