We predict that this is going to be the year when Bluetooth aptX moves fully into the audio spotlight. This is the wireless technology that promises to deliver wireless CD quality sound from your portable devices to your home Hi-Fi system, and there are a bunch of products already winging their way down the wire towards your wallet as we speak. We’re not talking cheap docks here, these are products which provide far better audio quality than we’re currently used to, which is going to create some real challenges to those of us with dodgy resolution MP3 collections.
These new products won’t suffer from the phasing, glitchy audio we’re used to with standard Bluetooth, and they’ll pair instantly and properly too. You’ll need an aptX compatible phone to take advantage of the low latency and high quality sound though, so be prepared to upgrade your ancient handset for a new model if you want the full benefits. We have just been looking at one of the first off the blocks, the Mass Fidelity Relay, a Canadian designed box which comes from a company with full-on audiophile credentials.
First impressions of the $200 product are very positive. It’s packaged beautifully and with care and attention, and you can tell from the design and contents that this is not aimed at the low end device market. The user manual is brief and yet comprehensive, and the set up is refreshingly easy. Just plug the supplied cables into your Hi-Fi system, power it up and pair with your device of choice.
We were up and running in a little over 2 minutes. The next thing to notice is the audio quality, which is excellent for Bluetooth. Remember there’s no WiFi needed, it’s just a Bluetooth connect streaming the audio. Even without using aptX you can tell that the BT radio is high quality. The engineers also apparently worked very hard to reduce the noise levels on the unit (around 30% less than rival products) and according to company founder Ben Webster, when they did a comparison recently between the Relay and a €15,000 CD/DAC combo, the difference between the CD and the Relay streaming a WAV file from an iPhone using aptX was almost negligible. That’s impressive.
The box also offers instant switch over from multiple devices, which the company calls Party Pairing. This means you can have different phones or tablets streaming in sequence in seconds, as long as you remember you’ve got to unpair the preceding device first. We found it very useful for switching between a laptop and phone to listen to different content. You can also of course listen to online services like Spotify and Pandora in high quality via your phone/tablet, an Internet connection and the Relay connected Hi-Fi. Clever stuff.
We were also impressed by the solid wireless range of the unit, which kept up full streaming to the limits of the 10 meter perimeter, even with a thickish wall in the way. If you’re using this sort of product seriously, one thing you don’t want is a weak antenna and patchy range.
As we said earlier, there’s going to be a lot of competition for this market soon, as the audio people jump on the bandwagon, and already there are aptX speakers from Samsung, and competing boxes from Archam and Keene out on sale. We haven’t had time to look at them all, but from this hands on experience it looks as though the conversion of mobile devices into respectable audio machines is about to reach critical mass.
The real audiophiles will doubtless already be reaching for their .WAV file conversion kits, while for the rest of us, listening to Spotify with a decent audio footprint could even change our perception of what music should sound like in general. If you’re looking for a way to tie your mobile devices, the Internet and your Hi-Fi together which delivers top quality audio results, you should definitely start your evaluation with this product.
Input Power 5 Volt DC 1A
Output Power 2 Volt RMS
Compatible Power Systems 110-240 Volt
D/A Converter Burr Brown 5102
Frequency Response 10Hz-20kHz
Bluetooth® Module aptX® enabled CSR module
Bluetooth® Range 10 m
Enclosure Machined aluminum
Dimensions 115x100x36 mm (LxWxH)
Weight 380 g
White LED On
Red LED Standby
Price: $200 / £179