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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