e have an old Sony hi-fi system. My wife has tons of CDs and plays them quite frequently but she is confined to the original speakers which are fixed in the utility room. Would it be possible to connect some gizmo or gadget to the Sony stereo and broadcast the music wirelessly to a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi speaker in an adjoining dining room, eight to ten metres away? And if so, could you also recommend an affordable Bluetooth speaker? We’re hoping to keep the whole lot to well under €100.
It’s possible to do this on many older stereos with what’s called a ‘Bluetooth transmitter’. You can typically pick one up on Amazon for around €25. It plugs into your old stereo’s headphone port or its auxiliary port (if you have one of these on the stereo, it will probably be marked ‘aux’).
What this basically does is to transmit the sound from the stereo to a wireless speaker over Bluetooth. It will typically have a range of around ten metres, so it sounds like you’d be at the outer limit of that. It’s a range advantage if there’s no wall between the stereo and the Bluetooth speaker, although I know that might be a tall ask.
In terms of what speaker to get, your €25 for the transmitter will give you a maximum of between €50 and €70 which — I’ll be honest — isn’t a generous budget for a decent speaker. However, you will get one that gives you reasonable (if limited) audio quality in a fairly small form factor. One I’ve tried that’s as good as you’ll get for €50 is Sony’s SRS-XB12 portable Bluetooth speaker (€45 from Currys or other retailers).
It has some advantages over rivals in that it has a line-in port in case something goes wrong with Bluetooth and you need to physically connect the speaker to it with a standard 3.5mm connection cable that costs no more than €5. The other advantage is that if (or when) you can afford an extra €45 to improve the system down the line, you can buy a second XB12 speaker and pair it with the first one for a better stereo experience. Not many portable Bluetooth speakers can do this.
Recommendation: Sony’s SRS-XB12 portable Bluetooth speaker (€45 from Currys or other retailers)
(i) My son is due to start a general engineering degree in the next few weeks. What laptop would you recommend he buy?
— Sally Deasy
(ii) What would be your recommendation for getting a decent laptop for a student about to embark on a university degree course which will possibly be mostly online and off-campus and will involve a lot of reading and researching?
— M. Curtin
Forgive me for lumping these two questions together, but they’re quite similar.
In each case, I’m going to recommend the most affordable version of what I regard as the minimum viable laptop for each student. If you want to get something that costs more, by all means do.
Sally, in your case I’m going to advise that you look at HP’s 14-inch 1504 (€640). To Mr or Ms Curtin, it may be wiser opting for Dell’s 15-inch Inspiron 5593 (€720).
Both have what I regard to be a minimum specification for a Windows laptop — 8GB of Ram, an Intel Core i5 processor and at least 256GB of ‘solid state’ storage.
The HP’s 14-inch display is an advantage if there’s any chance you will be bringing it around (between college and home, for example) as it will be easier to carry and slightly better on battery life.
The Dell model’s slightly bigger screen is an advantage if the laptop is going to be used predominantly in one place, such as a home desk. Here, the bigger screen is an advantage, especially if there’s a lot of research needed that requires several open windows on the display.
The only other main difference between the two machines is that the Dell has twice the storage (512GB) of the HP.
This is an advantage for hosting bulky files, especially photos or videos.
But otherwise, 256GB is generally enough on a laptop that isn’t going to be used for things like photo or video editing.
Even though I’ve given you two specific laptop examples to pick, you might also look back to what I wrote in this column a few weeks ago (which is under ‘Ask Adrian’ on Independent.ie).
There, I gave an in-depth explanation of the different pricing tiers and what you get with each step up.
But I argued that for most people who need a laptop as a tool or something to work or study from, it really starts at around the €600 level.
Because that’s what you need to spend to get your viable minimum specification on a machine that can be depended on to handle work or study tasks for extended periods without stuttering or slowing up.
iPhone 12 Mini
€820 from retailers
The most affordable of Apple’s new iPhone 12 models is also called the ‘mini’, although its 5.4-inch screen is actually almost as big as that on the previous iPhone 8 Plus ‘phablet’. The new device has 5G, great new cameras, maximum engine power and a screen that’s four times more resistant to cracks than previous iPhones.
Huawei Freebuds Pro
€179 from retailers
Wireless earbuds are all the rage. The good news for us consuemrs is that competition is bringing some really powerful features at reasonable price points. Huawei’s Freebuds Pro add bigger ‘drivers’ into the ear pieces while also giving us (limited) noise-cancelling ability to cut down on external distractions.