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I’ve been seeing a recent surge in popularity for wireless home theater systems, which is something I’ve managed to stay away from for quite some time. However, with our shift towards general wireless technology, I decided to conduct an honest review of wireless home theater systems.
The information in this article is designed to help you make a decision on whether a wireless system is going to be right for you. There are some obvious benefits, but it’s also worth knowing the drawbacks. I’ve also looked into other topics, such as how to convert your wired speakers to wireless. Read on to find out more.
The Truth about Wireless Home Theater Systems
When we talk about wireless home theater systems, what do we actually mean? Is it possible to have a completely wireless home theater? Technically no, and generally when people talk about wireless home theaters they’re actually referring just to having wireless speakers. After all, speaker systems are the main issue when it comes to trailing wires.
The idea of wireless speakers really isn’t new. We’ve had Bluetooth and Wi-Fi portable speakers for years, and the technology is getting better in terms of sound quality and battery life. But as this technology develops, it’s also given rise to a number of wireless speaker systems for use in a home theater.
The idea of having a wireless surround sound system can be quite appealing, particularly if you have a big room and can’t hide the wires inside the walls. Trailing wires can lead to accidents, not to mention that they can look messy and ruin the appearance of your otherwise professional looking home theater.
So how do you make a speaker system for your home theater wireless? Well, the truth is that you can’t. Yes, the satellite speakers can be wireless, but your main unit, whether this is a soundbar or a transmitter, still needs to be connected to both a power source and an AV receiver or TV. Realistically, no speaker system is going to be truly wireless, but this still might be enough for some people.
A normal (wired) speaker system works in the following way:
- Speakers receive two types of signal. The first is the audio signal, which it receives from your input device (DVD player, streaming device).
- The second, in most cases, is some kind of power signal. This is only necessary for active speakers, but this is generally the case for home theater systems.
- Speakers need to be connected to an amplifier, which is what the power signal is for. The amplifier boosts the original electrical signal, turning it into audio, and gives it enough boost to reach all the speakers at the correct volume.
In normal speaker systems, these signals are passed along the speaker wires that complete the circuit. That’s why you have to pay so much attention to the type of wire you use, as this is what dictates the overall quality of the audio signal your speakers give out. I have an article on wires which will help you with that.
So how does this work in wireless speakers?
Simply put, they have a wireless transmitter. This is connected to the circuit via the input device or receiver, and takes the original electrical signal and sends it to the speakers. This is generally done using Bluetooth technology or something similar, but the science behind it doesn’t really matter.
What does matter however is a fatal flaw in the idea of wireless speakers: the need for power.
Each speaker will still need to be connected to a power source so that it can actually produce an audio signal. Similarly, each speaker will still need to be connected to an amplifier, which may be built into the speaker, or may be external. Either way, this wireless system is suddenly developing a lot of wires.
This means that if you’re looking at a wireless speaker system you need to replace the speaker wires in a normal system with power connections, and possibly wires to an amplifier. If your intention was to cut down on the amount of wires trailing around your home theater, then you’re not going to find that here.
Wireless Speakers: An Honest Review
As I mentioned above, wireless speakers really aren’t wireless. So what does this mean for those that are looking into the idea? Are wireless systems worth the money? Are there options for getting around all these extra wires? These are the questions I hope to cover in this section.
Wireless speaker systems start at entry-level prices, often around a few hundred dollars, and much like normal speakers, can run into the thousands. The same pros and cons can be given when it comes to pricing, but as usual it’s best to choose a budget and stick to it. You should still pay attention to key things like sound quality, size, and adaptability.
Sonos actually produce a range of decent wireless systems that have the amplifier built into the speaker unit, meaning one less wire to worry about. The speaker range starts from the Sono Play 1 (check price on Amazon). The Sono Play 5 is the top of the line which is designed for high fidelity sound. To see what the Play 5 is capable of, check out its Amazon listing.
The biggest advantage is that Sonos systems are very adaptable, and give you the option to upgrade to 5.1 channel systems and integrate very well with their wireless subwoofer. I was surprised to see so many positive reviews of their wireless subwoofer when I saw its product description on Amazon.
But what about the power issue? Well, if you have no shortage of power outlets in your home theater, and you think it would look tidier to have wires running to power sockets rather than your AC receiver, then by all means upgrade to a wireless system. Power supply is one of the biggest issues around the idea of wireless systems.
Another option used in some wireless speakers is battery power. This has obvious advantages over mains power, but is held back by the demands a speaker will make on a battery. The idea is fine when it comes to small portable speakers, but normal home theater speakers will run through a battery in next to no time. I would avoid battery powered wireless speakers wherever possible.
In short, wireless speakers sound like a great idea in principle, but don’t work that well in practice.
However, if you have little issue with mains power availability in your home theater, and believe this would be a neater option, then go ahead and make the switch. Before you do though, it’s probably worth knowing the pros and cons of both wired and wireless speakers.
Wired Speakers vs. Wireless Speakers
The differences between wired and wireless speaker systems are pretty obvious: the presence of wires. However, the pros and cons of each type go beyond just this one issue. Here is a breakdown of the major pros and cons of each system to help you make a more informed decision about which would be right for your needs.
- Wired speakers are much more dependable than wireless speakers. There’s less that can go wrong, and for the most part, all you need to do is turn on your system and they’ll produce sound.
- They also produce much better sound quality than wireless speakers, and the limit of this is dictated by the speaker quality and choice of wire used to connect them.
- As a general rule, wired speakers are much cheaper because the technology is older, making them more accessible to people on a budget.
- Wired speakers won’t be affected by issues such as EMF interference and Wi-Fi dropouts. This makes them much more reliable than wireless speakers.
- You don’t have to worry about bringing batteries into the equation, which makes things much simpler.
- The wires. Not only can these make your home theater look messy, they can also present a trip hazard, which is potentially damaging for both the person and the speaker.
- You’re more limited on speaker placement because you’re restricted by the length and location of the wires.
- Hiding the wires can involve expensive DIY projects, such as hiding them in the walls or trunking them.
- The lack of wires. Yes, they still need connecting to a power source, but you’re less restricted by having to run all wires back to your AV receiver. This makes them much less invasive than wired speakers.
- You have greater flexibility over placement around the room, and can even move them about whenever you want. This makes them much more convenient than wired speakers.
- There’s less potential for trip hazards with wireless speakers, meaning less potential damage to the speaker units.
- Wireless speakers will generally produce poorer quality sound than wired speakers of the same price. To make up for this difference, you’ll have to spend more money to get a system of comparative quality.
- On that note, wireless systems are generally more expensive because of the technology included.
- Wireless systems that run on older wireless technology have issues with interference from other wireless signals. In a house that runs on Wi-Fi, this could present a big issue.
- The biggest con of all is that they aren’t actually wireless. You still need power cables, or batteries, which presents its own range of problems.
Based on this list of pros and cons, wired speakers appear to be the clear winners. Until technology allows wireless speakers to produce comparative audio quality, I’ll stick to wired speakers, but it really all comes down to preference.
A true audiophile will benefit from sticking with wired speakers because they produce better sound quality, and you have much more input over this quality. For example, if you think the sound is a bit muddy, you can simply upgrade the wires you’ve used. You don’t have this option with wireless speakers.
However, if you favor a slick looking home theater over a slight drop in audio quality, then wireless will be the way forward. Many probably won’t notice the difference in sound quality, particularly if it’s only for watching TV or films. Providing you’ve got the extra budget, wireless speakers will probably be the best choice for you.
What about the Rest of Your Home Theater?
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that a wireless home theater system will generally refer to speakers, as these are where the issue of wiring actually comes out. However, is it possible to make the rest of your system wireless too? Are there benefits to doing this?
The answer to the first question is essentially the same as with speakers: no, not really. You can definitely minimize the amount of wires in your home theater, but it’s never going to be truly wireless. If you’re a bit of a tech-head, then you can set up a WLAN to connect all your devices. Here is the best way to make your home theater system as wireless as possible:
- Use a smart TV. Although I’m not the biggest fan of smart TVs, it is a good way of reducing the amount of input devices in your system.
- Another option is to use a games console, as this will cover you for a DVD player and streaming services.
- Your AV receiver is realistically going to be the main point for all the wires in your home theater. Keeping this hidden, and fitting a wireless transmitter for your speakers, will help you keep the amount of wiring to a minimum.
- Air-playing off laptops or mobile devices onto something like an Apple TV or Google Chromecast will provide you with great flexibility over what you can watch, and will again reduce the amount of input devices in your system.
As you can see, there are ways of reducing the amount of wires in your home theater system, but it again boils down to speakers really being the main culprit. After all, you can reduce all the other wires in the system, but these will generally be hidden near the TV and AV receiver anyway.
These wires are pretty easy to hide with a bit of careful placement, and it’s worth remembering that wired devices are generally more reliable and provide better quality signals than wireless devices. So, it’s up to you whether you invest in wireless technology, but this will usually come at an increase in price.
Converting Wired Speakers into Wireless Speakers
Another option, and one that I’ve actually tried before in my own home theater, is converting your original wired speakers into wireless ones. The advantage of doing this is that it’s generally cheaper because you’ve already got the most expensive part of the kit. This guide should be applicable to almost every wired speaker system, but it does require having a bit of technological know-how.
- Buy a wireless conversion kit (Amazon link). These are generally really easy to buy online, and range from entry-level prices to much more expensive versions. The kit will usually include 3 main components: a transmitter and amplifiers, and wiring for all components.
- Turn off your speaker system and connect the transmitter to the amplifier. It needs to be plugged into the port labeled “out”, which may be on your AV receiver. You’d plug it into the same place you’d plug your speakers normally.
- Next, remove the wires running to the speakers you want to convert to wireless. If this means leaving in other speakers that are still going to be wired to the amplifier, make sure you complete the circuit again.
- Connect the power cable to the transmitter and plug into a mains power socket. Don’t turn the power on until you’ve completed the job though.
- Connect the wireless receiver to the speaker using the wiring kit provided. This will mean removing all original wires and replacing them with the receiver kit. Repeat this process for every speaker you’re converting to wireless.
- Connect a power cable to each wireless speaker. Each power cable will need to be connected to a power socket, as each speaker now requires its own power source.
- Finally, turn on your system. You shouldn’t need to establish connections between the transmitter and receivers, and the speakers should do so automatically.
- Test the speakers by playing an audio track, which can either be music or video audio. Confirm each speaker is working, and that sound is even across all wireless speakers. The receivers will usually show a solid light if they’re connected to the transmitter.
And that’s it! The process of converting speakers to wireless is actually reasonably simple, particularly if you have experience connecting your original wired speakers up. The advantage of this is that you can now move the speakers freely around the room, providing they’ve still got access to a power source, of course.
When I did this in my home theater I only used an inexpensive kit because it was more as an experiment than anything else. This mean there was a noticeable drop in sound quality, which was a shame because I had good quality speakers. However, the process is just as simple to reverse because you only need to connect everything back into a circuit.
If you’re thinking of switching to a wireless system, I’d definitely give this method a go first because it saves you having to splash out on a new, expensive set of wireless speakers. If you’re happy with what this offers, you should then think about upgrading to a proper system if you want. However, this method generally produces the same results, and is much cheaper.
What are the other Options?
My honest review of wireless speaker systems is that, for the most part, they’re not really worth the extra money. This is mainly because you’re still not going completely wireless, so once you know that there seems to be little reason to make the switch.
However, some people really don’t like the idea of having all those wires lying around, either on the floor or tucked behind furniture. So, what are your other options when it comes to a neater, and ultimately safer, home theater system?
Hiding Wires in the Wall
This is by far the most invasive and permanent option, but is also the neatest. After making the switch back to wired speakers, this is exactly what I decided to do. It involves basically cutting out sections of wall to hide the speaker wires behind, but does mean they won’t be trailing along the floor.
In my dedicated home theater wiring guide, I explain in detail how to hide wires. The same is covered here in brief.
I’d highly recommend this method if you’re building your home theater from the ground up, including soundproofing. If you’re soundproofing, then it’s more than likely you’ll be ripping up the original drywall to replace it with something else. If this is the case, chuck all the speaker wires under there while you’re at it. You’ll notice the benefits straight away.
Another advantage of this method is that it works very well with wall-mounted speakers. This is another way of making your home theater look neater, and is a good choice if you’re short on floor space anyway. However, it does mean that your speakers will only ever sit in one place, so make sure you get placement right before you start drilling holes.
The major disadvantage of this method is that not everyone has the DIY skill to do so, or they might not be able to through not owning the property. If you have the option, I’d recommend this method, but if not, then try something less permanent and invasive.
A less invasive method is trunking, which is what many electricians use for hiding wires safely. Basically, all it involves is buying plastic housing to run the wires inside. This housing is then stuck to the wall, which keeps the wires securely in one place.
Wire trunking is really inexpensive and easy to buy pretty much anywhere. Many varieties come with self-adhesive backing that’s easy to stick down and just as easy to tear up. This makes it a better choice for rented properties where you might not be able to make such drastic changes to the space.
Similarly, it gives you greater options for flexibility than hiding the wires in the wall. After all, if you don’t like where the speakers are, then you can always rip it up and place them somewhere else. All this method is basically doing is containing the wires in one place, but not interfering with placement as much as hiding them in the wall might.
Plastic trunking isn’t the most attractive addition to a room, however. Most brands sell it in a variety of colors, but the most common is white. That said, it is easy to paint, meaning it can be hidden easily in the room, but it is still going to be a bit obvious. However, I’ve found that most people expect to see that kind of thing, particularly in a home theater, and there are definitely uglier things found around the home.
Run under Carpets or Rugs
The easiest option is to simply hide the wires under a floor covering. If your floor is carpeted, which I’d recommend for a home theater, then you’ll realistically need to pull the carpet up to hide the wires under it. If this isn’t an option for you, then consider hiding them under a rug, because at least this is less invasive.
Similarly, you can tuck wires between the carpet edge and the skirting board or baseboard. This is a much easier option than ripping up the whole carpet, but will probably mean you’ll be using more wires because you’re not simply running them from point A to point B. However, if safety and appearance is a higher priority than cost, then this will be a viable option.
Use Adhesive Wires
My final suggestion for hiding speaker wires is to use adhesive wiring. These wires generally lie flat, making them much easier to hide anyway, and will have a self-adhesive backing. They often come packaged like a roll of tape or ribbon, and are really easy to use. The wire is usually very flexible and easy to trace around corners and behind furniture.
What’s more, the outer surface (the one without the adhesive backing) is usually a matt texture, making it really easy to paint. This allows you to match it to the rest of the wall, thereby hiding the wires almost completely.
Most adhesive wires only come in 16 gauge, but this is usually fine for most home theater needs. You will need specialist terminals that can handle flat wires though, so bear this in mind when you’re shopping for all the relevant parts. Out of all the methods I’ve looked into as an alternative for wireless speakers, adhesive wiring is probably one of my favorites.
My honest review of wireless home theater systems can be summarized in one statement: they’re not really wireless. While they might sound appealing at first glance, the wireless technology isn’t really applicable to speakers, which are the main cause for wiring concern, which renders the issue almost pointless.
However, there are plenty of options for working with your existing system to improve its appearance and safety. Before going out and buying an expensive new set of speakers, I’d recommend trying one of the other methods to see if this resolves your issues. After all, it’s best to save money whenever possible, right?
Thanks for reading! Before you go, check out my recommended equipment for home theater.