The Rocketfish Wireless Speaker System
...getting rid of the tangle and clutter of messy cables
We originally reviewed the Rocketfish wireless speaker system way back in May 2007. Since then, not much has changed in terms of wireless speaker technology and the Rocketfish wireless rear speaker kit still remains among the very best and most affordable systems ever released on the market.
It is still available from amazon for around $100 - relatively inexpensive for such a unit. Though it is being marketed as a wireless rear speaker system, yet it can deliver more than just surround sound. Discover more in this updated review here.
Rocketfish RF-WHTIB Wireless Rear Speaker Kit
Available from amazon.com
Getting rid of Speaker Wires: A problem solved...
Opting for a wireless speaker system represents a fast and easy solution to getting rid of unsightly speaker wires trailing around the room perimeter between the AV receiver and the rear speakers in a surround sound installation.
Wireless speakers also provide a simple alternative to in-wall wiring when extending a second pair of speaker outputs (Zone-B speaker outputs) on an AV receiver to a set of extra speakers elsewhere in your house.
Yet, up to not long ago, performance of low cost wireless speakers was rather disappointing. Problems due to power line induced hum, limited signal to noise ratio, limited audio frequency response, and signal dropouts due to interference often hampered the use of wireless speakers in the home.
Besides, wireless systems would often introduce a perceptible latency delay between the front and the rear speakers that would throw out of synch the sound from the different speaker channels.
However, things have started to change...
And they are changing fast thanks to advancement in wireless technology; today wireless speaker systems have become more affordable and better than ever.
It is partly for these reasons that they are becoming more popular with consumers. Modern RF-based systems use better transmitters and receivers to decrease the interference. Today's wireless speaker systems are capable of CD-quality sound. In addition, setting up one of these systems is just a few minutes job; often all it entails is to take them out of the box, connect to your AV and speakers, and turn them on.
Admittedly, not all wireless speaker systems perform, and not all systems that perform come with an affordable price tag. The Rocketfish Wireless Speaker System reviewed here is an affordable wireless rear speaker kit that comes with a specs list that promises a lot for the price. So let's take a closer look...
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The Rocketfish RF-WHTIB Wireless Rear Speaker Solution
Out of the box:
The Rocketfish RF-WHTIB
The Rocketfish wireless speaker system consists of two main components - a small wireless audio sender unit that connects to the AV receiver rear speaker outputs, and a larger black box that houses the wireless receiver and stereo amplifier.
The kit also includes a plastic holder for the receiver unit, two 2-foot speaker wires to connect the sender unit with your home theater receiver, an AC power adapter for the sender unit, and a User Guide.
This system does not include any speakers; instead, you have to make use of the same passive rear speakers that come with your home theater speaker system.
To a certain extent, this has a twofold advantage:
1] A cheaper price tag for the Rocketfish wireless speaker system and,
2] Using the same rear speakers that come with your home theater speaker system ensures you get the best tonal balance between the audio from the different speaker channels.
What the system does is let you extend the rear surround to the back of your room via a set of 'virtual' wires. Basically, you are removing the connecting wires and instead replacing these with the wireless sender and receiver units to connect the outputs on the AV receiver with a pair of speakers placed up to 100 feet away.
This range means that the Rocketfish wireless speaker system is also suitable to extend a second set of speaker outputs (commonly referred to as Zone-B speaker o/p on some AV systems), to another room elsewhere in the house.
Some may argue that this is not a true wireless system in that you still have wires running between the receiver unit and the two rear speakers. But the reality is that when it comes to wireless speakers, wireless does not mean 'wireless' - rather it means less wires. And this applies also to the Rocketfish wireless speaker system.
There are systems that include an independent wireless receiver/amplifier for each of the rear speakers; some also include a separate wireless subwoofer. However, these systems sell for more than double the price of the Rocketfish wireless rear speaker kit since you are replicating the whole receiver end for each independent wireless speaker.
This is all a question of trade-offs. Yet the Rocketfish wireless speaker system still provides a solution to that primary hurdle many face when installing a surround sound speaker system—running speakers from front to back of the room.
Simple to Install
Once out of the box, you connect the two rear channel outputs (or Zone-B outputs) on the back of the AV receiver, into the sender unit of the Rocketfish wireless speaker system.
The sender unit is extremely compact at just 4¼" x 3½" x 1" (L x D x H).
Rocketfish RF-WHTIB Sender Unit
This unit is powered by a 5-volts DC supply using a small AC adapter supplied with the Rocketfish wireless speaker kit.
Rocketfish Receiver Unit
Once done, you move on to connect the rear speakers to the Rocketfish receiver unit at the back of the room.
This is somewhat larger than the sender unit as it houses the power amplifiers; overall, the receiver unit measures 9" x 6½" x 1¾". The built-in stereo amplifier is capable of delivering 2 x 25W (RMS) into 4 ohms speakers.
For a rear surround sound amplifier, that represents a lot of power, and can easily match surround sound receivers having 80W (RMS) per channel for the main front left and right speakers. In other words, the stereo amplifier on the Rocketfish wireless speaker system can easily fill up a medium size room when used as part of a surround sound system.
Note: If what you plan is a Zone-B installation, use only high quality passive speakers to enjoy the very best sound out of this system. The stereo amplifier in the Rocketfish receiver unit can do a very good job in delivering high quality audio. This is one of the best wireless speaker systems we have come across; the audio quality from this Rocketfish wireless speaker system is so good that once installed, you would soon forget there are no wires in between!
The receiver unit can be held in place horizontally on a level surface, vertically in the plastic holder provided (refer to picture above), or wall mounted using the two mounting holes on the bottom of the unit.
Once you install the speakers, all that remains is to plug the receiver unit into a wall outlet. The power cord of the receiver is neatly hidden in a small storage compartment at the bottom of the unit.
Just slide open the door to get hold of the power cord.
The receiver unit also incorporates a volume control to help balance the front and rear speakers in a surround sound setup. You do not need to keep adjusting the volume level every time you switch on the unit. It is just a one-time setting when used in a surround sound setup; you simply set the volume reference level such as to balance the rears with the rest of the speakers during initial setup.
This is more of a 'trim' feature often missing in most entry and mid-level HTIBs. When paired with such systems, the Rocketfish wireless speaker system would effectively be giving you the added facility to obtain a perfect match in the sound levels between the rear and front speakers.
Once this setting is done, adjusting the volume control on your main system will then do it all; the Rocketfish wireless speaker system will still maintain a perfect balance between the rear and the front speakers at all volume levels.
On the other hand, in a Zone-B installation, the volume control on the Rocketfish receiver unit can be used as a regular volume control to adjust the sound level as needed.
Common to both the sender and the receiver units in the Rocketfish wireless speaker system, is the use of a 'soft' power switch, and a small manual connect button that may be used to restart the connection process.
The use of the 'connect' button is just a last resort attempt to help establish communication in case the system fails to do so during power-up. The sender and receiver are pre-matched at the factory, so the connect buttons are there mainly for servicing reasons rather than anything else. In most cases, all that is necessary to start communication is simply to power up the units. Problems with establishing communication would possibly arise only if there is serious interference from other devices operating in the same 2.4GHz frequency range.
We have to say here that we did not encounter any such problems with the Rocketfish wireless speaker system on review. During the numerous tests that we conducted on the unit, it always established perfect communication on startup; and this despite that the Rocketfish system was operating in an environment that included a wireless LAN and a cordless phone. At one point, we also switched on the microwave oven to further test the Rocketfish system's ability to maintain an interference-free connection.
In this respect, the Rocketfish wireless speaker system has proved itself as one of the most bullet-proof wireless audio systems we have ever come across.
This is all it takes to install the Rocketfish wireless speaker system; setting up the system on review was a few minutes job.
The Rocketfish RF-WHTIB System during use
As indicated earlier on, the Rocketfish system startup is a snap, and once set, you would soon forget that this is a wireless system. It just behaves as any other wired speaker system - irrespective of whether you are using it for the rear speakers, or as part of a Zone-B installation.
Interference and Range:
The user manual indicates a maximum range of 100 feet. That leaves quite a few options open for the Rocketfish wireless speaker system when used as part of a Zone-B installation. In our case, we did not have the possibility to test the system at its maximum range. But we were quite close at about 85 feet between the sender and the receiver unit, a couple of walls and a floor away. No problems were encountered - sound quality was as if the sender and the receiver units were in the same room.
As stated earlier on, the system uses 2.4 GHz wireless technology to transmit the audio signal. We have a WLAN using 802.11b/g/pre-N gear; the sender unit was just a few feet away from the main router. There is also a wireless signal booster in another part of the house; this was just 30 feet away from the receiver unit when conducting the long range test. The use of the Rocketfish wireless speaker system did not affect in any way the performance of the WLAN, and the network speed was up as usual.
The Rocketfish wireless speaker system did not show any signs of interference; it just worked fine and audio was totally clean.
We have used other wireless speakers systems in the past, but we were less than satisfied with their performance, with 2.4GHz devices in the house causing all sort of interference problems, popping sounds, hissing noises, and the like; nothing of this sort with the Rocketfish wireless speaker system.
The overall performance of the wireless audio link was very good for a $100 wireless rear speaker system. We still say 'wired is king' in the audiophile world, but...
With most HTIBs and surround sound mixes, it would be really hard to perceive any difference in audio quality between a wired setup and a wireless setup with the Rocketfish in place.
Sure that this is just a $100 piece of gear, but irrespective of the price, and irrespective of being wireless or otherwise, the Rocketfish system compares favorable in any case.
The stereo amplifier in the Rocketfish wireless system has a full 20-20,000Hz frequency response, and the system transmits uncompressed digital audio using 16-bit 48KHz audio over the wireless link. This is the same as CD-audio quality. This makes the system suitable for both surround sound in movie watching as well as for 5.1 multi-channel music listening.
Theoretically, a 16-bit sample in the digital audio bit-stream can support a theoretical dynamic range of 96dB between floor noise and the loudest sound that the system can handle. In simple terms, this represents the signal to noise level. The Rocketfish system supports a signal to noise ratio of 87dB. Most entry to mid-level HTIB systems support similar signal to noise ratio levels over their audio power outputs.
System Latency Delay:
Minimizing latency (unwanted time delays) is important when using a wireless rear speaker system in a surround sound setup to ensure that all audio channels stay in synch. The Rocketfish wireless speaker system has a transmission delay of less than 20msec, which is well within the typical delay settings normally applied for the rear channels.
In other words, latency delay is not an issue with the Rocketfish wireless speaker system. However... keep in mind that this delay has to be subtracted from the delay settings applied to the rears through your main AV receiver to maintain the correct timing between the different speaker channels.
This delay issue is irrelevant when the Rocketfish wireless speaker system is used to route stereo sound to a secondary room in the house.
We were quite happy with the performance of the Rocketfish wireless speaker system on review. No complaints what so ever. Rather, it has changed our way of looking at wireless speaker systems as part of a surround sound setup.
Until we got the unit for review from Best Buy, we were rather reluctant on using wireless speaker systems as part of a multi-channel audio installation. But that's no more. True that 'wired' is still king and no one should expect the ultimate from a $100 wireless system.
But a wireless speaker system like the Rocketfish RF-WHTIB kit would surely do a great job in many audio installations while taking away the nightmare many face when running speaker wires. No more need to rip up carpets, cut holes in drywall, or chasing bricks to hide speaker wires!
If this is your problem, then it is time to check out the Rocketfish wireless speaker system. This wireless rear speaker kit is covered by a one-year parts and labor warranty. Furthermore, the fact that it comes from Best Buy means that it should prove easy to return and get your refund in the unlikely event that there is a problem.
June 2007 Update: Fixing noise problems on some AV systems with first batch of Rocketfish wireless rear speaker systems
Though we did not encounter any problems with the Rocketfish wireless speaker system reviewed in May 2007, we did receive a few complaints about a noise problem some encountered on their AV system when using the Rocketfish wireless rear speaker kit. On further investigating the issue, we found that the problem concerned the presence of hum on the rear speakers connected to the Rocketfish receiver when switching off the AV receiver, thus forcing the user to switch off the Rocketfish receiver after use. This hum problem may also appear when the AV receiver is switched on and the rear channel signal level is low.
Replicating the problem at our end was not easy. For the original review, we used a typical compact HTiB system, and as stated, no problems what-so-ever. However, we connected the Rocketfish wireless speaker system to a high-end Marantz AV receiver, the noise problem emerged! Back to the HTiB, hum disappeared. It seemed that this was a mismatch issue caused by the source due to the presence of high impedance on the sender input.
As further expressed in our wireless speakers installation tips, some audio systems would not tolerate an open circuit on the speaker outputs. The impedance of the Rocketfish sender unit is 6.6K, almost an open circuit for an amp designed to drive a 4 to 8 ohm speakers. Loading the rear speaker outputs on the AV with a 100-ohm resistor would work fine. The value of this dummy load resistor is not critical. Just try not to go much above the 100-ohm - preferable lower but then take care about the power rating of the resistor.
This resistor power rating depends on the receiver output. A receiver designed to deliver 25W into 4-ohm speakers require a 1 Watt rating; in the case of a 25W into 8-ohm speakers, use a 2W resistor. If your AV receiver delivers 50W per rear speaker, double the resistor rating in either case. Take care that as you increase the resistor rating, it starts to get really hot, so check this after the first few minutes of use.
Note: This noise issue did affect only the first batch of Rocketfish wireless speaker systems; eventually, Rocketfish provided a free modified lead to affected customers to use as a replacement to the original 2ft speaker wire included with the Rocketfish wireless speaker system. Subsequent batches of the Rocketfish RF-WHTIB do not suffer from this issue, so there is no need for any modification.
More information on the RF-WHTIB Rocketfish wireless speaker system is available on the Best Buy website here: Rocketfish Wireless Speaker System