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Bluetooth vs. AirPlay: Which Is Better?

Bluetooth and AirPlay are competing wireless audio technologies that each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Which one do you prefer?


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Sinclair Audio’s WBT50 speakers are among a growing number of speakers using Bluetooth as its wireless audio transmission technology.

Is Bluetooth vs. AirPlay the audio version of DVD vs. Blu-ray or plasma vs. LCD?  Some think so.

These two competing wireless technologies for transmitting audio in a single-room application are both gaining steam in the market with no signs of slowing down. It doesn’t appear as though one technology has a decided edge over the other either. In a recent CE Pro webinar on wireless technologies, a poll of the readers was split about 50/50.

From an overly simplistic view, here are several pros and cons for each technology.

Bluetooth

  • Is more common. It works with more devices including both Android and Apple devices.
  • Requires direct range for transmission. Reviewers say 20 feet is a good distance, even though some tout as much as 33 feet.
  • Is improving its reputation. When people initially think “Bluetooth” they think of telephone earpieces. But its reputation for poor quality is going away. The new aptX codec has a lot to do with that. Besides, can your clients really hear the difference in the audio compression?
  • Is more portable because it works without a Wi-Fi network in place.
  • Is less expensive primarily because the speaker manufacturer is not required to pay the per-product Apple licensing fee.
AirPlay
  • Does an excellent job of tracking metadata for an improved user experience.
  • Works over Wi-Fi networks, which are ubiquitous in many households today. It also means it has a much broader distribution range in the home than Bluetooth.
  • Uses high-quality audio compression with AAC files.
  • Only works with Apple iDevices and computers.
  • Allows you to set volume levels for individual speakers via iTunes.
  • Is more expensive speakers because the speaker manufacturers is required to pay the aforementioned per-product Apple licensing fee. One audio review website estimates AirPlay licensing adds $100 to the price of a speaker.

Which one do you use and why?





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Article Topics

Blogs · Audio · Wireless A/V · All topics

About the Author

Jason Knott, Editor, CE Pro
Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990. He joined EH Publishing in 2000, and before that served as publisher and editor of Security Sales, a leading magazine for the security industry. He served as chairman of the Security Industry Association’s Education Committee from 2000-2004 and sat on the board of that association from 1998-2002. He is also a former board member of the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation. He is currently a member of the CEDIA Education Action Team for Electronic Systems Business. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California.

4 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Steve C  on  02/05  at  11:47 AM

Hi Jason,

A couple of the points of clarification on AirPlay:

1) AirPlay doesn’t only use high-quality compression with AAC; the source files can be uncompressed Apple Lossless, or even WAV or AIFF. The AirPlay transport is uncompressed 44.1khz 16-bit audio, so a customer can have his/her entire CD collection ripped, and have full CD-quality playback - even as a source on a high-end system. AirPlay isn’t just for “speakers”.

2) AirPlay does NOT only work with iOS devices and Macs. There are a wide variety of third party software solutions for AirPlay support on Macs, Windows and Linux computers, and Android phones and tablets. An XBMC media server can even act as an AirPlay receiver.

3) For clarification, AirPlay “licensing” does not add $100 to the price of a speaker. Licensing is just $4/unit. The licensing, hardware, R&D, marketing, etc. is said to add $100 at retail. Bluetooth is royalty free, but all the other implementation most certainly are not.

Regards,
SC

Posted by Steve C  on  02/05  at  12:30 PM

One other key difference between Bluetooth and AirPlay: AirPlay can be one-to-one, one-to-many, or many-to-many, each with discrete volume, enabling what amounts to a very affordable multi-zone audio/video distribution system.

Posted by cent  on  02/05  at  06:26 PM

Who the hell wrote this article? It read like Jason tapped it out while sitting on the toilet.

When was there ever a ‘DVD vs BluRay’ argument? Do you mean HD-DVD vs BluRay?

As mentioned above, AirPlay is built into a whack of devices, not just speakers docks.

Posted by nate  on  02/06  at  08:45 AM

Who wrote this article?  Incorrect information and terrible product comparison…....in the words of Homer Simpson…..BOOOORRRRRRING

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