Back in my A Tale of Bluetooth CODECs and Video Games article, I mentioned that I had plans to eventually review some of the Bluetooth products that I use to listen to the audio while gaming and avoiding wires as much as possible. I intended to start with the Sennheiser HD1, but I’ve grown really pleased with the Fiio LC-BT2, even if the product has one of those annoying, generic model names. So much so, that I consider this my baseline Low Latency Bluetooth audio receiver to compare all others against!
A few disclaimers before proceeding:
- Product Links are affiliate links. Full disclosure right there.
- I am mostly interested in the convenience and performance of these products when used for gaming purposes. If I enjoy them for other uses I may make note of it, but the aim of this review series is purely related to possible latency when gaming.
- I don’t really get to spend long stretches of time to myself to enjoy my hobbies, so I won’t be doing battery life tests and chances are that I may not run down the batteries on most of these.
What is the Fiio LC-BT2?
The reason that I was hesitant to start my review series with this particular device is that it’s not really a stand-alone product. The Fiio LC-BT2 is a Bluetooth 5.0 cord with support for multiple audio CODECs, including the all-important Qualcomm aptX Low Latency CODEC that is my most recommended one when looking for a gaming audio device. It does not include actual earphones; you need to provide those yourself. This has obvious advantages and a few disadvantages of course.
This Bluetooth cord hangs from your neck with a very small amount of bulk; it’s not a particularly big product, but it’s not the thinnest either. I don’t believe that has any important impact on its use, but it’s bulkier than something like a Bose Soundsport or a Sennheiser HD1.
It’s very important to consider that you need to know which kind to buy. I own multiple IEM’s (in-ear monitors: a fancy term for fancy earphones) with 0.78mm two-pin connectors, so that’s the one that I bought. There is also an MMCX version. Make sure to order the one that will work for your gear if you decide to take the plunge.
A few stats to keep in mind:
- CODECs supported: SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX Low Latency, aptX HD, LDAC
- Output Power: 23mW@32Ω
- Frequency Response: 5Hz ~ 40kHz
- Recommended Headphone Impedance (per the manufacturer): 16–100Ω
Again, the fact that it does not include the actual earphones means that you need to be aware of the requirements of the ones that you provide before hooking your earphones up to this cord. I’ve tried three different earphones without issue, with the Noble K10’s sounding the best, as expected. The other ones I tried were the Massdrop/Optoma NuForce EDC3’s and a TFZ model (don’t know the exact product number, sorry). I also have the Massdrop/Optoma Nuforce EDC1’s, but the plugs on them were too tight for the pins on the Fiio LC-BT2 and I didn’t want to force them so I didn’t get to test them on it. So keep in mind that while the Fiio LC-BT2 is compatible with most 2-pin 0.78mm pin IEM’s, your mileage may vary. The MMCX version may not have this issue as the MMCX plug seems to be more standardized. Noise is very minimal, but not imperceptible. I especially notice it on the TFZ’s, but that may be more related to their overall quality than any misgivings with the Fiio LC-BT2. I don’t really notice that as much with the EDC3’s or the Noble K10's.
This is the reason why I got this particular item, and I must say that for the most part, it does not disappoint! One important thing to keep in mind is that performance will be dependent on the unit transmitting the data and their sound quality will be impacted by the IEMs that you pair up with the unit. The first time that I used my Fiio LC-BT2 I paired it to one Bluetooth transmitter that wasn’t really the best, and I got a bad first impression. It took me a while to figure out that the problem was the transmitter and not the Fiio device. Once that was figured out, I got to enjoy what is one of my favorite wireless audio experiences while gaming.
The audio can actually go a little louder than most Bluetooth devices that I’ve tested, allowing for separate audio controls from those of the main device it’s paired up with. So it’s possible to increase the volume beyond the max offered by the video game console or phone connected to it, simply by using the collar’s volume up button. It also includes a power button, a volume down button, and a play|pause button that also doubles as a pairing button if held down. I very much prefer this over a single button doing everything depending on how long you hold it or how many times you press it in quick succession.
I’ve had a few occasions in which the device goes slightly off-sync, introducing audio lag, but those aren’t very common. What happens is that it may lag a little, then you may hear a bit of static, and then it will go back in sync. It may have had an issue keeping up the higher bandwidth required by aptX LL and gone down to standard aptX, then back to aptX LL, introducing the static during the process. It’s not a common thing though, but it does demonstrate that while the technology has improved a lot, Bluetooth audio isn’t quite there to fully replace wired just yet, at least not for pure lag-free gaming audio. Thankfully, since gaming requires more precision than video (which usually runs at 24 or 30 fps most of the time), the audio sync performance while watching video content is superb.
Naturally, it can also be paired to your smartphone, and it can be controlled with a handy app by Fiio. Unfortunately, any equalizer settings in the app will only apply to the smartphone connection, so their use is of no consequence if you are using the device to game on a console. It can be updated by the app, which is always good, though I must confess that the updates haven’t really had much of an impact on my experience with it.
One feature that I really like is that it can be paired to two devices at the same time, so you can have it paired to your smartphone and to whatever Bluetooth transmitter you use for your gaming device. It can’t accept an audio stream for both devices at once though, which is pretty common (I can’t think of any Bluetooth device that can, but it may exist out there), so be sure to turn off your smartphone’s Bluetooth transmission before connecting it to your gaming audio transmitter. It’s good practice to turn Bluetooth off when not using it anyway; it will save battery and keep an additional attack vector unavailable. Once connected, it tends to start transmitting audio if any is available right away and with no noticeable lag if the transmitting device is using aptX Low Latency.
It also includes a microphone to use for voice calls, though I haven’t really used the device for that. In all honesty, I just use this headset to play video games or watch videos and those are really the applications that I am reviewing here: video games and video.
Build Quality & Other Properties
This is a pretty solid device, with thick, chunky cables coming out of the plastic collar to meet up with your IEMs. It uses the typical ear hook cable style that should be familiar to IEM users, though it’s not very flexible so that may be an issue for some. The collar is not as light as other products I’ve tried that have built-in phones, but I don’t consider it particularly heavy though. I do wish the cables from the collar to the headphones would be longer though.
I haven’t tried the MMCX version to judge the quality of that connection, but the 0.78mm 2-pin terminals offer a solid, secure fit to the phones. The buttons feel springy and respond well, so no complaints there. The one thing that I am not a big fan of is the rubber flap that covers the charging port. It’s a USB-C charging port, which I am thankful for, but the way the plastic flap is connected to the body of the device, it can sometimes be tricky to get a good connection in it to charge it. There’s a bright LED offering feedback for the charging process.
As a bonus, it includes a simple case! It’s not particularly secure, which is why I don’t keep my custom IEMs connected to the device, but it works well enough for it. There’s enough space on the case for the LC-BT2 connected to a pair of IEMs, a charging cable, and even a small Bluetooth transmitter. The case also has a small loop for ease of carrying and a small elastic band to keep the device secure in case that you open it upside down, though that’s unlikely as it has Fiio’s logo facing you when held upright.
Overall, I really like the Fiio LC-BT2, and I really hope that comes across in this review. I didn’t receive any compensation from Fiio or anyone else to get a good word in; I just like it that much. I use it as my benchmark to compare against other devices and for the price (about $70 right now), I think that it’s a very good deal. It even supports a lot of other, higher quality audio CODECs than aptX Low Latency for audiophile use, though I really prefer wired audio from a Digital Audio Player when listening to music. It’s a great option to use fantastic wireless sound quality through the Fiio LC-BT2 though!
If you enjoyed this review, please consider reading A Tale of Bluetooth CODECs and Video Games. Thanks!