Bluetooth audio receivers have been around for decades. Primarily, they are being used for turning speakers into wireless speakers capable of receiving music from a portable device. In this post, I’m going to focus on audio receivers in particular. There are also some other Bluetooth dongles on the market which are designed for transmitting and receiving data. I am not going to talk about those types of receivers.
Typically you can find these types of audio receivers for less than $100. Some models such as the Bluetooth receivers at http://www.amphony.com/products/bluetooth-audio-receiver.htm have special features such as an integrated power amplifier. Also, more and more audio amplifier manufacturers are integrating Bluetooth into their products. Having Bluetooth, you can receive audio from a Bluetooth-enabled device. This can be quite practical. Typically, these amplifiers have a selector which either sets the input to one of the hard-wired audio inputs or the wireless.
Aside from Bluetooth, there are also other wireless protocols on the market. AirPlay is one of these standards. Some wireless speakers incorporate AirPlay although I haven’t personally seen any amplifier manufacturers rushing to incorporate this feature into their products. The main reason for this is the high cost of licensing the AirPlay protocol. However, I would expect in the near future to see some higher-and amplifiers which do have AirPlay built in.
It is important to consider the type of functionality when it comes to Bluetooth. Let me be a bit more specific. Bluetooth itself is a data transmission protocol. It was never designed specifically for sending audio. Therefore, the protocols which support Bluetooth audio are built on top of the basic Bluetooth protocol. The most commonly used format is the format used in Bluetooth 2.1. This format incorporates a compression mechanism which can take audio and reduce the data rate sufficiently in order to be able to be streamed via the wireless protocol.
Obviously, during the compression there will be some degradation in the audio fidelity. This also happens with other audio compression standard such as MP3 or AAC. However, the audio compression utilized in Bluetooth was designed to minimize those distortion artifacts. So typically when you stream compressed audio you will not notice the difference between the original audio and the audio that has been streamed via Bluetooth. The artifacts are usually smaller than the ones that are present in the original compressed audio.
However, if you plan on streaming uncompressed audio then I recommend using a more modern receiver such as a model that supports apt X. This protocol has been designed by a popular chipset manufacturer and supports higher bit rates.