Startech.com are a helpful company to know about — they seem to specialise in simple, helpful doodads that help you connect all of the bigger gadgets in your life together. If you ever think “I wonder if there’s a way to connect my X to my Y”, chances are good that someone at Startech already had the same thought and made a product to do just that.
Today’s review is a perfect case in point, as we’re looking at a doodad that answers the question “Can I connect to my wired speaker system / Hi-Fi via Bluetooth?” The answer is yes, and the doodad in question is the Bluetooth Audio Receiver with NFC (or BAR for short).
The way it works is pretty simple:
- Plug the 3.5mm, 2-channel RCA or optical audio cable into the BAR, and the other end into the speaker system you want to stream to over Bluetooth.
- Use NFC or manual Bluetooth pairing to connect your phone, tablet, or other Bluetooth-capable device, then play some music.
- There is no step 3.
Now that we know how it works, let’s take a closer look at the BAR’s specs and features.
Features & Specs
- Wolfson WM8524 DAC
- Bluetooth 2.0 w/ aptX support
- NFC pairing
- Inputs: 3.5mm jack, optical audio, RCA (via adapter)
- 300 mA power usage, via USB cable / AC adapter
- 84 x 77 x 26 mm, 54 grams
The BAR is a simple hunk of black plastic, similar in size and shape to a hockey puck. A single white LED flashes monotonously on the front. It blends in well with Hi-Fi and video equipment, and can easily be kept entirely hidden if required.
The back includes three ports: 3.5mm, optical (Toslink) and power.
The box contains the BAR, 3.5mm cable, RCA to 3.5mm adapter, NA/UK/EU power adapter, USB power cable and a user manual. Everything you could need, basically, except maybe a USB Bluetooth dongle for using the BAR with older laptops or PCs without Bluetooth.
We used the BAR at home for a period of two weeks, including a couple of parties and small get-togethers. Guests were very impressed with the ease of setup, particularly those with NFC-enabled Android phones (although most guests weren’t aware of NFC’s purpose beforehand). Tapping your phone on a little black box and getting music playing out of a speaker a few seconds later is pretty awesome.
For those with an iPhones or a OnePlus Two (sorry, Danielle), manual Bluetooth pairing was still quite rapid. I appreciated that Startech had gone to the trouble of naming their device in Bluetooth; I’ve tested far too many devices who identify themselves with nonsensical strings of hex.
Music quality was generally good; it was hard to tell a difference between the wired 3.5mm connection and the Bluetooth one (particularly with aptX). Range was sufficient as well, with connection issues only occurring when moving to the opposite end of the apartment.
We appreciated having multiple input options too; between the three ports all major Hi-Fi and speaker systems should be supported, even very old models. Being able to power the unit via USB was also helpful, although simply having a micro USB port would have been ideal.
In short, there’s not much to complain about with the BAR: it does its job simply and well.
The Bluetooth Audio Receiver with NFC is a wholly capable doodad. It justifies its relatively high cost through flexibility of inputs, supporting high quality Bluetooth streaming and ease of use. While are available that do largely the same thing, if you’re willing to spend a little extra you’ll definitely receive a better product as a result. If you have a beautiful set of speakers or a Hi-Fi system sitting around that you don’t use because it’s not convenient, this is the ideal solution.
- Quick and easy to install and use
- Good range of inputs and cables provided
- Bluetooth range and quality adequate
- Blends in well with other stereo equipment
- Expensive for a doodad of this nature
- Micro USB power would be preferable to an old-school circular plug