Guide to Wireless Speakers Systems
a series of articles on wireless home theater
...add-on units and wireless integrated solutions
Wireless speakers systems offer greater flexibility and convenience to home theater owners. Yet there is more than just doing away with speaker wire when installing a wireless home theater solution!
In this series of guides, we first discuss wireless speaker solutions in general and then proceed with a number of product reviews that may serve a purpose in reducing the cable clutter in your home.
We also present you with some useful installation tips, addressing the most common problems many encounter when installing add-on wireless speaker kits.
(available from amazon)
A inexpensive yet robust wireless surround sound speaker system that is easy to use, featuring 2x30Wrms/ch wireless receiver.
Wireless Home Theater: Is it just a dream or a present-day reality?
True wireless home theater is still the unattained dream many would love to achieve. Most of today's wireless home theater systems focus mainly around the use of wireless speakers systems to eliminate trailing speaker wires when installing the rear speakers.
But things are changing fast! Today's wireless audio systems are capable of high quality sound, and are easier to use and install. While much more expensive than a wired solution, wireless speaker kits are relatively affordable — typically costing no more than $200 — thus representing a feasible wireless option in home entertainment.
However... as things stand today, 'wireless' in AV applications does not mean a '100% wireless' setup; it just means 'less' wires. This holds true for any wireless speakers system even though reducing cable clutter with today's multi-channel audio has become an affordable reality that still ensures CD-quality sound. Systems such as the Surroundcast SCS100 shown above offer among the best value, transforming your speakers into wireless speakers.
Main problem for some with systems such as the Soundcast SCS100 is that these use a single wireless receiver amplifier to drive the two speakers, resulting in trailing speaker cables — often crossing the room — between the wireless receiver and the two speakers. Alternative systems using a separate wireless amplifier per speaker are also available, but expect to pay almost twice as much.
One very good system we highly recommend that comes with separate wireless amplifiers is the Amphony Wireless Surround speaker system shown here. This is capable of hi-fi quality sound delivering 80W rms per speaker, more than enough for use in wireless surround sound applications and also with wireless front speakers in a speaker system equipped with a powered subwoofer.
The Amphony is very good but may be a somewhat expensive option for some. An alternative cheaper solution is the Rocketfish RF-RBKIT Wireless HD Audio Starter Kit; this comes with 42W rms per channel amplifiers. We review the Rocketfish wireless HD audio system here.
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2.4GHz and 5.8 GHz Systems
The products referred to above use 2.4GHz technology. Some systems using 5.8GHz wireless technology such as Bose SL2 and the Amphony Model 1600; these make it possible to employ multi-channel wireless speakers systems on more of your audio channels without the interference issues many may encounter with the often crowded 2.4GHz wireless band. The Bose is designed for Bose products while the Amphony is an open solution.
Like the KEF, the Amphony is one of the few systems that includes a separate wireless receiver unit for each speaker; this is rather uncommon as most of the available wireless speakers systems come with a single wireless receiver containing a two-channel amplifier, thus still resulting in trailing cables between the two speakers and the wireless receiver in a surround sound setup. However, the main advantage of the Amphony wireless receiver is its rated 80Wrms audio output instead of the typical 25W to 50Wrms/ch. found on most wireless systems.
Features often missing on most wireless speakers systems are that of auto-standby when no audio signal is present for a preset time, and a remote control for the wireless receiver. The Amphony misses on the remote control but then includes the more important auto-standby.
In reality, the remote control is not something you would use when employing a wireless speakers system in a surround sound setup since you would only need to set the wireless receiver volume level once during system installation. But it would definitely come in handy when using a wireless speakers kit say in a multi-zone audio setup such as in a whole-house audio installation.
Cheaper Wireless Speakers Systems
A somewhat versatile yet cheaper wireless speakers system is the Rocketfish Wireless HD Audio solution. It is an expandable system based on Rocketboost technology. The main concept is that of building an easily expandable wireless audio network capable of multiple streams of CD-quality sound.
The basic building block is the Rocketfish RF-RBKIT Wireless HD Audio Starter Kit shown here. The RF-RBKIT comes with a four-channel wireless sender unit and a two-channel wireless amplified receiver capable of up to 42W RMS/channel in a 4-Ohm speaker load. Additional Rocketfish system components can be easily added to the basic Wireless HD Audio network; these include additional wireless amplified receivers, outdoor wireless speakers, and wireless headphones.
The whole setup makes it possible to use the Rocketfish wireless HD audio solution both in 5.1 and 7.1 home theater wireless surround sound, as well as in multi-room audio by playing music wirelessly throughout the home, inside and even outside.
We say versatile because apart delivering a decent 42W RMS per channel audio output, the Rocketfish Wireless HD Audio system comes with a number of enhancements, including the ability to simultaneously transmit up to five audio streams of CD quality sound, and a convenient remote control. A detailed review of the Rocketfish Wireless HD Audio wireless speakers system is available on our site here.
Add-on Wireless Systems for Sub-woofers
We are also seeing more wireless speaker systems designed specifically for powered subwoofer use, thus making for a more convenient placement of your subwoofer within your listening area. One such unit is the Soundcast SOU-SCK510 SubCast wireless transmitter/receiver system for subwoofers.
Despite being designed for subwoofer, the Soundcast solution is capable of handling full band audio, thus making it possible to use in applications such as in 2nd-zone audio requiring line level connectivity.
More information on the SubCast unit is available in our SoundCast review here.
Reducing the Cable Clutter: The greatest advantage of all
So far, we have gone through discussing the possibilities and limitations of today's wireless speakers systems. While today's solutions do not provide for a 100% 'wireless' setup, reducing the cable clutter through the use of wireless speakers systems can turn out to be a great advantage especially in entertainment spaces like the living room. Home theater systems are synonymous with a huge mass of home theater cables that are not only unsightly, but also difficult to troubleshoot should problems arise.
Concealing this mass of cables is surely not a straightforward job. This being especially so if you do not have pre-wired walls and ceilings for an in-wall home entertainment wiring solution. At the same time, simply running cables across the floor is far from recommended as these can easily become a serious tripping hazard for anyone in the house.
For these reasons, many find themselves stranded when upgrading from say a simple stereo set-up to a 5:1 surround, or wish to move from a 5.1 speaker setup to a 7.1 multi-channel solution. Professionals can do the job for you but it will surely turn out to be expensive to retrofit a house, or in that case even a single room with an in-wall wiring solution for your audio and video systems. And this apart from that fact that such projects are often difficult to manage.
Sending audio across rooms through a wireless link is also starting to emerge as a relatively inexpensive and straightforward option for most consumers. Even the least expensive wireless speakers systems such as the Rocketfish RF-WHTIB wireless speaker system reviewed on our site may be used to a great effect in multi-room audio.
However, systems designed for use in multi-room wireless audio installations generally incorporate a multi-channel transmitter that can be configured to handle different audio streams for different rooms. The Rocketfish Wireless HD Audio solution referred to above is one such solution that may be used both in the home theater as well as in a multi-zone audio wireless distribution.
In addition, most major brands also offer wireless home theater systems with numerous features apart from the convenience of wireless rear speakers, including built-in Wi-Fi to stream audio and high definition video in the home and NFC (near field communications) support. One such model is the Sony BDN-7200W 4K Hi-resolution Blu-ray home theater system with a total rated audio power of 1200W.
But this is as far as today's mass-market wireless audio solutions go...
Mind you, the technology is there and relatively inexpensive off-the-shelf solutions are readily available to help you expand say your wireless networking from a simple home office to a fully integrated home entertainment system. Yet, even though most of today's AV gear—set-top boxes, home theater in-a-box solutions, Blu-ray payers, AV receivers, etc.—come with some form of wireless support, a full wireless home entertainment solution is still not a true mass-market proposition. In particular, replacing HDMI cables so common with today's AV systems, with a wireless alternative to carry your HD video is still relatively expensive with respect to a wired option.
However, of particular interest in wireless home entertainment are standalone wireless digital media players; these still represent a great solution in home entertainment, often delivering superior functionality to access video, photo and music files from anywhere within the home network, whether it being your home PC, internet, etc.
It is true that the use of the dedicated digital media player is diminishing fast as more and more HDTVs and AV systems come with DLNA support and capable of direct streaming of high resolution video and audio content straight form the Internet. Yet, there is still no complete wireless home theater solution many dream of where all audio and video systems within the home are interlinked through a wireless setup.
Whether you like it or not, the use of audio and video interconnects will remain for several years to come. Quality, security, and pricing, are among the main issues manufactures of wireless home entertainment systems have to work out before this technology can be delivered at a price that appeals to the mass-market.
This does not mean wireless technology is not already providing a helping hand in home entertainment. Full PC/home theater integration through a wireless solution is readily available. And technology has evolved to the point where setting up say a wireless speakers system for the rear channel or a multi-room wireless audio installation is as simple as taking the wireless speakers kit out of the box and power it on; and with kits such as the Amphony Wireless Surround Speaker System, the Surroundcast SCS100, and the Rocketfish Wireless HD Audio referred to above, you would soon forget there are no wires in between!
Yet, wired sound quality is still superior even though the gap between wired and wireless speakers systems has diminished to a point where unless you have a pristine sound source, it would be hard to perceive any difference in sound quality.
To understand the technology behind wireless speakers systems, one must first realize there is truly no complete wireless system. These systems still require at least connectivity to a power source. Wireless speakers systems require amplification; there is no way you will amplify an audio signal without power!
While various battery-powered wireless speakers systems are available, however, these would normally be more suitable for multi-room audio or for external use rather than for home theater. Battery power simply cannot provide sufficient audio power for home theater use in a viable manner.
Therefore, the key factor with any wireless speaker setup is not a total wireless solution. Rather, it is the added flexibility and convenience of not having to wire the speakers all the way across the room or home.
Home Theater Wireless Speakers Systems: Add-on Units and Integrated Wireless Systems.
Normally, these make use of RF wireless transmission over the 900MHz or 2.4GHz bands to transmit audio signals using digital technology to the remote speakers. To ensure a robust wireless connection and extended range, these wireless speakers systems often make use of relatively powerful RF transmitters for the desired range. However, this means they may very well interfere with your 2.4GHz wireless home network.
There are a few wireless speakers operating in the 5.8GHz band. Since most WLANs operate in the 2.4GHz range, 5.8GHz wireless speaker systems are not prone to interference from yours or neighboring wireless networks. In addition, these units are less likely to suffer interference from mobile phones, microwave ovens, and other household appliances operating in the 900MHz or 2.4GHz bands.
At the same time, one cannot ignore the fact that 5.8GHz systems support shorter distances than their 2.4GHz counterparts. This means that before investing in a wireless speakers system, you need to consider both the desired wireless range and also the congestion within your wireless networking air-space.
A few do away with RF to avoid possible interference by using infra-red technology, but these are limited to short distances within the same room since infra-red wireless speakers systems require line of site between transmitter and receiver. In addition, persons moving within the room may cause interference issues with infra-red based wireless speaker systems.
Add-on Wireless Speakers Systems
Add-on units consist of a small sender unit that connects either to the rear-channel speaker out on the A/V receiver, or to the line-level out on your audio source. These units use wireless digital technology to transmit audio signals to a powered audio receiver unit at the back of the room.
The remote rear unit includes built-in power amplifiers to drive the rear speakers. Ideally, these should be the same rear surround speakers that came with your home theater system, though any appropriate set of matched rear speakers will do. Connection between the rear receiver unit and the surround speakers is achieved through normal speaker wire. All that remains to have a functional wireless speaker system is to plug the wireless sender and receiver units into convenient mains power outlets.
Add-on units represent the ideal solution if you already own a home theater receiver complete with all the necessary speakers, and all you are looking for is a way to remove those unsightly rear speaker wires crossing the room. Add-on units with integrated power amplifiers in a wireless speakers system setup typically deliver 25W and 60W RMS per channel, rendering these systems compatible with mainly entry-level home theater systems. 25W per channel may or may not be enough depending on your application; when used in a wireless surround sound setup, 25W RMS per channel wireless rear speaker system can easily match a surround audio setup with up to 60W RMS per channel for the main front speakers. If you want more power for your rear wireless speakers, you can always hook up your add-on wireless speakers systems into a suitable external power amplifier placed at the far end to drive the surround speakers.
The role of add-on wireless speakers systems is not limited only to their use as a rear wireless speaker solution in the home theater. These may very well serve as a convenient and possibly cheaper alternative to in-wall wiring in a multi-room audio installation.
For reviews of available add-on wireless speakers systems, please check our wireless speaker reviews here.
Integrated Home Theater Wireless Speakers Solutions
If you are in the process of purchasing a new home-theater-in-a-box solution, a fully integrated home theater system with wireless rear-speakers would often represents a cheaper and more convenient option. These integrated solutions include an audio wireless set-up for the rear channel speakers.
Integrated wireless home-theater-in-a-box solutions would normally support some interesting control features for the rear channel—in particular with respect to the delay settings—that are well integrated within the overall system menu.
Luckily, more and more electronic manufacturers are coming up with integrated wireless speaker solutions. The Sony BDN-7200W 1200W Hi-res Blu-ray Home Theater System with Smart TV and Wireless Rear Speakers and the Samsung HT-E6500 3D Blu-ray disc player with Samsung Smart Hub are just typical HTiB solutions of what you can find at present on the market in this respect.
One issue many face here when deciding on an integrated wireless solution is whether to opt for a home theater in-a-box solution (HTiBs) or a component-based system. There are a few major differences which are worth being aware of between the two before deciding to spend your hard earned cash, otherwise you may very well end up extremely disappointed. The following Short Guide to Home Theater Wireless System discusses the pros and cons of HTiBs vs. component-based solutions.
Installing wireless speakers systems is often a straightforward process... at least that is the way it should be! All it takes is often to power up the wireless system and connect the wireless transmitter end to your audio source.
But things are not always so simple. We often receive various queries from our site visitors with a few common difficulties many encounter when installing an add-on wireless speakers system to existing audio gear. We therefore thought of presenting a few installation tips to help make the whole installation process a bit easier.
Follow through this link to discover how to deal with the most common difficulties when installing wireless speaker systems: Wireless Speakers Installation Tips
A final recommendation...
Wireless speakers technology - though not perfect - has evolved to the point that setting up a wireless speakers system is often a simple straightforward solution. If all that you are after is an add-on wireless speaker system to manage cable clutter, do not spend more than is needed. Technology is evolving fast, and it may be that you will never need anything more than what today's wireless speakers systems offer. Should new wireless technology emerges that is more appealing to your needs, you would not feel like having wasted a fortune. And you would still have a wireless speakers system and a problem solved!
In the meantime, there are definitely quite a few robust wireless speakers systems on the market for under $200 worth considering. Anything costing more will most probably be an overspent.
Wireless Add-on speaker modules for Surround and Multi-room Audio: A compilation of short product reviews covering some of the latest wireless speaker solutions presently available on the market