Invisible things are often the trickiest to understand. Lots of people who fully accept the concept of TV and radio broadcasts moving through the air still wonder what Bluetooth is and how it works. Yet, essentially, it’s the same technology, though organized a bit differently. Let’s take a look at Bluetooth and how it supports the technology of wireless speakers. To help your search for your ideal Bluetooth speaker, take a look at our Bluetooth speakers buying guide.
Where Bluetooth Lives
Bluetooth enabled devices contain dedicated circuits and software that amounts to a tiny radio station transmitting digital information. Commercial radio stations broadcast their programming. Anyone with a radio receiver can tune to the station and listen in.
The tiny Bluetooth stations narrowcast. First of all, the power of their signal is much weaker, measured in feet rather than miles. Connecting Bluetooth devices requires “pairing,” which is sort of a selective tuning into a private station. A Bluetooth network, called a piconet, contains between two and eight devices, so it’s very much geared to personal systems or small area applications.
An advantage of Bluetooth technology is that it’s both flexible and pervasive. Many users find that the desktop computer they’ve had for years supports Bluetooth, though they weren’t aware. Since the first application that really exploited Bluetooth was wireless smartphone earpieces, many people connect the idea of BT with phones, not knowing that it has applications in many electronic devices, from music players to medical implants.
How Do Bluetooth Speakers Work?
Anyone who’s had to run wire across a doorway to locate a speaker perfectly knows what a great advantage wireless speakers can be. With surround home theaters using five, eight or more speakers to envelope listeners with sound, the complexities of routing wires and placing speakers can overwhelm the weekend audio warrior.
Bluetooth is hardly limited to home theater, however. When you’re tired of headphones or ear buds, you can still use your smartphone or tablet as your music player, sending the signal via Bluetooth technology to a remote speaker capable of receiving the BT signal. To do that, however, you need to set things up – called pairing in BT terminology. Learn more about Bluetooth Technology here.
If you’ve ever paired a BT device before, here’s some good news. BT speakers pair in essentially the same way. While a few details change between devices, you simply prepare each device for pairing and let them seek each other out. Once paired, your player automatically outputs to the BT speaker.
Some devices even support NFC – near field communication – which is a sort of mini-Bluetooth. Pairing devices with NFC is as simple as touching smartphone to speaker. It’s the same technology used by tap-and-go payment systems. Its reach is 2 inches and, with BT speakers, is mostly dedicated to pairing. NFC is nowhere near as widespread as Bluetooth, so shop carefully if this is a priority for you.
Where Do I Find Bluetooth Speakers?
Literally, everywhere. Freed from traditional home stereo setups based on receivers, amps and wired connections, the BT design world exploded and the aftershocks still reverberate. Devices of every shape, size and quality now serve almost any playback duty you can imagine. Heading to the beach? There are waterproof and water resistant models that also seal out sand, making it easy to create your own beach blanket bingo with friends. No more headphone isolation.
Bookshelf speakers now locate on virtually any shelf in your home. There’s no need to consider where you can hook up wires to your stereo. Simply place the BT speaker where you want it.
Are Bluetooth Speakers Really That Amazing?
If you’re all about the music, BT speakers are tremendously versatile. There are a few things to keep in mind, however. BT speakers have amps inside. Amps need power, so there are still wires involved. Many BT designs aim for portability and have rechargeable batteries. You’ll still need to connect to an adapter or USB cable from time to time. BT shelf speakers may have a cord that needs a wall outlet.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, while it’s remarkably suited to wireless streamed audio, Bluetooth is not a dedicated home sound platform. It doesn’t offer the same integration or multi-room support seen in systems such as Apple AirPlay or Sonos speakers. There are limits to BT technology that other systems don’t have. Bluetooth does, however, offer a wider range of devices that work across platforms, with hardware that fits every budget.
Any wireless speaker system whether based on Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or other through-the-air technology does not, at time of publication, deliver true high fidelity performance on par with wired, audiophile sound systems. These systems can, however, deliver near CD quality. Chances are that if you’re happy with the sound of MP3 players, the sound of a Bluetooth speaker will be just fine. Not all BT speakers are created equally, so research your purchase. Small units generally don’t deliver satisfying deep bass, even though some do an amazing job. Usually, though, dance-worthy bass requires a portability sacrifice for performance.
Things to Consider When Shopping for Bluetooth Speakers
– Portability – do you want a speaker you can carry with you?
– Water and Weather resistance – will you use your speaker in places it may get wet or exposed to dust?
– Battery life – rechargeability and portability go hand-in-hand. How much playing time do you expect on a single charge? Devices range from a few hours of playing time to over 24 hours.
– BT speakers can also serve as a speaker for calls on your smartphone. Some designs incorporate this and others don’t. Adjust your shopping preferences accordingly.
– For home audio systems, is design or performance your preference? Depending on your budget, you can have both.
– High-fidelity audio streaming using apt-X. a Bluetooth variation, delivers audio with less data compression, resulting in better overall sound. Devices with apt-X capability remain compatible with regular BT equipment.
– Computer Speakers — adding BT speakers to a desktop or laptop computer easily extends computer audio without the need for cable connections