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Kevin Hunt - The Electronic Jungle
The Electronic Jungle
3:11 PM EST, January 11, 2013
Apple's ubiquitous 30-pin connector, replaced by the svelte eight-pin Lightning, was among the notable technological deaths of 2012.
It's no comfort to the thousands of suddenly obsolete iPhone, iPad and iPod accessories that Apple offered a $29 adapter as a tenuous lifeline into the new year.
But there's another way to keep the old docks singing, especially for multitaskers who can't let their iDevice go: The now-prominent legion of Bluetooth adapters that send signals wirelessly from any iDevice, new or old, to any speaker dock.
The Harman Kardon BTA 10 ($59) is probably feeling pretty good about 2013. This little adapter, using Harman Kardon's TrueStream version of Bluetooth, is a tiny square only slightly bigger than a circa mid-2012 iPod Nano. It's certainly portable, though always anchored by a bulky power supply.
Once plugged in, it is ready to be discovered by any Bluetooth-enabled device; that's not just Apple's, but any Android phone or tablet too. With its 3.5-millimeter audio connector and included cables, it connects to any audio system in the house.
A wireless connection, of course, frees an iPhone or other portable device from a dock. So while the music is streaming, you can clean out your inbox or even get some work done.
Bluetooth's compression algorithms always diminish sound quality, but it would take a sharp pair of ears to detect a difference between a docked iPhone and an iPhone streaming a premium music service like Slacker with the BTA 10. When my iPhone and the BTA 10 were in the same room, audio signals never once paused or dropped out. But pushing the Bluetooth limits, 30 feet, routinely resulted in a loss of signal.
Because of its ball-and-chain power supply, the BTA 10 will likely be set up once and left in a single location. It also uses almost no power ( 0.4 watts in my tests) when in use, and none when not receiving a signal.
For the Apple household newly introduced to Lightning, it's an olive branch to a angry bunch of 30-pin accessories.
JBL Micro Wireless
The type of portable Bluetooth speaker to avoid — fits in a palm, has only one tiny driver and costs less than $60 — almost perfectly describes JBL's Micro Wireless.
A single listen, however, shows the Micro Wireless is an exception. It distorts at higher volumes like most ultracompact speakers, and it is, in reality, a monophonic speaker with a 1.5-inch-diameter driver secured in a plastic chassis, that, laid flat, measures about 3 inches wide and less than 2 inches tall.
It also weighs 4.5 ounces, or slightly more than the suggested single serving of meat by the Food and Drug Administration.
It doesn't have a microphone, either, so it cannot function as a speakerphone. Yet at moderate volume the Micro Wireless stands out among flyweight, under-$60 portables. It pairs with a portable device or laptop with the extended push of its on-off button, situated on the side panel next to the volume control.
The Micro Wireless is the wireless adaptation of JBL's $39 Micro II, but it also has a wired option, a 12-inch-long cable with a 3.5-millimeter connector that wraps around the speaker. A lithium-ion battery, charged via a mini-USB cable, yields about five hours of playing time.
With the right music (it will not like hard-core rock or excessively bass-heavy rap) at the right volume, the Micro Wireless sounds relaxed, not tinny, with a surprising amount of low frequency because of its ported design.
The Micro Wireless, easily attached to backpack or carabiner, is small enough and light enough to go anywhere. It's also not bad in the home, as a work partner or even as a bathroom speaker.
It's definitely not a portable Bluetooth speaker to avoid.
What: Harman Kardon BTA 10 Bluetooth adapter
Price: $59, harmankardon.com
Hot: Compact, energy-efficient means to send wireless music from a portable device to an audio system.
Not: Unlike Apple's AirPlay, Bluetooth limits distance and fidelity of wireless streaming.
What: JBL Micro Wireless portable
Price: $59, jbl.com
Hot: Good sound for its size, price.
Not: Distorts at high volume. Monophonic sound further limited by size. For bigger sound and speakerphone features, try Logitech's UE Mobile Boombox ($100, logitech.com/ue).
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