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Kanex AirBlue: A portable Bluetooth music solution

Kanex is well-known for their cable solutions; items like the Mini DisplayPort to HDMI cable are great for pumping video from Macs to HDTVs. Now the company has come out with the AirBlue Portable Bluetooth Music Receiver (US$49) -- a small device that you plug into speakers, AV receivers, automobile AUX ports, and other common audio inputs -- and then beam music to from your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad.

Kanex provided one of these small black disc-like receivers for testing purposes, and it's a handy little device for getting rid of a few more cables in your life ... although you will need a cable to connect it to your audio input.

Setup and pairing

Setup of the AirBlue is a piece of cake. For a cord-cutting solution, the AirBlue comes with a lot of little cables (below). One of these is a standard USB to Mini-USB cable that's used to charge the unit. Charging the AirBlue will take about 4 - 5 hours, and once it is fully charged it will work for up to 20 hours.

When the Airblue is full of power, you can then take the little 2" diameter flat black disc and plug one of the included cables into it -- a standard 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm audio cable or a 3.5 mm to RL audio cable for speakers.

Pairing the unit is also quite easy. Dead center in the top of the disc is a small button with a built-in blue LED light. Pressing it for 6 seconds puts it into discovery mode, indicated by the LED flashing about 4 times per second. At this point I picked up my iPhone, went to Settings > General > Bluetooth, and saw the Kanex AirBlue show up in the list of Bluetooth devices (below). With a single tap, the iPhone and AirBlue were paired.

Using the AirBlue

I was particularly interested in using the AirBlue in my car, a Honda CR-V that has a center console between the driver and passenger seats that contains an auxiliary audio port. My mission? To blast tunes from the iPhone to the sound system in my car and also see what would happen if I tried to use it to listen to Navigon Mobile Navigator turn-by-turn instructions.

Rather than use the standard 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm audio cable that came with the AirBlue, I took the opportunity to try out an Ipevo Bendi ($14.95 for two). It's a semi-rigid audio connector; think of a pipe cleaner (chenille stem for the non-smokers out there) with audio cables in it. I like the fact that the Bendi held the AirBlue up and off of the console.

Once plugged into the AUX port, I turned the AirBlue back on by holding down the power button for a few seconds, and then launched a Grateful Dead tune in the iPod app on the iPhone. With a tap on the AirPlay button, I was able to select the AirBlue as the recipient of the music (below) and had "Friend of the Devil" blasting from my car speakers.

Just to check the range of the Bluetooth connection -- advertised as 30 feet -- I opened the doors on the car, grabbed the iPhone, and started walking away from the car. I was well over 70 feet away before the signal actually dropped, and could easily stand 60 feet away and still hear the music playing.

Navigon Mobile Navigator is set up to work with the iPod app, reducing the volume level of music when the application decides it needs to talk to you. Sure enough, "Sugar Magnolia" faded away in volume as the Navigon app tried to give me directions to a nearby gas station, and then increased the volume back to normal once it was done. Very nice!

Conclusion

There are a lot of similar solutions available for Bluetooth connections to speakers. For example, the Belkin Bluetooth Music Receiver ($49.99) is about the same size and also comes with similar cables. Monoprice sells a generic receiver for $19.92, so if you're looking for a device you can probably find one that's less expensive. However, I'm happy with the Kanex AirBlue's range, ease of setup, looks, and excellent low-noise sound quality. It's tiny enough to go on trips with me and my iPhone, and will work great in rental cars.

The Kanex AirBlue is currently available for pre-order on the Kanex website.