07 BT receivers Arcam rBlinkThere are many links in the audio chain and only one needs to be weak to cause problems. I’ve been listening to a couple of new Bluetooth receivers, they hook into existing stereo systems to let them reproduce the music on your phone or computer, and I struck a weak link that I suspect many people wouldn’t think of.

The important thing with a Bluetooth receiver is the digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) inside it. If you’re paying $10, or even $100, you can’t expect greatness, but spend a bit more, do some homework and go with a trusted brand and you can get a good result. Listen first, of course. My yardstick best-buy is Arcam’s rBlink which I tested this time last year. It’s around $350 if you look around.

The DAC is a Burr Brown PCM5102 24-bit and together with the Bluetooth aptX codec it lifts Bluetooth music to where it’s barely indistinguishable from CD provided the original files are CD quality. Bluetooth aptX is a big plus, improving the quality of the music from being there to being involving. When you start listening to the music rather than just hearing it, when your foot starts tapping, it’s likely you’re listening to aptX.

07 BT receivers OneForAll SV1820But there are many potential weak links between the recording and the ears and I found one listening to One-For-All’s $130 SV1820 Music Receiver. It has a reasonable DAC and aptX, but while it’s promoted as having RCA connections, the ever reliable standard in analogue stereo systems, open the box and you’ll find that the RCAs are on the end of a 9-cm cable with a female 3.5 mm cable connection at the other end. You must plug this into the much longer supplied male-to-male 3.5 mm cable to get a signal to the RCAs, and thus the amplifier.

When you start daisy-chaining cables you greatly increase the chance of poor musical reproduction generally. When I replaced the two supplied cables with a good, single 3.5-mm-to-RCA cable the quality improved noticeably. But it still wasn’t great, falling down as the frequencies rose until the high range sound became brittle and verged on uncomfortable.

07 BT receivers AudioQuest BeetleAudioquest knows all about cable and sent me its Beetle Bluetooth receiver for a listen, but unfortunately the review unit arrived with no cables and no power supply. I had the right bits in my ‘pertaining to stereo’ box and the Beetle sounded great, a match for the Arcam even though it’s only standard SBC Bluetooth rather than aptX. Ah, but this is asynchronous Bluetooth which gives higher data transfer. There are no RCAs but it has a 3.5 mm audio out, an optical input and a mini USB.

It costs $349 and you can get the Arcam for the same price by shopping around. While it’s hard to pick a difference the Arcam sounds better across the full range, maybe because it offers RCA to RCA.

For a bit more flexibility Yamaha’s MusicCast WXC50 wireless streaming pre-amplifier, if a bit more complex, does a great job and hooks into your existing stereo amplifier with an RCA cable to stream music from your phone or computer by Bluetooth or through Wi-Fi. While the Bluetooth supports only SBC and AAC you can alternately use DLNA or AirPlay, and it’s Spotify, Tidal and Deezer compatible. It supports a wide range of high resolution formats, including FLAC, WAV and AIFF up to 24-bit 96 kHz resolution.

It’s $479 and works in with a MusicCast multi-room system if you have one. If not it’s a good way to get one started.

First published www.smh.com February 2018.


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