You’ve no doubt noticed that smartphone makers are now truly at war with the headphone jack. It’s a battle that few of us appreciate, as it takes away a useful port and offers nothing in return. The result? Many of us must now choose: Do we want to continue using our wired headphones (some of which are worth many hundreds of dollars, thank you very much) through a sad little dongle, or, do we bite the bullet and invest yet more money into a decent set of Bluetooth cans?
To this situation, a new Canadian startup is saying, “Just, no.” Instead, Montreal-based Bluewave Audio is offering the minimally-named Bluewave Get, a tiny, Bluetooth headphone amp, assembled in Canada, that aims to let you keep using your favorite cans and even improve how they sound, for $99. In our Bluewave Get review, we let you know just how high wireless sound can fly for under a Benjamin.
Getting it right
At first glance, most people who look at the Bluewave Get have the same reaction: Isn’t it just like every other Bluetooth audio receiver on the market? Can’t you buy these things on Amazon for $20? It’s a reaction Bluewave founders Stephane Lepage and Pierre Lelievre are used to, but they still cringe at it.
Lelievre, the engineering talent behind the Get, claims those others devices might be Bluetooth receivers, but they aren’t “true amplifiers.” This, he claims, puts the Get into a very small category of devices — currently occupied only by the excellent $150 Astell & Kern XB10 — in that it combines the latest Bluetooth 5.0 codecs including AptX HD, for full compatibility with 24-bit high-resolution audio formats like FLAC, WAV and DSD, and streaming AAC for iPhone users (who are still waiting for Apple to join the AptX bandwagon), with a dedicated amplifier. Lelievre also claims the Get outperforms the XB10 in two ways: The Get’s amp is four times more powerful, and it has a fully analog volume control, which allows for a magnitude of levels far exceeding the incremental steps of most button-based volume systems. Let’s not forget, it’s also $50 cheaper.
You definitely sense the “warmth” that’s often used to characterize the sound of a quality amp.
The Get’s internal 200 mAh Li-Po battery is good for six hours of continuous use, and takes two hours to fully charge from empty. It also sports a MEMS microphone for taking calls or interacting with voice assistants. Better yet, its micro USB port, which is typically used for charging the Get, can also be used with a PC or Mac as an external DAC.
Did we mention it’s tiny? Weighing just 30 grams and fitting somewhere between an iPod Shuffle and an iPod Nano in size, once you attach it to your shirt or backpack with the included clip, you’ll barely know it’s there. There are three physical buttons for play/pause/calling, skip forward, and skip back.
Bluewave likes to say that the Get will take any set of headphones and make them sound better. To test the claim, we listened to a variety of source material (both hi-res and some not-so-high-res) on a variety of devices, including an iPhone 6 and a Google Pixel XL. After plugging in everything from Apple EarPods to a pair of AudioTechnica ATH-M50x monitors, we can verify that this claim is true. But, of course, your mileage may vary.
It can be tough to quantify and qualify sound improvements at the best of times, but we think most people will hear a difference when swapping their preferred headphones between their normal device, and that device paired with the Get. On a set of inexpensive buds like Apple’s AirPods, the difference will be subtle — a slight increase in fullness of the sound, and a reduction in harshness as you hit the higher volume levels.
Move up to a set of full-size, over-ear cans like the ATH-M50x, however, and you start to appreciate more nuance — individual instruments have greater separation, tonality is improved across the board, and you definitely sense that “warmth” which is so often used to characterize audio that has been piped through a quality amp.
We don’t want to over-promise — these improvements, though noticeable, are not night-and-day. The fact is, your smartphone is never going to sound as good as your dedicated home audio gear, and the Bluewave Get can’t magically make it so. However, we think that for its price, you won’t find a device on the market that can do what the Get can do, in such a small, and versatile form factor.
Yes, you can use the Bluewave Get as an external DAC for your PC or Mac, via the included micro USB cable. Unfortunately, the benefits of doing so are limited: The Get can only deliver two-channel, 16-bit conversion at 48 kHz, which means if you don’t hear an improvement in sound thanks to the Get’s amp, you may as well stick with your computer’s existing headphone output.
Unlike some other Bluetooth audio receivers, the Get can be used while charging. It also lets you know via the small LED indicator what kind of connection you’re using: Green for USB/charging, blue for a regular Bluetooth connection, purple for an AptX HD connection, and red for low battery.
The small metal clip is removable, and can be replaced or swapped with a slightly beefier clip designed to mount the Get directly to the side of a large set of headphones for a tangle free setup. This larger clip ($12) also comes with a shorty headphone cord for use with cans that have detachable cords.