Bluetooth and Bagpipes

A question often asked ‘does the Blair Digital Chanter use Bluetooth’?
The answer is no, because Bluetooth can’t deliver the high performance quality the digital chanter requires. Here’s why.

Bluetooth transmits low quality
Thats right! Bluetooth works by receiving and compressing audio, then sending to another Bluetooth device for decoding. We ‘pair’ devices for this to occur.
In current format, Bluetooth headphones and speakers are unable to transmit and receive high-quality full bandwidth audio. This means the audio is squeezed, tightly packed and doesn’t have the full range of dynamics. It’s very good, but not professional standard, nor suitable for recording or performance. Most online music and videos are compressed, which is why when you hear an instrument ‘live’ or on CD, it sounds much better.

The delay issue
Bluetooth also adds a delay when sending the sound to another Bluetooth device like headphones or speakers. This delay is called latency, which for most applications like streaming music unnoticeable because we’re only sending audio one way, not both at the same time. Musical instruments like bagpipes need fast multi-way communication in order to play and hear at the same time. If we accept this delay, it would be like playing a note always well behind the beat before hearing it sound. There are new formats of Bluetooth like aptX with a reduction in latency, but they are still slow for bagpipe players.

If we consider the delay (latency) and drop of audio quality, we lose both the ability to accurately play and also the rich dynamics unique to the Highland Bagpipes which pipers like. The difference with the Blair Digital Chanter is the high quality, high-performance audio with a large dynamic range so it can be used for recording and performing.

The alternatives
If wireless is something you would like, the following formats are recommended.

UHF. Professional format used by guitars, violins, vocalists etc. There is audio compression (minor) with undetectable delay. UHF tends to be more expensive than other formats because it’s stable, higher quality and robust.

VHF. Similar to UHF with a shorter range, also operates more on ‘line of sight’ so the antenna should have a clear view of the receiver.

2.4ghz Inexpensive. May experience interference with other items such as WIFI routers.

What do I use? UHF. It’s robust, reliable and delivers the best wireless quality. A basic wireless kit is around US$120, which includes a transmitter and receiver.

The future
It’s likely Bluetooth will continue to evolve like it has since introduced in 1989. It’s a popular, affordable format and new codecs will help resolve the current limitations.
As the Digital chanter also evolves and expands, we’ll also be looking at the best wireless formats to use with the high-quality, adaptable and expandable instrument.

Author Murray Blair, Piper/ Audio Engineer
© Blair Bagpipes 2018