Review: Belkin TuneStage for iPod
Pros: An attractively designed Bluetooth transmitter and receiver set that lives up to its promise of broadcasting music from your iPod to the receiver at a distance of 30 feet. Works with certain Bluetooth headsets, sold separately.
Cons: Unlike a competing, similarly priced solution, it isn’t fully portable. Price isn’t trivial. Doesn’t work with iPod nano.
We were initially skeptical about Belkin’s TuneStage ($169.99), the third Bluetooth wireless accessory announced for the iPod, and the fifth actually released. Consisting of a silver and white transmitter and receiver set that match the iPod mini and Mac mini, respectively, TuneStage promises to transform your iPod into a remote control for any stereo speaker system, broadcasting audio from up to 33 feet away.
Why were we skeptical about TuneStage? In all honesty, the concept has been done in slightly different, but mostly similar ways by two of the four Bluetooth products that have come before. TEN Technology’s $199.99 naviPlay (iLounge rating: A-) was first to offer a Bluetooth wireless connection between an iPod and a receiver that could be connected to a stereo, and Macally’s BlueWave (iLounge rating: B+) was second, and cheaper at $169.95. Both products were designed for fully portable applications - naviPlay’s transmitter and receiver both include rechargeable batteries, while BlueWave uses disposables and includes headphones - but both can be connected to a stereo, instead.
By comparison, TuneStage as sold only plays through your stereo, and is neither portable nor equipped with headphones. Its receiver is the size of a small router, plugs into a wall with an included power adapter, and connects to your speakers with an included stereo RCA-to-minijack cable. The cable is gold-tipped, seven feet long, and in fact can be connected either to RCA or minijack ports on the receiver’s rear, depending on what you’re connecting to TuneStage. A power switch turns the unit on and off to conser power. Additionally, Belkin designed the bottom of the receiver to sit flat on a table or be wall-mounted, leaving a channel down its center and rubber screwholes for easy mounting.
While the transmitter is sized and designed perfectly to match an iPod mini, it also looks fine on top of a full-sized iPod. (It does not fit or work with iPod nano, or shuffle.) A plastic cap is included to protect its bottom when not in use. Matching blue lights on the receiver and transmitter flash rapidly to indicate Bluetooth pairing, and become slow or steady once a connection is made - six or seven seconds after the transmitter is plugged into a playing iPod. The process is quick, and on the user’s part, effortless - no interaction is required.
One the connection is made, TuneStage’s audio quality is pretty good - Bluetooth 1.2 is used to facilitate the broadcast from iPod to stereo, resulting in connections that were mostly clean and - in our testing - entirely free of radio interference. The company uses Adaptive Frequency Hopping to minimize interference with 802.11b and g networks, and neither our wireless network nor microwave interrupted the unit’s signal, as Belkin’s manual suggested the latter might.
Unlike other Bluetooth devices we’ve tested, we didn’t have a problem getting TuneStage to perform to the edge of its stated distance - 33 feet, as printed on the box. The others became inconsistent before reaching the same distance, breaking up before going silent, whereas it took a few more feet (or a wall) to stop TuneStage.
The first TuneStage transmitter we tested (more than a month ago as of the date of this review) had an issue - it stripped most of the bass out of music. But Belkin says that the issue has been fixed in all shipping units, and supplied us with an updated transmitter that works perfectly. Based on our experiences with the company, we feel comfortable that units received by consumers will work properly, but as always, we reserve the right to modify our rating if readers report problems.
It’s also worth noting briefly that TuneStage supports A2DP and AVRCP Bluetooth profiles, but no others, and neither its manual or packaging delve deep into the issue of using other devices with the transmitter or receiver. In a section on troubleshooting, Belkin notes that only one receiver or transmitter should be used at once, and that the company does not guarantee inter-compatibility with other Bluetooth devices. We found that the transmitter paired quickly and worked properly with the headphones from Macally’s BlueWave, but not with Logitech’s Bluetooth Wireless Headphones (iLounge rating: B-).
Overall, TuneStage’s physical design, ease-of-use, and range are all great, so if you’re looking for a Bluetooth wireless solution, it would be near the top of our list on performance. Though its price isn’t low by Bluetooth standards, it’s comparable to Macally’s BlueWave, which is a bit more versatile thanks to its included headphones, but not as nice looking as TuneStage. If you need even greater portability and flexibility, you’ll find it in TEN’s naviPlay, but pay a greater premium for it.