Bluetooth adapters have become more common over the last year or so, enabling users to transform older dock- or wire-dependent speakers into wireless receivers for iOS music playback. Notable predecessors such as BlueAnt’s Ribbon and Karman/Kardon’s BTA 10 have taken considerably different approaches, with Ribbon offering a completely portable, wearable option primarily for use with wired headphones, and BTA 10 functioning exclusively as a wall-tethered option with speakers. Now Cobra Electronics has released AirWave ($40) as a considerably more affordable alternative in the middle: a square, battery-powered Bluetooth adapter that can be used with home or car speakers.
Measuring 2.25” square by 0.75” tall, the jet black unit’s industrial design helps you quickly understand what AirWave is and isn’t. Unlike Ribbon, there’s nothing about AirWave that suggests “wearable”—no clip, no integrated volume adjustment buttons, and no major frills besides protruding edges that let you wrap a cable around the accessory’s core for convenience. Inside that recessed core are an on-off switch, a red power light, 3.5mm and micro-USB ports, as well as a reset button in case of a pairing issue.
A pressable blue light on the top flashes until going solid to indicate pairing, and re-pairing happens so quickly that the unit must be using Bluetooth 3.0 or newer hardware; Cobra doesn’t specify the Bluetooth version, but it’s surely a more recent standard than what’s built into most cars today.
AirWave’s price is more aggressive than rivals in part because of what Cobra strategically leaves out of the package. BTA 10 shipped with a large wall adapter, but AirWave doesn’t, instead coming solely with a Micro-USB cable for power—you’ll have to find a spare USB port or USB adapter to keep it running. But Cobra does include 3.5mm to 3.5mm and stereo RCA cables, just like Harman, enabling AirWave to connect to common aux ports and decreasingly common analog RCA ports. And it leapfrogs BTA 10 by including a rechargeable battery with 12 hours of play time—twice as long as BlueAnt’s Ribbon—or 30 hours of standby time.
Sonically, AirWave delivers the sort of experience we’ve come to expect from these Bluetooth adapters: very good, stable sound with a respectable rather than fantastic wireless receiving distance, plus some small caveats. Like rivals, AirWave works properly within the promised 33-foot unobstructed area, but begins to break up at greater distances. Consequently, it will generally be totally fine for same-room in-home use, or in-car use even if you’ve stuffed it into a glovebox or armrest area out of sight. Audio performed through its 3.5mm audio port is pretty clear, and reasonable in dynamic range, but not the loudest we’ve ever heard. This appears to be a deliberate choice by Cobra to avoid audio clipping; you may want to turn your speaker up an extra one or two notches to compensate.
Cobra’s ace in the hole here is the performance to price ratio. AirWave debuts at $40, a full $20-$30 lower than earlier rivals, while offering a combination of very good audio, solid wireless performance, and the ability to run on a rechargeable battery for a half day at a time. The low price is the critical factor tipping it towards our high recommendation and A- rating rather than a B+: AirWave is currently the most affordable and quickly re-paired option we can recommend for adding Bluetooth receiving capabilities to a home speaker system or car with aux-in capabilities. If you’re planning on keeping it plugged in at all times for power, our advice would be to dedicate an old spare iPod or iPhone USB adapter to it; this is the only added expense that some users will have to deal with.
Company and Price
Company: Cobra Electronics
Compatible: All Bluetooth-compatible iPods, iPhones + iPads