Review: Griffin Technology BlueTrip LE Bluetooth Home Stereo Connection Kit for iPod
Pros: The most inexpensive Bluetooth stereo audio kit yet released for the iPod, combining a wireless transmitter with a stereo audio receiver that connects to your home A/V system via included RCA cables or a self-supplied fiber optic cable. Allows you to use iPod as a wireless remote control/jukebox for home stereo. Delivers nicely balanced audio without compromising on bass, very powerful broadcasting range. Great value.
Cons: Audio signal includes slight distortion, which when combined with old Bluetooth 1.2 audio standard doesn’t output quite the clean level of audio one would hope for from a device with optical audio output; picky listeners won’t be thrilled, except for the price. No iPod volume adjustment.
Oh, what a long and torturous road Griffin Technology’s BlueTrip LE ($100) has walked. Released late last year for 3G/4G and mini iPods as BlueTrip, the company’s Bluetooth 1.2 wireless audio kit enabled you to connect a simple dongle to the tops of those iPods, then a big receiver to your home stereo, turning the iPod into a 33-foot distance wireless remote control-slash-jukebox for big speakers. BlueTrip was designed to compete with Belkin’s TuneStage (iLounge rating: B+), Logitech’s Wireless Music System (iLounge rating: B+/B-), and TEN Technology’s naviPlay (iLounge rating: A-), the former two systems more directly comparable on features, and all three selling for $150 or more. Unfortunately for all concerned, Apple pulled the rug out from developers by removing the iPod’s top accessory port right as most of these systems were launching, forcing Griffin to go back and create this - a bottom-mounting BlueTrip, now called “BlueTrip LE,” for “limited edition.”
There’s only one reason we’ve opted to do a short review of BlueTrip LE: the words “limited edition” are actually accurate, as the company has only produced a small number of units, and is basically looking to close them out - hence the surprisingly low $100 price. In short, this is a shame: since Belkin abandoned its plan to release a Dock Connector-ready version of the original TuneStage, Logitech’s Wireless Music System is a bit of a mess physically with Dock Connector iPods, and TEN’s naviPlay sells for $100 more, Griffin almost has the 5G and nano Bluetooth 1.2 wireless market entirely to itself here. For the low price, it’s done a great job - one nearly worthy of our high recommendation.
Inside the LE’s box, which notably still says only “BlueTrip,” but features a photo of the all-white Dock Connector-equipped, bottom-mounting transmitter shown here, you also get a white and chrome stereo receiver box, a power supply, and an RCA-style stereo audio cable. Unlike the prior version, this kit can connect to every current iPod model save the shuffle, and every future iPod with a Dock Connector port. Blue lights on the transmitter and receiver show that the devices are synchronized - a process that’s completely effortless when both are connected and powered-on, and continually attempted by one part when the other isn’t.
From a functional perspective, the biggest difference between BlueTrip LE and its earlier competitors is a single port on the receiver’s rear. Griffin included an optical audio output port back there, a controversial move to the extent that the Bluetooth 1.2 audio standard doesn’t quite reach CD quality, and consequently doesn’t benefit tremendously from a fiber optic connection. The only thing Griffin really guarantees is that the audio output signal here is as clean as it can be given the type of wireless connection BlueTrip is making.
We’re not going to say that BlueTrip LE is the best-sounding Bluetooth adapter we’ve heard - it does a better than average job of presenting sound that’s nicely balanced on the high and low ends, delivering ample bass for most listeners. However, we noticed a bit of static-style distortion in all of our music, particularly in the highs and mids, which is the only reason the device fell short of a higher rating. Additionally, you’ll have to give up volume adjustment, which isn’t the case with Logitech’s clunkier Wireless Music System dongle - a compromise we’re okay with, though signal attenuation would have been preferable. That said, BlueTrip LE is very powerful - and far better-sounding than the most common wireless devices out there, such as FM transmitters. Unlike some of the other Bluetooth systems we’ve tested, which become staticy at distances greater than 8 feet away and unpredictable at 20 feet, we had no problem hearing BlueTrip LE from the full 33-foot promised distance, and even up close, it sounded good enough through our speakers that only picky listeners would notice any distortion.
In our opinion, BlueTrip LE’s strongest suit is its price tag - at $99, it’s a very good buy for iPod owners who have wanted to experiment with wireless Bluetooth broadcasting but haven’t wanted to shell out a lot of money for the privilege. With Bluetooth 2.0 and other wireless kits under development, it’s hard to get excited about any Bluetooth 1.2 entry on features or sound quality, but this one’s cheap enough to have fun with until something substantially better comes along.