TP-LINK HA100 Bluetooth Music Receiver
We take a look at a new TP-LINK audio product and see how it works.
TP-LINK are a well know brand in the UK for their Networking Products, however they don’t just specialise in networking, they have a good range of USB Power bank Chargers, Security cameras and now with this new product a Bluetooth Music Receiver for your home HiFi system.
I’ve managed to get my hands on one of the first units to arrive at CCL and here is my run down of the product.
So what is a Bluetooth Music Receiver? Is it going to change my life?
The receiver creates a wireless (Bluetooth) link between a bluetooth enabled audio device (like a tablet or smartphone) and a non-Bluetooth enabled audio device like a home stereo. Typically, the traditional way to play your phone music through your home hifi would be to use a cable connected to the headphone port on the mobile device. But this requires the cable to be permanently connected whilst in use, meaning the phone has to be left with the hifi and controlling your music would mean physically going to the phone/hifi and using it whilst connected via the cable.
The Bluetooth connection allows you to connect wirelessly so you are no longer limited with the physical connection of the cable. Your phone can remain in your pocket allowing easy access to changing your music and controlling the sound.
The outer box is a slightly different design to that of the networking products, gone is the green colouring and replaced with a clean white design with simple text and diagrams representing its function.
The front shows the actual device from the top and has the Bluetooth Logo, NFC logo and a musical note logo on the bottom corner, the left and rear sides list the various specifications and features of the device.
• Connect via your Bluetooth or NFC-enabled device using the HA100 or NFC Tag
• Connects to any stereo supporting 3.5mm or RCA jacks
• Transmits up to 20 meters away, within direct line of sight
• Bluetooth 4.1, compatible with all A2DP stereo Bluetooth devices.
There are a few items of interest listed as part of the features, firstly the NFC tag, this is the first time I’ve come across an NFC device so it will be interesting to see what this offers, and secondly how it mentions line of sight for the transmission.
The right side lists the packing contents and also has a QR code for more information (a quick scan of the QR brings up the TP-LINK website)
• Bluetooth Music Receiver
• Power Adapter
• 3.5mm to RCA Cable
• 3.5mm to 3.5mm Cable
• Quick start Guide
• NFC Tag
The dimensions of the box are as follows: 9.6cm Wide x 13.6cm Tall and 7.1 cm Deep.
The box opens up from the bottom and slides out from the outer sleeve. Inside you are presented with the device itself, wrapped in a protective wrap sat in a plastic insert separating it from the accessories.
The Music Receiver
Firstly, upon removing the device from the packing you will notice how small the device is. I had imagined it to be a similar size to the Logitech one reviewed in 2011 <link> or maybe even the size of a Roku or Apple TV stream, but no its really very slim stylish.
The top of the device is exactly as seen on the front of the box, the top tapers down to a point at the front of the device, with the 2 ports on the back of the unit at the raised edge. The bottom has a soft rubber base, meaning it’s not going to scratch of damage your expensive hifi separates. The rubber base also helps to stop it moving around.
As mentioned the ports are on the back of the device: a 3.5mm port for the audio out and a micro USB for the power to the device. There are no physical controls or buttons on the device.
We already know what to expect from the contents listed on the side of box, but it’s worth a look anyway. It’s nice to see both types of connectivity cable for the audio. Most larger home hifis will need the RCA (phono) to 3.5mm cable, where as many of the smaller lifestyle units will use the 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable.
The power is handled by a micro USB port, the box simply lists power adapter however the box contains a Micro USB to USB A cable and a UK mains to USB Port charger. This is also a very welcome addition, many newer hifis are USB equipped, so rather than using the mains plug you could just connect straight to a spare USB for powering the device.
The final two items are the instruction manual (which I will skip past, it can be downloaded here if you fancy a read) and the NFC tag. NFC is a new technology to me, so I will investigate this later on and what’s its means to have it included on this device.
Getting it up and running
The HA100 comes with everything you will need; I can’t think of home audio setup that would require you to need a different set of connections. My HiFi separates amplifier uses the red and white RCA connections its just a matter of connecting the RCA cable to a spare Input on the amplifier, in my case this is the AUX connection. (you may have a spare connection labelled PHONO, these are a special connection for a turntable and without a separate converter this device will not work on these ports, you will need to use any of the others, tape, CD, AUX etc will be ok)
My amp is an older one and doesn’t have a USB connection, so I will power the device using the included mains adapter and cable. The LED on the front illuminates white to show the power is connected and the device is ready.
The next steps are onto your mobile phone or Bluetooth enabled devices. I’m using my iPhone 5S which also supports the Bluetooth 4 connectivity used on the device, however if you have an older smartphone or tablet they will work just fine as the Bluetooth is backwards compatible with the older versions.
Opening up the Bluetooth option on my phone I can see “TP-LINK_Music” displayed on the Devices section, pairing is simply connecting the unit, by tapping the name on the list. Different devices may have a slightly different method of pairing, if in doubt lease refer your devices user guide.
Once connected the LED on the front turns to the familiar blue colouring to represent connected. Make sure your amplifier is powered up and has the correct input selected (my case this is AUX) then back on the phone open up your music app and press play. Simple
On the iPhone the TP-LINK shows up under the AirPlay menu, so you can easily switch between the iPhone speaker and any other devices in the locality.
The packaging states a 20m range with line of sight, during my testing around 20m is what I managed to achieve, however line of sight is not a requirement for operation, I was able to move between rooms and still continue connection, If you have particular thick walls or if there is lots of interference from other devices you might require the line of sight for a good connection but I didn’t run into any issues.
The audio quality from the device whilst connected to my iPhone was pretty good, some tracks did sound a little compressed and lacked some of the high trebles and low bass notes when compared to the same song play via CD but I think that is to be expected as MP3s can vary massively in their quality (bitrate) and this will need to be further compressed for Bluetooth transmission.
I then had a bit of brainwave, as the unit uses a RCA to 3.5mm cable I can compare the direct difference in sound quality between using a cable connected to the headphone port and using the bluetooth receiver.
As I already had the device connected via Bluetooth played a series of tracks listing out for areas that sounded particularly good and bad. Next I powered down the HA100 and removed the 3.5mm cable from the back and connected that directly to the headphones port on the iPhone, then set it playing the same playlist, once again listing out for the same points in the music.
I was surprised to find out that they were almost identical, the Bluetooth streaming lacked a little bit of volume compared to the cable but that easily fixed with a little tweek up on the amp. I had initially assumed that the compressed sound I had experienced was down to the music being transmitted via the Bluetooth signal, but it turns out it’s the compression on the MP3 or the music app itself.
The device can hold upto 8 different paired device profiles, it will only play from one device at a time. If you want to change device, simply stop the music on one and disconnect it then the other device can play.
Connecting to a PC
Both my laptop and my Desktop PC have built in Bluetooth connectivity so my final test is to connect up the PC to the HA100 and see how that works out,
I’m running the Windows 10 Insider Preview on my PC but the process if very similar on a Windows 8/8.1 PC
Start, Type Bluetooth, click Bluetooth Settings
This shows all devices within range, you can see TP-LINK_Music, Click the device and then click pair. The device then sets itself as the default audio device and anything that would normally play out of the speakers is played from the Hifi via the HA100
As I’ve now got it connected via my PC I have much more control over the music file being played.
Sound quality via the PC is great, it coped with many different bitrates of music, the lower bitrate music did suffer from the same compression as noted on the iPhone. This compression is always found on the lower bit rate MP3 files however when played via the much higher quality audio circuits on the hifi system it makes them much more apparent. Having said that anything over 128kbps played fine as was of CD quality. I must have got some lower bitrate songs as part of my itunes library. Reloading some new tracks and re connecting via Bluetooth from the iPhone resulted in a much better performance.
What is NFC
NFC stands for Near Field Communication, and according to Wikipedia is a set of protocols that enables devices to establish radio communicate with each other by simply touching or bringing them together.
With the HA100 what this allows us to do is setup the Bluetooth connection without having to go through the settings and options. You can simply connect the receiver as usual then tap your phone on the receiver and the music begins transmitting to the device via Bluetooth. My iPhone 5S doesn’t have NFC so I’ve been unable to test this feature, I had planned on borrowing an iPhone 6 from our developer but it turns out that the NFC on the Iphone 6 is currently reserved for Apple Pay only and doesn’t support Bluetooth pairing via NFC. I will locate another device with NFC for testing this at a later date.
The final part of the NFC feature is the NFC Tag, this little tag has embedded inside the code programing pairing code as that found in actual device. This allows you to stick the tag somewhere else in your home away from the Hifi (but still within Bluetooth range!) giving you another tap to connect point for the streaming.
When I’ve ever wanted to run my music from the PC or Mobile to my HiFi I’ve used a 3.5mm to RCA cable, this has been perfect if its just me in the house, but when you have guests round etc. it can be a problematic to keep returning to the hifi to change the track or adjust the volume. This solves that problem the music streams wirelessly from the phone and I can control everything whilst being stood at the hifi. The NFC sounds like a neat little feature, I will get my hands on a newer phone and give this a try myself.
Overall sound quality is great, if you are experiencing any poor sound quality issues check out the quality of the source files, I was surprised as to how much this affected the audio quality in my tests.
Build quality is of the usual TP-LINK high standards, it’s nice to see they have thought about the different types of setups people might have and included different cable types.
I imagine this product isn’t for everyone, but if you regularly connect your phone or PC to a hifi using a cable why not think about using one of these for great flexibility. I’m thinking now of loads of usages party’s, bbqs etc.
The device is currently listed at CCL for around £21.99 + delivery and I think that offers great value for money. There are other Bluetooth devices on the market without the newer Bluetooth 4.1 or the NFC for much more money.