A few months back (March 2004) Bluetake was showing a new range of audio devices based on Bluetooth technology during the CeBIT 2004 in Hannover. One of the products was the i-Phono Hi-Fi Stereo Bluetooth headset, which was made available in July 2004 (read our review). The second, available now from August 2004 is the Hi-Phono Audio Station Kit. I was eagerly waiting for this product to come into the market, and it is now here, and I've received one for review.
The beauty of this new product is that I found inside the box everything I needed to connect different devices to a sound system. I was able to send audio from my desktop to my Denon DTS Stereo receiver, send audio from my Pocket PC directly to a pair of speakers, send audio from my Pocket PC to my stereo receiver, and even send audio from the stereo receiver to my rear speakers in the lounge. It's indeed a very versatile product!
To better understand how we can do all this with three boxes and a few cables, you have to take a look in the following few pictures.
The box contents
The main components: transceiver, receiver and amplifier
The cables (from top): speaker cables, RCA cable, RCA male to 3.5 female, 3.5 to RCA, speaker out, RCA
With this combination of components and cables I managed to connect different devices around the house, and I'll explain what I've used in each case. But first let's see each component.
The kit comes with a BT460 Transceiver, which we'll connect to the source of sound, be it a computer, Pocket PC, Apple iPod, or the stereo receiver. This transceiver will receive the output from this source, and send the sound to the paired receiver, using Bluetooth A2DP (Advance Audio Distribution Profile).
Next is the BT460 Receiver. This device will receive the signals from the paired transceiver and output it to RCA connectors. You can plug this receive to the line input on the destination of the sound. Depending on the intended use, you can connect the other device directly to the RCA output, or cascade the next component.
The last component is the BT470 mini-amplifier. If the destination happens to be a pair of speakers, you'll need a little bit more power than just the RCA output from the receiver to drive them. In this case you can connect the RCA outputs from the receiver into the RCA inputs on this mini-amplifier, and connect the speakers to the appropriate Left-Right connectors on the side of the unit. This mini-amplifier has 20Wx2 output power.
All components have an aluminium finish, and the kit comes with two aluminium stands if I wanted to have the devices on a stand up position. Both the BT460 Transceiver and Receiver come with an external antenna.
In terms of power, the three components require external power. To some users that would think that having rechargeable batteries is a good idea, I'd like to remind you that in some cases these components may be tucked in not so easy to access places in your house. In this case having to recharge these devices would not be a good option.
The Bluetooth radios are both Class 1, which means a 100m range, but Bluetake says on their documentation that 50m is the expected range. This is pretty good, although in my tests I only used it up to 10m due to the size of my house (and the availability of power plugs).
The BT460 Transceiver and BT460 Receiver look very similar, except for the label
The back of the BT470 mini-amplifier, showing the RCA inputs, volume and on/off switch
The side of the BT470 mini-amplifier, showing the connectors for speakers
The BT460 Transceiver and BT460 Receiver on supplied stands
Now let's see some use cases. The Bluetooth Hi-Fi Audio Station Kit is very flexible, but you'll need to select the correct combination of cables and components for your use. Great that all the cables I needed were available in the box!
My first use was to connect my Pocket PC (or desktop) to my stereo receiver. To this end I've used the 3.5 to RCA cable connecting the Pocket PC to the BT460 Transceiver. I then used the RCA cable out of the BT460 receiver into my Denon DTS Stereo Receiver's Line In (CD). With this setup (see below), I was able to have my Pocket PC with me, select the playlist I wanted to listen from Pocket Windows Media Player and have the sound output going to my lounge speakers. As an alternative, I also managed to drive a pair of speakers directly from my Pocket PC, without going through the stereo receiver, by simply adding the BT470 mini-amplifier to the configuration, and connecting the speakers to the mini-amplifier's speaker connections. Check the next use for more instructions on this.
Using the supplied 3.5 to RCA cable to connect the Pocket PC to the BT460 transceiver
The BT460 Receiver, passing the signals from my Pocket PC to my DTS stereo receiver
What I really wanted to try next was to get rid of a couple of speaker cables running around the walls in the lounge, to my rear (surround) speakers. I accomplished that by adding the Audio Station Kit to my surround configuration. First I plugged the Surround Speaker Out (both left and right) using the speaker out cable to the BT460 Transceiver. I then used one RCA cable to connect the BT470 mini-amplifier to the BT460 Receiver. The BT470 will supply power to drive the surround speakers. Last I connected the speakers to the BT470 mini-amplifier. Both components were placed behind the couch, hiding from public view.
After powering the devices, I pushed a "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" DTS copy into the DVD player, and sat back. I was enjoying the movie without having the cables going around the whole lounge! Now, I thought this was very cool.
Connecting tht BT460 Transceiver: note the thin black cables in the centre, corresponding to the surround speakers
The BT470 mini-amplifier connected to the BT460 Receiver
Connecting the surround speakers to the BT470 mini-amplifier
Of course these are only two examples, where the Audio Station Kit was used to relay signals into a receiver (the Pocket PC to stereo receiver connection), and to distribute signals to speakers (the DTS stereo receiver to speakers connection). I believe these two examples show how versatile this product is. With the number of cables supplied it's possible to connect a variety of different devices, and I can imagine a really cool Windows Media PC sending audio out to a stereo receiver, and perhaps another kit being used to distribute the sound to the speakers.
In terms of performance, I think the DTS movie playback is probably the most demanding situation. The sound coming out of my surround speakers was really good, and I only had to be carefull to "calibrate" it right. The way I did it was to inject the test tone into the speakers, sit in the sweet spot for my lounge and then adjust the BT470 mini-amplifier volume switch to have the surround speakers with the correct volume. You may also have to tweak the surround settings a little. According to a note in the manual, the Bluetooth Audio Station Kit adds a 0.1 second delay to the signal. Perhaps it wasn't enough for me to perceive this, but some serious audiophiles will note it. Of course good surround sound systems have menu options that allow a fine tunning of rear speakers delay.
A very interesting application when using the kit is the possibility of using the Bluetake i-Phono Hi-Fi Stereo Headsets to connect to the BT460 Transceiver, since they all use the same A2DP profile. Pairing is simple, since it's a one button only operation, and there's no codes to enter. Simply place one of the devices in Pairing mode, and when you press the button on the second device they'll automatically pair. This way you can use Bluetooth to drive the speaker or the headphones. Your choice.
A good thing about the design is that Bluetake added a very small blue led to indicate activity. In my case, the BT460 Transceiver is behind a dark glass window, and the other components behind the couch, so this is not even a problem. But I know of some setups where the components (DVD and stereo receiver) are actually exposed. In this case a bright blue LED would be inconvenient. Well done, Bluetake.