Quite a few audio companies build separate Bluetooth receivers, but this Alto offering is a little unusual insomuch as it is built into an XLR connector, allowing it to be plugged directly into a mixer input or into the back of a powered loudspeaker. There’s also the option to link a pair of receivers to work as a stereo pair so that two speakers can be fed in stereo without having to run cables. Power comes from an internal battery that can be charged from any USB power source, which may also be used to provide continuous power to the device. When running on batteries the running time is around six hours on a full charge. Unlike some of the competition there’s no stereo output when using a single unit, so unless you use two, you’ll only hear one channel of a stereo signal sent from a stereo source. Obvious applications include playing backing tracks or interlude music from a phone, tablet or laptop.
Opening the box reveals one of those sealed plastic packs that you need scissors to open, and inside that is the Bluetooth Total, plus a mini-USB charging cable and a user guide. Though partially charged, the unit should ideally be fully charged before use. An amber LED flashes during charging with a second green LED working in combination to show the state of charge when the unit is turned on and not being charged. These two LEDs also convey information regarding power standby mode.
The body of the unit has the XLR connector at one end, the USB charging point at the other, and a number of switches and LEDs on the side of the body. A switchable -10dB pad sets the output level while a slide switch powers the unit on or off. Two further buttons with status LEDs are used for pairing with the transmitter and for setting up the stereo link function when using two receivers, though we couldn’t try the stereo linking feature as we were only sent a single unit to test. Pressing the Pair button makes the device discoverable and the blue LED flashes, becoming solid once the device has paired.
Of course the range of Bluetooth may be an issue in some applications, as the width of a domestic room is about as good as you can hope for and the signal is significantly attenuated by walls. There’s also a small but significant latency with any Bluetooth device so using it to carry any live signal that relies on precise timing could be problematic. However, ultra-precise timing is not usually an issue when playing backing tracks.
In use the Bluetooth Total paired easily with my MacBook Pro, and with the pad set to its -10dB position there was no problem plugging it directly into a mixer microphone input. With the pad out it works fine with a line-level input. The subjective sound quality was clean and transparent and switching on the mixer’s phantom power didn’t upset it. If you want to hear a stereo signal summed to mono, you have to take care of this on the sending device so for practical applications where you need to keep the signal in stereo, you’ll need to buy a pair. In all, though, the Bluetooth Total is a very elegant product and building it into an XLR connector is a neat idea, as is the ability to link two for stereo use with no wires.