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Bluetooth Speakers Come of Age

Sound quality, features, styling hit the right notes

September 5, 2012 By John R. Quain
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Portable speakers were once an accessory afterthought. Audio fidelity was hardly a priority and one was lucky if the volume levels could fill a bathroom. But a new generation of Bluetooth speakers now offers vastly improved sound quality and features that will appeal to 20-something smart phone addicts and grizzled road warriors.

Originally designed for laptop and iPod owners looking to shed their headphones, compact wireless speakers also appeal to the socially minded smart phone owner who wants to share. And more smart phone owners are using their handsets to play and share music. Roughly 30 percent of smart phone users play music on their mobile devices, according to a recent Business Insider Intelligence report. The growing popularity of streaming music services such as Pandora, Spotify and Rdio also means that consumers are looking for better portable sound.

While there are dozens of cheap speakers available, this latest generation ($180 and up) offers improved audio clarity and features like wireless connections, speakerphonefunctions and related apps. Initially hampered by digital compression, the Bluetooth wireless component has also improved thanks to a new specification. It now rivals Apple's AirPlay. Bluetooth also has the advantage of being pervasive on smart phones and, unlike Apple's wireless solution, it doesn'trequire a Wi-Fi network. Any Bluetooth device within about 30 feet—including iPhones and iPads—can play music over these speakers.

Most of these models are designed for a bedroom, office or hotel room, but they compete against wired docking stations and larger models from the likes of Bose and iHome. The main attraction of these models is convenience, appealing to tablet and smart phone users who want simple solutions to bring music on the road with them. In fact, some owners even use the smaller portable Bluetooth models in their cars.

To showcase benefits and features of these Bluetooth speakers it's worth giving them display space next to headphone racks so that shoppers can audition these models. Consumers will be impressed by what they hear.

Audyssey Audio Dock, $399.99

Like a New Yorker with attitude, the Audyssey Audio Dock has muscle and moxie. Designed to stay at home, it kicks out more power with less distortion than portable models.

An example of docking stations that have gone wireless, this Audyssey model relies on Bluetooth but also has the advantage of a built-in iPod/iPhone docking cradle. An included remote gives owners control of their iTunes, but if buyers want the latest in Apple wireless features they'll have to opt for a different AirPlay-specific model, such as Audyssey's $299.99 Audio Dock Air. The desktop model also has a built-in microphone for making calls, which can be answered with a touch of the remote.


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