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AudioBug AB-250

Audio Bug Connects Worlds Wirelessly

By Jim Bray

Wireless is everywhere these days, from cellphones to computer networking – but what if you want to play your tunes on a device that isn’t compatible with your other listening devices.

There’s actually quite a wide selection of wireless music transmitters around, as you can see the next time you visit your local electronics store, or if you're looking on the web for a music set-up to use whether you're in the kitchen or playing games on on the living room sofa. I was curious to see how these things perform, and Aerielle Inc. happened to get in touch offering their new AudioBug AB-250, so it seemed like the perfect chance to try out the technology.

The $40US AudioBug AB-250 transmits audio wirelessly from such devices as MP3 or portable CD players to FM radio tuners. It uses the little-exploited lower FM frequencies of around 88 MHz, and in my tests it worked quite well.

The AB-250 is switchable through four frequencies in the 88 – 89 MHz range, to better give you a chance to find a free frequency, and this came in handy – not so much because I had other devices or radio stations using those frequencies but because some of the FM radios on which I tried it refused to go down right to 88 MHz and I had to switch around to find one that they’d deign to play.

This isn’t a shortcoming of the AudioBug; it’s a shortcoming of some of the dinosaur FM radios I tried to use as “torture test” scenarios.

The AudioBug is a cute little bugger that looks kind of like one of those small, portable mouses that are becoming so popular with notebook computers. It isn’t a mouse, of course, it’s a bug and as such it has two big blue “bug eyes” that light up when it’s fired up looking neat but not really adding anything to the process. But it is cute.

Anyway, you plug the end of the bug’s “tail” into the headphone out jack of your portable device, tune your FM radio to the channel you select, press “play” on the portable music device, and “Presto!” you have stereo audio coming from your system (assuming the FM tuner system you’re using offers stereo – and most do).

Now, you only have range of about 15 feet, so you can’t for example set the AudioBug up in your living room and send the signals to your big home theater in the family room (or wherever), and that’s a shame. On the other hand, it did a wonderful job in a couple of applications I tried.

Firstly, sometimes I like to stream Internet audio into my home theater and I’ve been doing it using a Stereo Link unit that interfaces with the PC via USB, and with the stereo via conventional stereo audio jacks. It works fine, but it means you need an extra power plug and have to run wires across the room.

The AudioBug changes all that. It lets me send the streaming audio (or whatever) directly from the computer to the stereo receiver’s FM tuner, accomplishing exactly the same task while freeing up an AC power plug, USB port and stereo input jacks on the receiver.

And it worked fine!

After I’d messed around with the AudioBug trying out various FM radios in the house, with a variety of results, I tried it in one of my cars. I own a 1991 Infiniti Q45 I bought used and which, alas, didn’t come with Infiniti’s optional CD player. So to play my discs I use a portable Sony Discman hooked into the cassette player by an adapter.

It works, but at the cost of squeaking and grinding noises from the cassette adapter’s mechanical moving parts.

Enter the AudioBug. On a recent weekend road trip, I unplugged the cassette adapter and replaced it with the Bug, then tuned the Q’s FM radio to pick up the AudioBug’s signals.

And it worked fine as well, even though I had in effect tripled the distance from the Discman to the stereo head unit. Think about it: in order to get the CD’s output to the radio’s head unit (a distance of about two feet), the AudioBug sends the signals outside the car to the radio antenna on the rear quarter panel. The antenna picks up the signals and sends them back to the radio, which plays them through the car’s speakers.

It wasn’t perfect. At times there was a little bit of interference and some noise, but on the whole the audio quality was better and more consistent than what I’m used to from the cassette adapter.

So guess where the cassette adapter is now. Right, a junk drawer.

The AudioBug, obviously, is battery powered and uses one CR2 battery – which is included. I have no idea how long a battery lasts, but I haven’t yet gone through the first battery – not that I use the AudioBug that much, to be fair. Aerielle says you should get “over 40 hours” from a battery, which doesn’t seem like much.

On the upside, the unit features an instant on/auto off feature to ensure you aren’t wasting battery life. Aerielle offers a replacement four pack of batteries on its website for $12US.

Okay, so this is no cure for cancer, but it’s a nifty little gadget that works as advertised and really does let you catch up on your tunes, or your streaming broadcasts, with no strings attached.

And that’s fine with me!



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