Here, at the Pogue Purely Hypothetical High-Tech Mutual Fund, we recognize that although you can’t predict the future of technology, a few calls are easy to make. If you hadn’t noticed, wires are disappearing at an alarming clip. If you research the whole wire-elimination industry long enough, you eventually run across some less-famous instances of cable elimination. There exists, for example, a little-known product category known as the two-way Bluetooth audio gateway, which includes the Motorola DC800 Bluetooth Home Stereo Adapter (about $60) and the new Kyocera Bluetooth Music Gateway ($80).
The Bluetooth audio gateways, such as the Motorola and the Kyocera, exploit one of the most interesting profiles. It’s called A2DP, short for Audio Distribution Profile. What it means is wireless stereo and wireless audio. In a two-way Bluetooth audio gateway, it makes possible some intriguing possibilities.
No. 1: You’ve got a bunch of music on your cellphone (a growing number of cellphones are also A2DP-compatible music players). But a cellphone’s speaker has all the oomph of a gnat humming. So, you get a Bluetooth audio gateway and connect it to your home stereo system. Now, when your cellphone plays music, you hear it blasting out in full 400 watt glory from the stereo.
No. 2: You’ve got an iPod. You’re the host of a party. Asking your guests to pass around the earbuds is a little awkward. So here again, you want your iPod’s music to come out of your home-stereo speakers. Sure, you could buy one of the 34 trillion iPod stereo-system adapters.
But if a Bluetooth gateway is connected to your stereo, you can carry the iPod around with you, using it to change the volume of your party tunes, pause, change playlists and so on—as though it’s a glorified remote control.
The iPod, by itself, doesn’t transmit Bluetooth audio, so this trick involves equipping it with a tiny transmitter. Kyocera’s own, very tiny Wireless Audio Adapter (about $25) plugs into the iPod’s headphone jack and flings the audio signal over to your Bluetooth gateway, which pumps it into your stereo system. The adapter doesn’t require an iPod; it can also transmit the audio from any other audio source: music player, laptop or whatever.
No. 3: The designation “two way” in the category name is what separates the Motorola and Kyocera gadgets from one-way Bluetooth audio gateways made by Sony, Nokia and others. “Two way” indicates that a gateway can dish out Bluetooth as well as take it. The idea is that you can listen to rich stereo sound from your stereo or TV through headphones, without disturbing the sleeping baby.
Your gateway, which you’ve connected to the TV or stereo, can transmit audio wirelessly to any Bluetooth stereo headphones (A2DP-compatible, of course), such as Motorola’s BT820, with the longer Bluetooth range—100ft or more. A2DP may have the world’s most user-hostile name, but man, does it sound good.
Most Bluetooth headphones come with play/pause, volume and next track/previous track controls right on the earcups, so once again you’re spared the exhausting walk across the living room to adjust the music.
There is a fourth Bluetooth music possibility, by the way, that doesn’t require any middleman Bluetooth gateway box. That’s when you have an A2DP-compatible cellphone playing music straight into your Bluetooth headphones.
The Motorola is a plastic box nearly the size of a sandwich; the Kyocera is the size of a big brownie. Each plugs into a power outlet and into your stereo, using standard red-and-white RCA cables.
With Bluetooth, the first step is always the hardest. That’s when you pair the gateway with the cellphone, the transmitter or the headphones. Each gateway has only a single button on it, which is supposed to serve all functions, including on/off and pairing.
Both instruction booklets are terse, but at least Motorola’s specify not just when to press which button, but also the on/off status of each gadget you’re pairing. I kept trying to pair the Kyocera gateway with the wireless adapter until I was blue in the tooth.
Finally, a company rep informed me—as the instructions had not—that the adapter must be turned off at the outset. Even then, the pairing didn’t work until I scouted around for other Bluetooth gear. Sure enough: the Kyocera gateway had been trying to cozy up to my Bluetooth-equipped laptop instead of the audio adapter.
Once the pairing is successful, though—once the light on the gateway stops flashing — the fun begins. You can stroll through your house or your office, using your cellphone or iPod as a glorified remote control for your stereo system. Alternatively, you can listen to your TV or stereo at full blast through your Bluetooth headphones, unencumbered by wires or cables, and without disturbing anyone else in your house, library or place of worship.
The Motorola DC800 and Kyocera Bluetooth Audio Gateway are essentially identical, so you may as well get the Motorola unit with its lower price and better user manual. If you have an iPod or another non-Bluetooth-blessed audio source, you’ll need that great little Kyocera audio transmitter adapter.
Either way, you’ll now be untethered from audio cables in both directions. And you’ll be able to sell your stock in audio wiring—and buy some in Bluetooth.