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B-Fi Multiroom Music Streamer Review
Open New Doors To The World Of Hi-Res Audio Streaming.
THE HIGH NOTES
- Hi-Res Streaming For a Low Cost of Entry
- Multi-Room Capable
- Easy Control
Company & Product Overview
We've been longtime Audioengine fans and their powered speakers are some of our top sellers. Today, we're going to review their brand new B-Fi multi-room music streamer.
Audioengine was founded by two friends who previously worked at some of the biggest names in audio including Apple, Alesis, Gibson Guitars, and Harmon/Kardon. When they decided to form a company together, the founders knew that they had the experience to change the way people listen to music. In 2005, the two friends created their first high-performance audio product — the award-winning A2 powered speaker, and the rest is history.
Since then, Audioengine has created a high-performance line-up of new audio products that are easy to use and sound great. Speakers and components by Audioengine are known to deliver professional studio sound quality right into your living room or workspace without the hassles from multi-component pieces.
At Audio Advice, we’ve had the privilege of reviewing several Audioengine products before their releases. So, when Audioengine sent us a new unreleased music streaming product with multi-room functionality for us to test and review, we couldn’t wait!! If you are looking for a convenient upgrade for your stereo that brings high-fidelity music streaming into your home with the ability to expand your system beyond the capabilities Bluetooth, then Audioengine has something in store for you.
The new Audioengine B-Fi Multiroom Music Streamer, featured in today's review, brings Hi-Res Audio music streaming with multiroom functionality over your WIFI network to a much lower price-point enabling more music lovers to enjoy its benefits for almost the same price of an Apple TV. We see several use cases for the B-Fi.
If you have an older vintage receiver in your system and you want to bring streaming to it, the B-Fi is a great choice. You could also have a legacy stereo system with a DAC or newer USB DAC. Simply connect the digital out of the B-Fi into your system and you’ll be able to test the waters of music streaming. You could also use this to cover your house with music. The B-Fi can connect to any stereo amp, receiver, or pair of powered speakers and enable you to send the same music, in sync, to multiple stereo systems that are connected to B-Fi units. The Audioengine app offers simple control for a variety of streaming services or music on your network, plus support for a maximum of 12 rooms.
For those of you who want something better than Bluetooth and/or the ability to combine multiple units for great whole-house music, the B-Fi fits the bill perfectly.
Packaging, Design & Build Quality
The build quality feels pretty solid, and yet it only weighs 5 oz — enough substantial weight to station it securely right on top of a speaker cabinet without having to worry about it falling off. The housing is a sturdy aluminum chassis that comes in a white finish with a black finish on both front and rear panels.
It’s only 3-inches long, 3 ½ inches wide and 1-inch tall. The main body of the unit is rectangular and features rounded edges that are simple but modern.
We stationed our test unit on top of a walnut speaker cabinet, and we loved how well the warmer mid-century tones of the natural wood paired with the B-Fi’s simple and sophisticated white and black aesthetic. Overall, the B-Fi has a very modern look that will complement just about any setup.
The front panel is minimalistic and simple. There’s a round push-button that also functions as an LED indicator light that will show you the status of the unit and guides you through the initial setup process. There’s also a black antenna that’s permanently fixed on the unit.
The other end is where you’ll find all the inputs and outputs. From left to right, there’s a micro-USB input for connecting the included DC power supply that powers on the unit, one digital audio output for connecting a Toslink digital optical cable to your music system or a set of powered speakers, and a pair of RCA left and right analog outputs that can also be used to connect any music system or a set of powered speakers with the B-Fi. It should be noted that these RCA outputs are extremely high-quality. You might find RCA outputs like these on a preamp costing $2000 or more!
In the box, there’s a stereo audio cable, a DC power supply with a detachable USB-A to micro-USB cable that’s used to power the unit on, a microfiber bag, and a Quickstart guide to get up and running fast.
This sleek little box has the power to upgrade your stereo system or a pair of powered speakers with high-fidelity music streaming capabilities and modern multiroom expansion. Of course, we think that’s really cool. But, as you’ll see in the next section, it’s what’s inside the unit that makes everything work, seamlessly.
Features & Technology
Essentially, the B-Fi gives you the ability to retrofit any system in your home that has an RCA or optical input. It makes high-fidelity audio really easy to set up in any room where there’s a stereo system with digital or analog outputs.
It works by integrating your existing music system(s) into your wireless network to provide low-latency seamless audio synchronization between any speakers in your home. For anyone wanting to dip their toes into the world of music streaming, you can think of the B-Fi as an Apple TV for hi-res music.
With the B-Fi, you don’t have to pause your favorite show just because you need to leave the room momentarily. Listen to a podcast or an audiobook in your bedroom while getting ready for your day and keep the show playing downstairs as you brew your morning coffee. Or, stream the big game from your media room to your outdoor speakers or your kitchen so guests can keep up regardless of where they’re hanging out. Just add a second B-Fi to your stereo or powered speakers and you’ll never miss a beat when your favorite team scores the next goal. Keep your music, game, and streaming audio going in any room you want with any stereo system in your house when you connect additional B-Fi streamers.
The technology inside the B-Fi is also similar to an Apple TV. The B-Fi has an AP8064 ARM processor and a built-in WIFI card. The B-Fi pumps out a WIFI signal and automatically detects your router’s WIFI network.
Connecting the B-Fi with your stereo system and your WIFI network couldn’t be easier. The B-Fi is compatible with any 802.11 a/b (2.4GHz) wireless network router, and the setup is extremely straightforward. All you have to do is connect the included RCA cables (or a digital audio optical cable) to your music system or powered speakers, and then follow a few simple steps. The B-Fi will play the instructions audibly through your music system to complete the integration process, so it’s important that you select the correct audio source on your music system so that you can hear the instructions coming out of your speakers.
Entering all your info and the remainder of the setup is all done using Audioengine’s companion app. Once B-Fi joins your home WIFI network, you will have a lifetime of music at your fingertips. You can play just about any music source you can think of from your phone or tablet using Audioengine’s companion app or a variety of third-party technologies that can also control playback.
When you download the Audioengine Control app, you can use your phone or tablet to play the music that’s stored locally on your iOS or Android device right from within the app. The Audioengine Control app also supports streaming services, so you play a wide variety of music without ever needing to leave the app. The music services built-into the Audioengine Control app are: Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, Napster, and XIMALAYA. All you have to do is sign in with your favorite streaming service and you will have complete control over all your playlists right from within the app with variable volume control and speaker selection from anywhere in your home.
But, you’re never confined to just one app. If you don’t see your favorite music streaming service already baked into the Control app’s user interface, you can still play any hi-res music you want from outside the app using Airplay just like an Apple TV. Windows and Android devices have the ability to stream audio directly to the B-Fi using DLNA and UPnP. This lets you use Pandora, Amazon Music, Apple Music, Google Play Music, Deezer, YouTube, or any music source you want.
When we tested the B-Fi with an iPhone, we used the Audioengine Control app to stream hi-res music from Qobuz. We were able to successfully control the volume of the music coming out of our speakers using the volume control slider within the Audioengine Control app. We were also able to raise and lower the volume of the music using the physical volume up and down buttons on the side of the iPhone.
However, this was only possible while the Audioengine Control app was open. When we exited out of the app while the music was still playing, the physical volume buttons on the side of the iPhone did not control the volume of the music. This was easy to work around when we re-opened the Audioengine Control app or used the stereo’s remote control.
We also used AirPlay to test volume control over music sources outside Audioengine’s companion app, and we had a similarly great experience. When we streamed Apple Music and YouTube videos, we were able to control the volume of the music coming out of our speakers using the volume control slider within the Apple Music app. A bonus we noticed here was when we exited out of Apple Music while the music was still playing, we were still able to control the volume using the physical volume buttons on the side of the iPhone.
In theory, controlling the volume over DLNA or UPnP will work similarly with Android devices and Windows computers, however, we tested the B-Fi with Apple products only. There are a number of third-party apps available for iOS devices that also allow you to play music over UPnP, but as always, since not all apps are created equal, some users may have mixed results when using third-party apps. We can say with confidence that the B-Fi works seamlessly with Audioengine's Control app and with AirPlay which will open up a lot of possibilities for musical exploration for most users.
While all these features make the B-Fi a versatile multi-room streamer, another cool feature inside the B-Fi is the digital to analog circuitry inside the unit. It uses the ESS Sabre ES9023 DAC, which is a 16-bit premier stereo DAC chip that’s capable of reproducing sample rates up to 192 kHz.
The premier stereo DAC has an integrated op-amp driver that delivers jitter-free studio-quality audio with very low noise. Think of music with a more natural sound and improved dynamics. If you don’t already have a DAC connected to your stereo, the B-Fi upgrades the resolution of your music and lets you hear more details coming out of your stereo system or powered speakers.
The B-Fi also features an integrated op-amp driver that’s pretty powerful. The integrated op-amp driver provides 2 volts of line-level output — that’s enough power to drive a separate power amp if you wanted to use it as a preamp. You can connect B-Fi directly to your stereo or a set of powered speakers using the included RCA cables or a Toslink digital optical cable, and its output will be the same as a CD player. When you use the RCA outputs to your stereo system or powered speakers, your setup will benefit from the B-Fi’s high-performance DAC, and if you already have a great DAC in your setup, then the optical output will give you the flexibility to use that instead.
Having enough output is useful, but being able to control it wirelessly with low noise and the lowest distortion is an entirely different challenge. The B-Fi uses a patented Hyperstream architecture and Time Domain Jitter Eliminator to deliver pro-grade studio-quality audio with a high signal-to-noise ratio of -105dB. This means B-Fi is ultra-quiet which lets you hear music with improved clarity.
All this comes inside a cool little box that makes the experience of great sound in as many rooms as you want extremely simple to set up and convenient to control. With the B-Fi, Audioengine gives you a powerful tool that will open up many doors to expand your listening experience, and when you add more than one B-Fi, they will literally change the way you listen to music in your home.
To test the B-Fi in a few different scenarios, we connected a pair of Audioengine HD4 Powered Bookshelf Speakers. The HD4 is a new great sounding powered speaker system from Audioengine that offers wireless Bluetooth aptX HD connectivity. The wireless convenience of Bluetooth 5.0 makes these speakers really fun to listen to, and when you add a B-Fi to them, you’ll upgrade these with the benefits of multi-room music streaming with your WIFI network!
We streamed hi-res music files stored on our phones and a computer. We also used Qobuz to stream CD-quality music from a laptop. We used the Toslink optical digital audio output to bypass the B-Fi’s built-in DAC and followed the voice-prompts coming out of the speakers while using the companion app from an iPhone to connect everything with our wireless network. Finally, we connected a second B-Fi to a stereo system in another room with the B-Fi’s RCA outputs so we could take advantage of the B-Fi’s built-in DAC for comparison.
We listened to a lot of styles of music without the B-Fi’s built-in DAC to give us a good sense of how the music sounded just coming out of our powered speaker system. Then we streamed the same music to both rooms simultaneously so we could enjoy the B-Fi’s built-in premier stereo DAC in one room and the sound of the same music coming out of the Audioengine powered speakers in the other.
While everything sounded great no matter what we listened to with this multi-room setup, one of the tracks that stood out was “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” released in 1983 by the Talking Heads as the second single from their fifth album, “Speaking In Tongues.”
Immediately, the rhythm and pacing of the bassline captured our attention and gave us goosebumps. There was a tuneful sense of timing in the bassline that made us all want to tap our hands along with the beat just like a live concert as we walked in and out of both rooms.
Entering and exiting the rooms to hear the subtle differences was really cool. We all agreed this multi-room setup would be a great experience to share with our friends and family for dinner parties or any special occasion that deserves good music playing in the background.
By the time the lead vocalist, David Byrne, sang his first lyric “Home is where I want to be, pick me up and turn me around, I feel numb, born with a weak heart, I guess I must be having fun,” the hairs on the backs of our necks stood up.
We noticed improvements to the soundstage with clear details when we listened to the song with the B-Fi’s built-in DAC. The improvements were not substantial, but for any stereo system that doesn’t have a DAC connected or already built-in, we think the B-Fi is a great addition that will make any home stereo system or a set of powered speakers sound more alive.
And while the improvements were subtle, covering the entire home with music in multiple rooms made our experience with the music feel really special.
There’s nothing worse than buying something that becomes obsolete a few years later. At Audio Advice, we think this is one of the reasons why so many Audioengine products have gone on to become some of our best selling components. Other Audioengine products like the B1 Bluetooth Receiver allow people to upgrade the gear they already own with new modern abilities that are simple to set up and convenient to use.
The biggest differences between the new Audioengine B-Fi and the B1 Bluetooth Receiver are:
- B-Fi uses your home Wi-Fi network for multi-room music streaming and stereo pairing, while B1 uses Bluetooth.
- B-Fi allows you to name and rename devices, while B1 does not due to limitations of Bluetooth.
- B-Fi requires the Audioengine Control app for the initial setup while no product app is required for B1.
We should point out, the B-Fi is a little more complex to use than just doing Bluetooth streaming from your smartphone, but the sound is better and it allows you to easily access music on your network. You are also able to group units together for a pretty cool whole-house music feed.
Many of you may have great audio systems with some sort of DAC in the system, but lack a way to stream music. The B-Fi will allow you to try out streaming, and should you really enjoy it, there are multiple choices of even higher performing streaming units on the market for even better sound. The B-Fi is the least expensive way we have ever seen to test out wireless music streaming from a true high-quality unit.
There are better streamers available such as the Sonos Port, but these will cost a lot more. For less than $200, and about the same price as an Apple TV 4K, you get the ability to stream high-res music in any room of your house while also modernizing your existing system. We think this is the biggest take-away, making the B-Fi a great value. It lets you access high-fidelity audio with the ability to expand it throughout your house without breaking the bank.
All we can say is adding the B-Fi streamer to your home audio setup will open up many possibilities for you to enjoy more wireless freedom with the stereo systems or powered speakers you already have.
Sound Signature: The possibilities are limitless! It depends on the stereo system you connect.
Who it’s for: Music Lovers.
What it’s for: Streaming Any Kind Of Music.
How to get peak performance: At Home.
HIGH NOTES UNPACKED
Hi-Res Streaming For a Low Cost of Entry
Audioengine is known for making great value products and their first streamer continues that tradition. The B-Fi sets a new low price-point for Hi-Res Streaming. If you have been thinking about testing streaming, the B-Fi is a great way to give it a try.
Cover your home in music. You’ll be able to use more than one B-Fi and even link them together to play the same music around your home.
The B-Fi can use the Audioengine streaming app, Airplay, or any standard UPnP streaming app on the market. We found it simple to use and we loved the easy controls.
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