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The Hi-Fi + Hi-Res Audiophiles' Bluetooth Headphone Adapter Thread

Discussion in 'Portable Headphone Amps' started by ClieOS, May 13, 2019.
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  1. ClieOS Contributor
    I has always been interested in wireless headphone audio, more specifically BT adapter for headphone. Recently we have seen major advancement on BT codec as we moved from SBC/AAC to aptX (plus aptX LL and HD), then Sony's LDAC, Huawei backed SaviAudio's HWA (LHDC), and Hiby's UAT. This means BT transmission is moving from lossy Red Book CD 16bit / 48kHz compression to almost lossless 24bit / 96kHz (and soon perhaps 24bit / 192kHz) Hi-Res standard. We also see more BT5.0 implementation with newer BT chipsets, pairing with independent DAC / codec chip for improved SQ. Given the trend, I think it is about time for a general discussion thread dedicated to these small but high quality BT adapters. To set the ground rule and scope of discussion, we will keep it to BT adapters that are:

    (1) Relatively small, near or smaller than a Zippo lighter or at least designed to be able to put into a shirt's front pocket / clip to collar / hang onto the neck, etc without too much effort..
    (2) Supports at least one Hi-Res / HD codec, meaning at minimum of 24bit, i.e. aptx-HD, LDAC, LHDC or UAT.
    (3) Support on-board mic / voice input so it can take phone call.
    (4) Above average, if not really good SQ.

    [Important] A note to all Apple user - your devices only support AAC and SBC. So all the above hi-res codec shouldn't be a prime concern to you but AAC support is a must.

    So far the short list is (*in no particular order):

    1. Radsone EarStudio ES100 | 3.5mm SE + 2.5mm Bal | Qualcomm CSR8675 + Dual AKM AK4375a | app enhanced | firmware upgradable | LDAC, aptX-HD, AAC, aptX, SBC | USB DAC | BT5.0 | Type-C | MSRP: $99
    2. FiiO BTR3 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 + AKM AK4376a | app enhanced | firmware upgradable | LDAC, LHDC, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | USB DAC | BT4.2 | Type-C | MSRP: $70
    3. Astell&Kern AK XB10 | 3.5mm SE + 2.5mm Bal | Qualcomm CSR8675 + Cirrus Logic CS4350 | aptX-HD, aptX, AAC, SBC | microUSB | MSRP: $180 ($85)
    4. Auris Amplify | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 + AKM AK4377 | LDAC, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | Type-C | MSRP: $99
    5. TempoTec Blue | 3.5mm SE | Savitech SA9910 + Cirrus Logic WM8904 | LHDC, SBC | microUSB | MSRP: $42
    6. Bluewave Audio GET | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 | aptX-HD, aptX, AAC, MP3, SBC | USB DAC | BT5.0 | microUSB | MSRP: $130
    7. Audio Technica AT-PHA55BT | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm + ESS ES9118 | LDAC, aptX, AAC, SBC | BT4.2 | microUSB | MSRP: $130 ($140)
    8. Ampio M1 VS-1880 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm | LDAC, aptX-HD, AAC, aptX, SBC | USB DAC | BT5.0 | microUSB | MSRP: $190 (n/a)
    9. Ampio P1 VS-1480 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm | LDAC, aptX-HD, AAC, aptX, SBC | Qualcomm | USB DAC | BT5.0 | microUSB | MSRP: $140 (n/a)
    10. ArtExtreme R3 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 | aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | BT5.0 | Type-C | MSRP: $87
    11. F. Audio BT03 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 + TI PCM5102A | aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | USB DAC | Type-C | MSRP: $42
    12. Levn BTI-031 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 | aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | BT5.0 | Tx + Rx | microUSB | MSRP: $28
    13. NF HiFi NFA-L1 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 + ES9038Q2M | aptX-HD, aptX, SBC | BT5.0 | MSRP: $145
    14. Hiby W5 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 + ESS ES9218P | app enhanced | firmware upgradable | UAT, LDAC, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | BT5.0 | Type-C | MSRP: $109
    15. Shanling UP2 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 + ESS ES9218P | firmware upgradable | LDAC, LHDC, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | USB DAC | BT5.0 | Type-C | MSRP: $79
    16. ArtExtreme R7 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 | aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | BT5.0 | MSRP: $115
    17. FiiO M5 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 + AKM4377 | firmware upgradable | LDAC, LHDC, aptX-HD, AAC, aptX, SBC | USB DAC | Tx + Rx | Type-C | MSRP: $110
    18. Hagibis X3 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 | aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | BT5.0 | Tx + Rx | multi-points | microUSB | MSRP: $30
    19. Hiby W3 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 + AKM AK4377a | app enhanced | firmware upgradable | UAT, LDAC, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | BT5.0 | Type-C | MSRP: $43
    20. FiiO BTR5 (ETA: September 2019) | 3.5mm SE + 2.5mm Bal | Qualcomm CSR8675 + dual ESS ES9218P | firmware upgradable | LDAC, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | USB DAC | Type-C | MSRP: --
    21. Shanling UP4 (ETA: Fall 2019) | 3.5mm SE + 2.5mm Bal | Qualcomm CSR8675 + dual ESS ES9218P | firmware upgradable | LDAC, LHDC, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | USB DAC | BT5.0 | Type-C | MSRP: --
    22. Qudelix-5K (ETA: Early 2020) | 3.5mm SE + 2.5mm Bal | Qualcomm QCC5124 + dual AKM AK4377a | firmware upgradable | LDAC, aptX Adaptive, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | USB DAC | BT5.0 | Type-C | MSRP: --
    *Tx + Rx = can work as both transmitter and receiver.
    *SE = Single-Ended Output
    *Bal = Balanced Output
    *($) = Street Price
    *(n/a) = Not Available / Hard To Find

    Any other you guy think should also make the list?


    Extra Note
    For those of you who use BT headphone adapter, here is one accessory that I strongly recommend - it is called ReadeREST on Amazon but you can find similar products on Aliexpress if you search "magnetic glasses holder". Instead of clipping your BT adapter on an uncomfortable / awkward position on your shirt, this allows you to place your BT adapter with far less restriction.

    Last edited: Sep 10, 2019
    peter123, Nolbert0, pstickne and 2 others like this.
  2. ClieOS Contributor

    UPDATE: June 20, 2019.

    Radsone ES100
    (+) Clean and transparent sound
    (+) Single-ended and balanced output
    (+) Great app support with many extra features
    (-) Buttons can be hard to press at time
    (-) Only average BT transmission speed./ range / stability
    (-) Mostly plastic construction

    FiiO BTR3
    (+) Full range of BT codec support
    (+) App support
    (+) Solid build quality
    (-) Only decent driving power
    (-) Warmish, slightly congested sound
    (-) No standalone app

    Hiby W5
    (+) Special UAT codec support for 24/192 transmission
    (+) Lots of power, great dynamic
    (+) Futuristic design
    (+) Charging pod for extended playtime
    (+) Great BT transmission speed./ range / stability
    (-) UAT isn't stable enough to be useful
    (-) Relatively short standalone playtime
    (-) Full touch control is finicky / hard to use / no physical lock button to pervert accidental pressing
    (-) Plastic shirt clip seems filmsy and not practical
    (-) App supported but required more polish
    (-) No volume control on the adapter itself
    (-) Silicone sleeve for the charging pod doesn't fit very tightly.

    Shanling UP2
    (+) Full range of BT codec support
    (+) Slightly warmish sound with good dynamic
    (+) Good power output
    (+) Solid build quality
    (-) No app support
    (-) Shirt clip / jacket is solid but not the most practical

    Tempotec Blue
    (+) Good neutral sound
    (+) Lots of output power
    (+) Good battery life
    (+) Single-ended and balanced output
    (-) Large body and heavy in weight
    (-) No shirt clip or lanyard attachment (pocket only)
    (-) Only support LHDC (HWA) and SBC
    (-) LHDC is not the most stable of codec
    (-) Loud powering up / down sound

    Out of the five, W5 probably has the best SQ with just a faint touch of warmth and overall very good dynamic, no doubt thanks to its extra output power - but it also caused it to have the shortest playtime, which is why the need of an charging pod. As good as it sounds, W5 is hard to recommend due to its many shortcomings - while these are mostly just small flaws, they do add up to what II think is a fairly clumsy design. Most people who use BT adapter are those are willing to compromise SQ for a bit more convenience. But in the case of W5, you are compromising more for SQ than convenience. The full touch control is especially a pain to use - sometime it is hard to press correctly, other time it is too easy to mis-press - 'lacking polish' is what comes to my mind after a few days of use. UAT is too unstable to be of any usefulness (thankfully LDAC is great on W5).and the app still need some work. Hiby might have aimed too high with the W5 futuristic design. It could well be a great BT adapter if it just goes for a more conventional design.

    ES100 has been well established so I am not going to spend much time talking about it - it has a good clean sound and power output, but what sets it apart is the excellent app and a full range of extra features that you can control. ES100 is what sets the standard of how any future higher-end BT adapter should measure up to. On the other hand, UP2 is a really good alternative for those who wants something that is just a touch more warm and musical sounding than the slightly sterile sounding ES100. The multi-functional scroll wheel is not difficult to use as well. If Shanling can invest more time to make an independent app for UP2, it would be perfect.

    BTR3 in itself is a solid BT adapter and FiiO has been doing a good job adding more features to its app, though unfortunately it is built into the FiiO Music app and not an independent app of its own. By all means a good sounding BT adapter when compared to all the other regular BT adapter out there, it does however fall slightly short when compared to the likeness of ES100 / W5 / UP2 as BTR3 sounds more congested in comparison.

    Tempotec is a Chinese company that makes mostly DAC and amp, and as such perhaps it is why Blue really designed more like a portable DAC/amp rather than an BT adapter. It is heavy and a bit on the larger size with a fairly limited codec support, but it does offer fairly good SQ with lots of driving power - assuming if you can get a stable LHDC connection in the first place. The powering up and down sound is also overly loud and annoying. All and all, Blue is rough on the edge and not recommended.


    [More Impression]

    Impression on Hiby W5 and followup by @pstickne
    Impression on ArtExtreme R3 by @Hal Rockwell
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2019
  3. cesdag
    Great thread! Do you have any info on when the btr5 will be released? I own the ak xb10, I do like the sound quality, but the Bluetooth connection is not very stable though, I get small interruptions here and there. The build quality is not that great as well. I use mostly the balanced output, so I was looking for other options with balanced output but better Bluetooth connection.
  4. ClieOS Contributor
    No other info on BTR5 for now. FiiO is keeping their lips tight, but it probably won't be very far away from actual release as they usually won't start promoting unless they are almost ready to begin production. We will probably going to see the first batch being released in China first as FiiO like to do very small first batch to make sure there won't be any major manufacturing problem down the line and so quantity usually is limited to their native market.

    One of the main problem with these hi-res BT codec is bandwidth, and namely interference from WiFi. Unfortunately it doesn't seem like there is an quick solution over this issue - the nosier the wireless environment, the worst any hi-res adapter will performs.
  5. cesdag
    Thanks for the info, gonna be following this thread for future updates. In the meantime, I may give a try to the es100.
  6. abirdie4me
    I use the es100 in my car, has been very solid and reliable upgrade over my previous generic Bluetooth adapter. Always on the look out for an upgrade though..
  7. subtec
    Reminder that Bluetooth 5 has no effect on sound quality, range, or battery life for headphones or BT audio adapters. The changes in BT 5 only apply to Bluetooth Low Energy mode, which is not currently used for audio transmission.


    As a suggestion, it might be useful to add battery size and/or runtime to the specs.

    Here's a list of some different adapters I compiled a while back:

    Shanling M0 (DAP)
    80mW in 32ohm, 630mAh 15hr, AAC/aptX/LDAC

    Radsone Earstudio
    40mW in 32ohm, 350mAh 14hr, aptX HD/LDAC (CSR8675)

    Bluewave Get
    125mW in 32ohm, 200mAh 6hr, aptX HD (CSR8675)

    Podo Labs Jack
    2Vrms in 600ohm, 300mAh 12hr, aptX (CSR8670)

    Fiio Q5
    400mW in 32ohm (2.5mm bal)/150mW in 32ohm (3.5mm SE), 3800mAh 10hr, aptX (CSR8670)

    Fiio BTR1
    15mW in 32ohm, 205mAh 8hr, aptX (CSR8670)

    Fiio BTR3
    300mAh 11hr, AAC/aptX/aptX-LL/aptX-HD/LDAC

    Artextreme/Jates R3
    450mAh 30hr, AAC/aptX/aptX-LL/aptX-HD, <200ohm


    Personally, I'm hoping to see some aptX Adaptive adapters in the next year. That's about the only thing that could get me to upgrade from my current ES100 (as well as better battery life).
    Last edited: May 15, 2019
  8. ClieOS Contributor
    Car do act somewhat like a Faraday cage and actually help to reduce outside interference.

    As said on the first post, it has to support minimum 24bit (aptX-HD, LDAC, LHDC, UAT) otherwise it can't be considered hi-res / HD. Also the ability to take call otherwise it is more of a Bluetooth DAC/amp and not a headphone adapter.

    Standalone, battery size / life + runtime is less than useful information since it has to be interpreted with actual usage / load / output power and testing condition. Power output is troublesome as testing with THD+N @ 1% (*a common international practice) or @ 10% (*Japanese standard) will give dramatical different result. Testing with different codec also plays major role in runtime as SBC vs. LDAC is going to have very different runtime even on the same device. Unless these devices are tested all in relatively similar condition, spec like battery size/life and output power really don't make for good comparative reference, thus I do not include them in the list.
    Last edited: May 15, 2019
  9. ClieOS Contributor
    Short list update: F. Audio BT03 and Levn BTI-031.
    Last edited: May 22, 2019
  10. CKS0923
    I have been searching for a pair of BT headphones that sounds like my NAD HP-50. I had my mind set on the HP-70s but keep reading that they can sound edgy at times, which hasn't been the case for the HP-50. Then one day I came across an article introducing a BT receiver and later found this thread. This could have been the perfect solution for my need! Converting the HP-50 to wireless! One question I have is, how does these (< $150 ones) generally sound when compared to, say headphones wired to a Sansa Clip+?
  11. C_Lindbergh
    Last edited: May 24, 2019
  12. ClieOS Contributor
    I have not listened to my Clip+ for a long time, but I'll say at least the really good BT adapter, such as FiiO BTR3 and EarStudio ES100 can compete with that level of SQ easily.

    Didn't see a mention of mic. By the look of it, indeed it is more of a BT amp/DAC rather than an adapter.
  13. Costia
    Could you add price or price range to the list?

    mW to 32ohm would be nice as well, since personally i am looking for an adapter for fullsized headphones with a regular 3.5 connector.
    Last edited: May 27, 2019
  14. ClieOS Contributor
    Sure, I'll add them later - but price does change a bit when you have big discount from Amazon / Aliexpress / Taobao alike. Some of them are also limited to a certain location of sale so shipping could also be a factor. Listing just MSRP might not be the most helpful for some of them.
  15. ClieOS Contributor
    Short list updated with MSRP and street price.

    Also we got an ETA for FiiO BTR5: July.
    cesdag likes this.
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