Manufacturer: Dayton Audio - USA
(subsidiary of Parts Express - USA)
Product: BTR01 Bluetooth Audio Receiver
Price: Lists at $58, but as of this writing on sale for $45 (volume discounts available) YMMV
Reviewer: David Hoehl - TNT USA
Reviewed: October 2019
Published: January, 2020
In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., famously proclaimed, "I have a dream" of a more just, inclusive society. Well, I, too, have a dream, albeit altogether more modest: I dream of sitting in my recliner with a laptop computer and, without rising, directing the stereo to play any music of my choice from the big drive of our "music server" through my main system amp and speakers.
"Oh," I hear you interject, "what you need is a music streamer. Easy as pie." Please, remember who's writing this: the antiquarian for whom music means turning cranks. I don't pretend to understand streamers, which in any event seem to cost a lot of pretty pennies that I'd much rather spend on 78s and cylinders and maintaining the machinery for playing them. (One fellow record collector once told me, "I'm glad I never got into old phonographs. Everyone I've ever known who had one spent all his time having the thing fixed.") Moreover, despite the foregoing I was something of a pioneer in placing my collection into digital storage. Neither my idiosyncratic way of arranging files nor my chosen lossless compression CODEC, Monkey's Audio (.ape), conforms to what a streamer would expect.
"OK," someone offers, "Then how about setting up a second computer to control the one hard-wired into your stereo?" Tried it; I'm pretty sure the software I chose was called "Team Viewer." (At the time, my mix of operating systems didn't support Microsoft's built-in Remote Desktop.) I found the process clunky, buggy, and cumbersome; among other issues, the "local" machine's display of text from the "remote" one was so small my aging eyes could barely read it.
And so the dream has remained a dream. After recently reviewing the diminutive Audioengine A2+ Bluetooth-enabled powered speakers, however, I thought I saw an opening to turn it into reality. If well designed microspeakers fed via Bluetooth could sound that good, might Bluetooth offer a solution in the main rig? I first did some browsing for larger powered Bluetooth speakers, but I didn't find anything that I thought likely to match my Pinnacle BD650 Mk. II (passive) main speakers. Then, after a few more revolutions of the mental gears, I had an idea: what if I connected my existing amplifier to an add-on Bluetooth device? I began looking and almost immediately stumbled across the Dayton Audio BTR01 Bluetooth audio receiver.
The name Dayton Audio is no stranger to those of us who have been TNT-Audio readers for a while; see, for instance here and here and here. Most importantly, see here, the BTR01's sales page. At least in theory, placing this petite box and an external amp of the owner's choice adjacent to any pair of passive speakers would convert them into, effectively, powered Bluetooth speakers. As appears from the cited reviews, Dayton gear has a history of offering audio quality all out of proportion to its modest prices. Does the BTR01 follow in those commendable footsteps? Curious to find out, I ordered one from the Parts Express website.
Before I get to my impressions, a few caveats are in order. First, I think the BTR01 is not really intended for this application; Dayton's literature and associated comments lead me to believe its purpose is to add Bluetooth reception to existing installations for the benefit of the streaming/YouTube set, not to convert passive speakers. Second, Parts Express, Dayton's parent, sells a device that is designed for wirelessly connecting speakers, the Wave-Link WLS system. I chose not explore that option because it relies purely on 24 ghz radio signals, not Bluetooth (the connection method I wanted to test); because the BTR01 has RCA jack outputs, whereas the Wave-Link's connector is an eighth-inch miniphone jack, a format against which I nurse a probably unfair prejudice for “serious” audio purposes; and because it seems aimed at home theater applications, whereas I want something purely for music. Third, my frame of reference is a system already capable of transmitting signals from various signal sources to the Bluetooth receiver; if yours isn't, a Bluetooth transmitter will also be needed. Fourth and finally, to state the obvious, the BTR01-and-amp-next-to-the-speakers configuration will not entirely eliminate audio cables. You'll still need a patch cable between the BTR01 and your amp and a run of speaker cables from the amp to the passive speakers, although the hope is that both will be short and unobtrusive.
Dayton customarily packs its gear efficiently, and the BTR01 is no exception. The unit comes in a small, sturdy printed box. Inside is a plastic foam insert with compartments for the BTR01, its antenna, and the inevitable AC adapter. A brief instruction sheet lies over all. The BTR01 is a tiny thing, not a lot larger than a pack of playing cards. The sole assembly required is connecting the adapter and attaching the antenna to its screw fitting on the back of the little box. Besides the antenna connector and power socket, the rear panel includes a pair of RCA analogue audio jacks, a coaxial output jack, and an optical output. The front has a combined power button/channel selector and three indicator lights, two to show which of two output channels is active and one to show power is on and the unit is paired.
Because our music room serves as a recital space for my wife's piano studio, I'm constrained to put the speakers up front but the other equipment in the rear (actually in a little alcove in a short hallway leading to the rest of the house). Cables built into the wall run from the alcove to the speakers; to avoid tripping hazards, none can go across the floor. At the moment, my main rig is relying on a backup amp, a Dayton DTA-100a, as my Rogue Sphynx quit working some time ago and I'm still debating whether to have it fixed or replace it. For purposes of this experiment, the Dayton actually is a better choice, as it is extremely compact, a bit smaller than a couple of softback books stacked on top of each other and no heavier, hence easy to spot unobtrusively near the speakers. In the system's normal (temporary) arrangement, the primary signal source is a Dell laptop running Winamp playback software, which reads audio files from a big external hard drive and sends the digital signal to an Edirol USB audio interface, the analogue output of which goes to the Dayton amp's single input. The system's turntable, with Graham Slee Jazz Club preamp, connects to and plays through the computer via the same interface. The outboard drive stores a wide array of music sourced from just about everything, Edison cylinders to late-issue CDs. All files auditioned for this test are in Monkey's Audio lossless format.
To test the BTR01, I removed the Dayton amp from the system and moved it to a spot near the speakers, to which I connected it via some extension cables run along the base of the room's front wall, where they are hardly noticeable and pose no tripping hazard. The BTR01 connects to the amp's single input in place of the Edirol.
For simplicity, I planned first to test the BTR01 by pairing it with my regular "music server" Dell laptop, which is directly connected to the big external drive storing my music files. I was afraid otherwise the need to connect to music storage via my home network would open the door to technical problems (a fear that, in the event, proved well founded, as we shall see). Alas, it was not to be: the Dell recognized the existence of the BTR01 but proved unable to connect with the unit around a corner and all the way across the room. After several fruitless attempts, I unplugged the BTRO1, moved it to the mouth of the hallway where the Dell resides, plugged it back in, and immediately got a good connection. Of course, situating the BTR01 immediately next to the signal sources defeats the whole purpose of the exercise. When I moved the BTR01 back to the far end of the room, again I could not get it to talk to the Dell. I have now read user comments that the BTR01 has very short range; evidently it's too short for what I was trying.
In approximately the words of Charlie Chan, having reached a stone wall I turned to find a new path. Unable to rely on the Dell, I got out the Lenovo X220 laptop that I drag along as a time-waster--er, on which to do important, uh, stuff--when taking my daughter to her athletic practices. It, too, has built-in Bluetooth, and putting aside my misgivings I reasoned I could connect it through our home network to the network attached server that holds a backup copy of the Dell's big hard drive. That process proved easier said than done, as the X220 was not already configured to recognize the server, but in the end I found myself sitting most of the way back in the music room with the Lenovo in my lap, connected via Bluetooth to the BTR01 in one direction and via Wi-Fi in the other.
First music cued up was Mozart's 16th Piano Concerto in a relatively unfamiliar EMI recording by Christian Zacharias with Sir Neville Marriner leading the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra. I observed much the same phenomenon as I had with the Audioengines earlier: the sound took on a harsh edge if I pushed the Winamp volume setting too high. Once again, better to set the amp's physical volume knob relatively high and keep the software output modest. Otherwise, while in no way coming across as a stunning example of the recording engineer's art, nothing about the sound called attention to itself; the performance came through naturally and made for enjoyable listening.
A track from Rolf Lislevand's ECM album “Diminuito” was a different kettle of fish entirely. Here, each element in the ever-more-complex parley of instruments leapt out clearly in that fluoroscopic way characteristic of Class-T amplification. Curiously, however, the female voices that come in about halfway through seemed more recessed than I remember.
So far, so good; the experiment, aside from the range issue, seemed to be shaping up as a success. Alas, at this point things went completely off the rails. My next test piece was a set of variations on the “Seikilos Song,” the world's oldest complete surviving melody, performed by Oskar Gottlieb Blarr and Peter Rubsam on organ and bagpipes, respectively. It started out well enough but abruptly went to what I'd describe as “motor boating,” alternating brief silences and bits of the music in rapid succession. Neither a change to a different selection (a little piano sonata by Matteo—not the familiar Isaac—Albeniz) nor shifting to a different media player (VLC Media Player) remedied the problem. Turning the BTR01 off and on again got it back up and running for the duration of the restarted Albeniz piece, but then Winamp completely locked up partway through the next selection I tried. At that point, I gave up for the night.
In an effort to get the BTR01 and my Dell laptop talking to each other, I ordered and installed a new, amplified antenna, the Miccus MXLRA-07. Alas, the result was no different: the Dell continued to recognize the BTR01's existence without being able to connect. Throwing in the towel, I went ahead and disconnected the Dell from the big external drive and carried it into the room proper, whereupon it connected without further ado. With the external drive disconnected, however, I was constrained again to rely on the network attached server for data. Once again I tried to play the organ and bagpipe track; once again Winamp locked up after less than a minute. I tried installing a different player, Ape Player, and loaded the Brahms first string sextet (Pro Arte Quartet augmented with Anthony Pini, 'cello, and Alfred Hobday, viola; recorded March 8-9, 1935). Changing the volume in Windows, because Ape Player lacks that capacity, caused the sound stream to stutter and halt, but as long as I left the volume alone the first movement played quite well, and the player transitioned to the next file, containing the second, without incident. Then about two minutes into the second movement, the player locked up, just as Winamp had. Admitting defeat, I returned the Dell to its accustomed place in the alcove.
As a last resort, I once again turned to the Lenovo laptop, this time connecting it to an external drive containing an out-of-date backup of the network attached server. Drawing from a physical connection apparently was the solution: from that point on, I experienced no problems with balky software. On the other hand, I how had an external drive attached to the computer in my lap, balanced on one arm of the chair, compromising "the dream." I could no longer simply pick up the computer, punch in a selection, and set it aside; now I was constrained to make sure the external drive had somewhere to sit and remained connected (when the USB plug came slightly loose when I shifted position during playback of one selection, the results were not pretty).
For my musical tests, first I yet again tried the organ and bagpipe track, and this time it played from one end to the other without any hitches. The same was true of a couple of Scarlatti sonatas (Pieter-Jan Belder, from the Brilliant Classics complete set), Meyerbeer's Overture to Les Huguenots (Julius Pruwer leading the Berlin Philharmonic, late 1920s/early 1930s), Wolf-Ferrari's Overture to The Secret of Susanna (Arturo Toscanini and the La Scala Orchestra, early 1920s acoustic recording from the RCA Toscanini Edition set), and Weber's "Invitation to the Waltz" (Alexander Paley, from Naxos). At this point, I was more focused on getting uninterrupted playback than on quality of the sound, but nothing jumped out at me as objectionable as long as I kept the software playback level under control.
I finally began critical listening the next day; all my choices were at least fairly familiar. As my wife put it, "You're playing all your old favorites, aren't you?" With the music source connected directly via USB port rather than through Wi-Fi, the female voices in the "Diminuito" cut no longer seemed recessed, and in a succession of mostly small ensemble pieces, vocal and instrumental alike, the Bluetooth-enabled arrangement seemed to be acquitting itself quite well. If I detected a significant flaw, it was a certain skewing toward the bass, which struck me, in some tracks, as somewhat more prominent than in the hard-wired configuration, and once or twice as a bit "bonky," not something ordinarily characteristic of the Pinnacle speakers. Percussion was suitably crisp, and solo voices tended to come off well.
Then I put on my first "big" orchestral number, Rimsky-Korsakoff's Russian Easter Festival Overture performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski in 1967, a not much heralded sonic spectacular. In this more demanding fare, the BTR01-enabled system quickly showed its limits for a main system. The music certainly was presentable, but to one closely familiar with the recording it seemed to lack something, particularly but not limited to sparkle. Don't take this analogy too far, but in a way the sound reminded me of a good .mp3, listenable but not as full and colorful as the original. End of test.
In light of the foregoing, is the Dayton BTR01 a successful tool for making passive speakers simulate active, Bluetooth enabled ones? In practical terms, the answer is a qualified "yes." If you plan to press it into service in this way with needledrops or rips as your source, explore carefully whether your computer and software will simultaneously draw from Wi-Fi and transmit Bluetooth. My experience with two different computers running two operating systems and three software packages was not encouraging, although I'll freely admit my network administration skill is largely nil, and my equipment is neither recent nor expensive. I had perfectly acceptable results as long as the computer was physically connected to the source drive, at the expense of having a hard drive flopping around at the end of a cable when what I wanted was just a laptop computer sitting in my lap. Also, bear in mind that, at least in my testing, the BTR01 is effectively a short-range, line-of-sight device; don't buy one expecting that it will connect with a transmitter situated around a corner, even if you add an amplified antenna.
From a purely audio standpoint, the answer depends on the listener's expectations. I wanted something that would give me in-lap control of my system with sonic performance at least as good as what I get with conventional wiring. The BTR01 did not deliver at that level. (Note, however, that I was feeding it with the built-in Bluetooth facility of my laptop computers. Adding some sort of external transmitter might well improve results, but only at the cost of extra expenditure and further compromising my "dream" of self-contained computer giving full control of the system.) To the extent that I could get Wi-Fi sourcing to work, it yielded results in some instances inferior to those from hard-wired sourcing. Thus, at least as I tested it, the BTR01 did not rise to the level of a replacement for hard-wired connections at either the source or speaker end of the chain.
For The Man Who Wants To Listen To Music, however, the question becomes more complicated. With hard-wired sourcing, the BTR01 may not have reached the level of wired speaker connections, but on its own terms its performance was very good, particularly with small groups. For those not obsessive about gear and obtaining ultimate performance who wish to shift to Bluetooth powered speakers, adding a small amplifier and the BTR01 would be a viable alternative to replacing good passive speakers already in hand. Certainly the BTR01 performs at a level one would be hard-pressed to replicate with fresh-bought speakers at its modest price point.
The BTR01 might also be an excellent choice for a "second system" situated where runs of speaker cable would be a nuisance, such as a workshop or bedroom. In such circumstances, its low cost and good, if imperfect, audio performance very likely would outweigh its limitations, and the ability to feed from streaming sources like smartphones and tablets would be a plus.
Now, nap time--I need to return to my dream.
Copyright © 2020 David Hoehl- firstname.lastname@example.org - www.tnt-audio.com