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Lifewire / Jason Schneider
Excellent sound quality
Impeccable wireless range & stability
Sleek, solid build
No smart features
Lack of customization
The cream of the crop in its category, the B1 trades any hint of modern smart features for a comprehensive suite of Bluetooth and sound quality elements.
The Audioengine brand, as a whole, is known widely for their professional speakers and audio equipment, so you’d expect pro-calibre quality in the B1 too, and it delivers. It’s a device aimed at two people: audiophiles who want the best analog audio treatment and top-notch compression codecs, and audio professionals. If you’re running a studio, you probably have studio monitor speakers, but if your clients want to quickly stream an audio example during a working session, having a high quality option that folds right into your pro setup (and doesn’t undercut the quality of your speakers) could be super-handy. Here’s how this thing breaks down.
The first thing you notice about this receiver is the visible and obvious antenna sticking out the front. This part of the build is there for a very functional purpose (we’ll get to that later), but it adds a distinctive aesthetic flair, because most Bluetooth receivers don’t have an antenna at all. Other than this, it’s pretty small and sleek.
Most of the chassis is brushed, slate grey metal. The front and back plates that contain all the I/O and controls are dark gray or straight black. The on/off button on the front doubles as the Blue LED indicator, and the AE logo is painted on in a soft white. This makes for a pretty futuristic look, more of a statement than the majority of the options in this category.
It’s weird to say about a Bluetooth receiver that will largely sit on a shelf for its lifetime, but we were very impressed with the build quality of the B1 when we unboxed it. Because most of the chassis is made of aluminum, it feels really solid with hardly any give. It weighs right around a pound, and that heftiness works to the device’s advantage because once you set it down on the firm rubber feet it stays in place.
The B1 gets top marks on build quality, a look and feel befitting its price.
Even the antenna is built of a thick, unbendable rubber material. The button is satisfyingly clicky, and the I/O hacks on the back felt perfectly stable, particularly with the high quality included cables. The B1 gets top marks on build quality, a look and feel befitting its price.
The B1 appeared on our Bluetooth lists as soon as we put it in pairing mode, great to see from a device that costs this much. With Bluetooth 5.0, you’ll have the most modern protocol at your disposal, but what’s really interesting here is the inclusion of the antenna alongside what AE is calling “careful antenna tuning”. This means you’ll get an advertised 100 feet out of range out of the device.
While this might seem excessive (who has a 100 foot room?), what we found nice about this is that we could beam music from two rooms over through thick concrete walls on Bluetooth with no problem. This is virtually unheard of for basic Bluetooth connectivity, and it was really amazing how well it work. Needless to say, you won’t need to worry about dropouts with this signal strength.
The controls on the device are pretty simple—literally one button on the front of the receiver. This is a welcome contrast to other premium options in the category, which tend to lean on bloated switch arrays and app connectivity.
The I/O available here is pretty solid, too. The B1 takes power via an included 5V micro USB input, and there’s the standard dual-color analog RCA jack on the back for transmitting audio to most household speakers. But they’ve also included a digital optical SPDIF output so you’ll be able to set this up with even your more advanced stereo receivers. This latter point will become particularly important when we get into sound quality, because it ensures that all the audio this device is supporting can be transmitted through the optimal output.
Normally when transmitting wirelessly, you’ll have to cut some corners, and one of those corners is usually sound quality. It’s important to understand that Bluetooth transmission requires your device to compress audio to maintain a stable, quick connection. Most devices support only the base level SBC compression, which means significant quality degradation.
This is one of the best Bluetooth audio experiences we’ve ever had.
The B1, however, supports Qualcomm’s innovative aptX codec, which does a better job of sampling when it compresses. It also includes an impressive AKM AK4398A digital-to-analog convertor right on board. This means that when the unit receives the digital Bluetooth audio, it has a full 24-bit engine to send that music on to your speakers. It’s important to note that this is imperfect because aptX does send a slightly compressed file to begin with, but because of the padding-per-sample function that this AKM DAC provides, you’re getting an impressively low signal to noise ratio. On paper, there are 57 ohms of impedance, 10Hz–20kHz of frequency handling, less than -86dB of crosstalk, and an impressive sub-30-ms latency.
In real-world use, this is one of the best Bluetooth audio experiences we’ve ever had. Short of playing super high-definition lossless audio files right to a pair of very transparent studio monitors, you really won’t notice any difference between Bluetooth transmission on the B1 and plugging directly into speakers.
The B1 Bluetooth Receiver is one of the more expensive options out there, especially when you factor in that there are no smart features. It retails for around $189, a lot to pay for something that just transmits audio to existing speakers. But when you factor in the modern features, insanely long range, and the on-board DAC, it easily justifies its price for the niche user that needs it, especially those with premium non-Bluetooth speakers.
Bose SoundTouch Link: The most comparable option is the Link from Bose, and in this case you’d be trading simplicity and audio quality in favor of Bose SoundTouch capability and some smart functions.
Echo Link: Amazon has its own smart-function-capable transmitter, but the connectivity seems to be a bit spotty based on early usage reviews.
Logitech Bluetooth Adapter: A much more cost effective option comes from Logitech, but you won’t get quite the resolution of the aptX offered by the B1.
Expensive, but worth it.
To be fair, this is the top end of the price range that we’d consider worth it for a standalone Bluetooth transmitter. When you consider that full-on smart speakers from Bose and Sonos sound better and better with every generation, we’d more often recommend spending your money on an all-in-one unit. But if you already have speakers you love, and want top quality sound and the most stable connection to stream Bluetooth audio to them, the B1 is probably the best choice.