Cutting The Cords: Vinyl And Wireless Playback

On July 26th 2017 » By Ed Selley

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In the last 10 years, many audio systems have become extremely clever devices, indeed. Where once we were perfectly content to have music in one room that largely came from physical media, we now have the choice of equipment that can effortlessly support multiple rooms of audio and draw from any kind of source. By borrowing technology from other categories, multiroom has evolved from a bulky and usually expensive mass of wires and perplexing-looking control boxes into something that is slick, elegant and just as importantly, much more affordable.

It’s accurate to say that vinyl is not a perfect fit with systems of this nature. The basics of turntable design date back to a time when connections were wired and the record would be audible in a single room at one time. Now, for the avoidance of doubt, wiring a turntable into a dedicated audio system and sitting down and listening to it in that space is still the best means of enjoying records; this piece does not seek to dispute or change that. Nonetheless, there are considered advantages to having the ability to listen to your records in another room from time to time.

If you happen to be thinking about this sort of functionality while also shopping for a new turntable, the good news is that the ability to output wirelessly to another suitably equipped location is something that some turntables have. Pro-Ject, TEAC, Elipson and Audio Technica all make turntables at varying price points that have a Bluetooth transmitter built into the unit itself. This takes a signal from an onboard preamp so that the player can send a line-level signal to anything with a Bluetooth receiver—a huge number of audio systems on the market. What is important about this is that the wireless functionality has no effect at all on the ability of the player to output via conventional wired connection into an amplifier and playback as normal.

Vinyl is a great medium, and with a little bit of thought, it can be a flexible one too.

If you already have a turntable and amplifier that you are happy with, you are unlikely to want to buy a second one to allow for Bluetooth transmission, but there are ways and means of achieving something similar with aftermarket products. A quick look online will show a wide selection of Bluetooth transmitters that can be connected to your amplifier to send the same basic signal to another Bluetooth receiver. These generally connect to a headphone output but some more sophisticated devices can connect to a line output, meaning that you can have two rooms running at one time.

Bluetooth is generally seen as a convenience feature rather than a genuinely high-quality source, but it’s made huge progress in recent years. The newest versions (4.0 and above) are able to transmit a signal comfortably larger than a vinyl record can hold. Additionally, a transmitter can be connected to more than one receiver, technically allowing you to use more than one speaker at once. Provided that you aren’t looking to send information further than about 15 or 20 feet, Bluetooth is ideal for the task, and as a genuinely open standard in a world of proprietary systems, it is something to celebrate. When you’ve finished using your turntable this way, it is just as suitable for a wide selection of other devices too.

Of course, if you need more range than Bluetooth offers, you will need to look at the other technology that has been adapted for wireless multiroom. Network audio allows multiple receivers to share a common library of material and for different rooms to be controlled from the same point. At first glance, this doesn’t look like fruitful ground for vinyl but even here, some companies have managed to find solutions. If you own a Sonos system—or any competitor systems from companies such as Denon, you can connect a turntable to your “main” room and have it available in other locations. If you select the local input where the turntable is connected, it can be selected on other speakers. In the case of the Sonos system especially, you can use any amplifier or receiver you like if it has a tape loop that can be attached to the input of a Bridge. This will then send the signal to any other Sonos device in the same network.

What is important is that, with a little application of thought and technology, your vinyl can join digital formats in being available in more than one location. This is not and never has been an exercise in minimalism unless you want it to be.

Some companies go even further. Yamaha has developed their multiroom system to include more conventional bits of audio equipment. Devices like the R-N602 receiver have a phono preamp on board and the ability to drive a wide selection of speakers in a conventional audio system. It can then send the turntable signal to any other Yamaha MusicCast device—including an identical audio system using another R-N602, if you wanted. Any argument that any use of wireless audio isn’t a “quality” solution starts to look a bit weak when there’s no discernible change in the equipment used from room to room.

The advantage of network audio over Bluetooth audio is that, for as long as the network has coverage—and in the case of one that uses wires, that can be a huge distance—you can send the signal around. With app control you can turn rooms off and on from a central point as well as selecting volume levels either as a group or to suit each individual room. You can also send the signal to as many rooms as the network capacity can handle.

Obviously, the fact that a side of a vinyl won’t give you endless playback means that using it in multiple locations is never going to be as easy as using digital. But for listening to the same record as you move between rooms or getting to your music when the room your player is in is being used for a different purpose, it can be a convenient feature. What is important is that, with a little application of thought and technology, your vinyl can join digital formats in being available in more than one location. This is not and never has been an exercise in minimalism unless you want it to be. Vinyl is a great medium, and with a little bit of thought, it can be a flexible one too.

Ed Selley

Ed Selley

Ed is a UK based journalist and consultant in the HiFi industry. He has an unhealthy obsession with nineties electronica and is skilled at removing plastic toys from speakers.

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