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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Bayan Audio StreamPort review

The StreamPort is a cute little plastic cuboid – little bigger than a matchbox – that picks up music without wires, using Bluetooth from your PC or smartphone. It plugs into one of Bayan Audio's iPod speaker docks or directly into a hi-fi system via a pair of analogue phono output sockets.

Power is piped in though a mini-USB port, using a regular 5V USB mains adaptor supplied in the box.

Available in black or white with colour-matching adaptor and cables, it's a straightforward device with no other controls included or indeed needed once it's been set up.

You switch on by holding a button on top for a couple of seconds. The first time you use it you must hold down for around 5 seconds, to put it into pairing mode. You'll need to power down, then do the press-and-hold each time you wish to pair with a new device.

A synthesised trill of notes plays through your music system's speakers when it's ready to pair, and both white and blue LEDs on the front blink slowly in unison. No codes are required – pairing is completed immediately.

Alternatively if your phone has an NFC sensor, you could try using the StreamPort's near-field facility to pair handset to Bluetooth adaptor.

And if your sending device supports it, the wireless link will use the aptX codec. This should give better sound quality than the default SBC (sub-band coding) compression system used by the majority of phones and tablets.

You will find aptX available on some Google Android handsets, and from Apple Macs running OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.5 or later. Conspicuous by its absence is support for aptX over Bluetooth from any current iPhone or iPad.

It may be better than SBC, but aptX is still a lossy compression system. It reduces the data bandwith of the original audio bitstream, in a bid keep within the limited bandwidth available to the Bluetooth A2DP stereo transmission standard. But aptX in principle has the best fidelity for stereo audio over Bluetooth today.

Sound quality of music played over Bluetooth through the StreamPort could be very good, if clearly not as clean and well resolved as an uncompressed playback chain.

Compared to a fully-wired reference of Apple Mac mini and Benchmark DAC2 HGC digital-to-analogue convertor, the StreamPort gave a more mechanical sound, with a slightly disjointed flow.

This was not helped by minute audio dropouts, some almost imperceptibly brief, while other times the flow was interrupted by occasional soft pops and squelches.

We tried two different MacBook notebooks, at a range of between 3m and 6m, and experienced some spotty reception. Increasing range to 10m was enough to introduce complete seizures in the music.

At its best, the StreamPort gave us the wireless convenience of being able to send music from a notebook on our lap on the sofa to a hi-fi system in the same room.

Quality is down on a wired connection of course. 16-bit CD-sourced material was heard with reduced resolution as you should expect from a music file that has undergone lossy compression. In this case we heard too-prominent exaggerated treble, not entirely gelling with the music below.

Bass was reasonably solid and deep although pitch definition fell behind, making it harder to follow bass tunes.

In a recording of the LSO playing Holst's The Planets Suite, cymbals stood out with their more biscuit-tinny decay. We pulled out another Bluetooth wireless audio adaptor, an Arcam rBlink, to hear how it handled the same music.

This gave a more subdued shimmer to metallic percussion, heard as a more sonorous gong that retained better sense of yellow glister. The Arcam was also more engaging in its overall drive, helped by a better sense of slam and excellent stereo precision. But bear in mind, the £160 Arcam costs almost four times the price of the Bayan.

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