Rethinking Whole-House Audio: Bluetooth Adapter

Posted on January 15, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Google Play Music, Music + Videos, Smart Home with 37 Comments

In Rethinking Whole-House Audio (Premium), I wrote about the issues I’ve been having with Chromecast Audio and my desire to move away from the Google ecosystem. As part of that conversation, I listed some of the alternatives I was considering—or at least test; I know some of these won’t work for me—as part of this transition, and I received some interesting suggestions from readers as well.

Testing each of these solutions, in turn, is going to take time: I will literally need to need to listen to lots of music using each in order to determine what works and what doesn’t work. But in the case of the Bluetooth adapter I decided to test first—the Esinkin W29-US Wireless Audio Adapter—I can come to a quick decision.

That is, Bluetooth can’t meet my needs. For one thing, it’s not a whole-house solution, which I’d prefer even though most of our home-based music listening occurs via only a single set of speakers at a time. But the bigger issue is Bluetooth itself: I’ve always found Bluetooth to be quirky and unreliable, and while it worked fine in my testing—as noted below—I had one of those “oh, yeah” moments this morning and immediately realized this would never work.

I was driving home from the gym, listening to a podcast over Bluetooth in the car. As a bit of background, I find that experience to be frustrating on a number of levels. For example, the volume is always way too low compared to the in-car audio choices, so I have to crank the volume on both my phone and on the car stereo itself. And worse, the car’s Bluetooth system will randomly connect to some audio source on my phone almost (but not quite) every time I get in the car; it will almost always start playing some song, podcast, or audiobook, seemingly randomly. I hate that.

Anyway, this time I was purposefully listening to a podcast via Bluetooth in the car. As I pulled into the garage, the audio suddenly cut out. And that’s when I had that “oh, yeah” moment, as I knew exactly what happened. Which I confirmed by bringing up Bluetooth settings on my phone. Yep, as I entered the garage, my phone switched playback over to the Bluetooth adapter I had started testing with the speakers in the sunroom. For some reason.

But that’s the thing. That’s my experience with Bluetooth always involves some nonsense. Auto-playing audio randomly from my phone (most times, but not all) when I get in the car. Or switching to the sunroom’s Bluetooth adapter. Typical.

Which is too bad. Because, in my testing, the Esinkin adapter was incredibly easy to set up and use. And the sound quality and performance, which I expected to be somewhat diminished because of Bluetooth, were both excellent. (Seriously, those Edifier powered bookshelf speakers I keep raving about really are amazing.)

The adapter is small and lightweight, and it provides everything you need, including a power adapter with a long cord and an audio cable with a 3.5-mm jack on one end and red/white RCA audio on the other.

The adapter also supports two forms of audio-out: You can use the 3.5mm port with the bundled cable or its RCA audio jacks with a standard RCA cable (which you’d have to provide). I used the former, connecting the adapter to my speaker’s RCA jacks.

To pair the adapter with my phone, I just had to press on the button on the adapter’s top and then use Bluetooth settings on the phone to complete the pairing. It happened immediately, and when I opened up Google Play Music and started playback, it came from the powered speakers.

The volume was a bit low, and while things improved dramatically when I raised it to its top-level on the phone’s software-based volume control, it didn’t get as loud as it did with Chromecast. It was still plenty loud, and the speakers do have an on-device volume control if more is needed. But I’ll chalk that up to another Bluetooth-ism.

Look, I knew going into this that a Bluetooth adapter wouldn’t work for me, but I was still pretty impressed by the value here, given the low cost (about $26) and the quality. But in the middle of writing this post, I had to clean up for today’s podcast, so I went upstairs into the master bath and tried to play audio from my phone. There was nothing.

Oh, right. It was playing through the speakers in the sunroom again. Ah well.

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Comments (47)

47 responses to “Rethinking Whole-House Audio: Bluetooth Adapter”

  1. Avatar

    chuckdavis666

    The Bluetooth codecs are not very good. Makes good speakers kind of a waste.

    • Avatar

      veermaharaj

      In reply to ChuckDavis666:


      Honestly, the standard BT codec used by default is at least as good as 192kbps mp3 compression which is where the line between casual listening and critical listening starts to blur.


      Additionally, depending on how the manufacturers implements that same codec, the ouput quality can vary widely. I have a harman kardon Onmi 20+ and the bt codec on that is the same as my sony reciever and playing them side by side, the omni is appalling. But using the omni with wifi for playback, the omni sounds as good as the sony on bt.


      For me, unless the original recording was originally done in HiRes to begin with, I often can't tell the difference between 320k mp3 files and CD quality files.

    • Avatar

      MikeCerm

      In reply to ChuckDavis666:

      This simply isn't true anymore. It was certainly the case 15 years ago with the old SBC codec. Newer codecs like aptX or LDAC are fine for all but the most persnickety audiophiles. Not every device supports the better codecs, but it's not hard to devices that do.

  2. Avatar

    wright_is

    Maybe that is a difference between you and me. We turn the speakers off (and therefore their Bluetooth receivers) when we aren't using them and turn them on as we need them. That way there is little skipping around between speakers. Also most of the speakers are paired to both my wife's and my phones.

  3. Avatar

    DaveMcLain

    I use that same inexpensive Esikin box in my workshop where I stream music across the room from my PC to an amp and a set of speakers. It works great it seems to sound ok and it works reliably too.

  4. Avatar

    luthair

    The Bluetooth 6 spec has support for syncing audio to multiple devices intended to support airpod style devices (apparently these devices currently beam data to each other directly), I've been wondering whether this might be useful for household audio.

  5. Avatar

    youwerewarned

    Many automotive versions of the Bluetooth "package" (F*rd, [email protected]) are demonstrably wonky, likey due to being old and never updated. So imagine my surprise when (at 70mph) I verbally asked my Garmin GPS to "call home" via my Windows Phone--and it worked!

    This Windows-in-a-Phone thing is gonna be HOT!

  6. Avatar

    Stooks

    My suggestion is going to be ohhhh soooo popular, especially with Paul :)


    Apple Music, iPhone/iPad, multiple Home Pods. In this case "It just works" is dead on and works really, really, really well. Apple TV's play with this setup very nice as well. I will never buy another Mac but the iOS ecosystem is simply good. Expensive...yes....but good.


    We had just one Home Pod at first. It was great and was basically in our kitchen/family room. We moved down stairs in to our basement for a party (pool table/bar/couch/big TV area) and it was a hit. Anyone could tell Siri what to play. Then when AirPlay 2 or whatever happened we bought another for the Kitchen. They can play together, separate whatever. We now have a total of 4 and some serious whole house music going on. It was great on Christmas day. They sound amazing as well. You can even put two next to a TV (one on each side) and use it with Apple TV when watching something.....left/right channel.

    • Avatar

      GT Tecolotecreek

      In reply to Stooks:

      Just to second this approach, I have been using Airplay since it originally was released nearly 10 years ago. Initially with 3 Airport Expresses which were wifi range expanders/audio feeds. Primary stereo is in living room with Denon/Mission/MK Sub with RCA input. Yamaha system in TV/Fam room with optical feed and Klispch table top system with 1/8" audio plug. Works like a champ, no connection or sync issues when used for whole house. We added (now ) 3 Homepods when I retired the Airport wifi system and moved to a Synology mesh system. The Apple Express units just became Airplay clients and were all upgradable to Airplay 2. The Homepods work and sound great and integrate into our Insteon based smart home system. This means not only can the Homepods control the music, they can turn lights on/off, raise the thermostat and other home automation tasks. "Server" is 2018 Mac mini which also runs the Indigo home automation software. I can control music from any computer in the house, use any iPhone for a remote or Apple TV with its remote. I think part of the reason for the reliability is the wifi has also been solid with both the old Apple Extreme and the new Synology mesh equipment. For audio streaming you can do whole house and set individual volume levels to each device remotely. Different remotes can stream different content to different rooms if desired. All the music is stored locally on the Mac, and in iCloud with Apple Match. (I don't have an Apple Music subscription.) If that isn't enough flexibility you can use Rouge Amiga Airfoil package to steam any content from a Mac. Reliable, easy to set up and none of the BT flakiness is what you get. Also another benefit is the Homepods allow you to make/answer your iPhone calls on speaker and send/receive texts. It is smart enough to know based on your voice which iPhone to use if you have multiple in the household. Just have to get over your Apple issues....

  7. Avatar

    JCerna

    This one is what I use for professional installs, I recently installed on in a basketball gym in a closet. They can now have an iPad anywhere in the building and play music. I found it when the xbox did not have the builtin audio jack on controller to use headphones, but after playing with it, it's amazing. Will say all Bluetooth devices work best if you only have one dedicated device connected to it. For my pro installs I pair it with a tablet and tell clients to not pair any other devices. I also add either a smart power strip so they can turn the device off and back on from same tablet or a timed switch since like most devices they need to be power cycled at times. Avantree Long Range Bluetooth Transmitter Receiver for TV. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01H6I3YGK

  8. Avatar

    Ron McMahon

    The thing that caught my eye is that the Esinkin device pictured appears to be completely identical to one made by Logitech. I would have expected Logitech to protest copyright of some sort...unless it's the same device?


    https://www.amazon.com/Logitech-Bluetooth-Audio-Adapter-Streaming/dp/B00IQBSW28/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=logitech+bluetooth&qid=1579160162&sr=8-3

    • Avatar

      bradster62

      In reply to Ron McMahon:


      I agree. Paul's Esinkin BT adapter looks just like the Logitech adapter that I use.


      The BT adapter serves it's purpose well, with surprising quality. It allows me to stream songs from my phone to my 1982 Harman Kardon HK495i receiver which powers the Yamaha outdoor speakers on my deck.

      • Avatar

        Paul Thurrott

        Interesting. This wouldn't be the first time for me that an Amazon purchase resulted in a Chinese (or whatever) knockoff. It does work very well for what it is, FWIW.
  9. Avatar

    lanod

    Right now it seems that dropping a few €/$K on Sonos is the only real viable option - which is really annoying.


    Any idea why Google dropped the Chromecast Audio?

  10. Avatar

    veermaharaj

    So interesting point to make here, the main problem Paul is suffering here, I never have...


    So Paul's biggest issue so far is that his phone is extremely promiscuous and connects to all the Bluetoothses going so far as to shift from one device to another automatically with no input from the user once its in range.


    The only time I have this issue is when i manually turn my phone's bt off and back on again and a known bt device is in range, which rarely happens, because my bt is always on.


    Secondly, if there is a power outage and the power comes back on, my bt dongles littered around the house, on power up will try to connect with my phone. On a normal day my phone won't connect to them, just because they are in range.


    (What phone are you using Paul? I'm using a Asus Zenfone 6 and prior I was using a Sam s8+)


    Message me if you want to ask any more questions because something is definitely wrong for this to be happening with you...


    I tried posting links to my equipment for you to try out but it didnt want to post with all the links.

  11. Avatar

    MightyGorath

    what exactly are your requirements for whole-home audio?

  12. Avatar

    Jim Lewis

    Don't anyone get too excited about current BT devices. The next version of BT has been released (and it's not 6.0). Bluetooth 5.2 (LE Audio) was announced at CES by the BT SIG. It will provide significantly improved audio quality at lower transmission rates than previous versions and it will allow broadcast audio from a source to unlimited sinks. It will be a big advance, especially for hearables and hearing aid wearers (like me!). Great audio quality and long client battery life. It's also backward-compatible with classic BT so a device implemented with this standard can still do all the classic stuff, if I remember correctly. BT 5.2 should be fully in place by about 2022.


  13. Avatar

    derekaw

    Sonos. Get Sonos. It just works. It always works. Stop mucking around.


    Considering all I have read about your requirements Sonos will meet your needs and expectations and perhaps exceed them. Sonos has exceeded my expectations and I'll be buying more.

  14. Avatar

    mjgraves

    Lemme be the only truly old skool guy here. Smart speakers generally sound pretty lame. I like to have a local library of music as well as streaming sources. I use Logitech Media Server on a tiny Windows system, feeding a bunch (6) of Raspberry Pi with HiFi Berry Pro XLR DACS. Each of those connects to a pair of semi-pro powered speakers. Think Yamaha, M-Audio, Behringer, etc. Remote using Squeeze CTRL app on my Pixel 4 or web-based control. Massively more powerful than Sonos, still works when the internet is out. Can run each zone separately or in sync with others. Some zones have powered subwoofers, too.


    Working on integrating Amazon Music HD now.

  15. Avatar

    nolanm5150

    I would highly recommend looking at the Yamaha MusicCast system... It works very very well and is very reliable.

    https://usa.yamaha.com/products/contents/audio_visual/musiccast/index.html

    When you are ready to put the toys in the closet and enjoy hi fidelity whole home audio at a reasonable cost...

    I bought all of my Yamaha equipment certified refurbished and saved hundreds of dollars doing so and have had no issues.

  16. Avatar

    ivarh

    Bluetoooth problems was the main reason I stopped using my old pixel 3 in my mazda with android auto and started using carplay instead. Even though android auto in my mazda have to be connected by cable to the phone to work it sends audio over BT for some reason. Carplay sends everything over the cable and is much more stable soundwice for me. Hopefully Google will add a option for what to use to transmit audio in AA.

  17. Avatar

    sevenacids

    $26 is still quite a lot given this thing doesn't have a built-in amplifier (Class D or similar) to connect to speakers directly. If you don't need the case, you can get one of those maker PCBs for around $10, I guess. TPA3118 on Amazon comes to mind, including amplifier chip (2 x 30W).

  18. Avatar

    jeffrye

    I love my Sonos speakers for whole house audio. Yes they're pricey but they work so well - except for voice control. I have Echos and they will only play Amazon supported music. Most of what I listen to is my music on my Plex server. This is not supported. I created a custom Alexa app that allows me to play my music from Plex on my Sonos speakers by telling my Echo what to play. However, it's NOT a simple setup (it involves custom software on a raspberry pi, editing text configuration files, and creating a custom Alexa app - not for the faint of heart).


    I wish there was a simple way to do voice controlled, whole house music but I haven't been able to do it without limiting myself to what Amazon supports and that doesn't work for me.

  19. Avatar

    X911ty12

    RIP Chromecast Audio. I hope the 3 I own never die or succumb planned obsolescence / death update.

  20. Avatar

    kevinbouwman

    I have this problem all the time with my work truck. I am never fully in control of when the connections switch from the phone to the truck. And the volume difference between radio and Bluetooth audio is ridiculous. You would think, in the engineered enviroment of a vehicle that 50% volume could be 65dB no matter the input level. With the computing power of a modern premium vehicle radio and software defined radio why is the volume control still a percentage increase of the source instead of the control of the actual output level to the speakers.

  21. Avatar

    mattbg

    I have similar issues with Bluetooth. To me, it's a last resort for when Wi-Fi isn't available and good battery life/portability is a requirement.


    Some of the Sonos products apparently have a line-in that you can connect any analog input to and then distribute that input across the Sonos multi-room system. I know Sonos is expensive, but does that concept resonate at all? Or is Sonos a complete non-starter due to the price?


    As other mentioned on the previous thread, Plex is worth a look. It's primarily for a local music library; however, they have added support for the Tidal streaming service. The potential to integrate Tidal streaming with a local music library may be appealing. It has sync support for syncing local content to the device. It supports Google Cast on iOS.


    Squeezebox is also worth a look to fill the gap for now, if you can stomach running a local server component. It used to be a hardware ecosystem but even with the hardware demised, the server has plugins that let you stream the local music library to AirPlay and Chromecast (and for both protocols it happens off-device). It may be complementary to a music service (though they do have a Spotify Connect plugin as well).

  22. Avatar

    avidfan451

    Gotta say I am pretty excited to follow you on this journey since you talked about it on First Ring Daily. I have been on a similar journey and have employed a few solutions around the house that work for me and different use cases — I do not necessarily want or need the same audio throughout my home, but there are rooms or collections of rooms where this might be nice from time to time. Looking forward to your approach and results...!

    • Avatar

      Paul Thurrott

      I feel like the unavoidable push here is to the Sonos ecosystem, in part because we already do have some of those speakers. And you can get cheap IKEA speakers for smaller rooms. But I plan to test a lot of things.
      • Avatar

        avidfan451

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        Fair enough. I finally went that route myself during their annual Christmas sale. Got the 3.1 (Beam and Sub) system from them directly and two One SLs from another because they were cheaper there. (Wanted to get the IKEAs as rears, but my wife is boycotting them for various reasons.) 5.1 is great so far, but looking forward to trying out the whole home thing. Also have several Amazon Echo devices that I was using before that, including an Echo Input hooked up to my 20+ year old Harman Kardon receiver and JBL 4312s. That setup works pretty well, to be honest. Contemplating trying out a HomePod for good measure. Then deciding what I want to use everywhere so I don’t confuse the family... much. ??‍♂️


        I should also mention that I am both an Apple Music and Amazon Music subscriber — the former I pay for and the latter comes free with AT&T as my “Premium Service.” Both are supported on the Echo and Sonos devices, so I’m also evaluating which of those I plan to stay with...

  23. Avatar

    Patrick3D

    Plex added support for Tidal which is supposed to integrate alongside your own music library, and Plex has a skill for Alexa that enables voice control. Might be worth testing, they offer a free 30-day trial of Tidal. The one kink with the Plex skill for Alexa is that it requires enabling "Remote Access" in the Plex server settings which occasionally turns itself off requiring going back into the Plex server settings to turn it back on.


    I've been using the Plex skill (not Tidal though) for about a year now, Alexa is able to search a Plex library to playback music just the same as it can find music on Amazon. The command for it is: "Alexa, ask Plex to play ...". That setup would give you Amazon, Tidal, and local music sources right off the bat and also allow for any other Alexa supported skills like TuneIn, Apple Music, and so on. I've not done any simultaneous multi-room audio however, so I can't comment on that.

  24. Avatar

    kshsystems

    have you considered getting a couple of Google Home Max's?

  25. Avatar

    Chris_Kez

    Paul, how important is it that whatever solution you settle on also be easily used by your wife or daughter?

  26. Avatar

    gregsedwards

    I have two problems with using Bluetooth for anything beyond simple personal audio (i.e., headphones connected to a single device).

    First, if I'm paired with multiple devices, for instance my laptop and phone, then some event on the phone is going to steal the connection from my laptop, usually right in the middle of an important web meeting, requiring me to quickly choose another speaker on my PC. I understand I can mitigate this to some degree using the headphones' "hands-free audio" mode on my PC, which of course makes the headphones sound like tin cans. So, that ain't great.

    The other issue is that over time the lag gets to be pretty severe, especially when trying to watch videos. I end up having to periodically pause the video or switch to another audio source to give the BT headphones a chance to catch up.

    All in all, it just feels like a lot of compromise to avoid using a cable. I can see why Xbox never supported BT audio. Whatever happened to that Xbox wireless protocol that they were supposed to start building into devices?

    • Avatar

      wright_is

      In reply to gregsedwards:

      You could also disable Bluetooth on your phone, whilst you are in the conference, then it can't steal the connection.

      Given that I never watch video on my phone, I haven't seen the problem with syncing, I only listen to audio - audio books and podcasts in the kitchen when cooking, headphones or the car when out and about.

  27. Avatar

    glenn8878

    It's been my experience that you have absolutely no control over what device your bluetooth speaker will decide to hook up with.

  28. Avatar

    timothyhuber

    Love when I'm on a phone call and my son borrows my car and suddenly my phone goes silent because it automatically connected to the in-car audio.

  29. Avatar

    earlster

    I have the exact same adapter and it does exactly what it's supposed to do. However, it does have all the typical BT restrictions, like short range and connections changing between devices, etc.

    It's great at what it does, but I replaced it with a Chromecast Audio a while ago and am now in the same boat, where I'm looking for another whole house solution.

  30. Avatar

    CloneURpeople2

    The sad state of tech today seems mired in fulfilling the shlocky 1930's Flash Gordon vision of "Futurism." Gee, what if we made some gizmo that let us expend even less thought, as we wander cluelessly unconnected with actual real world existence? The paradox is more laughable, as the other side of trends involves re-imposing extra complications into things which were already pretty simplified, with the excuse of adding some mysterious property only available through rituals. Can we say "French Process" coffee, only from hand-ground beans? (Do Australians have to grind in the opposite direction to achieve Java Nirvana?) Most wireless tech like Bluetooth come at serious degradation of quality - but so do turntables, over the perfect CD quality voodoo hype murdered. Radio formats compress and diminish quality as well, but convenience is king. Still, I can plug an adequate .mp4 filled USB into several players throughout the home at less cost than extravagantly over-complex whole-house systems that add cost but not quality. Like lousy spectrum LED bulbs, which change or respond to voice commands, etc. We are programmed to instantly desire every new fad thing whether we asked for it or not, while perfectly adequate technology is steadily abandoned or no longer supported.

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