If you are a long-time owner of an iPhone or iPod, there is a good chance that you own a speaker system with a 30-pin connector. Many years ago, I picked up a Bose SoundDock Portable speaker system when it was discounted at a Bose factory outlet store. It has worked great with my old-but-still-works Apple iPod (5th Generation - 64 GB) and my iPhones through the years ... until I purchased the iPhone 5 late last year. The speaker uses the traditional 30-pin connector and of course the iPhone 5 has the new Lightning connector. I previously reviewed the 30-pin to Lightning connectors sold by Apple, but those didn't work well with the SoundDock Portable because the connector with the cord is too awkward and the connector without the cord makes the iPhone sit up too high against the speaker without enough support to prevent it from bending backwards too much. The Bose speaker also has an auxiliary input in the back that lets you plug a cord into the headphone jack of the iPhone 5, but I was looking for a more elegant solution than having my iPhone 5 hanging off of the back of the speaker. That led me to explore the idea of adding Bluetooth to my existing speaker. Bose itself does not sell such a product (Bose now sells speakers with built-in Bluetooth, plus they sell a new SoundDock with a Lightning connector). However, CableJive makes exactly what I was looking for, and that company sent me a free review unit of the dockBoss air, a device that plugs in to the 30-pin connector of a speaker and adds Bluetooth to the speaker. It works well and gives new life to a speaker with a 30-pin dock connector.
[UPDATE 8/29/13: CableJive recently announced a new version of the dockBoss air, which the company says features clearer audio and bigger volume, one-touch Bluetooth pairing (apparently without the need to enter a code) and the ability to work with a speaker's remote control. I haven't tested the new version, but if you are going to buy this product you might want to make sure you are purchasing the latest version.]
Using the product is very easy. Simply plug it in to the 30-pin dock connector. The first time that you connect to it on your iPhone, you need to go to Settings -> Bluetooth and select the dockBoss air. Once your iPhone is paired to the dockBoss air, your iPhone will remember the connection in the future.
So for example, in the future you can simply plug in the dockBoss air, and then your iPhone will either pair with it automatically after a few seconds or you can app on the sharing button on the bottom right of the Music app to start streaming to the speaker.
The range is fine if you are in the same room, and I could even take my iPhone one or two rooms away and have it continue to stream without problems.
If you haven't streamed music to the dockBoss air for a long time (I haven't figured out how long), you may need to unplug it from the speaker and plug it in again to wake it up. Then your iPhone will see it and let you use it. On the other hand, earlier this week I had been using the dockBoss air at night to listen to a podcast while I was doing dishes downstairs, and then the next morning (7 hours later) I tried to continue listening the podcast upstairs while I was was getting ready for work but my iPhone was still connected to the dockBoss air ... causing some confusion for my wife and kids who were downstairs at the time right next to the Bose speaker. Oops.
I was interested in this device just because I was unable to plug my iPhone 5 into a 30-pin connector. But now that I've used it for a while, I actually prefer this approach to connecting my iPhone directly to a speaker. With my iPhone in my pocket, it is easy to change songs. When an iPhone 4S is in the dock on the speaker, I have to walk over to the speaker to tap buttons and make changes.
I am not an audiophile, but music played through my speakers via the dockBoss air sounds fine to me, and podcasts and audiobooks sound excellent. I'm sure someone will tell me that Bluetooth audio quality is inferior to a direct connection to a speaker, and perhaps in a quiet room with a side-by-side comparison I might notice some difference. But when I am just listening to music in my house — or if I take advantage of the portable nature of my SoundDock Portable and bring it outside — keeping my iPhone in my pocket and the dockBoss air in the speaker sounds great and is incredibly convenient and easy to use.
I first learned about this type of product when I read this article by Alex Castle of The Wirecutter several months ago. He recommended a product called the i-Wave. I clicked on the link in that article and ordered it through Amazon, but the product that the seller actually sent me just calls itself the "Wireless Music Receiver" and doesn't have the i-Wave name on it — but I thought that this might happen because Castle's article notes that the same product has different designations on Amazon. (Indeed, if you click on the Amazon link in that article, it now brings you to a product called TekuOne, not i-Wave.) But I had a problem with the device I bought from Amazon: it would often stop working after just a few minutes. This led me to look at the dockBoss air, which Roy Furchgott of the New York Times gave a very favorable review. Unfortunately, the first unit that CableJive sent me had a similar problem — after a few minutes of use, the iPhone would appear to be playing music but no music would come out of the Bose SoundDock Portable. But unlike the virtually anonymous product that I purchased on Amazon, the dockBoss air comes from CableJive, a respected company with fabulous customer support. Once I mentioned the problem, CableJive told me that others had reported something similar with Bose systems because of the way that Bose communicates over the 30-pin connector and CableJive had engineered a solution and updated the dockBoss air to fix this. CableJive sent me the updated version, and sure enough, it works like a champ. I don't know if this problem was unique to Bose speakers or exists with other speaker brands too, but if you buy this product, you might want to make sure that you are getting the latest version. Perhaps this is also evidence that it can make sense to pay just a few dollars more to buy a product like this from a good company like CableJive versus some no-name company on Amazon.
If you don't already own speakers and you are in the market, you should probably just buy something that has Bluetooth built-in such as the popular Jawbone Jambox (or, if you want something larger, the Jawbone Big Jambox). But if you already own speakers that you like which have a 30-pin connector, the dockBoss air is perfect. It is simple, elegant, inexpensive, and adds new life to speakers that you may have paid several hundred dollars for.