Well folks, it finally happened. After four years without what many would consider to be a basic feature, the Nintendo Switch has finally added bluetooth audio support! Sounds like a great day to be a Nintendo fan, right? Well, not necessarily for this reviewer. You see, the folks at Skull & Co recently sent me their AudioStick Bluetooth transmitter for review, which I was beyond excited for because, at the time it was sent, the Switch’s 13.0.0 firmware wasn’t yet released which meant this would finally be an option for me to get Bluetooth audio from my Switch. Now with that update live and native Bluetooth audio available on the console, I was a bit worried for the sake of this review; would this transmitter now be a useless add-on that serves only to confirm my status as resident Skull & Co shill? Thankfully, after comparing the two audio sources, I can safely say that this is not the case. Why’s that? Read on, dear reader, and find out!
- Dimensions: 1.97"x0.55"x0.59"/50x14x15mm
- Weight: 0.19oz/5.5g
- Power: 1W
- Operating Range: 10 meters
- Supported Profiles: HFP, HSP, A2DP, AVRCP, APTX, APTX-LL
Like previous Skull & Co accessories I’ve reviewed, the AudioStick comes in a no-frills package that neatly and conveniently contains all you’ll need; in this case, the AudioStick itself, three spacers for flush and easy installation whether you’re using the transmitter with a caseless Switch, Switch Lite, or any other devices, and a USB-A to USB-C cable for use with the PlayStation consoles and Switch in docked mode. From a design standpoint, the transmitter and spacers all conform to the sleek durability I’ve come to expect from Skull & Co accessories. The standard Switch spacer, especially, looks nice as it perfectly matches the coloring of the Switch’s tablet. It may not be seamless, but it’s consistent enough to look great. The AudioStick itself is a more flat, matte black in comparison, but while it might not match the spacer and console, it certainly blends in enough to look like an intentional and worthy add-on, rather than a second thought or “function over form” addition. That said, the design isn’t without its faults. By the nature of being connected via the Switch’s USB-C port, the already flimsy kickstand becomes completely unusable while the AudioStick is attached. Granted the Switch does, technically, stand upright on the AudioStick, but this limits the viewing angles and doesn’t seem super secure for playing in tabletop mode to me. It also sort of bugs me that charging while you play becomes a hassle when using the AudioStick. Unless you have some type of USB-C splitter, it becomes just outright impossible. Skull & Co do advertise a solution for this on the store page, through using the Jumpgate mini dock’s core drive to act as a splitter, and using the USB-A to USB-C cord to connect the AudioStick to the core drive… but this is a bulky and inefficient solution. Plus, the issue I mentioned about the core drive in its own review about how it doesn’t have a great connection when plugged into a device is still very present here.
Being a simple USB-C audio transmitter, installation of the AudioStick is as simple as making sure the proper spacer is installed for security of your connection, and plugging it into the USB-C port on your Switch. From there, pairing a set of Bluetooth headphones just requires holding the “A” button on the AudioStick for a few seconds, before throwing your desired headphones, earbuds, or speaker into their own pairing mode. Within a few seconds, the audio device is connected, and you’re getting crisp, clean Nintendo Switch audio streamed via Bluetooth! It’s an almost hilariously simple process, which makes it incredibly user friendly. Via the AudioStick you’re able to connect two sets of headphones at the same time, and the device will remember four different headphone pairs at once. Headphones reconnect quickly as long as the AudioStick is plugged in, and the device is voice chat compatible as long as your headphones have a microphone.
So, how does this compare to the native Bluetooth from the Switch? Well, the process begins a bit more simply, by just having to navigate to system settings and select “pair device” under Bluetooth audio. This is where the simplicity ends, though; in my experience with testing, I found that it took the Switch nearly twice as long to find my headphones as the AudioStick did, and once it found the headphones it took even longer to actually pair them to the Switch. That’s also not counting the issues I had with the Switch just not wanting to connect to my headphones, the random disconnecting I dealt with while trying to play games with the native Bluetooth, and the limitations that the Switch’s native Bluetooth runs into; only two wireless controllers being usable and no microphone support being the biggest offenders in that realm. Headphones reconnecting to the native Bluetooth even take a bit longer than through the AudioStick. All of this is to say that, while the Switches native Bluetooth will work, and work just fine at that, the AudioStick does undoubtedly provide a more streamlined, efficient experience.
But now the biggest question one may have when deciding if the AudioStick is right for them; how does the sound quality compare between it and the Switch’s built-in Bluetooth? To test this, I ended up spending a good amount of time playing a variety of different games, with the same pair of headphones. For half the time, I played using the Switch’s native audio. The other half, with the AudioStick. What I found through this test is that while the Switch’s Bluetooth audio isn’t necessarily “bad,” the AudioStick without question has the superior sound quality between the two. The Switch’s Bluetooth audio just sounds flat and shallow, lacking the crisp, clear sounds that the AudioStick offers. I’m still glad that Nintendo finally added built-in Bluetooth audio to the Switch, but the AudioStick offering superior sound quality is just yet another example of Skull & Co offering a solution that winds up being superior to Nintendo’s offering.
Another benefit one may find to utilizing the AudioStick is its compatibility with more than just the Switch. As I mentioned in the intro, Skull & Co heavily advertise the transmitter as being compatible with the PlayStation 4 and 5 consoles, as well as other devices such as the MacBook Pro. For the PS5 and MacBook, all that’s needed is to plug the AudioStick into one of the USB-C ports with the assistance of the flat spacer. For the PS4 and Switch dock, however, connecting the AudioStick requires the USB-A to USB-C cord to work. Once that’s connected, though, it becomes just as simple to connect Bluetooth audio devices to the home consoles, allowing you to wirelessly play without interrupting those in your home, or connect the console to a Bluetooth speaker if you’d like. The versatility of the AudioStick is completely in line with what I’ve come to expect from Skull & Co products, and I’m thrilled to see it here.
I have to admit, when I began writing this review, I was fully prepared to write the AudioStick off as unnecessary in the light of the recent Switch firmware update. And, admittedly, to some it may still be. There will undoubtedly be those who just simply don’t care about a difference in audio quality, and just use the built-in Bluetooth because it’s there, and it works. In my mind, there’s nothing wrong with that. But for those who want higher quality Bluetooth audio, a more convenient user experience, and don’t mind a $30 price of entry, the AudioStick Bluetooth transmitter may just be for you!
- Brings a better bluetooth audio experience to the Switch
- Simple, convenient, and overall easy setup
- Versatility through compatibility with PlayStation consoles and more
- Pair four headphones to the same transmitter, using two at once
- Charging while playing becomes a chore while using
- Tabletop mode is impossible via the kickstand, and seems unstable if trying to use the transmitter as a base