Bluetooth "Lifestyle" Loudspeakers - Back to Mono, Again

AR-Bluetooth1a.jpgAccording to all the latest marketing surveys Bluetooth loudspeakers are "blowing up" in terms of sales numbers, surpassed only by Bluetooth-enabled headphones. And while wireless Bluetooth headphones still hold the promise of delivering an audiophile-level of high-performance sound, single, untethered, Bluetooth loudspeakers, with a few notable exceptions, are a sonic dead end.

Putting aside all the well-founded privacy concerns attached to AI-enabled devices, my primary issue with "smart" Bluetooth-enabled sound-reproduction devices is that stereo has been disappeared! All the spatial information that comes with a stereo image gets homogenized into one single wall of sound. 

AR-Bluetooth2aSmall.jpgPhil Spector would be pleased, but anyone who is used to hearing the information contained in a stereo image, mono doesn't cut it. Mono is suitable for background music, but it will never do what a high-performance stereo can do, which is stop you cold in your tracks because what you're hearing is SO DAMNED GOOD...with the vast majority of Bluetooth "loudspeakers" (do most even deserve to be called anything more than smart clock radios?) the best you can hope for is Muzak-level involvement.

Let's be honest, the vast majority of Bluetooth loudspeakers' best use is delivering the latest weather and traffic conditions, not playing music, but in all the surveys I've seen, "listening to music" is listed as one of the top, if not the top application for a Bluetooth loudspeaker, which for an audiophile, is a sad thing.

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I suppose an optimist might see the half-full part that might be that a whole generation of folks may have never heard a properly triangulated stereo system and when they do, it will immediately blow their minds and convert them into an audiophile...err maybe...

The problem is that you do need to educate your ear/brain somewhat to what and how to listen and understand what they are hearing. Sort of like the first time most folks try marijuana, it does nothing, but the second time, when your body has had time to "understand," fasten your seatbelts...

Bluetooth4a.jpgBut when most people say "listen to music" they don't mean it in the same way an audiophile does - most non-audiophiles listen to music as part of their multitasking lifestyle. They never sit down and listen as the only thing they are doing...and by never giving music their full attention relegates music to a background function - it's there, like air, to be taken for granted.

So, just to be perfectly clear, from a high-performance audio point of view mono Bluetooth AI-enabled loudspeakers are only slightly better than a Dixie- Cup and a string - low-fi for low-attention-spans. Not only are they mono but their harmonic balance severely truncated - "no highs, no lows..." and dynamic contrast is non-existent...

AR-Bluetooth5a.jpgIn my humble opinion a Bluetooth loudspeaker that does not produce a stereo image is an anti-fidelity product that sets home audio back to the early 1960's when clock radios could be found on almost every nightstand. Now we have little voice activated gizmos that serve the same function but with a bit more Jetson's style and the assumption that "good enough for weather reports" is good enough for music. It's not, and it never will be...because the gap between "good enough" and great sound is as wide as it has ever been, and, unfortunately, getting wider with every tiny new Bluetooth loudspeaker that takes the place of a true high-fidelity sound reproduction system in a modern home. 

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