After doing 13 hours of research and considering 76 models, we performed dozens of hours of real-world testing and 13 additional hours of focused, in-depth testing on the top 14 Bluetooth-audio receivers for adding wireless connectivity to an existing audio system. We think the StarTech BT2A Bluetooth Audio Receiver is the best receiver for most people thanks to its combination of connectivity, range, audio quality, and usability.
Among all of the affordable ($60 or less) Bluetooth receivers we tested, both the BT2A and our runner-up (below) offered the best combination of sound quality, reliable connectivity, range, and number of audio-output options, but StarTech’s two-year warranty gave the BT2A the edge and made it our pick.
The BT2A offers wireless convenience without sacrificing audio quality. Pairing with a Bluetooth source is easy, and reconnection with sources is more reliable than with a number of other models we tested. Its range easily covers a large living room, extending into neighboring rooms, and due to quality components and support for newer Bluetooth-audio codecs, audio comes close to the sound quality of a direct wired connection. Both also include a Toslink optical digital-audio output, so if your existing stereo has better audio circuitry, you can take advantage of it, and both include NFC (near-field communication) circuitry for easy pairing with some Android devices. None of these features are unique to the StarTech and Monoprice receivers, but these models offer the best combination of features, performance, and price.
The Monoprice Bluetooth Streaming Music Receiver offers identical features and performance as the StarTech BT2A, but with a one-year warranty instead of two years. They’re identical electronically, so if the BT2A is out of stock, or you find the Monoprice at a significantly cheaper price when you’re shopping, you should feel totally comfortable buying the Monoprice model instead.
If you’ve already invested a good amount of money in your existing audio system, the Audioengine B1 Bluetooth Music Receiver is a nice step up, providing sound quality befitting a higher-end system. Its built-in digital-to-analog converter (DAC)—the circuitry that turns Bluetooth audio’s digital bits into musical sound—is much better than what you’ll find in the less-expensive models we tested, and likely even better than the DAC built into your phone or tablet. The result is audio quality that’s roughly comparable to what you’d get by connecting your smartphone or tablet directly to your speakers with a cable, if not better. The B1 sports a small external antenna that helps it achieve phenomenal range for a Bluetooth device. It’s also well-built, and, like our top picks, it has digital-audio output for use with an external DAC.
If you have an old iPhone or iPod speaker dock—one that uses Apple’s 30-pin dock connector—just sitting in a closet, the Samson 30-Pin Bluetooth Receiver BT30 makes it easy to add Bluetooth functionality: You just attach the BT30 to that dock connector, which provides the BT30 with power. The BT30 offers easy pairing and connections, along with range that slightly exceeds that of the Monoprice and StarTech receivers. Its audio quality isn’t as good as that of our other picks, but the difference won’t be noticeable through most speaker docks, and its sound is easily the best of the 30-pin models we tested, with better detail and stronger, tighter bass than the competition.
(If you’re looking for a portable Bluetooth receiver—say, for using your favorite wired headphones with a smartphone that lacks a headphone jack—we have a separate guide to Bluetooth headphone adapters. For dedicated in-car use, we recommend our top pick for car Bluetooth kits.)
Table of contents
- Why you should trust us
- Who should buy this?
- How we picked and tested
- Our pick
- Flaws but not dealbreakers
- An upgrade for better sound and better range
- A pick for older speaker docks
- What about AirPlay? Or Sonos? Or … ?
- About Bluetooth pairing and connections
- What to look forward to
- The competition
Why you should trust us
I’ve been obsessing over audio gear for 14 years, going through more headphones, speakers, and audio components than I care to admit. I spent six years covering audio gear for Macworld, where I reviewed more than 75 headphones, DACs, headphone and speaker amplifiers, and computer accessories. I also contributed to Macworld’s yearly headphone and speaker buying guides. I’m passionate about good sound, and I’m not ashamed to call myself an audiophile. But just as important, I love finding great, affordable gear that connects people to the music they love. I also have a PhD in computational biology, so I have a strong technical and scientific background, and I’m not afraid to delve into technical details to answer important questions.
Who should buy this?
Whether it’s because your new smartphone has no headphone jack, or you aren’t ready to give up your old stereo in favor of a great Bluetooth speaker, a Bluetooth audio receiver adds wireless streaming to your existing home stereo or speakers, potentially giving you better audio quality for less money than buying a whole new audio system. If your smartphone, tablet, or computer has Bluetooth, but your stereo or other speaker system doesn’t, a good Bluetooth audio receiver lets you stream music wirelessly to your speakers with little loss in sound quality.
Our top pick is for people who have a traditional stereo system, computer speakers, or a soundbar—pretty much any speaker system with an auxiliary-input jack that doesn’t already have Bluetooth. Our upgrade pick is worth considering if you’ve invested roughly $500 or more on your stereo system or speakers and want to be sure you’re getting the best sound quality out of them, or if you want to be able to stream Bluetooth audio from a longer distance: farther than 90 feet with a straight line of sight, compared with about 40 for our top pick.
You might also want a Bluetooth receiver if you have an older speaker dock with Apple’s 30-pin connector. A dock-compatible receiver will let you inexpensively and easily add Bluetooth capability to most docks (details below), eliminating not only the need to dock your device, but also the need for a 30-pin-to-Lightning adapter. Such a receiver will let you use your old speaker dock with any Bluetooth-equipped smartphone, tablet, or computer.
How we picked and tested
We began by looking at the most popular models on Amazon and checking the websites of high-profile manufacturers, ultimately assembling a list of 76 candidates. We then considered how these products are used in order to identify the most important features and specifications, which resulted in a short list of serious contenders: eight models for general home use, two higher-end models, and four dock-connector models.
The main appeal of a Bluetooth audio receiver is the convenience of playing audio through your existing speakers without having to plug in a cable. This means that pairing and connecting your devices to the receiver should be easy and reliable—if connecting your phone to a receiver is too finicky, you’ll just reach for the simplicity and reliability of a cable. Also, the receiver’s range should be long enough to cover a typical living area—wireless isn’t particularly useful if you can’t roam with your device.
Ideally, a Bluetooth receiver should sound as good as a direct, wired connection—if wireless audio sounds bad, you’ll likely put up with the inconvenience of a cable to get better audio. Whether a receiver comes close to this standard depends on the quality of the receiver’s built-in digital-to-analog converter (DAC) and other audio circuitry, as well as how the audio is compressed for transmission: Bluetooth doesn’t have enough bandwidth to transmit uncompressed CD-quality audio, so Bluetooth devices use one of several codecs to compress audio for transmission, and can vary the bit rate of the compression based on available wireless bandwidth. The receiver decodes the transmitted data for playback on your speakers.
All Bluetooth devices support Low Complexity Subband Coding (SBC), a codec with low bandwidth and computational requirements, but that can sound downright bad in some implementations. To provide better sound quality, many newer Bluetooth receivers (including our top pick) support the aptX codec; some also support MP3, AAC, and other codecs. Windows and Mac computers, and most Android devices, support aptX; iOS does not, but it does support AAC.1
We found that receivers that support aptX also sound pretty good using SBC—if a receiver supports aptX, it can likely receive good-quality audio from your source device in some form or another. So we considered aptX support an almost-mandatory feature for our top pick. (We tested the Moto Stream, which doesn’t support aptX, because it supports five simultaneous connections, a unique feature.)
Another feature we favored was digital audio output, which allows you to use a separate DAC for better sound quality. (Many home theater receivers include their own DAC, and some people have a dedicated DAC in their stereo.) While not everyone needs this feature, it’s something that’s nice to have, and models with it don’t cost substantially more than good models without it. That said, we considered two models (the Avantree Roxa and Moto Stream) that lack digital output because they offer other intriguing features not found elsewhere.
Because few speaker docks have outstanding sound quality, we didn’t weigh audio performance as heavily for dock-connector receivers as we did for our main pick. However, we did connect each model to a full-size stereo system (using a powered, 30-pin–to–3.5 mm adapter) to get an idea of how much the receiver affected sound quality. The audio of our dock-connector pick is good enough that any deficiencies are likely to be hidden by the limitations of the speaker dock itself. Similarly, few speaker docks have the audio quality to make aptX an important feature, and it’s rare in these models, so we didn’t require it for this category.
One feature we didn’t give much weight to was NFC circuitry for pairing. NFC pairing works only with certain source devices (such as some Android phones), and pairing is generally a simple process that you perform rarely for each device, so we didn’t think it was important enough to impact a buying decision. However, our two picks for most people do have this feature.
To test our contenders, I paired each one first to a MacBook and then to an iPhone to see how easy it was to pair source devices to the receiver; how reliably the receiver connected and disconnected from sources once paired; and how easy it was to switch to a different source. For devices that could pair with multiple devices simultaneously, I used up to six devices to test this feature, and up to nine to test pairing. (One particularly ambitious model, the Motorola Moto Stream, handled simultaneous connections from the MacBook, the iPhone, two iPads, and a Windows tablet.)
I also looked at how each receiver reconnected to source devices following a disconnection (due to the devices moving out of range of another, or one device being turned off); and considered whether each receiver’s behavior made sense given how it would be used. For example, a dock-connector receiver should connect to a source immediately when the dock (which is usually off or unpowered when not in use) is turned on. Models designed for a home stereo, on the other hand, will generally be left on—most don’t even have a power switch—so it’s best if connections to these models are initiated manually to avoid your phone’s audio being routed through your stereo when you don’t want it to be.
To evaluate audio quality, I first used each device to listen to background music, then compared them head-to-head using my favorite test tracks played on the Mac and iPhone. I tested the home models with a stereo consisting of NHT speakers and an NAD home-theater receiver. I tested the dock-connector models with three different systems: the aforementioned stereo, a Philips DC315/37 iPod/iPhone speaker dock, and an older Altec Lansing iM5 dock with a Scosche Passport adapter.
Finally, to assess the range of each receiver—how far the receiver can be from the source device and still get a consistent audio signal—I set each receiver on a stand outdoors, started music playback on an iPhone, and walked slowly (to compensate for connection latency) along a tape measure with the phone held at chest level, noting the distance at which music started skipping. I conducted this test first obstructed by my body (which significantly reduces range), and then unobstructed. To get a feel for the real-world range of each device, I also connected each receiver to my home stereo, located in the living room near one edge of my 1,000-square-foot apartment, then walked around the apartment with my phone while music was playing.
The StarTech BT2A Bluetooth Audio Receiver is our top pick for most people thanks to its combination of good sound quality, range, usability, connectivity, and price. It comes from a reputable vendor, has a two-year warranty, and is reasonably priced. (Our runner-up, the nearly identical Monoprice model, has a one-year warranty.)
The BT2A paired to new devices, and reconnected to old devices, reliably in our testing. It can remember eight paired devices; if an additional devices is paired, the oldest-paired device is bumped from the list. Additionally, each model includes NFC circuitry for easy pairing with Android mobile phones and other compatible devices, although the normal pairing process is easy enough.
In terms of audio quality, the BT2A supports the aptX codec and features a high-quality DAC that’s well-regarded in this price range. (StarTech specifies the Cirrus Logic Wolfson WM8524G.) When used with my computer and iOS devices, the BT2A—along with our runner-up, below—provided the best sound quality of the models we tested in this price range. Overall, these two models offer the best dynamic range, the best high-frequency and midrange detail, the best bass power and tightness, and the least high-frequency distortion. They noticeably bested the audio of the Grace Digital 3Play and Avantree Roxa, and far exceeded that of the Motorola Moto Stream.
If you directly compare the BT2A with a wired connection, you may hear a difference in sound quality, particularly with source devices that don’t support aptX, but we think most listeners—especially those listening through computer speakers, soundbars, and other less than high-end systems—won’t notice. And even if you do hear the difference, it’s likely to be a reasonable trade-off given the convenience of a wireless connection.
The BT2A also has a Toslink optical digital-audio output, allowing you to upgrade audio quality by using an external DAC, such as the stand-alone models used by audiophiles or the type built into most home theater receivers and some stereo receivers and speakers.
Reception was about average for the home models I tested, but enough to cover most living areas well. Indoors, each covered my living room and most of an adjacent bedroom; outdoors, unobstructed range was about 40 feet.
Aside from sound quality, no individual aspect of the BT2A was unique in this category, but it and our runner-up were the only receivers at this price that in our tests offered such a solid combination of performance and features.
(During our testing, we noticed that the StarTech BT2A and Satechi Bluetooth Audio Receiver looked identical on the outside, and the Nyrius Songo HiFi and our Monoprice runner-up were also very similar; all four had back panels that appeared identical. In our testing, all four models offered essentially identical performance, and each appeared on connected devices as “Music Receiver” without any identifying brand information. I took the four models apart to investigate, and they appear to use the same circuit board—I saw little difference in three of the devices’ internals, while the Songo HiFi had only a few different chips on the board. We’re fairly confident that these are all variations on the same design, though the Satechi and Nyrius models have since been discontinued.)
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Our biggest complaint about the StarTech BT2A is that it doesn’t support multiple active connections: If you’re listening to music from your phone and want to switch to playing music from your tablet, you have to break the active Bluetooth connection with the phone (for example, by disabling Bluetooth on the phone), and then connect the tablet. Three models we tested—the Grace Digital 3Play, Motorola Moto Stream, and Avantree Roxa—support multiple active connections:2 In the above scenario, your tablet would already be connected, so when you begin playback on the tablet, the receiver would automatically switch to playing the tablet’s audio. If you have multiple streaming source devices and frequently switch between them, this is a very convenient feature, and one we wish the BT2A offered. However, the three models that include it all have big drawbacks in other areas, and the feature itself often didn’t work as expected.
The range of our top pick isn’t outstanding, but it’s comparable to that of most Bluetooth devices: 30 to 40 feet unobstructed or 20 to 30 feet through walls and other obstructions. To get significantly better range without making compromises in other areas, you need to opt for something more expensive, such as our upgrade pick. Similarly, like all but one of the devices we tested, the BT2A occasionally skipped for no apparent reason, despite being near the transmitting device with a clear line of sight. Our upgrade pick was the only device that never had this issue in our testing.
Common to Bluetooth streamers in this price range, the BT2A is relatively light, so heavier audio cables can cause it to move around, but this is easy to address with some Velcro strips or Blu-Tack
If the BT2A hasn’t been receiving audio for more than a few minutes, the first second of audio will be cut off when you resume playback. But as long as audio continues playing, this won’t happen again. (The same thing happens with our runner-up pick and the discontinued Satechi Bluetooth Music Receiver and Nyrius Songo HiFi—unsurprising given that these models are basically identical—as well as with one of the dock connector models, the Nyrius Songo Link. I’ve also seen this behavior with other digital audio equipment, including some dedicated DACs.) Ultimately, this is a minor annoyance that doesn’t outweigh our pick’s many positives.
Finally, as we mentioned above, the audio quality of the BT2A isn’t perfect. We think it will be more than good enough for most people, but if you want the best possible performance, you can use either model’s optical output with a higher-quality DAC, or take a look at our upgrade pick.
As we mentioned above, Monoprice’s Bluetooth Streaming Music Receiver appears to be functionally identical to the StarTech BT2A. They use the same circuit board and the same DAC, and they performed essentially identically in our testing. We made the StarTech receiver our top pick mainly because the two models are usually around the same price, but the StarTech is covered by a two-year warranty, versus one year for the Monoprice receiver. However, if you find the Monoprice receiver at a significantly lower price than the BT2A when you’re shopping, it’s a safe buy.
An upgrade for better sound and better range
If you have nice speakers or a higher-end audio system—such as our picks for best receiver and bookshelf speakers, or our favorite computer speakers—and you want a Bluetooth connection that can do them justice, the Audioengine B1 Bluetooth Music Receiver is a great step up.
The B1 is based on the same circuitry as Audioengine’s well-regarded D1 DAC, and the unit’s audio quality reflects this: It offers better sound, by a good margin, than the less expensive Bluetooth receivers we tested. Music is lively and involving, with crisp, clear highs; detailed midrange; and tight, clean bass, particularly when used with devices that support aptX. In fact, because the B1’s DAC is likely better than the built-in DAC of your phone, tablet, or computer, streaming to the B1 could wind up sounding better than connecting that source to your audio system with a cable: I found that streaming audio from my laptop to the B1 (using aptX encoding) sounded significantly better than connecting the computer to my stereo using a cable from the computer’s headphone jack. On the other hand, my iPhone (which doesn’t support aptX) sounded a bit better with a wired connection to my stereo than through the B1, though the differences were small.
Like the StarTech BT2A, the Audioengine B1 supports the aptX and AAC codecs, and it includes optical-digital output if you want to hook it up to an even better DAC in the future. It also has RCA analog audio outputs, which are sturdier than the 3.5 mm stereo minijack used by most other models we tested, so it’s less likely that your cable will come unplugged accidentally, or that heavier cables will damage the jacks. Another nice feature is a dedicated pairing button, which is useful not only for pairing new devices, but also for quickly dropping the current Bluetooth connection in order to switch to another source device. (The B1 can remember up to seven paired devices.)
Finally, the B1 is the only model we tested that includes an external antenna. According to Audioengine, thanks to this rigid, plastic antenna, which sticks up a few inches from the front of the unit, the B1 has a range of 100 feet, three times what most other receivers claim. Indeed, the B1 outperformed all other models I tested: Using my smartphone as a source, I was able to walk everywhere in my 1,000-square-foot, single-floor apartment without any skipping or dropouts. (The farthest the apartment’s layout would let me get from the stereo was about 30 feet, with walls in between.) In our outdoor test, I was able to get 90 feet away before I ran out of testing area—I wouldn’t be surprised if Audioengine’s 100-foot claim is conservative. The B1 never skipped, even when my body obstructed the line of sight between the receiver and my phone. Considering that some receivers I tested had problems when people or large objects disrupted that line of sight, this is extraordinary performance. The B1’s combination of features, build quality, great sound, and long range make it a big step up from our main pick if these improvements are meaningful to you.
A pick for older speaker docks
Before Bluetooth speakers became ubiquitous, many people bought speaker docks—compact speaker systems with a docking cradle for a smartphone or MP3 player. The vast majority of these used Apple’s older 30-pin dock connector. A few years ago, Apple switched from that 30-pin connector to the smaller, reversible Lightning connector and, coincidently or not, most makers of compact and portable speakers shifted to Bluetooth for connectivity. (Lightning-connector speaker docks are available, but they’re uncommon, and we think wireless is much more convenient than a physical connection.)
If you have one of these older 30-pin docks, you don’t have to recycle it just because you have a newer iPhone or iPod, or even an Android phone. Nor do you have to remain tethered to the speaker dock using something like Apple’s Lightning to 30-pin Adapter. Instead, you can add a dock-connector Bluetooth receiver to your old speaker dock and go wireless.
The best, by far, of these receivers we found is Samson’s 30-Pin Bluetooth Receiver BT30. Pairing and connecting Bluetooth devices was hassle-free—not something we can say about the other dock-connector models we tested, particularly once we started switching between multiple devices. The Samson also has a pairing button—most of the competitors have no such button, so they simply default to pairing mode if no previously paired device is in range when you turn on the speaker. The dedicated pairing button not only makes the pairing process easy, but also disconnects the current device to allow you to easily connect a new device, regardless of whether the new device was previously paired. (Based on our testing, the BT30 can remember four paired devices.)
The BT30 doesn’t support aptX, and its sound quality isn’t fantastic, but audio is better than with any of the other dock-connector models we tested. That said, sound quality isn’t as important with most speaker docks as with a traditional home stereo or separate speakers, because speaker docks themselves don’t generally offer good enough sound quality for a Bluetooth connection to be the limiting factor. (When I connected the BT30 to my home stereo, the BT30’s sound quality couldn’t match that of our top pick. But when I connected both to my test speaker docks, the difference wasn’t noticeable.)
The BT30’s range was also superior to that of the other three dock-connector models we tested. In fact, I couldn’t find a spot in my apartment that the BT30 failed to cover, and in our outdoor test, the BT30 managed 78 feet unobstructed and 67 feet obstructed—amazing range given that the BT30 lacks an external antenna. Other dock-connector models had much shorter outdoor ranges, with indoor performance similar to that of our overall top pick from StarTech.
There are a few important compatibility caveats here. If you have a very old speaker dock that uses Firewire charging pins on the dock connector—you’ll know this is the case if your speaker dock won’t charge a recent (3G or later) dock-connector–bearing iPhone—you’ll need a charging adapter such as the Scosche Passport to power the Samson adapter.
Some recent speaker docks and some older more-expensive docks won’t work with the BT30 (or any of the dock-connector receivers we tested) because they’re designed to receive a digital signal from an iPod or iPhone’s dock connector, instead of an analog one; all of the dock-connector Bluetooth receivers we tested need an analog audio signal. (Several manufacturers have good—and broadly applicable—compatibility lists, including Layen and CableJive.) To add Bluetooth to one of these digital-signal speaker docks, you’d need to use one of our non-dock picks and connect an audio cable from that receiver’s analog output to the aux-in port on your speaker dock.
What about AirPlay? Or Sonos? Or … ?
You have other options for streaming your music wirelessly, but if simplicity, compatibility, and price are your priorities, nothing beats Bluetooth.
Apple’s AirPlay, which lets you stream audio (and video) over Wi-Fi, is great, and I’ve used it almost daily since its debut more than a decade ago (when it was called AirTunes). Wi-Fi’s greater bandwidth compared with Bluetooth means that music can be transmitted using lossless encoding, so AirPlay adds no compression artifacts. Range is dependent only on the range of your Wi-Fi network, and when using a computer (but not an iOS device) as your audio source, you can stream audio to multiple AirPlay receivers simultaneously. However, Apple’s AirPlay receivers—the AirPort Express and the Apple TV—start at roughly $100; AirPlay is supported only on Apple devices (though third-party software options exist for other platforms); and AirPlay can be more complex to configure initially. (We’ve tested several third-party AirPlay receivers, but none have been anywhere near as easy to use or as reliable as Apple’s.) Compared with AirPlay, Bluetooth is less expensive, is easier to set up, and works with any Bluetooth device.
Sonos, our pick for the best whole-home audio system, is the best option if you’re setting up a more-ambitious, multiroom home audio system. But Sonos speakers start at about $200 (with stand-alone receivers costing about $350); using Sonos is a bit more complex than “turn on the speaker and play a song on your phone”; and a Sonos system supports only certain streaming services. Bluetooth works with any app or Bluetooth-enabled device, and it’s much less expensive.
Google’s Chromecast Audio is a compact music receiver that supports direct playback of sources such as Spotify, Pandora, and Google Play Music. Although it doesn’t function identically to a Bluetooth receiver, its support for direct Internet streaming, without the need for a smartphone, tablet, or computer as the playback source, makes it another option for inexpensively adding wireless music playback to existing speakers or stereo systems. However, similar to Sonos, it lacks Bluetooth and AirPlay’s support for streaming audio from any app to your speakers, unless you’re using an Android device.
If you want to easily and inexpensively stream audio to a single set of existing speakers, from pretty much any device and any app, Bluetooth is the way to go.
About Bluetooth pairing and connections
When using Bluetooth-audio devices, you’ll hear talk of “pairing” and “connecting.” Pairing is the initial configuration process that associates two devices (in this case, your smartphone, tablet, or computer and a Bluetooth receiver) so that they can communicate. Once you’ve paired the devices, they remain paired, even if you turn one of them off or if they’re out of range of each other. You should have to pair those devices only once.
Connecting refers to establishing an active wireless connection between two paired devices. When you turn one device off, or move one out of range of the other, the two disconnect in order to conserve energy and to free each other for connecting to other devices, but you can easily reconnect them when needed—disconnecting does not affect the pairing between two devices. However, unpairing two devices means they’ll no longer connect unless they go through the pairing process again.
Some receivers will automatically reconnect to a paired source when within range, while others require you to manually reconnect through your device’s Bluetooth settings—the exact behavior depends on how the manufacturer designed the receiver to function.
What to look forward to
The Bose NFC-Enabled Wireless Bluetooth Music Receiver looks like a strong competitor, but we couldn’t get our hands on a test unit in time for this guide, and the model has disappeared from the company’s website. If it ends up still being in production, we’ll test it for an update to this guide.
The Layen i-Dock Bluetooth Receiver is a 30-pin dock-connector receiver that includes aptX support. We hope to test it to see if it improves on the Samson BT30’s audio performance.
In general, we’re hoping to see future models combine the high-quality audio of our top picks with robust support for handling multiple devices. We’d love to see the Moto Stream’s support for five devices combined with the audio quality of our top picks. Similarly, we’d love to see more products offer the Audioengine B1’s incredible range, but at lower prices. Apple claims to set new standards for Bluetooth audio-device integration and multi-device support with its AirPods and W1 chip; we hope to see this level of convenience and reliability in future devices.
In the longer term, newer technologies such as WiFi Direct, 802.11ad, and Miracast may offer higher-bandwidth, more versatile streaming options—but it will be a long time before any of them can offer the ubiquity, compatibility, and price of Bluetooth solutions.
The Satechi Bluetooth Music Receiver and Nyrius Songo HiFi were originally going to be co-top picks, but they were discontinued while we were preparing this guide for production. They’re essentially identical to our top pick, so if you find one of them for a lower price than the StarTech and Monoprice models, it’s worth considering. Similarly, the discontinued Nyrius Songo Tap appears to be nearly identical to the Nyrius Songo HiFi, but with NFC pairing, so it’s worth considering if you find it at a low price.
Several other models we came across, besides the Satechi and Nyrius models just mentioned, appear to use the same circuitry as our overall top pick, although short of obtaining and taking apart samples of all of them, we can’t say for sure. Of these, we eliminated the NuForce BTR-100 because it’s about $15 more than the Monoprice and StarTech models. Several other models appear to be discontinued or otherwise unavailable: the Rocketfish Bluetooth Music Receiver, the Betasphere Audio Beacon HR-120 Bluetooth Link, and the Crystal Acoustics BluDAC. If you find any of these at a good price, they may be worth considering, but we haven’t tested them.
The Motorola Moto Stream bested every other receiver at maintaining simultaneous, active connections—up to five sources. Pairing and connecting devices worked seamlessly, and the Stream’s range covered my entire apartment. The device’s pretty, multicolored LEDs are also a nice addition, clearly communicating device-connection and playback status. Unfortunately, we found the Stream’s audio quality to be the worst of the non-dock models we tested, sounding flat and lifeless. (The Stream supports only the SBC codec for audio transmission, which may explain its mediocre sound quality.) It’s a shame the Stream’s audio performance wasn’t better, because the device offers otherwise excellent performance.
The Grace Digital 3Play supports three simultaneously connected devices, and while its sound quality beats that of the Moto Stream, our top picks sound significantly better. The 3Play includes an optical audio output and—interestingly—a battery for portable use (but no volume control for use with headphones). However, getting the 3Play to pair and connect to source devices was sometimes hit or miss, and its range was also the worst of the devices in this category, with dropouts occurring at the edge of my living room, about 20 feet from the receiver.
The Avantree Roxa packs all of its electronics into a unit that plugs directly into a wall outlet to reduce clutter and save space. It’s also relatively inexpensive, and it sports a 1A USB-power port for charging your phone or tablet (though much more slowly than a good USB wall charger). The Roxa supports two simultaneous device connections, but putting the unit in pairing mode requires unplugging the Roxa’s audio cable—a pain in any case, but especially so if the unit is concealed behind furniture, which is likely given the Roxa’s wall-plug design. Further, once we paired the Roxa with two sources, we had trouble getting the second source to connect reliably. The Roxa’s audio quality was comparable to that of the Grace Digital 3Play (meaning below that of our top home picks), though its indoor range was among the best of the models we tested, with no dropouts anywhere in my apartment; its outdoor range was also above average.
The Brightech BrightPlay Home appears to be identical to the Roxa, so we didn’t test it.
I previously tested an older version of the Belkin SongStream HD, but that model supported only the SBC codec, and it sounded dull and lifeless. Amazon lists a newer model, but Belkin didn’t respond to our requests for information on what, if any, changes the latest model incorporates.
The Kinivo BTR200 looked like a compelling alternative to our top picks, due to its inclusion of aptX support and an optical output. We received a sample for testing, but a company representative informed us shortly afterward that it had been discontinued.
The inexpensive HomeSpot NFC-Enabled Bluetooth Audio Receiver is one of the most popular models on Amazon. We briefly tested a seemingly identical model, the Outlaw Audio BTR-100, which performed relatively well, but we felt it was too expensive given its features and performance. While the HomeSpot’s price is attractive, our top picks offer digital-audio output, and—assuming the HomeSpot sounds similar to the Outlaw BTR-100—offer better sound quality for not much more money.
At the high end, we also tested the Arcam miniBlink. This model offers good audio quality, but the Audioengine B1 sounds better, and the Arcam lacks the B1’s digital output and extraordinary range. (The miniBlink’s range, indoors and out, is comparable to that of our top home pick.)
Arcam’s rBlink, which the company claims offers audio performance identical to that of the miniBlink, adds digital-audio output and an external antenna. However, with a price near $250, it’s much more expensive than the Audioengine B1 without offering any clear advantages.
For 30-pin dock models, the RadTech WaveJamr, Nyrius Songo Link, and CableJive dockBoss air all performed relatively similarly to one another, but none were ultimately as reliable in connecting and pairing to source devices as the Samson BT30, nor did they match the Samson’s range and sound quality.
We had high hopes for the 30-pin CoolStream Duo, thanks to an impressive 4.6-star rating over 3,200 Amazon reviews. The Duo’s sound quality is good, it supports two actively connected devices, and it sports a built-in rechargeable battery and a 3.5 mm audio-out jack, so you can also use it as a portable receiver or with a non-docking speaker system. However, we found using the Duo frustrating, as we often had to pull it out of the speaker dock and then insert it again to “wake it up,” and, because of its battery, turning off the speaker dock wouldn’t always break the Bluetooth connection with our paired device.