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Belkin TuneStage II review: Belkin TuneStage II

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MSRP: $189.99

The Good Adds Bluetooth to iPod audio. Works with Bluetooth headphones. Choice of audio outputs. Great audio range.

The Bad No way to manually re-force pairing. Fixed Bluetooth password only.

The Bottom Line Wireless Bluetooth audio for your iPod doesn't get any easier than the TuneStage II. That ease of use is both a blessing and a curse, however.

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8.5 Overall

Review Sections

Design
Some of you may be pondering Belkin's naming choices right about now -- whatever happened to the TuneStage 1? Well, it's been a rather long time between drinks for Belkin's Bluetooth iPod audio solution -- so long, in fact, that when the original TuneStage hit the market, the iPod Mini was still a viable Apple product line, and the words "Nano" or "Shuffle" meant little in terms of physical players. As a Bluetooth solution, the original TuneStage tended to work quite well. It used the older and larger headphone socket favoured by much older iPod models, which made it a no-go solution for any newer iPods with a standard 3.5mm audio socket.

Features
The TuneStage 2 box comprises two core bits of equipment; a small black and silver Bluetooth transmitter with a mini-USB socket on the base, and a larger Bluetooth audio receiver, with a 3.5mm and stereo RCA outputs, along with a USB charging socket. A USB cable is provided for charging your iPod (or any other USB-powered device), but as the Bluetooth transmitter uses the standard iPod interface, it's not possible to use the TuneStage 2 with other portable music devices.

Setting up the TuneStage involves plugging the receiver into a power supply and an audio output. You switch it on, plug the receiver in and both should enter pairing mode and find each other quickly. It's also technically possible to pair up the Bluetooth transmitter with Bluetooth stereo headphones, although there are limitations on this.

Performance
Setting up the TuneStage 2 to pair with its receiver was a painless procedure which took around 40 seconds for initial pairing; it was functionally instantaneous thereafter. Audio quality was mostly good, with only intermittent dropouts. The documentation for the TuneStage 2 notes that it's susceptible to interference from radio waves in the 2.4GHz spectrum -- this includes microwave ovens, many cordless phones and most wireless networks.

In order to test how this affected the TuneStage 2, we stuck it on top of a wireless router, next to a phone and within spitting distance of a microwave oven. We're cruel to technology like that sometimes. In order to get a control sample, we also tested in a more interference neutral position. We were hard struck to tell the difference in either area, with audio dropouts at about the same rate. We were also highly impressed with the TuneStage 2's audio range, which easily exceeded the suggested 10m range in our tests. While dropouts did become more frequent, we were able to get up to 15m away from the receiver and still have music pumping through our speakers.

The TuneStage 2 is also A2DP compliant, although this isn't without a rather significant catch. There's no inputs on the receiver or transmitter, and as such, it'll only pair up with A2DP devices with a fixed "0000" password. If you've got a headphone set that uses "1234", or you've set a custom password, you're plumb out of luck.

Synchronising up with headphones also alerted us to another shortcoming with the TuneStage 2. Unlike most other Bluetooth devices, there's no dedicated button to force either transmitter or receiver into pairing mode. Even power cycling the receiver didn't always make it jump into pairing mode, so if you're having trouble getting audio to shift around -- or want to pair with additional devices -- it can be quite frustrating. Belkin's troubleshooting tips for the TuneStage 2 didn't help us much either. Got a problem with the receiver? Press play on the iPod, it suggests. Got a problem with the transmitter? Press play on the iPod, it suggests. We'll let you work out for yourselves what the suggested solution for pairing problems is.

The TuneStage 2 offers a painless way to wirelessly enable your iTunes library and integrate it into your home audio system with better audio fidelity than comparable radio-based approaches -- including Belkin's own TuneCast 3. It's not without its flaws - a model that let you initiate pairing more painlessly would easily garner an Editor's Choice award from us -- but it's still an excellent Bluetooth audio option for the millions of iPod owners out there.

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