Docking iPod speaker systems are everywhere these days, and are probably the most common way of getting the music off your iPod or iPhone (and, in very few cases, your iPad).
Another way to play your audio through speakers is to connect a dock, such as the Dexim Single Dock Charger (www.iworldaustralia.com.au) or the Apple Universal Dock (apple.com.au/store), to a set of powered speakers or AV receiver. Or you can get really down ’n’ dirty and just connect a 3.5mm-to-3.5mm or 3.5mm-to-RCA cable between your iOS device and the audio system – this will play your music but won’t charge the battery.
But there’s a newer, funkier way to do things. It’s a breed of Bluetooth audio receivers that plug into your music system and let you play your music wirelessly from about 10m away. This arrangement has many advantages.
One is that you can have the source device next to you, acting as both player and ‘remote control’. This means you don’t have to get off the couch to change the music or volume, or rely on a remote control while straining to see the screen on your iPod or iPhone. Another advantage is that most docks and docking speaker systems are limited to iPhones and iPods (sorry, iPad), whereas these music receivers can accept audio from any Bluetooth-enabled device. Yet another is that these units can be plugged into just about any audio system, from a small desktop job to an expensive home-theatre rig. This means you don’t have to buy a complete dock-and-speaker system. And these receivers are a pretty cheap alternative as well.
The uPlay is a black puck 6.5cm in diameter, with an On/Off/Pairing button on the side. Mains-powered, it connects to your speaker system via a supplied cable with a 3.5mm jack on the end. A 3.5mm-to-RCA splitter cable is supplied for higher-end systems. The cables and plugs are top quality, as you’d expect from QED, a specialist cable manufacturer.
Connecting your IPhone or iPad is pretty simple. You press the side button on the uPlay and wait for the green light to blink. Then you turn on Bluetooth on your iOS device (Settings > General > Bluetooth) and wait for ‘QED uPlay’ to appear as a device. Click on it and the two devices will pair. There’s even no need to enter the default PIN of 000.
That’s it. Now any sounds from your iPhone, iPod or iPad will play through your speaker system.
If you want the audio to revert to your iPhone speakers, there’s no need to break the Bluetooth connection. On the iPod app screen is a blue rectangle-and-triangle icon; tapping this lets you choose the output device.
Connecting a Mac is a little harder. Go to System Preferences > Bluetooth and click on the ‘+’ button at the bottom left – this will bring up the Bluetooth Setup Assistant. (Another way to do this is to go to the Bluetooth icon in the Menu Bar and click on ‘Set Up Bluetooth Device’.)
QED uPlay will appear as a device. Click it, then click Continue and the two devices will pair. Then click on the Bluetooth icon in the Menu Bar and, in the contextual menu that appears, go to QED uPlay > Use As Audio Device.
Up to four devices can be paired with the uPlay at any time, but one connection must be broken before another can be made.
One thing I found irritating about the uPlay was that, in my testing, trying to connect a device for a second time would fail nine times out of 10. This meant I had to tell the source device to forget the uPlay, then pair it again.
Sound-wise, the quality of the audio playing through the uPlay was very good, though very slightly muffled when compared to playing it through a hard-wired dock. The Bluetooth connection proved to be robust for iOS devices, but for some reason the Mac signals suffered from occasional interference.
Belkin Bluetooth Music Receiver
The Belkin is a small, black box about 4.5cm square and 2cm high.
As soon as the unit is plugged in to mains power, a light flashes once to show it’s ready to be paired. Like the uPlay, the Belkin didn’t require a PIN code to connect (though the manual specifies this as a step). All the connection steps and operation for iOS devices and Macs are the same as explained for the uPlay.
One advantage the Belkin has, though, is that it never requires buttons to be pressed to activate the pairing process – once you’ve broken the Bluetooth connection from one device, the Belkin is ready to be paired to the next.
And another great advantage is that, in my testing, I never once had to tell any source devices to forget the Belkin as I did with the uPlay.
Audio quality was pretty much on a par with the uPlay – there’s a slight loss of detail over a docked system, but you wouldn’t really notice it unless you compare the two side-by-side, as I did. Otherwise, the sound is really as good as your audio system will allow.
Australian Macworld’s buying advice
The audio quality might suffer a bit when transmitted over Bluetooth, and you need to remember to turn Bluetooth off on your iOS device to preserve battery life, but the convenience of these audio receivers far outweighs the disadvantages. Both are very good, but the Belkin edges out the QED in terms of ease of use and price. C