Ah, technology, you fast moving wild beast. So eager to free yourself of your cable shackles that you forgot to bring high quality audio into your brave new wireless world. That is, until the EarStudio - a bite-sized Bluetooth receiver that boats 24-bit, studio quality sound.
As a greedy tech lover, I love having the latest phone. But as an iPhone user this has trapped me in world where I can't use headphones and a charger at the same time, thanks to the progressive design which does away with the beloved 3.5mm audio jack.
I'm a fan of old tech dying to make way for new things, and cables should be the first thing to die. With wireless headphones becoming cheaper and better I'm happy to adios the jack. However, charging my phone in the car and DJ'ing the maddest beats simultaneously is a serious need I have in my life.
Enter: the Radsone EarStudio ES100. This little bad boy basically turns any normal speaker into a Bluetooth one by acting as a bridge between the speaker and player. Got a nice pair of headphones, expensive speakers, or a sick hifi system in your car? Plug them in and now it's wireless. Easy.
The lightweight, unassuming unit has basic on board controls, including back/skip, volume, and play/pause which also functions as on/off. There's jacks for both 3.5mm and 2.5mm connections, as well as an in-built microphone. The front is a frosted, matte black plastic with an LED circular light to indicate different states, whilst the back has a simple springy clip.
The design is very simple and streamlined. It doesn't look or feel premium - even the box it came in is lightweight (and was easily crumpled in the post). But after playing with it I have the strong sense that Radsone worried much more about what's inside this little device rather than adorning it in brushed aluminium.
What sets the EarStudio apart from other Bluetooth receivers is its portability and high quality sound. The market is largely crowded with products intended to turn existing bookshelf or computer speakers into wireless ones, but with a rechargeable battery the EarStudio is made to bring wireless freedom to your existing headphones.
Whilst almost all products in the audio sphere will boast that they're made to sound "good", wireless is a slightly different ball game. There's a drop in quality that seems to happen no matter how high-end your wireless headphones are.
So I was pleasantly surprised, shocked even, to find that the EarStudio genuinely sounds as good as a wired source - if not better when compared to some front panel PC audio ports. Audio is reproduced clearly, crisply, and accurately. There's no discernable drop in quality or added artefacts, nor is there much, if any, colouration by the unit.
It's certainly simple enough for anyone to use, but you'll need to be a little tech savvy to take full advantage of all features. For example, updating the firmware is a small exercise, and it took me a few goes to get it to connect to the computer in data mode.
There's also an app which has numerous settings which focus on the minituia of your listening experience. Here you truly get the sense that this was created by people who are seeking the very best listening experience, with settings that you would never expect to see on consumer products.
For example, you can swap the DAC digital filter between four different modes which change the roll-off of the waveform. This very subtly changes the feel of the music rather than any distinguishable sound, and can bring an extra touch of magic to your music.
What I love best about the app is that it teaches you how to use these features, giving detailed information about each setting, what it does, and how it might sound different.
The app keeps in mind that the best listening experience is personal - it's whatever is best for any individual user. You are given the opportunity to dial things in how you like it, and the app doesn't assume knowledge.
I love this, because it does away with the air of exclusivity that can often come with high-end gear. Everyone deserves excellent sound, and the tools to dial that in. EarStudio helps deliver that.
Ambient Sound is a particularly cool feature that uses the inbuilt microphone to add atmospheric sound to the mix to help you be more aware of your surroundings. Or you can set it to 100% and eavesdrop on conversations while people think you have headphones on.
There is a bit of a delay with ambient sound, and I rarely feel the need to use this feature, but I'm still glad it's included. An above average degree of control is provided at every turn to let you dial in to perfection.
There's also custom EQ available, with a good variety of presets available. I found these were well set to subtly enhance various frequencies, rather than over-exaggerating them.
I don't usually tangle too much with EQ in these scenarios - I'm a fan of keeping things flat and have found that it can be used to try and polish a turd or hide inadequacies - but when used right it can be quite delightful, and here it certainly is.
Four different Bluetooth codecs are also on offer, and whilst you're limited by what your player supports you can still choose to toggle them on or off if you desire. The illustrious, better-than-CD quality aptX HD is also included, but on a standard smartphone you'll be much more likely to be using AAC or standard aptX.
Bluetooth connection is quick, painless, and solid. I experienced minimal dropouts, and could move freely about my office with my phone on my desk. You can also attach numerous devices at once, and switch between them in an instant, although I found using the EarStudio app a bit more finicky between two devices.
Ultimately this is everything I feel I could want in a Bluetooth receiver. Killer audio, in a small and simple package. Most of all I love the depth of settings options, and how it makes high-end audio really accessible. This little guy is certainly going to be part of my normal rotation daily tech from now on.
- 24-bit Bluetooth receiver, turns any speaker into a Bluetooth one with sound quality virtually as good as a wired connection
- On-board controls, in-built battery and clip make it great for portable use
- High degree of control via the app, lets you tune the sound in to your liking
- High-end audio device with a general consumer price tag