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Given their proclivity to tangle and our tendency to trip over them, wires can be a nuisance in any household. Even if you attach the wire neatly between source player and speaker, it can still put you on a short leash.
That’s why the Bluetooth speaker category is such a welcome addition to digital living. The small speakers in this roundup can all receive an audio signal wirelessly from a burgeoning number of smart phones, notebooks, tablets and media players equipped with Bluetooth connectivity—a capability often buried in the portable device’s settings menu.
The world of Bluetooth-enabled players includes the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch; most notebook computers and netbooks; and virtually every Android device. Once you pair your device or devices with a Bluetooth speaker, it’s ready to fill the room with audio unfettered by earphones or the mediocre speaker built into the device.
You’ll be able to roam around your home with a phone, for instance, still tucked in a pocket, yet be able to share its music through a Bluetooth (BT) speaker up to 10 meters or 33 feet away. The wireless technology works independently of Wi-Fi, so you don’t need a router, and the source player and speaker could even be separated by a wall or furniture. (Keep in mind that the maximum BT distance is measured in open space, so range may be affected by intervening structures.)
The majority of the Bluetooth speakers in our roundup contain rechargeable batteries, so they don’t necessarily need to be plugged into an electrical outlet during use, and they can travel with you, too. The last model here isn’t a speaker at all, but a Bluetooth receiver with an audio output ready to be plugged into your existing stereo system or even a legacy clock radio that has an auxiliary input.
Both AC-required models in the roundup are from Creative Labs: a one-piece speaker and the only two-piece system: the Creative Labs D200 Bluetooth Wireless Speaker and Creative Labs Inspire T12 Bluetooth Wireless 2.0 Speaker System. The former is a 16-inch wide, 3.6 lb speaker equipped with digital amplifiers, full-range drivers and a rear bass port that negates the need for a subwoofer. Beyond wireless reception, the speaker’s auxiliary input jack enables the connection of any device with an earphone jack.
Because Creative employs a pair of speakers linked by cable, the Inspire T12 Bluetooth Wireless 2.0 Speaker System is the one system here in which the user can control the amount of stereo separation and angled placement of each speaker. The speaker pair weighs 2.6 lb, which is less than the one-piece D200. Still, the built-in BassFlex technology extends the low frequencies without the need for a subwoofer. With a frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz and a signal-to-noise ratio of 80dB, these full-range speakers stand tall at 7 inches each, looking down at the 4-inch-squat D200. One of the speakers in the pair sports a volume knob, earphone jack and auxiliary input jack.
Most of the BT models in this roundup are one-piece speakers with embedded rechargeable batteries. Their prices vary from under $40 to several hundred dollars. We’ll take them in the order of low to high (based on early December pricing, which could change).
With its cylindrical shape and perforated top, the veho Portable 360 Bluetooth Speaker (VSS-006-360BT) looks like a salt shaker. But its compact design is perfect for packing into a sock for travel. The speaker puts out 2.2 watts of power and the battery plays for up to four hours. An audio cable is included for tethering the speaker’s line input to a non-Bluetooth source player.
The iHome iDM12 Rechargeable Portable Bluetooth Speaker System offers a more traditional design, that is rectangular with rounded corners, measuring 7.2-inch wide and 2.3-inch each for height and depth. With its dual active speakers and passive radiator, the iDM12 delivers extra bass and crisp clarity using iHome’s SRS TruBass digital sound processing technology. The speaker comes with a cover that attaches magnetically to the grille during transport. But when the speaker is in use, the cover can be used as a stand for your iPad, iPad 2 or iPhone. An auxiliary 3.5 mm mini-jack cable is included for sources not Bluetooth-enabled.
The 10-inch-wide Logitech Z515 Wireless Speaker contains dual two-inch drivers behind a curved grille. The 1.3-lb speaker looks like a mini boom box contoured to balance on a shoulder of a rollerblading dancer. With a rechargeable battery lasting up to 10 hours, the Z515 offers the longest claimed playing time in our roundup. The model comes with a soft travel case.
With its sharper angles, the Altec Lansing IMW725 inMotion Air Portable / Rechargeable Universal Wireless Speaker is larger and more expensive than the Z515. But instead of 2-inch drivers, it contains two 3 inch, full range, long-throw drivers with deep bass and a built-in handle. Also, the IMW725 comes with a separate transmitter, which when attached to the USB port of a computer, extends the wireless range to a luxurious 333 feet. The rechargeable lithium-ion battery supplies power for up to seven hours. The inMotion Air contains an auxiliary input jack for non-Bluetooth devices, and it also has an output for connecting earphones or an additional speaker. And here’s a rarity for this category: the inMotion Air comes with a full-featured remote control complete with source, volume, play/pause and track forward and back buttons that duplicate buttons on the speaker itself.
The most expensive Bluetooth speaker in our roundup is the SoundLink Wireless Mobile Speaker from Bose. The full-range speaker is about the size of a hardcover book and has an integrated rechargeable lithium-ion battery that supplies power for up to eight hours. The speaker can store up to six BT sources in memory. For devices that are not Bluetooth-enabled, Bose provides a stereo cable (one pin at each end) to link the player’s earphone jack or auxiliary output to the SoundLink’s 3.5 mm auxiliary audio input.
The Bose SoundLink comes with an attached dark gray nylon cover that protects the grille during transport and folds out under the speaker to become a stand. When you close the cover, the SoundLink automatically powers off, conserving the battery. The included cover complements the speaker’s black and gray finish, but if you want to add color, it can be swapped for one of four alternative covers in burgundy leather, purple nylon, red nylon or tan leather.
In a category by itself, the Kanex AirBlue Portable Bluetooth Music Receiver lets you put Bluetooth connectivity into any existing stereo system or even a clock radio as long as it has an auxiliary audio input. The distinctive disc-shaped AirBlue receiver is topped by a single play/pause button that lets you pair your legacy speaker system with a Bluetooth source device. You can take the receiver with you as easily as your iPhone, for example, then stream music wirelessly through the speakers in a home you’re visiting. The AirBlue Portable integrates a rechargeable battery, which plays for up to 10 hours off the power grid, according to Kanex. The Bluetooth receiver comes with two audio cables: 3.5mm to 3.5mm and 3.5mm to RCA so you can feed the signal to a target with a one-pin input or stereo (red and white) inputs. A mini USB to USB cable is included for charging.
Given the three categories of Bluetooth sound enablers described here—one-piece speakers, a two-speaker system and a BT receiver—there’s probably a wireless solution waiting to make someone’s music fly through the air.
|Configuration||USB BT Adapter||Battery Play Time||Audio Ports||Dimensions||Weight|
|Creative Labs D200 Bluetooth Wireless Speaker||1 piece||No||No Battery||AUX||16 x 4 x 3.7"||3.6 lb|
|Creative Labs Inspire T12 Bluetooth Wireless 2.0 Speaker System||2 speakers||No||No Battery||AUX / Headphone||2.8 x 7 x 3.9" per unit||2.6 lb total|
|iHome iDM12 Rechargeable Portable Bluetooth Speaker System||1 piece||No||Not Specified||AUX||7.2 x 2.3 x 2.3"||5.6 oz|
|veho VSS-006-360BT - Portable 360 Bluetooth Speaker||1 piece||No||4 Hours||AUX||Not Specified||Not Specified|
|Logitech Z515 Wireless Speaker||1 piece||Yes||10 Hours||AUX||10 x 4.4 x 2.1"||1.3 lb|
|Bose SoundLink Wireless Mobile Speaker||1 piece||No||8 hours||AUX||5.1 x 9.6 x 1.9"||2.9 lb|
|Altec Lansing IMW725 inMotion Wireless Speaker||1 piece||Yes||7 Hours||AUX / Headphone||13.2 x 4.1 x 3.5"||Not Specified|
|Kanex AirBlue||Receiver (no speaker)||No||10 Hours||Line out||2.0 x 0.5"||5 oz|