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Digital Watch: Bluetooth Is Magic for Podcasts and Internet Radio

Call me late to the party, but I’ve finally fallen in love with Bluetooth audio streaming. At this point most readers should be familiar with Bluetooth, which facilitates pretty easy wireless connections between devices of all kinds. In this case I’m specifically discussing using Bluetooth to send audio from a computer or mobile device to headphones, speaker or stereo.

Now, Bluetooth has been around a good decade, and those little Bluetooth headsets have been hanging off people’s ears for nearly as long. I even picked one up a few years ago to make it easier to listen to podcasts while walking or riding my bike without getting tangled up in cables.

But aside from that convenience, I otherwise disregarded the development of other Bluetooth audio devices. I had a perfectly nice rechargeable iPhone dock that I used on my patio, and was otherwise happy to plug my smartphones into stereos and speakers via a headphone cable. Sure, it could be a pain when I misplaced the cable or the connection got weak and scratchy, but nothing I couldn’t prepare for or deal with.

In the last year, however, it seems like Bluetooth speakers went from being pricey toys to becoming near commodity items. On top of that, a number of companies started offering higher-quality powered speakers and Bluetooth receivers to plug into your stereo or existing speakers, all promising a step up in fidelity from the previous generation devices.

Sound quality was my biggest point of resistance. Until recently the Bluetooth headphones I’d heard were adequate for podcasts and phone calls, but pretty lackluster with music. Listening in the car was a much better experience. Although Bluetooth uses lossy compression to deliver audio, in the car with road noise and other sonic intrusions I really don’t notice much difference compared to a wired connection, and what difference I do hear is fleeting mostly not bothersome.

What finally convinced me was driving some rental cars and riding in friends’ cars with built-in Bluetooth. Not having to remember a cable, or deal with the beat-up cable already attached to a rental, immediately ramped up the convenience by a factor of ten. So does the fact that most in-dash stereos control over your mobile device so you don’t have to futz with it. Plus, you can leave your phone in your pocket, bag or glovebox, rather than sitting out, and sliding around, so you can keep the cable connected.

That experience drove me to check out small portable Bluetooth speakers, and I picked one up online for a song that’s about the size of a baseball. What sound quality compromises exist are mostly due to the size of the speaker, and not the Bluetooth technology. Being able to take it just about anywhere I want a little music or entertainment without messing with cables or power outlets pretty much makes up for that.

As I recently was planning some upgrades and changes in my home stereo I was also considering adding a high-fidelity Bluetooth receiver. Auditioning equipment at a local stereo store, I settled on a new stereo preamplifier for my system. Looking closes at its specs, I realized that it includes a free Bluetooth adapter that plugs into a USB port on the front panel. Score!

After getting the preamp installed at home I gave the Bluetooth function a whirl, playing both some podcasts and music on my smartphone. Even though iPhones don’t support the higher quality aptX Bluetooth standard, I found the fidelity to be pleasing and quite good enough for talk programs, internet radio or background listening. Since I play digital music using a Sonos Connect I doubt I’ll use Bluetooth for music too often, but it’s nice for podcasts, continuing to listen to something I started on my mobile device, or for when a visiting friend wants to share a song on her phone.

I’m not anywhere near ready to make a Bluetooth driven stereo my main system, especially for critical listening. But the convenience of Bluetooth is undeniable for portable listening, the car, or travel. For me, Bluetooth has helped me listen to more podcasts and internet radio as I do housework, spend time outside, or stay at hotels.

Author Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Therefore I declare that Bluetooth is magic!


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One Response to Digital Watch: Bluetooth Is Magic for Podcasts and Internet Radio

  1. RK Henderson August 20, 2015 at 7:57 pm #

    I haven’t made the jump to Bluetooth yet, but it sure would be nice to be able to move my laptop around the house and still hear net radio through good speakers. The only time I tried to use Bluetooth speakers was at a friend’s house a few years ago, and they wouldn’t pick me up, for some reason. I ended up patching in old-school, with a wire.

    I hope the tech is advancing in that sense too; I remember when wifi first became common, I often had the same problem there. (Apple tech. I was always being told it made no difference to the router, and then… non-connectivity that no-one seemed able to solve. But that hasn’t happened for a few years now.)

    All things considered, being able to do without headphone and speaker cables would be a major step up, particularly for net radio.

    Thanks for the post,

    Net Radio Blog

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