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These days, most mainstream electronics have built-in Bluetooth connectivity. But if you have an old home audio device, like a favorite stereo receiver or a set of powerful speakers, there is a chance that it has no Bluetooth connection at all or its Bluetooth reception is bad. This doesn’t mean you have to wipe your system and start over. A Bluetooth audio receiver lets you connect your old gear to the latest Bluetooth audio sources—and the best of them gives you great sound. The iFi Audio Zen Air Blue is our favorite because of its excellent range, wide format support and impressive sound performance for the price.
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This Bluetooth audio receiver sounds amazing, is easy to set up and offers surprisingly good range – but it doesn’t have a digital audio output.
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While you can pay more for a Bluetooth receiver for more features and longer range, the iFi Audio Zen Air Blue delivers where it matters most. The sound quality of the Zen Air Blue is equal to that of Bluetooth audio receivers that cost almost twice as much, and its small number of connections and controls makes it easy and convenient to use. Additionally, the Bluetooth range is surprisingly good considering this model’s lack of an external speaker. RCA stereo analog outputs are the only connection, and that’s fine for most people, since almost all home stereo systems have analog inputs. Zen Air Blue supports all relevant Bluetooth audio codecs (encoder/decoders, algorithms that compress audio data to facilitate wireless transmission), so it can probably receive a better Bluetooth signal than a phone your phone, tablet or computer. able to convey.
The Zen Blue V2 is an expensive but useful upgrade to our top pick if you prefer digital output or have a larger home that needs more signal range.
If you have a high-end sound system or would like a Bluetooth audio receiver with digital audio output, the iFi Audio Zen Blue V2 is arguably the best sounding Bluetooth receiver we’ve tested in our latest review. In terms of connectivity, it has you covered with both optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, as well as a standard 4.4mm audio connection and stereo analogue RCA output. The Zen Blue V2 is also a good choice if you need more signal range than most Bluetooth receivers can offer. All of our other test units began to falter or lose connection somewhere inside the 1,518-square-foot suburban home where we did our testing, but the Zen Blue V2, equipped with a built-in long-range antenna, held firm. a connection from an iPhone all the way to the far corner of the back yard. Combine that with easy setup, reliable and near-instant reconnection, and an attractive form factor, and the Zen Blue V2 is an excellent choice for discerning audiophiles, despite its high price tag.
If you’re looking for an inexpensive, reliable Bluetooth audio receiver with portable power, the Monoprice 38071 works well. But it has some flaws.
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If your priorities when shopping for a Bluetooth receiver are price and portability, as opposed to ergonomics and crystal clear sound quality, the Monoprice 38071 Premium Bluetooth 5 Transmitter and Receiver wins over other similarly priced offerings. It supports common Bluetooth audio codecs, but lacks support for some of the more esoteric ones that audiophiles might enjoy. The 38071 can act as a Bluetooth receiver or transmitter, although we tested its receiving capabilities only for the purposes of this guide. Also, you can leave it plugged in or use it as a portable device as it has decent battery life. It also has skip controls that let you skip tracks without opening your phone or other portable media player. Unfortunately, it has some features common to models in its price range and makes it lighter than iFi Audio’s options. But as long as you use the optical output instead of its 3.5mm analog output, the sound quality is very strong.
I’ve been reviewing AV equipment for two decades now with publications ranging from Robb Report Home Entertainment to Home Theater magazine and HomeTheaterReview.com. Recently, I took over the position of editor for SoundStage Access, a publication dedicated to high-quality audio and tips and tricks for budding audiophiles.
Over the years I’ve tested and reviewed more receivers, preamps, and amplifiers than I care to count, and in recent years I’ve devoted a great deal of time to studying and testing room processing systems of all kinds, as well as learning the principles and equations that make audio loss and video compression codes work.
Almost all mass-market audio devices support the Bluetooth audio protocol in some way, making it easy for you to stream audio wirelessly from a mobile device to your new sound bar, powerful speakers, or AV receiver you just bought. This means that someone who needs a Bluetooth audio receiver probably fits into one of two categories: someone who owns a popular but old stereo system, computer speaker set, or sound bar that doesn’t have Bluetooth connectivity, or someone who does. – you want to improve the connection. of their system to add support for more advanced Bluetooth codecs such as AAC, aptX, aptX Adaptive, aptX HD, aptX LL, LDAC and LHDC/HWA. (We will discuss what this codex is and what it means in practice in the next section.)
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If you belong to one of these groups, sound quality is probably the most important thing to you. Additionally, the actual range of the indoor signal – and the ability to receive the signal through multiple walls or in front of other radio frequency devices such as Wi-Fi routers and smart home devices – is probably more important than portability or price. You probably also prefer a Bluetooth audio receiver that isn’t difficult to integrate into your home audio system—something that’s easy to set up, doesn’t take long to connect or reconnect to source devices like a smartphone or laptop, and requires little. play with your hands as much as possible.
If you’re looking for something more practical, we have some guides for you. If you’re looking for a small, inexpensive, portable Bluetooth audio receiver to use in the car or with cheap wired headphones, check out our guide to the best Bluetooth headphone adapters. If you value both portability and high-quality audio performance, a USB-based portable speaker/DAC may be a better choice than a Bluetooth receiver.
A quick Amazon search for “Bluetooth receiver” returned 76 pages of results with 33 products per page at the time of our research, but our review of these listings showed that perhaps only half of them met our criteria for this guide—that is, we were looking for models -their specs clearly list their supported Bluetooth codecs, can be powered by a wall plug, and have some utility in a home stereo system, not just a portable setup. Still, that left hundreds of models for us to consider for testing.
To narrow down the list even more, we focused on which Bluetooth codecs each receiver supports. Since the most affordable model we wanted to test (the $40 Monoprice 38071) supported AAC, aptX, aptX HD, and aptX Low Latency codecs, there was no excuse for the more expensive models to omit those formats. For more expensive Bluetooth receivers, we’ve also selected those that support more advanced but less common codecs like LDAC and LHDC/HWA. This condition eliminated many potential competitors.
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What are Bluetooth codecs, and why are they important? You can find the full answer to that question in Brent Butterworth’s article “What You Need to Know About Bluetooth Audio.” In short, codecs are algorithms that compress audio data to make it easier to transmit wirelessly. All Bluetooth devices support the low-complexity subband codec (SBC), a low-bandwidth codec that does not require a lot of processing power. Today, almost all devices that can transmit a Bluetooth signal rely on complex codecs that provide a combination of low latency, high resolution or high fidelity. iOS devices such as iPhones and iPads use the AAC codec when the option is available, and most Android devices support some variation of aptX. Sony phones and portable media players rely on LDAC for a high-quality wireless connection, and new Huawei mobile devices use the same codec called LHDC/HWA.
In fact, we found that the quality of the Bluetooth receiver and its digital-to-analog converter had a greater impact on the sound quality than the codec, although we did not have aptX Adaptive, LDAC or LHDC sources to test. . Still, there’s no reason not to use the best codec your device can support, and better codec support usually indicates newer and better chip design and performance.
We also chose receivers that support Bluetooth 5.0 or better, because of the high speed, high bandwidth and extended range.
Finally, our recipients were inactive if Amazon unlisted them, which has never been the case.
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