When is Wireless Surround Sound Right for You?

When is Wireless Surround Sound Right for You?

Gregory Han
Dec 15, 2009

Today we welcome a guest post by Ragan Mena, who owns and operates Audio Zeal, a small custom audio/video design company in Austin, Texas. He's been so kind to share his thoughts about the always popular topic of wireless surround sound and why wires may still be needed despite our hopes of ridding the eyesore. Below are his detail thoughts about the topic…

One of the biggest technological advances in the consumer audio industry is development of the wireless transmission of sound. Not only does wireless tech help solve those pesky wire-running problems, but the reliability and sound quality from most companies is top notch. With all the benefits of wireless, you'd think the industry would lean toward a completely wire-free future right? Well, it would be nice, but for now, we still need "some" wire, and here's  

Let us compare a standard 5.1 wired surround system to a 5.1 system with the option of wireless surround speakers. For most home theater setups, addressing the front trio of speakers is generally straightforward. With home theater electronics sitting below the TV, the front left, right, and center speakers are close and easily connected without much wire exposure. If you keep your subwoofer up front flanking the equipment rack/furniture you again have a hassle free connection. Everything is going great until you reach what I like to call the "surround conundrum." Most folks can't or won't run wire to surround speakers for two reasons.
Most tech savvy consumers are perfectly capable of setting up their own surround system, but bringing in a pro to run and conceal wires in the wall for two speakers is usually not factored into the system purchase. Which is why so many people are buying ultra flat speaker wire and running it along the base board of the wall. With the assistance of some carefully placed furniture and some double sided tape, you can hide wire to a decent degree, but finding a way around doorways and other obstacles can be tricky. 

I feel bad for those involved in the second surround conundrum. Often, I'll meet a person who buys a system, factors in the general cost of installation but ultimately it's their home's floor plan that is the hindering factor. Brick walls, vaulted ceilings, rear wall windows, and unusual room configurations all can lead to potentially long, invasive installations that may or may not alter your room's design aesthetics. If you have deep pockets, any install challenge can be over come, but budget minded home theater enthusiasts may have to pass on this option. 

Most wireless systems on the market consist of a signal transmitter and wireless receiver. Depending on the manufacturer, the signal range, physical size, and features may vary, but ultimately the goal remains the same. With all these wiring road blocks, you might think a wireless surround option is the ultimate solution, but unbeknown to many, wireless equipment still involves wires! The wireless receiver likely has a digital amplifier to power the speakers, so A/C power is required and that means being in the vicinity of a wall outlet.

Then connecting the receiver to separate surround speakers involves a hard-wired connection. Depending on where the receiver sits and how far apart the speakers are, you're still be running speaker wire across the back wall and facing the original dilemma. Even the more evolved speaker models that are self powered with build-in the wireless receivers still need power to operate. That means two power cords and probably two different outlets providing your rear wall has them. No power, time to break out the extension cord and that can only lead to a worse situation. Unless you find battery powered surround speakers with built-in wireless receivers, the need for power cables or speaker wire is still a necessity. Don't get your hopes up, batteries may seem like a simple solution, but they're not suited for long term use in home theater applications.

No matter what, renters who aren't able cut holes and run wire in the wall will strongly consider the wireless option, and chances are they'll love it. Just a few years ago I too was a renter and this kind of wireless tech would of been the saving grace of my living room theater system. With a bookcase housing surround speakers, a wireless receiver, and easy access to an outlet on the back wall, my apartment would of been perfect. 

I see the advantage and I know plenty of apartment dwellers who could benefit from a wireless setup, but I still wouldn't recommend it to everybody. The placement of power outlets, rear windows, doorways, furniture, and other factors, will determine the appropriate product suggestion. Follow the path of least resistance, and choose a setup that allows you to easily hide wires based on your rooms existing layout and dimensions. Happy hunting and enjoy some movies.

Special thanks to Ragan Mena of Audio Zeal

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