Audioengine Announces a Bluetooth Receiver?

The new Audioengine B1 Bluetooth receiver comes with some excellent features that make it a stand-out.

Interesting.

That’s my basic first response to the new Audioengine B1.  Not “Yay,” just “Interesting.”  The B1 indicates the state of the market, I think, but it doesn’t excite me.  I mean, I have a D2 and a W3.  When would I use a B1?  And for what?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a died in the wool Audioengine fan since iHi-Fi is all about using computer audio to help people get the best music quality for the most affordable cost.  But I have written before about the inescapable music quality compromises that come in the bargain when you accept the convenience of Bluetooth.  Nothing has changed.   

See these previous posts on Bluetooth --

Does Bluetooth Really Work for Wireless Speakers?

WiFi or Bluetooth Speakers: Which do the Smart Money Get?

Bluetooth still underperforms with music because it was never intended to carry music of any quality.  Just ring tones, at best, and game sounds.  Yes, a high fidelity codec called AptX was developed as an afterthought.  But you don’t get AptX in the devices that have your music in them.  With AptX on only the receiving end, the whole shebang dumbs down to A2DP quality that sucks for music.  It’s that simple.  You get a potentially high-resolution channel carrying lossy music poorly, a short distance, across the room.

The coming shift to quality-over-convenience has not fulminated sufficiently to bloom yet.  The masses still don’t know what great sounding music sounds like so they don’t care and Bluetooth (without the AptX codec) ships in every portable device that is built.  Phone makers don’t care about music quality like they care about photo resolution.  AptX will never, ever make it to the transmitting side until high-res sound gets to be “a thing” like sharp photos got to be “a thing.”

I’m beginning to understand I’m an Auditory type in a world full of Visuals and undoubtedly in the minority.  I’m also just as visual as any Visual Type but also intensely auditory.  It’s the cross I bear.  Wrong planet, maybe.

At this point, the masses still listen to the collection of lossy downloads they paid the Mega Fruit a dollar a piece for.  Bluetooth is good enough for that.  But immediately my mind goes to “At a dollar a track they could buy an awful lot of fabulous digital music.”  Something bugs me about seeing people settle like that.  But it’s their apathy and I don’t have to buy into it.  I rebel over corporate greed and exploitation.  Next they will exploit people with 24 bits, I suppose.  So I say as I write this on my MacBook Pro.  Which means maybe music business, like war, makes strange bedfellows.

Audioengine is to be commended for adding a twist of flavor to the B1.  Now folks who want to accept the limitations of Bluetooth as a music channel can do that with an Audioengine device that compensates to some degree by up sampling to 24-bit playback depth.  Probably sounds somewhat better with that amount of error correction tacked on.  But upsampled music is not more like the original performance.  It just has some artificial sweetener added.  

Another worthwhile feature -- Bluetooth pairing has been made extremely simple and hassle-free.  Whew, that is definitely good news.  Pairing can otherwise be a nightmare with Bluetooth.

Since I don’t have my B1 review device yet I can’t comment yet on how it actually sounds.  Reputedly, it sounds better than other Bluetooth devices due to the distinguishing DAC enhancement.  As a business strategy, the B1 is as brilliant as can be, considering that using Bluetooth for music is a fundamental compromise accepting, once again, convenience over musical fidelity.  Bottom line, if it sounds good enough to you, that’s good enough for you.  Probably still good enough for the white earbud crowd in general.

Audioengine claims (and I willingly accept) that they have cleverly extended the range from to way too short to less too short, which is also a bonus and a selling point and a unique feature.  But their crowd pleaser B1 will never break out of the lossy neighborhood where it was born.

At the bottom line, this is kind of a moral dilemma for me.  Will I sleep well if I sell the B1?  At this point I just don’t know if I can make myself do all the work to post the catalog entry.  People who accept lesser music quality because it’s convenient are not my tribe so in that probably lies the answer.  I ruminate.

This is the first thing Audioengine has done that gives me the slightest pause.  Or maybe I should say the first thing they have built I would never listen to by choice.  How it washes over the longer term remains to be seen.  

Don’t fire me, Audioengine, I’m still your biggest fan.  I don’t blame you for making a smart business decision in the midst of industry pressure to use Bluetooth.  Just because I’m a rebellious moralist, I don’t expect my suppliers to be that way.  

Can you feel my pain?

One last thing.  If you get a B1, for Pete's sake, don't use it sitting on top your speaker.  From the standpoint of vibration control, that's a major faux pas.  You'll get better results if you put it almost anywhere else.  Keep it away from speakers to avoid sound distortion.

Or maybe you don't care.

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