By Don Lindich
Week 41, 2021
Q. It’s time to replace my old-school wired stereo, which plays CDs, cassettes and vinyl. I can use wired speakers again, but would really prefer wireless to keep the wife happy. Is it true that Bluetooth does not do justice to vinyl records and CDs, and sound quality is lost when the signal is sent over Bluetooth? What would you recommend for a really good system (preferably wireless) to play my CDs, records and cassettes, and add streaming?
-J.M., South Bend, IN
A. I have specified several wired stereo systems over the past few months, and they can be found on the column archive on my website. Please note that even with “wireless” speakers there are still wires because they must be plugged into an outlet for power. This may keep you from having to run wires across the room and around furniture, which may be good enough for your purposes. Wireless speakers also provide more flexibility placing your components.
There is some quality loss over Bluetooth compared to a direct wired connection. Any time you convert a signal there is potential for loss, and Bluetooth does not have enough bandwidth for a high-quality signal to sound its very best. There are speakers with dedicated wireless transmission systems that outperform Bluetooth, and this is what you should be looking for.
One of these systems is the Q Active 200 wireless speakers from Q Acoustics. I have tested the Q Active 200 and can heartily recommend it to anyone who wants to build a no-compromise wireless system with spectacular sound. The Q Active 200 speakers use a wireless input hub with connections for Ethernet, HDMI ARC, optical, and RCA analog. The wireless and Ethernet connections can be used to access streaming sources via an app, and a CD or DVD player (DVD players also play CDs) will connect to the optical digital connection. A turntable with a phono preamp and your cassette player will need to use to a $20 passive switch, so you can connect both components to the single RCA input.
The stand-mounted Q Active 200 speakers use exotic Balanced Mode Radiator (BMR) drivers to produce most of the sound, and this is one of the reasons I like them so much. A BMR driver is a large disc that moves in-and-out to produce the midrange, and the surface of the disc ripples to make the treble. I have not heard a system using BMR drivers that did not offer top-shelf sound, and the Q Active 200 are no exception. In fact, they are the best BMR-driver speakers I have ever heard, by a healthy margin. The sound is natural, precise and detailed, with fantastic stereo imaging that bring the musicians to life in your listening room. The Q Active 200 speakers sell for $1,999, a fair price for the sound quality and convenience they offer. Dedicated stands are available for $499, but you can place them on other stands and surfaces, too. qacoustics.com.
The Music Hall MMF-1.5 turntable for $399 (or the LP Gear “Vessel Special” version for $499) has a built-in phono preamp and will do a fine job playing your records. New component cassette decks are seemingly extinct, but you can find a used one in good operating condition for under $200 on Craigslist, eBay or Amazon. If your current cassette deck still works I suggest just bringing it over to the new system. You can choose most any CD or DVD player with an optical connection ($60 and up) will it work fine with the Q 200 wireless hub.