Wire You Blue

The graphic above was created with data provided to me by the CTA (Consumer Technology Association). I understand that this data cannot possibly account for every single pair of Bluetooth-enabled speakers sold in any given year, but I believe that this is the most accurate account of data currently available to us.

According to the Bluetooth website, the first MP3 player with Bluetooth technology was created in 2003. Then in 2004, the first Bluetooth-enabled stereo headphones were available. In 2007, the iconic Jawbone headset made its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show (footnote 1). In 2008, Apple's iPhone 3GS incorporated Bluetooth. In 2012, annual shipments of product with Bluetooth surpassed 2 billion. But more importantly, in 2012, the first low-energy tablets and music players with Bluetooth hit the market!


This is why the CTA only began collecting data on Bluetooth-enabled speakers from 2012, as displayed in the charts above. Bluetooth-enabled speakers, though often relegated to being the audiophile club's default punching bag, are actually quite popular commodities in the mass market.

It's easy to lose sight of this—especially when we're surrounded by likeminded audiophiles; creatures who selectively seek and devour only the purest of sounds. The reality of a world run by Bluetooth seems nearly unthinkable . . . (footnote 2).

And yet here we find ourselves in late 2016: entering the chapter of the headphone-jack-less iPhone 7.

So we're left with two options: 1) Bluetooth, and 2) Lightning cables/adapters. Is this good or bad? Who can say? Personally, I'm excited to witness the developments of Bluetooth, to see how headphone manufacturers will adapt, and to take part in this enormous technological movement—for better or for worse.

Alas. Oh audiophiles of late, oh divine readers of Stereophile: what think you of the current state of the Bluetooth market?

Footnote 1: This isn't included on the Bluetooth website timeline, but I felt it to be a major event in Bluetooth history because the Jawbone stuck out in my memory of Bluetooth.—Jana Dagdagan

Footnote 2: The problem for audiophiles with Bluetooth is that because the wireless link has limited bandwidth, the audio data have to be lossy-compressed, and the codec used affects sound quality. You can find measurements showing the effect of both the original codec and of the better-sounding aptX codec in our 2011 review of Chord's Chordette Gem, with further discussion in my 2014 review of Arcam's rBlink. Most Android smartphones have aptX, and aptX-enabled headphones are made by Beats, Bowers & Wilkins, Sennheiser, and others.—John Atkinson 

Anton's picture

Some, day, it will be me and a small device, streaming high rez directly to my speakers.

No cables, interconnects, speaker wires....the only plugs will be to the speakers and whatever charger I need for my streaming device.

Imagine there's audio heaven
It's easy if you try
No reflective surfaces below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Listening for today...

Imagine there's no cables
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to stress or buy for
And no ugly racks, too
Imagine all the people
Enjoying high end sound in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday they'll please us
And the sound will be as live

Imagine no electric boxes
I wonder if you can
No worry for feedback or ground loops
A brotherhood of music
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday I can buy that
And the world will live as one

Jon Iverson's picture
And it's only September.
rschryer's picture

Don't. You. Dare. Cry. "Sob".

cgh's picture

I imagine a dystopian future where via some SQUID strapped to your noggin or some biomechanical wetware device implanted surgically in your brain you can just listen to music without sound. You can hear the music like your sitting in a Viennese concert hall or front and center at Irving Plaza but it's just neurons in your auditory complex firing so you hear a cymbal and neurons in your parietal lobe causing you to feel the bass hitting your chest. I'd just sit back in a le corbusier chair and flip a switch with my mind. Bluetooth will be soooo 2019.

Kal Rubinson's picture

It seems this may not be audiophile-relevant at all. Note that gross annual sales dollars went down a bit from 2015 to 2016 while the total number sold decreased by 37%. Thus, average BT speaker sale for 2015 was $92.68 and it decreased to $64.88 in 2016. Tough to find decent headphones at that price.

Well Rounded Sound Inc.'s picture

Kal not sure how to relate to these numbers or perhaps just misreading these graphs. First graph shows sales in millions and that equates to 1.149 Billion in 2015 and 1.102 Billion in 2016. 2016 is far from over with biggest shopping season ahead of us thus it is not hard to imagine that 2016 can have potentially much larger sales than 2015.
Second graph shows number of units sold - in thousands. Is it even conceivable to think that only 16,985 of Bluetooth speakers were sold in 2016? With literally thousands of models being designed and manufactured each year these numbers must be in millions not thousands. Bluetooth and it's ilk is unfortunately audiophile-relevant as it pushes high fidelity sound into extinction for the sake of convenience.
Jerry Cmehil

Kal Rubinson's picture

I agree with how you read the numbers in the first graph but I believe you have to read the "16,985 of Bluetooth speakers" as 16,985,000. I based my calculations on the latter.

Also, I presumed that the months covered in 2015 and 2016 were identical as, otherwise, they should have added the qualifier "YTD" to the latter.

Finally, as for the influence of BT on high fidelity sound, it is no more nor less pernicious than MP3 or other convenience-driven influences. IMHO, both are irrelevant.

Well Rounded Sound Inc.'s picture

for the reply Kal

JN's picture

Bluetooth is already obsolete. Next generation RF technology is still a few years away but expect it to replace Bluetooth as a format and allow (at the minimum) wireless transmission of very high quality audio and video between devices.

Headphones's picture

But i think nothing is better than these custom headphones .

wozwoz's picture

It is somewhat despairing that recent technological innovations in the music sphere have nothing to do with enhancing quality ... quite the opposite, they have seen a continual decline into mediocrity at best, and the arrival of substandard lossless formats or transmission mechanisms ... taken up by the InstaNoodle generation who seem to know no better. And like InstaNoodles or McDonalds, it might be quick or convenient, but it is just substandard and lower quality.

While serious audiophiles revel in hi-res SACD and DSD, for the vast market it has been downhill all the way with lossy MP3s, Bluetooth lossy compression. listening on tiny speakers, listening on in-ear speakers, listening on single box speakers that only have MONO output, listening on single box speakers that have stereo speakers but which are so close together that any semblance of proper stereo separation is lost. Continual downhill retrograde and backwards.

And don't even get me started as to why anyone would want to have wi-fi or Bluetooth needlessly radiating your brain and dangly bits, or stick a wireless device INTO your head!? If you want real freedom, stop listening on the train, and Get a Room.