The best Bluetooth audio receiver for your home stereo or speakers

By R. Matthew Ward

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter, reviews for the real world. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

After doing 13 hours of research and considering 76 models, we performed dozens of hours of real-world testing and 13 additional hours of focused, in-depth testing on the top 14 Bluetooth-audio receivers for adding wireless connectivity to an existing audio system. We think the StarTech BT2A Bluetooth Audio Receiver is the best receiver for most people thanks to its combination of connectivity, range, audio quality, and usability at a reasonable price.

Who should buy this?

Photo: Michael Hession

Whether it’s because your new smartphone has no headphone jack, or you aren’t ready to give up your old stereo in favor of a great Bluetooth speaker, a Bluetooth audio receiver can add wireless streaming capabilities to your existing home stereo or speakers with little loss in sound quality.

How we picked and tested

Photo: Michael Hession

The ideal Bluetooth receiver should sound as good as a direct, wired connection. It should pair with your devices easily and reliably, and should have a large-enough range to cover a typical living area. We also like when a Bluetooth receiver has a digital audio output, which allows you to use an optional, separate DAC (digital-to-analog converter) for better sound quality.

We considered 76 top Bluetooth receivers, and ultimately tested 14 models. For our tests, we paired each one first to a MacBook and an iPhone to see how easy it was to pair source devices to the receiver. We also tested how reliably the receiver connected and disconnected once paired, how well it reconnected following a disconnection, and how easy it was to switch to a different source. For devices that could pair with multiple devices simultaneously, we used up to six devices to test this feature.

To evaluate audio quality, we first used each device to listen to background music, then compared them head-to-head using our favorite test tracks. We also assessed the range of each receiver by measuring the distance at which music started skipping with both an unobstructed and obstructed line of sight. To read about our testing process in more detail, please see our full guide.

Our pick

The StarTech BT2A (right) and the nearly identical Monoprice Bluetooth Streaming Music Receiver (left) offer good sound, reliable connectivity, and good range at a reasonable price. Photo: Michael Hession

The StarTech BT2A Bluetooth Audio Receiver is our top pick for most people thanks to its combination of good sound quality, range, usability, connectivity, and price. In our tests, it reliably paired to new devices and reconnected to old devices, and it could remember up to eight paired devices. It comes from a reputable vendor, has a two-year warranty, and is reasonably priced.

In terms of audio quality, the BT2A—along with our runner-up, below—provided the best sound quality of the models we tested in this price range. Overall, these two models offered better dynamic range and crisper high-frequency and midrange detail compared with similarly priced models, along with minimal high-frequency distortion and a tight low end. The BT2A also features an optical digital-audio output, allowing you to upgrade audio quality by using an external DAC.

Runner-up

While running our tests, we noticed that Monoprice’s Bluetooth Streaming Music Receiver appears to be functionally identical to the StarTech BT2A. When we opened both models, we found that they use the same circuit board and the same DAC, and they performed essentially identically in our testing. We made the StarTech receiver our top pick because it’s covered by a two-year warranty, versus only one year for the Monoprice receiver, but the Monoprice is also a safe buy.

An upgrade for better sound and better range

The Audioengine B1, our upgrade pick, offers substantially better audio quality than the StarTech receiver, as well as outstanding wireless range. Photo: Michael Hession

If you have nice speakers or a higher-end audio system—such as our picks for best receiver and bookshelf speakers—and you want a Bluetooth connection that can do them justice, the Audioengine B1 Bluetooth Music Receiver is a great upgrade choice.

The B1 is based on the same circuitry as Audioengine’s well-regarded D1 DAC, and the unit’s audio quality reflects this: It offers better sound, by a good margin, than the less expensive Bluetooth receivers we tested. Music is lively and involving, with crisp, clear highs; detailed midrange; and tight, clean bass. The Audioengine B1 also includes optical-digital output if you want to hook it up to an even better DAC in the future.

The B1 is also the only model we tested that includes an external antenna. According to Audioengine, the antenna extends the B1’s range to 100 feet, three times what most other receivers claim. In our tests, the B1 never skipped, even when at maximum range.

A pick for older speaker docks

Among the receivers designed to add Bluetooth to a 30-pin speaker dock, the Samson 30-Pin Bluetooth Receiver BT30 had the best range and audio quality, as well as the most reliable pairing and connection. Photo: R. Matthew Ward

Before Bluetooth speakers became ubiquitous, many people bought speaker docks—compact speaker systems with a docking cradle for a smartphone or MP3 player. The vast majority of these used Apple’s older 30-pin dock connector, which has since been replaced by the Lightning connector. If you have one of these 30-pin docks, you can use Samson’s 30-Pin Bluetooth Receiver BT30 to wirelessly stream music to it.

The BT30’s sound quality isn’t fantastic, but it is better than any of the other dock-connector models we tested. Its range is also superior to that of the other models we tested, and pairing and connecting Bluetooth devices is hassle-free.

This guide may have been updated by Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

Note from Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

Engadget RSS Feed

iRig Keys I/O packs in a full audio interface for $200

IK Multimedia has years of experience making audio products and software for the mobile musician. From microphone preamps to audio mixers and MIDI interfaces (and more), the company seems dedicated to its niche. The music device manufacturer has just announced a brand new entry, the iRig Keys I/O: a compact, travel-ready MIDI controller with a built-in 24/96KHz audio interface. It comes in two compact models; you can pre-order the 25-key version for $ 200 and the 49-key configuration for $ 300 right now. The final release is set for October of this year.

Having an audio interface in the keyboard itself will save you some space and the cost of a separate unit. You can connect a microphone or guitar directly to the keyboard and send the audio to whatever recording software you’re using it with. Both models have full-sized keys, making it easier to play than the previous iRig mini keyboard, and comes with balanced stereo and headphone outputs and a combination input jack so you can connect your instrument or mic directly to the keyboard.

The iRig Keys I/O has touch-sensitive, programmable sliders, velocity-sensitive pads (for programming beats or triggering sequences) and a host of knobs and buttons to help you dial in just the right sound. Better yet, the iRig Keyboard I/O can be powered via USB, an AC adapter (available separately for $ 40) or AA batteries, making this a great solution for music making on the go. Like many of IK Multimedia’s peripherals, this one works right out of the box with your iPhone and iPad, too.

This keyboard controller also comes with a full slate of PC and Mac software, too, like the full version of SampleTank 3 workstation software, mixing & mastering suite T-Racks 4 Deluxe, and a couple of audio banks for synthesizer and orchestral sounds. It also comes with full versions of Sample Tank 2 and Philharmonik mobile editions for the iOS maestro. The iRig Keys I/O also works with professional digital audio workstation software like Ableton Live, Studio One, GarageBand and Logic, so you’re not limited to the provided software.

Via: FactMag

Source: IK Multimedia

Engadget RSS Feed

Blue’s Raspberry mic is small, but delivers stellar audio quality

It’s no secret that Blue’s line of USB microphones are a go-to choice for podcasters and anyone else who wants a simple, easy-to-use recording device. The company’s Snowball and Yeti mics may be the most popular, but its last few products have focused more on technology that helps you streamline the postproduction editing process. The same can be said for its latest device, the Blue Raspberry. The Raspberry’s compact stature and built-in audio tools make it ideal for on-the-go recording, even with the $ 200 asking price.

With the Raspberry, Blue threw in its usual retro design touches without overdoing it. The company has a knack for blending old and new aesthetics in a way that’s unique but not kitschy. The exterior here is mostly silver with a matching metal stand to anchor it. Tiny rubber feet on the bottom of the stand help insulate the mic from any vibrations on your desktop that could cause problems for your captured audio. The prominent Blue logo sits front and center on a panel of red leather that continues down to the bottom and around back — no doubt a nod to the gadget’s name. This thing is also really small. When it’s folded down and nestled in its attached stand, it stands about as tall as both of the phones I have lying around: the Moto X and iPhone 6s.

Above that red patch, the speaker grille extends from halfway down the front panel, around the top and to the middle of the back side. There’s also a status light on the front that glows green when you’re ready to record and flips to red when you’re muted. This red/green combo makes it much more obvious which mode you’re in, as opposed to the Yeti, whose light either glows or blinks in red. The change shows you at a glance when the mic is on, so now you don’t have to second-guess it.

Over on the right side of the front face lies the mic’s gain/level control. With that knob, you can adjust the gain between 0 and 40 decibels. Additionally, that rotating dial serves as the mute switch. Simply push it in to cut the signal if you need to cough or get a drink of water during your session. Push it once more to unmute. Like the mute function on previous Blue microphones, there’s also an audible click accompanying the changing light.

On the back panel, there’s a headphone jack and a micro-USB port. The 3.5mm headphone jack provides zero-latency monitoring while you record, and there’s a volume knob on the left side of the device. It perfectly matches the look of the gain control, lending the design a symmetrical feel. As far as the USB socket goes, it’s there where you’ll connect either the standard USB or lightning cable that comes in the box. There’s also a carrying pouch and a microphone-stand adapter should the need arise. Blue says the Raspberry will work with USB-C devices with an adapter. In fact, it has successfully tested the mic with the LG Nexus 5X and Huawei Nexus 6P and the device still performed as intended.

One thing I’ve always liked about Blue products is their ease of use. The company’s line of USB mics require almost no setup, thanks to their plug-and-play design. The same goes for the new Raspberry. To test the mic, I recorded an episode of my beer-focused podcast (it’s a side project, OK?). Before firing up a quick YouTube Live session through Hangouts on Air, all I did was plug the microphone into my MacBook Air. Once I got to the Hangouts on Air interface, the only thing I had to do was select the Blue Raspberry as the input and output device instead of my laptop’s built-in mic and speakers. I was ready to record in two or three minutes, and that included setting up the YouTube event.

What you hear in the episode above is the unedited audio from the Hangouts recording (I’m the host). This is just the audio pulled from the video YouTube logs, imported to Audacity and exported in a format that SoundCloud accepts for uploads. There was no editing, save for adding the intro clip. Inside the Raspberry, there’s a new Internal Acoustic Diffuser (IAD) design inspired by concert halls and recording studios. It’s built to diffuse noise and any reflections, thereby minimizing the sound of the room. The company says this allows the device to offer studio-quality 24-bit/48kHz audio wherever you’re recording.

When I compared the session I recorded with the Raspberry to clips captured with other USB mics, I noticed a big difference when it came to ambient noise. The captured audio through Hangouts was much cleaner with this new model. It didn’t capture sounds from my house like the hum of the air conditioner, washer/dryer and other environmental noises that tend to go unnoticed on a daily basis. I also record in my living room, which has tall vaulted ceilings, so I can plug directly into my router. Other mics also typically pick up on my voice bouncing around the space, but with the Raspberry I didn’t notice an echo.

Not everyone needs a microphone for podcasting, though. When it initially unveiled the Raspberry, Blue said the device would work with any audio software. The company specifically lists GarageBand, Opinion Podcasts, Spire Recorder and Movie Pro on the microphone’s product page. Since I’m a Mac owner, GarageBand is the most accessible option for me. It’s also free. The desktop setup is nearly identical to using the Raspberry for YouTube or Hangouts: Plug in the mic, select it as the input source in the app’s preferences menu and you’re ready to record.

If you’re wondering about using the device with an iPhone or iPad, the process is very similar. The only difference is GarageBand for iOS automatically detects when you have an “audio device” connected, so you have to confirm you want to turn on monitoring via headphones to avoid feedback. It’s slightly different, but the setup for an iOS handset or tablet is just as efficient.

Blue also says that you can use the Raspberry up close to your face or, if there’s more than one person speaking, position it at the center of a table. As with other USB mics, using the gear for a group is a workable option, but the audio quality suffers. I’d really recommend it only for things like conference calls instead of trying to track some high-quality audio. Even with the built-in tech, I still noticed some of that ambient noise coming through. This became more obvious as I placed the mic the farther away. Using the Raspberry alone at a close distance will provide the best results, unless you’re OK getting cozy with your colleagues.

At $ 200, the Raspberry is the same price as Blue’s Spark Digital, which came out in 2012. That microphone also touts USB and iOS connectivity with the same cardioid condenser capsule as the pro-grade Spark studio mic. What you forfeit with the Spark Digital is the IAD tech on the Raspberry that cuts down on the unwanted noise. The Spark Digital is also larger with a more substantial stand, so it’ll take up more space in your backpack.

If you’re after a microphone that adapts to what you’re tracking, and you don’t need to use it with your mobile device, you might want to look at Blue’s Nessie. The device will adapt to your vocals and instruments in real time to help you get solid audio without a lot of editing. The best part? Nixing iOS functionality will save you $ 100. Of course, if you just want a straightforward mic, the Blue Snowball is really affordable at $ 70. It’s been around for years, too — a testament to how beloved it is.

After my podcasting session with the Raspberry, the latest Blue mic is an attractive alternative to the Yeti I typically use. Built-in IAD technology provided cleaner audio than what I’m used to for my recording environment, living up to Blue’s promise of cutting out some of that extra noise. There’s also the much smaller form factor; the Raspberry takes up considerably less space than the Spark Digital or Yeti. This means it’s convenient if I need to pack it for a trip, but it doesn’t skimp on audio quality, either. When you tack on iOS connectivity, Blue seems to have a complete package here in a compact device — even if it does come with a $ 200 price tag.

Engadget RSS Feed

USB-C’s new audio spec could rid of your headphone jack

Like it or not, the effort to get rid of the headphone jack is well underway. The USB Implementers Forum has published its long-expected Audio Device Class 3.0 specification, giving device makers the standard they need to pipe sound through USB-C ports on everything from phones to PCs. And the organization isn’t shy about its goals, either — this is mainly about letting companies removing the ages-old 3.5mm port, according to the Forum. In theory, that means slimmer devices, better water resistance and opening the “door to innovation” through room for other features.

We’re not sure everyone will buy that last argument, but there are some advantages to the spec that are worthwhile even if the headphone jack is here to stay. Aside from offering better digital audio support (such as headphones with custom audio processing), the USB-C sound spec improves on earlier USB approaches with power-saving measures and keyword detection. In other words: a company could take advantage of USB audio without hurting your battery life as much as before, and it should be easier to implement voice recognition.

This doesn’t mean that every company will embrace 3.5mm-free hardware with the same enthusiasm as Apple or Motorola. After all, Samsung used its Galaxy Note 7 introduction to make a not-so-subtle dig at Apple’s then-rumored decision to drop the headphone jack on the iPhone 7. However, the USB-C spec may nudge vendors who were thinking about ditching the conventional audio socket and were just waiting for official support to make their move.

Via: AnandTech

Source: USB Implementers Forum (PDF)

Engadget RSS Feed