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Appletell reviews the Tenqa SP-109 Bluetooth Speaker

Sections: iDevice Accessories, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, iPod, iPod Accessories, iPod Docks and Speakers, iPod Family / Legacy, Reviews

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Provides: Wireless music streaming via Bluetooth
Developer: Tenqa
Compatibility: iPhone or iPod touch with Bluetooth, Bluetooth-enabled Macs, other Bluetooth-enabled computers
Price: $89.99 ($45 at Amazon at press time)

Bluetooth was originally conceived as an advancement that would take us from the cluttered cable world of the early PC boom to a Star Trek-esque future where small device and dedicated computers could synchronize data wirelessly just by waving them at each other. 11 years after Bluetooth 1.0 was officially introduced to the world, it seems we are still waiting on that promise—most Bluetooth implementation has happened in mobile phones, as a way to save people the effort of actually holding a phone up to their ear. Given its broad acceptance as an audio technology, it is only natural that Bluetooth is now cutting the cords between music players and speakers. The Tenqa SP-109 is an excellent introduction to that market, handily allowing the separation of your music source (laptop/iPhone/other device) from the speakers on which you listen to it.

Tenqa SP-109

Getting to Know You

Bluetooth devices must first be paired with one another before they can exchange data (in Star Trek, this pairing happens instantly when it is vital to the plot, but requires more time and some dramatic music if there a deadline/enemy ship approaching). The pairing process could not be simpler, and credit for this is due to both Tenqa and Apple. Turning on the SP-109 produces a warm three-tone startup, and a blinking blue LED alerts you that the speaker is not currently paired. Fire up System Preferences on your Mac and step through Apple’s Bluetooth Setup Assistant. When completed, a reverse three-tone chime and solid blue LED on the SP-109 let you know the speaker has been paired with the computer.

Bluetooth Setup

This makes the SP-109 available as an audio source in Sound Output options (which, by the by, you can change by option-clicking the volume icon in the menu bar in 10.6).

Bluetooth Setup-final

The process on the iPhone is just as simple, even if you already have Bluetooth devices paired (like a headset). Fire up Settings->General->Bluetooth, and go from there:

iPhone Bluetooth Setup

Once the phone and speaker establish a connection, you have to enter a pairing code (not needed for a laptop setup, oddly). The included instructions provide crystal clear instructions, so this step is easy:

iPhone Bluetooth PIN Setup

Once again, the SP-109 plays a reassuring tri-tone chime to let you know the pairing is complete. From there, the iPhone now lets you choose your new device for sound output. The iPhone even provides nice visual cues to let you know your music is being streamed via Bluetooth, both in the main iPod app and also the iPod pop up invoked by double tapping the Home button when music is playing:

iPhone Music StreamingiPhone Music Streaming Popup

Sounds Like…

The SP-109’s sound output is not exceptional, but it is acceptable. In terms of audio, it is on par with the abundant iPod dock speakers available everywhere. The only problem is that those systems typically cost between $30 and $50, nearly half the SP-109’s list price of $90. You are paying for the wireless technology here, not pristine audio reproduction. Tenqa seems to realize that, since clicking “Buy Now” from their website takes you to Amazon.com, where the SP-109 is available for a mere $45 at the time of this writing. The unit delivers acceptable highs and slightly muddy but acceptable midrange sound. Bass, unfortunately, is not compelling enough to mention, though for casual listening this should not be a problem. I will not be replacing my Bose Sounddock as my primary iPhone music station, but the SP-109 does have a place in my kitchen window; for listening to the stream of my local NPR station, it is superior to the iPhone’s tiny speaker, and much more convenient than sacrificing counter space for a laptop. As long as deep groove tracks and heart-thumping bass are not what you’re looking for, the SP-109 should definitely be on your list.

Getting to Feel Free and Easy

In the end, it comes down to control. Do you let the cords take over, or can you find wireless replacements? Since Apple seems to be the only manufacturer interested in Bluetooth-enabled consumer technology (apart from headsets for mobile phones), it is refreshing to see a company stepping up with a creative new device. Wireless music systems do exist (AirTunes being one of them), but they all require some special equipment. The SP-109, on the other hand, just needs an iPhone or Mac built within the last five or so years and a power outlet! Take a lesson, ye manufacturers of mice and music streaming devices and such: the wireless technology exists. Quit hogging our USB ports with proprietary RF dongles and use something standard (Bluetooth, WiFi, whatever!)!!

In a similar vein of control, I will point out one of the SP-109’s slight shortcomings; the unit offers no way to control the music. There is a portable cousin, the SP-99, which has built-in controls to play/pause and seek. Since your music source can be up to 33 feet away from the speaker, it’s a nice feature to have; who wants to schlep that far just to skip a track?

One of the pleasantly unexpected features (and I do not know who deserves credit here) is the way in which Bluetooth music streaming and call handling is implemented on the iPhone. You have a track playing over the SP-109 when a call comes in. The music fades, replaced by your ringtone, so you grab your Bluetooth headset, slap it on your ear, and hit the connect button. The call is handled over the headset while the SP-109 waits patiently until your call is complete, then fades the music back in. The iPhone’s role is obviously Apple’s domain, but I think Tenqa deserves at least some credit for playing nicely with others (especially if this is part of the Bluetooth protocol—kudos to Tenqa for implementation).

As a speaker, the SP-109 is solid, if not a standout. As a beacon of what the future might hold, however, it positively shines. The possibility of walking into your home and having your iPhone automatically switch from your headphones to your home stereo is alluring. Having your text messages automatically appear on your AppleTV is tantalizing. It is finally time to break free from the cables, so thanks to Tenqa for leading the way here.

Appletell Rating:

Buy the Tenqa SP-109

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