It started with a whisper—initially as the technology that made it possible for millions to wander around in public appearing to be talking to themselves as if they had lost their minds. As we know now, these great hordes of apparent nit-wits were simply communicating with their BFFs by way of a Bluetooth wireless earpiece paired to the their mobile phones.
Over the last half-dozen years, Bluetooth enabled products have begun showing up everywhere—including pro audio. First, there was Bluetooth equipped loud speaker, which touted the ability to receive audio wirelessly from a laptop. But there’s a problem with this. Most DJs use some type of processing gear (such as a multi-band EQ or Compressor/Limiter) or at least have a mixer between their computer and the speakers. Unless the mixer is equipped to talk Bluetooth, you still gotta have cables.
On my list of “recent new products to talk” about is the rechargeable “BAT” from ALTO Professional. This $49 device is essentially a Bluetooth receiver attached to a male XLR connector. Turn the lights down, pour some wine, and leave one with the female input on your mixer and you’ll be able to send audio from your mobile device or computer wirelessly to that channel on the mixer. ALTO also suggests that you could connect one directly to each of your powered speakers and then stream audio wirelessly from computer to your mains—which would bypass any EQ or processing gear—but theoretically would work. The big question, of course, is “What’s the range?”
That all depends on what’s doing the transmitting. Essentially, there are three classes of Bluetooth: Class 1 has a range of up to 325 feet, comparable to that of an 802.11b WLAN device. Class 1 is typically found only in devices with lots of available power, such as desktop and laptop computers. While I have not personally tested one of these ALTO devices, it should perform sans glitches when used in either of the scenarios described above, with a laptop or desktop. More Info on Bluetooth classification.
When you drill down to devices such as iPhones and iPads (which use Bluetooth 2.0+EDR), you’re looking at a range that maxes out at around 33 feet.
Over this past summer I had several opportunities to evaluate two Bluetooth enabled products: The Mackie ProDX8 mixer and the Lucas Nano 600 from HK. Both of these are equipped to a) receive audio wirelessly and b) be controlled via Bluetooth. The iPad and iPhone used for my evaluations are both from the latest generation. As mentioned in the review of the ProDX8, being able to operate the mixer remotely using the iPad interface not only reduced the amount of gear visible to the audience, but also provided basic signal processing options. With the ProDX8, the Bluetooth connection was stable within 25’ of the mixer base most of the time. Unfortunately, when it did lose connection, it was not always easy to reestablish the pairing (see the review).
A similar problem was found with the Lucas Nano 600. While this unit is exceptional as “ceremony system” for wedding DJs, you can’t wander far from the unit when using the Bluetooth mixer app. As with the Mackie, the interface provides the control necessary for several mics and music sources, but step out side the range and all bets are off. The HK app does provide a signal strength meter, which at least let’s you know when you are about to lose connection.
One thing that did help the situation for both units was resetting the idevices network settings. To do this, (From techradar.com) Go to Settings > General > Reset > Reset Network Settings. It’s the third option down. You’ll want to avoid Reset All Settings and Erase All Content and Settings.
So IMHO, Bluetooth offers some practical usefulness for DJs and others in the sound biz. And I’m glad to see new products exploring the possibilities. As for now (based on the reliability issues mentioned) I’m not ready to use it in place of the cables that run from the audio source to the powered speakers. Plus, this would bypass my processor rack, and I love my processor rack. That said, I’m sure there’s a Bluetooth enabled mixer on the way (if it doesn’t already exist) that will provide the power and reliable to make this a reality.
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