In an ideal world, you could connect your iPod to a stereo with or without wires and get perfectly clear sound through any attached pair of speakers. Unfortunately, wireless accessories haven’t yet caught up with wired ones. The easiest way to make a wireless connection from iPod to stereo is with an FM transmitter, but audio quality and distance remain serious issues. So some people have turned to Bluetooth Wireless Accessories as a superior but more expensive alternative. Bluetooth systems generally range from $150-$250.
There are two primary different types of Bluetooth systems out there: non-portable ones that transmit iPod music to a stereo, and ones intended for portable use with or without Bluetooth headphones. Some systems do both. Both types let you achieve distances of around 30 feet between iPod and the receiving device.
Portable Bluetooth systems are used when you don’t want to run a wire from your iPod to your headphones – valuable for active users and certain people who use public transportation. Some of these options also connect with computers and cell phones, letting you alternate iPod music with other content. To date, portable Bluetooth accessories have been challenged by price, size and power considerations: Bluetooth earphones are typically large, and often not as comfortable as earbuds; they also need to be frequently recharged or supplied with disposable batteries. These inconveniences have made them unlikely replacements for inexpensive corded headphones.
Non-portable Bluetooth systems have two cool features: they attach a transmitter to your iPod and a receiver to your stereo, letting you use your iPod as a remote control. They have mostly been challenged by price and audio quality concerns. Their audio is almost always good enough for average listeners, who generally have been unwilling to spend the money to buy them, but they commonly lack the CD-quality detail demanded by audiophiles, who would be most willing to pay their price premiums over wired options.
Bluetooth systems we reviewed in 2004 and 2005 all used earlier versions of the Bluetooth standard, known as Bluetooth 1.1 and Bluetooth 1.2. In 2006, we expect to review the first Bluetooth 2.0 iPod accessories, which will supposedly deliver superior audio quality in smaller packages. You can check out our Bluetooth Wireless Accessories reviews here.