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.

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iOS beta explains WiFi and Bluetooth controls with notifications

As we noted back in September, iOS 11’s Control Center buttons don’t actually turn off Bluetooth or WiFi, unlike previous versions. Instead, tapping on either one simply disconnects you from any devices or services your iPhone is currently connected to. Apple ostensibly made this change so that you could stay connected to other services like AirDrop and devices like your Apple Watch. Still, the behavior can be confusing to many. According to MacRumors, the latest iOS 11.2 beta gives you an explanatory notification when you tap either Control Center button.

According to screenshots, your iPhone will show you a notification like the following: “Disconnecting Nearby WiFi Until Tomorrow” with an explanation about how the current network and others nearby will be disconnected until the following day. It also states that “WiFi will continue to be available for AirDrop, Personal Hotspot, and location accuracy.” You’ll see Bluetooth in the notification if you tap that button. This third iOS 11.2 beta comes a week after the second beta, which includes Apple Pay Cash via the Messages app and a few days after Apple released iOS 11.1.1, which fixed an annoying autocorrect bug.

Source: MacRumors

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iOS 11’s Control Center buttons don’t fully turn off Bluetooth or WiFi

If you’ve updated to Apple’s new iOS 11, you might have played around with the new Control Center. You also might think that toggling Bluetooth and WiFi “off” in the Center might actually, you know, turn them off. Turns out, you’d be wrong. As noted over at Motherboard, hitting these buttons really only disconnects you from any WiFi or Bluetooth devices you might be connected to.

To be fair, Apple says this in its own documentation, but that doesn’t mean the toggles aren’t confusing to many users. The idea is that when you use the Control Center toggles, your iPhone will still be able to connect for AirDrop, AirPlay and Location Services. It can also stay connected to Apple’Pencil, Apple Watch and use Continuity features like Handoff and Instant Hotspot. If you want to turn off WiFi and Bluetooth for real, something that can help your iPhone use less battery and avoid some security bugs, you’ll need to drop into the Settings app.

We’ve reached out to Apple for comment on this matter and will update the post when we hear back.

Via: Motherboard

Source: Apple

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The best bluetooth headsets

By Marianne Schultz and Nick Guy

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. When readers choose to buy The Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

If you’re hopping on and off the phone throughout the day, or if you’re typically talking on the phone while driving (despite the safety concerns), the Plantronics Voyager Edge is the best Bluetooth headset for most people. After putting in 50-plus hours of research and testing more than 15 models over the past three years—including 12 hours of testing and three new models for the latest update—the Voyager Edge continues to lead the pack with its combination of stellar sound quality, long battery life, excellent Bluetooth range, and comfortable fit.

Who needs this

If you don’t do much talking on your mobile phone, but you prefer to talk hands-free, you’re probably fine using the earbuds that came with it. But a good mono (one-ear) Bluetooth headset is a great accessory if you speak on the phone frequently and want the convenience of having your hands free—you don’t want to stay tethered to your handset by a wire, or to have to hold the phone with your shoulder while you talk, which is terrible for your neck and back. A headset is also appealing if you need to be sure that your voice sounds clear to the person on the other end, even when you’re talking in an environment with a lot of wind or other background noise.

If you have a new iPhone 7, which lacks a headphone jack and has only a single Lightning-connector port for headphones or charging, a Bluetooth headset lets you charge your iPhone while you take calls hands-free.

How we picked and tested

Three headsets we tested for the 2016 update to this guide, from left: Jabra Steel, Plantronics Voyager 5200, and Plantronics Voyager Edge. Photo: Marianne Schultz

For our 2016 update, we looked for any newcomers to the market since the previous iteration of this guide. Consulting reviews on sites such as PCMag and ComputerWorld, and user reviews on Amazon, we narrowed the options down to two new models from major manufacturers that seemed worthy of hands-on testing.

You shouldn’t expect exceptionally long battery life, but you at least want your headset to last through a workday. We consider five hours of actual talk time to be the minimum. Some headsets, including our top pick, come with a charging case—a battery-equipped storage case that charges the headset when you put it inside—to extend battery life significantly, but the headset itself should still be able to last a good while alone.

In terms of functional design, you want a headset that charges via Micro-USB rather than with a proprietary cord or charger. You probably already have at least one or two other gadgets that use Micro-USB cables, so it’s nice to be able to use the same cable and charger for everything.

We tested for battery life, comfort, sound quality, and Bluetooth range. We also looked for headsets with excellent controls that allow you to answer calls and adjust the volume easily and intuitively. We gave bonus points to models that allow you to perform some of these functions hands-free, using just your voice. For more on our testing procedures, see our full guide.

Our pick

The Voyager Edge sits comfortably in your ear. Photo: Marianne Schultz

The Plantronics Voyager Edge remains our pick for most people because it’s a solid all-around performer. As in the past two years, it came out on top in our latest batch of audio-quality and comfort tests. In terms of battery life, it came in second out of the three headsets we tested this year, with a talk time of 6 hours; however, its included charging case gives it a total of 16 hours of talk time, the longest of the bunch. The Plantronics Voyager 5200 bested the Edge in Bluetooth range, but the Edge’s range is more than sufficient for most people. The Edge also has simple pairing, easy-to-use controls, and a smartphone companion app that makes it easy to adjust the headset’s settings.

The Voyager Edge supports Bluetooth 4.0, plus NFC pairing with compatible smartphones. We found pairing with an Apple iPhone 7 Plus to be quick and easy, and using the headset is just as simple. In addition to voice control, the Voyager Edge has sensors to determine whether you’re wearing it. The headset has physical buttons for on-off, volume level, call answer, and voice command, each of which are easy to find and press.

Call quality is the most important aspect of any Bluetooth headset, and the Voyager Edge excels here. In our tests of call audio quality, it was edged out slightly by the more-expensive Voyager 5200 in a quiet office environment, but performed better than the 5200 in a busy coffee shop and a windy car—the Edge was a solid, all-around performer, particularly given its compact size. The Voyager Edge is usually around $ 30 cheaper than the Voyager 5200, so the minor differences we heard in audio quality makes the Edge a better overall value.

Runner-up

The Voyager 5200 fits over the ear for a more secure fit, but it’s more of a hassle to put on. Photo: Marianne Schultz

The Voyager 5200 is a beefier headset with more features. It has an additional microphone for noise-cancelling (for a total of four, compared with three on the Voyager Edge), and its Bluetooth range is the most impressive of the bunch. Plantronics says the 5200 can reach 98 feet without audio dropping out; in our tests we noticed dropouts in voice calls at just over 70 feet, but streamed music didn’t get choppy until around 150 feet.

A budget alternative

Photo: Marshall Troy

The Plantronics Explorer 500 is a good choice for people who don’t want to spend a ton and are willing to give up some audio quality. The Explorer 500 is smaller than the Voyager Edge, but its battery lasts about an hour longer. It also has great Bluetooth range: In our tests, audio didn’t drop out until around 54 feet for voice and 95 feet for music. In our quiet-office and coffee-shop tests, however, our listening panel didn’t love the audio the 500 transmitted. One panelist in an earlier test described voice as sounding “blobby” in the office, and in another test the Explorer picked up more background noise than other units did. In the coffee-shop test, it lost some audio whenever plates clinked in the background.

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

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

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