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Like it or not, wired headphones are a dying breed. At least, wired headphones with a 3.5mm jack are. It may be many years from now, but the trend towards “all-wireless-everything” is in full effect, outside of specialist cases where audio quality is absolutely critical.
With that switch, we’ve seen an absolute bonanza of “true wireless earbuds” pop up in recent years. For better or worse, all of them use a Bluetooth connection to keep tunes flowing. Sometimes, as is the case with Apple’s AirPods, there’s a little extra magic thrown in with a custom chip.
But what if you have some old gadgets lying around that don’t have Bluetooth built in? Whether you, like me, are still holding onto your aging Zune collection, or you just want to add some wireless audio to an old stereo, there’s no need to worry. There are ways to combine even the oldest tech with a dash of modern convenience.
What you’ll need
Our goal here is to add Bluetooth connectivity to anything that has a standard 3.5mm headphone port. Inevitably, that means using a dongle, but that’s the world we live in. For this particular task, you’re going to need a Bluetooth transmitter.
It’s important to define a couple of terms first, though. In your search for the right dongle, you’re going to run into two similar, but very different devices: Bluetooth transmitters and Bluetooth receivers.
A Bluetooth transmitter is anything you add on to a device to send out a Bluetooth signal to something else. In our case, this would be sending the audio signal from whatever is playing your music to your Bluetooth headphones. Bluetooth receivers, meanwhile, allow things like cars to receive audio from a Bluetooth device, like your smartphone, by connecting to an auxiliary port.
While there are some dongles out there that may be able to do both, you’ll want to avoid anything that is labeled purely as a Bluetooth receiver. That said, there’s no shortage of Bluetooth transmitters out there to choose from.
Picking a Bluetooth transmitter
Depending on how you plan to use the device you’re adding Bluetooth to, there are a couple of different options to choose from. For an old MP3 player, you’ll likely want something fairly portable. If you want to add Bluetooth to a TV or home stereo, you can go for something a bit bulkier that will sit stationary but provide a more powerful signal.
For something that packs a lot of capabilities into a small package, the ZIIDOO Bluetooth 5.0 transmitter and receiver is a solid choice. It offers the flexibility to be used as both a transmitter and receiver, depending on what you need, in a small package.
As an added bonus, it’s built with Bluetooth 5.0, which comes with some added benefits for soundhounds. Namely, it supports the aptX wireless audio codec, which drastically reduces latency. You’ll need a set of earbuds or headphones that also support aptX to take advantage of it, but it’s a great thing to have.
ZIIDOO Bluetooth 5.0 transmitter and receiver
$15 at Amazon
This dongle from ZIDOO can work as both a transmitter and receiver, making it perfect for if you need to pump audio from an old MP3 player or to a car.
If you have no need for a receiver and just want a transmitter, the TaoTronics Portable Bluetooth Transmitter is a good alternative. Once again, you have support for the aptX codec here, so you’ll get low latency audio with a set of headphones or earbuds that support it as well.
TaoTronics also promises a range of 33 feet (10 meters) and up to eight hours of battery life. Not too shabby for such a small device.
TaoTronics Portable Bluetooth Transmitter
$20 at Amazon
This TaoTronics Portable Bluetooth Transmitter is simple, but effective. If you just need a transmitter to turn an old gadget into a Bluetooth device, this will get the job done.
If money is no object and you want the absolute best setup for something like a TV or stereo, you want to check out the Avantree Oasis Plus. You get Bluetooth 5.0 support, along with the aptX codec, which should help eliminate any latency issues when watching TV. Beyond that, Avantree has several ways to connect your audio source.
The Avantree Oasis Plus lets you connect using a standard 3.5mm audio cable, RCA cables, or even an optical (Toslink) connection. It also supports audio passthrough, letting you put it in the chain between your soundbar and TV, for example. This lets you push sound through a speaker and to your Bluetooth headphones simultaneously.
All of that functionality comes at a price, however. The Avantree Oasis Plus is a cool $80. Still, it’s a great little unit for TVs and other home uses.
Avantree Oasis Plus
$80 at Amazon
The Avantree Oasis Plus comes with plenty of extra features, including several connection methods. It’s a big unit, but should make it easy to add wireless audio to any TV setup.
No matter which Bluetooth transmitter you pick, they open up a world of possibilities for bringing aging tech into the modern age. Anything you own with a standard 3.5mm headphone port will work with this method. If you want to get creative, try adding a transmitter to an old hi-fi setup or record player.
As for me, I’ll be kitting out my Zune to live like it’s 2008 all over again with some of the best wireless earbuds out there. Until I get bored and go back to my smartphone, that is. (Don’t judge me.)