Wireless headphones are great—until you want to use them with a source that lacks Bluetooth, such as an in-flight entertainment system, a Nintendo Switch, or an older TV. A Bluetooth transmitter solves this problem by making anything with an optical audio output or 3.5 mm/headphone jack Bluetooth-compatible. The best Bluetooth transmitter you can buy for use on the go is mpow’s BH259A, while our favorite for connecting to your TV is Avantree’s Oasis Plus.
The Mpow BH259A offers what you should be looking for from a Bluetooth transmitter: support for the aptX Low Latency codec (to improve the sync between audio and video), the ability to pair to two sets of headphones at once, and the added convenience of using it as a transmitter or receiver. It matches the sound quality of the other portable models we tested and produces about the same amount of audio lag, but it’s easier to use. The BH259A is small and light enough for you to carry it to the gym or while traveling, and it comes with everything you need to connect to your audio source.
If you’re looking for a more permanent setup to wirelessly transmit audio from your TV or another home audio device, go with Avantree’s Oasis Plus. Much like the Mpow BH259A, it supports aptX Low Latency, multi-device pairing, and a receiver mode. It’s better than other TV-based models because it intuitively passes audio through to a soundbar (or other external speakers) without requiring you to toggle any controls, and you can broadcast the Bluetooth signal while also listening from your TV. We like the spoken feedback that tells you what mode it’s in or when devices are connected, but you can turn that off if it annoys you. The Oasis Plus is larger than the BH259A and lacks a battery, but we don’t think those drawbacks are huge concerns for a home-based transmitter.
Who this is for
Bluetooth wireless headphones and earbuds are rapidly becoming the preferred choice in headphones, especially as more smartphone makers remove the headphone jack. But if you want to use your pair to listen to an audio source that doesn’t have built-in Bluetooth—such as an in-flight entertainment system, the equipment at the gym, or an older smart TV—you just can’t do it.
Bluetooth transmitters provide a solution to that problem, essentially adding Bluetooth to devices that lack it. They connect to the source via an audio cable and wireless broadcast the audio to your headphones or even to a Bluetooth speaker. Some models are small and portable, with a built-in battery, while others are designed to be stationary and used with your TV so that you can listen to what you’re watching without disturbing others or keep listening as you leave the room.
How we picked and tested
You can find a ton of Bluetooth transmitters, and most of them are relatively similar to one another in functionality, design, and price. Because they’re all so comparable, we focused our search on transmitters that included a few more-advanced features:
- aptX Low Latency: Many Android devices, and some headphones, support this streaming audio codec, which can reduce latency to below 40 milliseconds. This means that if you’re watching a video, the audio is synced up to the character’s lips, without the disorienting lag that can happen with codecs such as SBC. For you to enjoy the benefits of aptX Low Latency, both the source device and the receiving device must support it. Notably, Apple devices, including iPhones and AirPods, don’t support aptX Low Latency.
- Multi-device pairing: Because most of the models we researched can connect to two Bluetooth receivers at once (your headphones and your partner’s, for example), we eliminated any that connected to only one device.
- Both transmitter and receiver modes: Although all these devices can beam audio to your headphones, some of them can also receive audio from your phone and pass it through to wired headphones, a speaker, or a car stereo. Since the prices of transmitter/receiver combos were in the same range as those of transmitter-only models, we decided to limit our test to those that included both modes for added convenience. Even so, this guide focuses on the Bluetooth transmitting function; if you’re looking specifically for a Bluetooth receiver, we have other guides for that—namely, guides to the best Bluetooth headphone adapter and the best Bluetooth audio receiver for your home stereo or speakers.
- A long battery life (for portable models): A long-lasting battery means you’ll be able to use your portable transmitter on trips or throughout the week without having to be constantly charging, and there’s a better chance that the device will be ready to go whenever you pick it up. We saw advertised battery life ranging from eight to 20 hours among these models; even the low-end figures are pretty good and wouldn’t exclusively disqualify a transmitter. Some of the TV-based models have batteries, as well, but that’s simply a nice-to-have feature, as such models are most often used in a semipermanent, stationary position.
- Optical output, audio passthrough, and simultaneous output (for TV-based models): We noted a few additional considerations for stationary models that are intended for use with a TV. We chose to test only those transmitters that had both an optical audio input and output, allowing the audio to pass through to your soundbar (or other audio device), if you use one, rather than hijacking the signal altogether. And we wanted them to be able to play audio through the TV or soundbar at the same time they were broadcasting the audio wirelessly.
Our initial research turned up 42 models across both the portable and home categories. We dismissed many for failing to hit all of the above criteria; some didn’t support aptX Low Latency, for example, or could pair to only one set of headphones at a time. Once we had narrowed down the list, we began hands-on testing of the remaining models (six portable and three stationary), first with a simple setup and then with more-advanced audio testing.
- Ease of connection: We started by pairing—or attempting to pair—a set of headphones with each transmitter. Some connected instantly, as we expected, but a shocking number simply didn’t, even after repeated attempts. Although Bluetooth can be somewhat finicky, and a failure here doesn’t mean a given model will never work, you need to be able to rely on a consistently smooth process. After pairing the headphones, we then paired a Bluetooth speaker to the models that successfully connected to see how they handled outputting to two devices.
- Controls: Despite the relative simplicity of these accessories, their controls varied widely. Some offered only one button and one light to for us to control everything and see the status, while others had more advanced (and easier-to-use) systems. We quickly found that we preferred the less ambiguous control schemes, especially when pairing to multiple devices.
- Latency: We measured the audio latency by sending signals to two different Bluetooth headphones, the lower-end JLab Audio Neon Bluetooth Headphones, which support only the laggier SBC codec, and the MEE Audio Matrix Cinema ANC noise-cancelling headphones, which support the aptX and aptX Low Latency codecs.
- Frequency response: Next, we took frequency response measurements using pink noise and a spectrum analyzer, with the transmitters beaming to an Audioengine B1 Bluetooth receiver. This test showed us how evenly each transmitter replicated all sounds across the audio spectrum, an empirical measure of the audio quality.
- Output: To make sure these transmitters didn’t reduce the sound level, we measured the output of the Audioengine B1 sending a 250 mV, 1 kHz signal into each transmitter, with the transmitters’ volume controls (where available) set to maximum.
Mpow’s BH259A is the best portable Bluetooth transmitter because it matches the audio features of every other device we tested and its status lights make connecting and using this transmitter easier than using any other. It pairs with two sets of headphones at once, allows you to toggle it to be a Bluetooth receiver, and supports aptX Low Latency for improved audio and video sync. And its flat design, light weight, and decent battery life make it easy to use on the go.
Because we found negligible difference in features, audio quality, and latency between the different transmitters we tested, we turned to more subjective qualities to distinguish them, including how easy they were to use. The BH259A excels in this area. Most of the models we tested were frustrating to set up, but the Mpow was straightforward thanks to three indicator lights across the top of its face and simple power controls. One LED lights up when it’s turned on (a switch on the right side toggles between transmitter mode, receiver mode, and off), and the other two LEDs are labeled “BT1” and “BT2.” They glow when you have headphones paired, so there’s no ambiguity. Arranging a full setup with a pair of headphones and a Bluetooth speaker took us less than a minute.
Compare that with the process for the other portable transmitters we tested. On other models, there’s usually only one button that serves multiple functions, such as power and pairing, so you have to use a Morse-code-like system of clicks and holds to connect your headphones, and the only real indicator of success is a flashing LED light that’s equally ambiguous. It’s not obvious when you have things in pairing mode, or when you get that second set of headphones connected, unless you’re closely following the manual.
Just as important as the ease of connection is the performance, and the Mpow is as good as any other transmitter. In our latency tests, we found the BH259A to be in line with everything else we tested. Using the SBC codec with the JLab Audio Neon headphones, we found that the lag was 136 milliseconds (the average for all the devices we tested was 131.5 ms, and you’re not likely to notice that 4.5 ms difference). This isn’t a problem if you’re only listening to audio, but the lag is noticeable if you’re watching video. When we used aptX Low Latency with the MEE Audio Matrix Cinema ANC headphones, the latency measured a much more acceptable 30 ms, just under the 31.4 ms average. At that rate, there won’t be a noticeable lip-sync lag. In terms of both frequency response and gain, the BH259A matched the rest of the contenders, as well.
The BH259A is a 2-inch square with rounded edges, and it measures only about half an inch thick. It isn’t the smallest Bluetooth transmitter we tested, but it is slim enough that it should fit in gym shorts or even yoga-pants pockets. And since it weighs only 0.75 ounce, it won’t weigh you down. In addition to the 3.5 mm auxiliary port and the Micro-USB charging port, it has volume controls for when it’s in receiver mode, plus a reset button. The transmitter comes with a 3.5 mm audio cable, an RCA stereo adapter, and a USB-A–to–Micro-USB charging cable.
Mpow offers an 18-month warranty on its products, and if you order from Amazon and register the transmitter, you get an extra six months of coverage.
If you’re looking for a stationary transmitter to use with your TV or another home audio source, we recommend Avantree’s Oasis Plus. It has the same features as the Mpow BH259A, including good audio quality, aptX Low Latency, support for up to two pairs of headphones, and a receiver mode. But it adds features that are tailored to TV use, including an optical audio input and output so you can pass audio through to a soundbar, AV receiver, or powered speakers—and you don’t have to toggle between modes when you want to switch from the TV or soundbar’s audio to Bluetooth. We especially like its easy controls, supplemented by spoken confirmations. It does, however, lack an internal battery, but that’s not a crucial feature for a device that will remain in your equipment rack.
In addition to its 3.5 mm audio input, the Oasis Plus has two optical digital audio ports: one input for connecting to your TV and one output for connecting to a soundbar or other audio-playback device. This setup allows for audio bypass, meaning you don’t have to unplug the Oasis Plus when you want to listen to sound from your external speaker. Other competitors offer a similar setup, but what makes this one different is that you can transmit to Bluetooth at the same time the audio is playing out loud, instead of having to choose one over the other. You might want to do this if you’d like to keep up with the audio of a game while moving from room to room, for example, or if someone in your family needs a higher volume level through headphones to hear the dialogue in a TV show.
Our next favorite feature of the Oasis Plus is its control scheme. It lets you control everything through a capacitive-touch interface on the front, offering distinct buttons for pairing, switching modes, and volume, as well as lit-up text indicating the status of each. In addition, voice prompts make it crystal clear what the transmitter is doing; for example, it announces when it’s in pairing mode, or when a new device has successfully connected. While some people may find the voice alerts annoying and turn them off, we thought the amount of information was quite a relief after the ambiguous controls on so many other models.
In our tests, Avantree’s transmitter had the lowest latency when using the SBC codec with the JLab Audio Neon headphones, at 120 ms. That’s still laggy when you’re watching TV, though, and you may be bothered seeing people’s lips on screen being out of sync with the audio. With aptX Low Latency headphones, that number drops to 32 ms, which is wholly acceptable. If your wireless headphones lack aptX Low Latency support and you notice AV sync issues, you can try connecting the Bluetooth transmitter directly to your AV source device (if it has a 3.5 mm or optical audio output), which may cut down on some lag created when the signal has to pass through the TV’s audio processor. Or, consider dedicated wireless TV headphones that are designed specifically for this purpose.
As for audio performance, the Avantree’s frequency response and gain were on a par with the results from the rest of the units we tested. This is also one of the few models we found that support aptX HD, which offers higher-fidelity audio if you have compatible headphones.
The Oasis Plus is physically larger than our portable pick, but it’s not meant to travel along with you, so that’s okay. It has a footprint of just 4.5 by 3 inches, and it’s only about 1.5 inches tall at its highest, so you should be able to hide it in almost any home theater setup or living room. The lack of a battery means the included Micro-USB cable needs to be plugged in at all times, but the USB port on any modern TV should provide enough power. Avantree’s transmitter also comes with an optical audio cable, a 3.5 mm audio cable, and an RCA adapter.
The Oasis Plus doesn’t have built-in Dolby or DTS decoding, so you should change your TV’s sound output to the PCM setting when using it. If you don’t, you won’t be able to stream from services like Netflix that offer Dolby Digital output. The PCM setting downmixes the stream to stereo; in our tests, we didn’t notice any quality differences.
Avantree’s standard warranty is 12 months, and if you register the Oasis Plus within the first month, you get an additional year.
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