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Review: Samsung DA-E750 Wireless Audio Dock
Five minutes after pulling Samsung’s DA-E750 Wireless Audio Dock out of the box and setting it up, I dropped its simple credit card-sized remote back in the box and never touched it again. An odd move, you may be thinking. Why ditch a convenient remote controller? It works just fine. It provides quick and handy access to almost all of the DA-E750’s essential features (although, really, the only thing you need remote control for is input switching and volume adjustments). In truth, the remote DA-E750 just strikes me as a weirdly anachronistic accompaniment to an already intriguingly anachronistic device, and the only thing you can do with the remote that can’t be done by the Dock’s top-panel controls is engage a Power Bass mode that no self-respecting music fan would ever engage.
In truth, though, I think I’m just making excuses. The real reason I dropped the remote back in the box is because I couldn’t shake a strong desire to touch the DA-E750. As much as one loathes to fall back on the pictures-don’t-do-it-justice trope, in this case, they definitely don’t. As the top-end model of Samsung’s new Wireless Audio Dock lineup, the DA-E750 exudes the sort of luxury that uber-connected digital audio devices simply don’t. Its furniture-grade cherry finish beckons the fingers. Its sleek, simple control disc is intuitively navigable without instructions. And then, of course, there’s the feature that instantly clues you into the fact that this just another uber-connected digital audio device: a pair of JJ Electronics 12AU7 vacuum tubes that glow invitingly through a top-mounted circular window.
How much do those tubes affect the sound quality of the DA-E750? Unfortunately, my go-to first test track didn’t really give me much of a feeling for that. I almost always cue up—don’t laugh—Beastie Boys “Hey Ladies” from the new remastered edition of Paul’s Boutique when testing out speakers and audio gear, for a couple of reasons. One, the funky phase shift near the beginning of the song is a wonderful test of imaging and stereo separation; and two, most of the song’s bass is in positively subterranean territory. The DA-E750 didn’t handle either of those aspects impeccably, which was a bit of a disappointment since I remembered loving the sound of the dock at the debut event in New York earlier this year.
Thankfully, that’s the only track in my collection that didn’t sound wonderful through the dock. From there I skipped to Björk’s “Army of Me”—another bottom-heavy track capable of unleashing a full-fledged assault on even the best subwoofers—and here, the DA-E750’s bottom-mounted woofer really held its own at sufficient volumes to really enjoy the track. Crank the volume too high, and things got a weensy bit messy, and not just with the sub, but also with the pair of glass-fiber mid drivers and flanking tweeters, as well. But the point at which things started to get messy was way higher than I would really want to listen to tunes, anyway. Because, again, I just never could bring myself to get too far away from the DA-E750.
And so it went with virtually everything else I threw at the dock. Thomas Dybdahl’s Science album was a rich, smooth, laid back revelation in its entirety. Kings of Leon’s “Crawl” and “Sex on Fire” rocked harder than a refined-looking audio device of this sort has any right to.
Again, though, I’m just not sure how much of the dock’s sound I’m willing to attribute to its tubes. There’s certainly a lot of warmth here. And yes, it does knock the hard edges off of brittle digital-only recordings like Girl Talk’s All Day. But there’s a crispness here one normally doesn’t associate with tubes. If anything, despite the ample bass with anything but the deepest of bottom end, the overall sound characteristic of the DA-E750 would have to be described as sparkling.
With Jimi Hendrix’s “1983 … (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” I did also notice that there’s a definite sweet spot to get the most out of all that song’s out-of-phase faux surround recording techniques—about four or five feet, which really is further away from the DA-E750’s gorgeous cabinet than I ever want to be. But thankfully, it has the connectivity to let you sit any reasonable distance from it and still deliver your music without making you relinquish possession of your precious smartphone.
But before we talk about remote connectivity, let’s talk about its actually physical docking capabilities, because they’re pretty cool indeed. Rather than mar the top surface of the DA-E750 with an ugly smartphone dock, Samsung locked it away in a pop-out module on the back. Simply give it a press, and the dual docking platform glides out from its hiding spot. Give the back of the dock an upward tug, and a support stand glides up, giving you a comfy platform for an iPhone, iPad, or Galaxy phone or tablet. That’s right: the DA-E750 has dual docking ports, although you iPhone 5 users will be disappointed to know that it makes use of the old 30-pin docking connector. And given Samsung’s current woes with Apple, I don’t expect to see them introduce a Lightning-equipped model anytime soon.
That’s okay, because the DA-E750 is also equipped with an Ethernet port and Wi-Fi capabilities to allow you easy access to AirPlay (although not audio streaming from computers or other network-connected devices). Given the lack of a screen, I was a bit curious as to how Wi-Fi setup would work, and learning as much was the only time I ever had to refer to the instruction manual. For iOS users, it’s pretty ingenious: just dock your network connected iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, press the WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) button on the back of the DA-E750, and the two devices share Wi-Fi settings almost instantly.
If you don’t have an iOS device, but do have a WPS-capable Wi-Fi router, simple press the WPS button with nothing docked, and you’re in business.
For you Android users without WPS-capable routers, things look to be a little more complicated. Unfortunately, I don’t have an Android on-hand to do the testing, but I looked over the instructions and understood what all of the words meant, if not necessarily in that order.
Not to worry, though; the DA-E750 is also Bluetooth 3.0 capable, with apt-X codec compression, so virtually any new Bluetooth streaming audio device out to be quick and easy to connect.
That includes 2012 Samsung Smart TVs, by the way. Yes, you can even use the DA-E750 as a soundbar of sorts. My Samsung plasma is two years too old to test out such connectivity, but I did stream a digital copy of Lord of the Rings: Extended Edition from my iPad to the dock, and although it didn’t provide the sort of SPLs and immersion you would get from a full-fledged home theater, it certainly did blow away the quality of audio coming straight out of my TV’s speakers.
Of course, if you are going to use the DA-E750 as a soundbar, you’ll probably have to use the included remote. Which, again, yuck.
But that—along with its lack of wallop with hard-hitting hop, and the fact that the tubes aren’t user-replaceable—are the only things I can find to complain about with the DA-E750. It’s expensive, to be sure. And yes, you could certainly find audio devices for much less month than do sound better. But given its novelty, given its luxuriously gorgeous design and build quality, given the ooo factor, and given the fact that it really does sound quite fantastic with just about any style of music, I think the DA-E750 earns its $699 price tag. If only because there really just isn’t much else on the market like it. There’s the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air, of course, which also features incredible sound quality and AirPlay connectivity. And you should certainly give it a listen, too, if you’re in the market for a high-end wireless dock. But really, the two products boasts such radically different (if equally beautiful) aesthetics that I think they’ll appeal to very different end users.
If the delicious mix of modern and old-fashioned, of digital and analog, of yesterday and tomorrow appeal to you, though, seek out the DA-E750 and give it a listen. Is it a luxury? Sure. But we all need a bit of anachronistic luxury in our lives.
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