I remember the first time I heard anyone talk about Bluetooth. Some ten years ago, a random person in line at a food truck asked me if my plain old flip phone had Bluetooth. I thought, "what in the world is Bluetooth?". He proceeded to explain it would allow me to connect my phone to a Bluetooth printer. I thought, "what in the world is a Bluetooth printer, and why would I want one?". I walked away from the food truck with my nutritious, gourmet salad (and by salad I mean the lettuce and tomato on my greasy burger), still not convinced Bluetooth had any practically useful purpose. Today, I rely on it more than I could have imagined. It connects my phone, tablet, laptop, car, keyboard, mouse, A/V receiver, and a few other audio devices (yet strangely not my printer) without the need for wires. It is so convenient and easy to use I almost forget sometimes that I used to HAVE to find a 3.5mm headphone cable to be able to play my mp3s on the "big stereo". As common as it is now, many audio devices - even high end gear - still lack this great feature. The hardware required for a Bluetooth receiver is so compact it can fit into a device the size of a common USB thumb drive, and requires very little power. Despite this, many audio enthusiasts are left with the choice to either replace some of their high quality audio gear for something new, or adopt a standalone Bluetooth receiver with audio outputs. These range from cheap/affordable to expensive. I have tried the cheap route and well, you get what you pay for - not much. This is where the Nyrius Songo comes in. It is a reasonably priced, compact standalone Bluetooth audio receiver that aims to provide excellent sound quality, convenience, and reliability. Keep your minimalist high end audio gear, or hang on to that vintage receiver you have loved since the 70s, but bring it up to date with your mobile devices for a match made in heaven. You may be thinking there's no way to get good quality audio over a wireless connection, but Nyrius says otherwise. Let's find out if they are right.
Design, Build Quality, and Aesthetics
As I said, the actual hardware required for a Bluetooth receiver is very minimal, allowing Nyrius to package it into a nice and compact enclosure. It is about the size of a [square] hockey puck, but certainly does not weigh as much. Oh, and I would not recommend using it to practice your slapshot. On the rear of the unit are connections for power, analog audio out (3.5mm stereo jack) and digital audio out (TOSLINK optical audio output). A blue status LED on the front of the unit lets you know what the Songo is doing. Nyrius has incorporated the Bluetooth 3.0 A2DP EDR profile into the Songo HiFi. The A2DP stands for Advanced Audio Distribution Profile and this part is required for devices intended for audio streaming. The term EDR stands for Enhanced Data Rate, which means the ability to transfer more data per second than devices with earlier versions of Bluetooth. Bluetooth EDR is capable of up to 3.0Mbps bandwidth. For comparison, that is close to the download rate of a very good 3G cellular connection, or a very basic broadband home internet connection. This is more than capable of handling a high quality 2-channel audio stream. Initially EDR increased power consumption of Bluetooth devices, but this issue was addressed with Bluetooth 3.0. This is obviously more of a concern for battery powered devices, but may still be comforting to those of you with the environment in mind. There is one more acronym in the name: aptX. This is an audio codec used by the transmitting and receiving devices to compress and decompress the audio stream. It is an alternative to the default SBC codec used in the Bluetooth standard. Both devices must be aptX-equipped to take advantage of it. The specified range of the Songo is 33ft (line of sight) which should be sufficient for use in most homes.
The construction of the Songo Hifi is very simple, most likely consisting of a single PCB inside a two-piece plastic enclosure. It is plenty sturdy considering it is not intended to be very portable, and will most likely sit in or on an equipment rack or entertainment stand. The included power and audio cables allow it to be placed several feet away from the rest of your audio gear if needed. Overall, the look and feel of the unit itself and the packaging indicate a very good quality product. Its small size and inconspicuous presence allow the Songo to be placed just about anywhere without detracting from the appearance of its surroundings. The subtle blue LED on the front should coordinate well with most modern AV gear, but still fit in nicely with different styles of equipment. It is not something I would imagine spending a lot of time looking at, so there is no real need for a stylish design here.
Setup and Operation
Physically connecting the Songo to my existing equipment was quick and easy. All I needed was a single power outlet, and a 3.5mm audio cable (included). Within a few minutes of plugging it in I had completed the binding process with my phone and the Songo was up and running. Once powered on it becomes discoverable by other Bluetooth devices. I simply selected it when it popped up in the Bluetooth device list within my iPhone's settings and the two devices were connected in a matter of seconds - no waiting, no passwords. It will remember your device (up to eight devices actually) and automatically connect when you are within range. I have found the auto-connect to be very consistent pretty much any time I am at home. Mobile phone users should be mindful that leaving Bluetooth on and connected to a device will increase battery drain.
Like any other wireless device, the Songo is vulnerable to interference from other wireless devices. This means placement can be very critical. In my home theater (where I conducted this review) all of my A/V electronics are stored on a studio style rack in a closet off the front of the room. The rack also hosts an Apple Airport WiFi router and an older MacBook which I use for REW and occasional web streaming. It is also very normal for me to bring my iPad or another laptop into the room with me to browse the web (and the HTS forums of course!) while I listen to music or watch a movie. I think the majority of our readers would agree that this is pretty typical for a media room/theater environment. However, these devices can wreak havoc on the performance of a Bluetooth receiver like the Songo. This proved to be the case for me early in the review. My initial placement of the Songo was within a couple feet of my router, and I experienced frequent skipping and breakup during playback from pretty much any device I tried. I suspected location could have something to do with it, and Nyrius tech support confirmed that the close proximity to my other wireless transmitting equipment was the most likely cause. They recommended leaving a minimum of 5-6 feet between the Songo and any WiFi router. Sure enough, the father away from the router I placed the Songo, the less problems I had. There are so many different potential sources of interference in or near the average home, so I cannot predict your results. Just be mindful of what is nearby, and chose your Bluetooth receiver's resting place accordingly.
With the interference disclaimer out of the way, I can say that once those issues had been solved, the Nyrius Songo performed very well. The sound quality is excellent, and will probably be limited by the quality of the music files stored on most people's mobile phones or tablets. In general, I found that the clarity, dynamics, soundstage, and imaging were all more than good enough for the casual listening Bluetooth receivers are typically used for. I say typically based on the assumption that most people wanting to do critical listening would probably opt for wired setup for maximum theoretical transmission quality. Even still, my review of the Songo is intended to be just as critical as it would be for any other component in the audio chain.
Nickel Creek - Ode To A Butterfly (Nickel Creek, Spotify streaming/320kbps)
Wayne and Sonnie have taken a liking to this song for their speaker evaluations, and for good reasons. It is a great test of a system's ability to create realistic imaging. It features several different instruments spread out across the soundstage from left to right. As the song progresses, you can begin to visualize the instruments on a stage or in a studio. Each one occupies its own space and maintains its position relative to the others. It was not what I would call pinpoint precision, as the perceived space between the instruments seemed to vary slightly. I would have also preferred a soundstage with more depth. Again, I used streaming media from a mobile device here to mimic real-world use of a Bluetooth receiver and the quality of the streaming media most certainly plays a part in the final presentation of the music.
Pink Floyd - Sheep (Animals, Spotify streaming/320kbps)
This one begins as many Pink Floyd songs do. An eerie melody is played on the keyboard, backed by the sound of something very ordinary but not necessarily musical - sheep and birds in this case. The keyboard produces a very pleasant, full sound that seems to surround the listener on both sides. The tremolo effect causes it to bounce back and forth providing a very interesting and unique stereo image. At times it almost seemed as though I was wearing headphones. From that point the song progresses into that signature Pink Floyd rock sound with bold vocals and guitars, heavy bass and overall great fidelity. Here too, the Songo performed very well. No complaints from me.
Peter Conte - Enigma: Variation 9: Nimrod (Magic, Spotify streaming/320kbps)
Here is a great example of this pipe organ's ability to demonstrate a musical crescendo. It is one of the largest in the world, and the difference between the soft stops and full organ is definitely extreme. The Songo handled this progression nicely, with good clarity and detail, but the crescendo effect was not quite as extreme as I had hoped. Again, this could also be due to compression of the Spotify source files and streaming process. I did generally get the impression that the dynamic range of the Songo is somewhat limited compared to a wired source playing digital files. The depth of bass remains quite good though, indicating there is no noticeable loss of frequency response at the low end.
For anyone looking to add audio streaming capability to non-Bluetooth gear, there are literally tons of options. From eBay to Amazon, and cheap to no-so-cheap. The Nyrius Songo can be had on Amazon for a hair under 50 bucks. It's not what I would consider one of the "cheap" ones. However I can say that I have tried some of the cheap (under $10-$20) and they have generally not performed well. I use a tiny USB powered Bluetooth receiver with my car stereo (connected to the aux input via 3.5mm cable) and it works great. It cost me around $40 on Amazon, and I'd call it a bargain. The Songo offers robust packaging, multiple output options and compatibility the latest Bluetooth formats. It is reliable and super easy to use. In my opinion, the Songo HiFi is appropriately priced, and represents a good value among Bluetooth receivers.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Some may consider me a bit old fashion as I still enjoy sitting down and listening through a whole CD, or even playing a record now and then, but those are my favorite ways to listen to my music collection. However, most of the music I hear comes from my mobile phone, where my entire CD collection has been converted to m4a files, and I have access to pretty much anything else via Spotify. Gone are the days of unwinding a headphone cord connected to my receiver via RCA jacks, and plugging it into my phone. Whether sitting at my desk with my Bluetooth headphones, in my car, or at home in our living room or home theater, there is a good chance I am taking advantage of wireless audio streaming at least once a day. Although my current AV receiver is Bluetooth capable, if it were not, and I did not have the option to Airplay to my Apple TV, I would absolutely be investing in something exactly like the Songo HiFi from Nyrius. It offers great performance and value, and I can definitely recommend it to anyone looking to tidy up their home audio setup by cutting the cable to their mobile devices. Don't waste your time taking a chance on the cheapest Bluetooth receivers you can dig up on eBay - I've been there and it didn't work for me.
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