Buyers Guide: From Studio to Stage Bluetooth Goes Pro

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When humans made the first tools in the Early Stone Age, one can imagine how quickly the trusty hammerstone would have become obsessed over. Perhaps a modern parallel could be made with our dependence on wireless technology. Since its induction in the late 1800’s, wireless communication and technology has become deeply embedded into our daily lives and spread into numerous industries.

Wireless technology has long been essential in the pro audio world, from large scale music productions to smaller theatres, houses of worship and more. For professional applications these wireless systems quickly become expensive and more complex to setup and deploy, but for more simple requirements, Bluetooth technology has made its way into the pro audio space with more devices adopting the standard. In this article we’re going to take a look at several categories of pro equipment sporting Bluetooth, highlighting the benefits of this technology and what some of our favourite pieces of gear are. From desktop monitors to PA systems, headphones to mixers, it seems Bluetooth is very much in vogue.

Speakers Big and Small

In a brief (but necessary) geek out, Bluetooth operates in the ISM (Industrial, Scientific and Medical) 2.4GHz frequency band range, (specifically 2.4 – 2.485GHz for Bluetooth 5.0), transmitting “packets” of information between electronic devices over these select radio waves, over small distances.

Bluetooth isn’t exactly a new thing for portable speakers, we’ve all probably seen a cylindrical boombox placed on the table at a friend’s BBQ once or twice. However, having this wireless capability built into certain compact desktop monitors, mains-powered PA, all-in-one PA and battery-powered PA systems offers users professional quality gear with the added convenience of being able to stream music (and in some cases control DSP) remotely, opening up a wealth of additional applications.

Desktop Monitors

Where real estate is limited and any extra cabling becomes a nuisance, having the ability to pair to desktop monitors in your studio, be it content creation or general office space can be a huge advantage. Additionally, if you’re collaborating and need to quickly share music ideas from multiple devices without the hassle of plugging and unplugging devices, having Bluetooth connectivity can help keep your session flowing smoothly without hindering the creative process. Our top pick for Bluetooth desktop monitor would be the new JBL 104-BT, with the PreSonus Eris 4.5BT and Pioneer DM-40BT also a worthy look.

Brand-Model JBL-104-BT PreSonus-Eris 4.5BT Pioneer-DM-40BT
Type: 2-way coaxial 2-way conventional 2-way conventional
Frequency Range: 60Hz – 20kHz 70Hz – 20kHz 70Hz – 30kHz
Max SPL (peak): 104dB 100dB
Power: 60 watts 50 watts 42 watts
LF Driver: 4.5” 4.5” 4”
HF Driver: 0.75” 1” 0.75”
Input Connectors: 2x 1/4″ balanced, 2x RCA unbalanced, 1/8” stereo unbalanced 1x Stereo 1/8″, 2x 1/4″ TRS balanced, 2x RCA unbalanced 1x Stereo 1/8″, 2x RCA unbalanced
Output Connectors: 1x 1/8” stereo headphone (with auto speaker mute) 1x 1/8” stereo headphone 1x 1/8” stereo headphone
Bluetooth: 5.0 5.0 4.2

Powered PA Speakers

Sometimes you just need to push some more air than what that aforementioned cylindrical speaker type is capable of. With many entry-level speakers now sporting Bluetooth connectivity, no need to worry about an external mixer or additional cables, instead you can sit back, relax and DJ from the comfort of the deck chair. The Turbosound Inspire iP300 is a powerful column style speaker with wide dispersion and plenty of punch. Same can be said of the latest in the classic Mackie Thump family, the Thump 12BST, with its impressive DSP power. But if we had to pick a speaker in this category it would be the new JBL IRX108BT and 112BT speakers, with their new user-friendly features for their price point. The IRX also supports Bluetooth 5.0, allowing users to enjoy higher-bandwidth and link two speakers together for more powerful sound and true stereo soundstage.

Brand-Model: JBL-IRX 112BT Mackie-Thump 12BST Turbosound-Inspire iP300
System Type: 12” powered 2-way 12” powered 2-way 2x 6.5” powered 2-way portable column
Maximum SPL: 127dB 126 dB 122 dB
Frequency Response (± 3 dB): 53 Hz – 20 kHz 57 Hz – 23kHz 50 Hz – 20kHz
Power Rating: 1300 Watts 1300 Watts 600 Watts
Bluetooth: 5.0 Audio streaming 3.0 Steaming and DSP control 4.1 Audio Streaming and DSP Control
DSP: 4 presets, DBX AFS automatic feedback suppression, bass boost 6 modes, 3-band EQ, HPF via Control App 4 preset EQ’s, 3-band EQ, reverb
I/O: 2x XLR/TRS combo mic/line inputs, 1x XLR pass-thru output 2x XLR/TRS combo mic/line/instrument inputs, 1x XLR pass-thru output 2x XLR/TRS combo mic/line inputs, 2x XLR link outputs
Dimensions (H x W x D) mm: 299 x 400 x 618.4 615 x 358 x 356 713 x 208 x 216
Net Weight: 12.25 kg 13.3 kg 11.9 kg

All-In-One PA Systems

For those requiring additional connectivity than that of a simple powered PA speaker, perhaps an all-in-one portable system will be up your alleys, such as the Yamaha Stagepas 400BT, JBL EON208P or Fender Passport Event. These typically comprise of 2 speakers powered by an included mixer, which typically includes multiple mic/line and instrument inputs plus Bluetooth. The flexible connectivity allows for smooth transitions for a small music act when cueing music between sets, or convenient streaming of backing tracks for instructors or presenters using a system such as this. If we had to pick one out of this bunch, the inclusion of phantom power, Hi-Z input and a headphone output on the JBL EON208P edges ahead of the others.

Brand-Model: Yamaha-Stagepas 400BT JBL-EON 208P Fender-Passport Event
Freq Range (-10dB): 55 Hz – 20kHz 60 Hz – 20 kHz
Woofer Size: 2x 8” 2x 8” 2x 8”
Sensitivity (SPL): 125 dB 121 dB
Power: 400 watts 300 watts 375 watts
Mixer:
Mic and Cable Inc:
8 channels
No
8 channels
Yes
7 channels
No
EQ: 2-band shelving 2-band shelving 2-band shelving
Phantom / Hi-Z: Yes / Yes Yes / Yes No / Yes
Effects: Reverb/Echo Reverb Reverb
Net Weight: 18.3 kg 17.6 kg 19.96 kg

Battery Powered PA

The request for high-quality professional sound whilst being able to be portable is in hot demand and luckily there’s some great battery powered PA solutions available. From compact portable rigs like the Bose S1 Pro or JBL EON ONE Compact through to more powerful linear array systems like the JBL EON ONE Pro, there’s gear available for all types of scenarios and requirements – all packing Bluetooth connectivity (check out our comparison video of the Bose S1 and JBL EON One Compact). Without the restrictions of being tethered to mains power, battery-operated systems like these give greater freedom to musicians, educators, celebrants and other public speakers requiring high power, long throw and wireless connectivity. Or perhaps, you just want to enjoy blasting some quality tunes on the beach. Either way, these rigs are conveniently portable, here’s the breakdown.

Brand-Model: JBL-EON ONE Compact Bose-S1 Pro JBL-EON ONE Pro
Freq Response: 37.5 Hz – 20 kHz 62 Hz – 17 kHz 37.5 Hz – 18.5 kHz
Woofer Size: 8” 6” 10”
Sensitivity (SPL): 112 dB 109 dB 118 dB
Power: 150 watts 250 watts
Mixer: 4 channels 3 channels 7 channels
EQ: 4 band (via app) 2 band 2 band
Phantom / Hi-Z: Yes / Yes No / ToneMatch Yes / Yes
Ducking: Yes No No
Effects: Yes Yes Yes
Bluetooth: Streaming + control of 4 units Streaming only Streaming only
App DSP Control: Yes No No
USB: External charging No External charging
Battery Life: 12 hrs 11 hrs 6 hrs
Dimensions (H x W x D) mm 399 x 255 x 291 330 x 241 x 286 594 x 266 x 401
Net Weight: 8 kg 7.1 kg 17 kg

Headphones

Much like our aforementioned speakers, headphones are certainly not new to Bluetooth technology, however, studio over-ear and in-ear headphones have recently jumped on board the Bluetooth train and are going down a treat.

With more musicians, producers, engineers, DJs and alike moving around from different studios, venues and travelling on tour, the demand for a studio-quality sound and rugged reliability on the road has become gargantuan! When you become attuned to the sound of a set of headphones in the studio or on stage, having that same sound on the road and not having to adjust to another set just for the convenience of wireless is indeed very desirable. Not to mention avoiding metres of cabling crammed into one’s pocket –cue inevitable cable spill, talk about an occupational hazard!

Users already familiar with leading headphone manufacturers such as AKG, Audio Technica, AIAIAI and others will be happy to know they offer select Bluetooth versions of their already existing pro range of headphones. No more carting around two separate pairs of cans or in-ears. When AKG announced the release of their K-371BT, needless to say, we were pretty excited! Boasting the same specs as the K-371 with the added Bluetooth capability, they look to be an absolute winner. For those who prefer an in-ear fit, Audio Technica’s ATH-ANC40BT are a solid, affordable set boasting active noise-cancelling and some handy accessories built for travel.

Brand-Model: AKG-K371BT AIAIAI-TMA-2 Wireless 2 Technics-EAH-F70N Audio Technica-ATH-ANC40BT
Type: Closed-back Closed-back Closed-back (ANC)* In-ear (ANC)*
Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 40 kHz 20 Hz – 20 kHz 4 Hz – 40 kHz (wired) 20 Hz – 24 kHz
Sensitivity: 114 dB SPL 120 dB SPL 101 dB SPL 100 dB SPL
Impedance: 32 ohms 32 ohms 28 ohms 16 ohms
Connectivity: Wired and Bluetooth 5.0 Wired and Bluetooth 4.2 Wired and Bluetooth 4.2 Wired and Bluetooth 3.0
Battery Life: 40 hours 16 hours 20 hours 13 hours
Connector: Mini XLR 3.5 mm mini-jack 3.5 mm mini-jack 3.5 mm mini-jack
Driver Size: 50 mm 40 mm 40 mm 13.5 mm
Weight: 300 g 279 g 292 g 35 g
Accessories: 2x straight cables (3m + 1.2m),1x coiled cable (3m), 1x 3.5mm to 6.5mm adaptor, 1x USB charging cable, 1x protective carry pouch 1x 1.5m straight cable with right angle USB charging cord: Approx. 0.5 m,
Detachable Cord: Approx. 1.2 m,
Airplane Adaptor,
Carrying case
Ear tips (XS, S, M, L), 1.0 m (3.3′) USB charging cable, aeroplane adapter, protective pouch

(ANC)* Active Noise Cancelling

Mixers

Aside from the mixers in the all-in-one systems we mentioned earlier, standalone pro audio mixers have joined the Bluetooth party, and they are very welcomed guests.

Being able to quickly and conveniently cue house music between bands sets at a venue is paramount to keeping vibes high. There’s nothing worse than the last note of a bands set ringing out to be met with deafening silence as the engineer hasn’t brought up the house music to fill the room, pretty, pretty, pretty awkward. Having a playback device paired to the mixer via Bluetooth means the engineer can cue music from wherever they are in the venue, can switch songs and control volume remotely and don’t have to stand in proximity to the mixer to pull up a fader. What’s more, the playback device in question doesn’t have to be tethered by a cable and therefore stationed next to the mixer. No more worrying about that new smartphone getting pinched at the gig, phew!

As for practical use in a studio environment for both musicians, podcasters and other content creators alike, Bluetooth functionality becomes very practical for sharing ideas on the fly when other physical inputs are already taken up on the mixer. It also means you or a guest/collaborator can easily connect to the mixer and play from their connected device without the hassle of extra cabling.

Pro mixers boasting this feature are available from small format 6 channel right up to 24 channel beasts, so whatever your other input count requirements are, there’s something out for there for everyone. Each of the popular Tascam MODEL 12/16/24 mixers feature Bluetooth. The new Presonus ARc 8/12/16 mixers each feature Bluetooth 5.0, so for those also sporting a 5.0 playback device can enjoy the benefits the latest version has to offer. Due to its rich feature set, USB and SD card multitracking and overall retro-modern aesthetic, the Tascam Model 12 takes the cake for us.

Brand-Model: Tascam-Model 12 Presonus-AR12c Peavey-PV 10BT
Inputs: 10 inputs 14 inputs 10 inputs
Outputs: Main LR, Sub LR, click
(with tap tempo function)
Main LR, Ctr Room LR Main LR, 2x control room outs, 4x direct outs
Aux: 2 3 (1x dedicated FX) 1
Headphone Out: 2 with separate control 1 1
EQ: 3-band swept mids  3-band swept mids 3-band fixed
HPF: 8 4 4
Inserts/Compressors: 2 / 8 2 / none None / 2
Phantom Power: Yes Yes Yes
Hi-Z Inputs: 8 2 1
Digital Effects: Yes – 16 presets Yes – 16 presets Yes
USB Interface: USB-C 12 in / 10 out USB-C 12 in / 4 out USB-B – audio in/out
Bit Depth / Sample Rate: 24-bit / 48kHz 24-bit / 96kHz 16-bit / 48kHz
SD Card Record: 12 in/10 track playback Stereo Main No
Bluetooth: 5.0 5.0 3.0
Other Features: Punch in/out on SD card, MIDI in/out, DAW control (HUI/MCU) N/A USB A MP3 and WAV playback
Dimensions (H x W x D) mm: 99 x 343 xx 360 89 x 381 x 397 420 x 409 x 89
Weight: 4.3 kg 5.4 kg 4.3 kg

Going Pro with Bluetooth audio

It’s refreshing to see what was once considered a consumer-level wireless technology has now been adopted into pro-level equipment. Why is this significant? Well, its created a crossover where previous consumer gear users are introduced to the advantages of higher quality pro-level gear whilst still feeling comfortable using. Conversely, for already seasoned pro’s, they are able to enjoy the convenience of this useful technology to enhance their workflow. Whilst there still might be some who will snub Bluetooth and prefer the old-fashioned hard-wired connection, there’s no denying this wireless protocol is fast becoming the norm. With its massive growth in popularity, customer demand and integration into pro-level gear, who wouldn’t enjoy the convenience it has to offer?

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